Why Mindfulness Matters
What's your top challenge at work? LinkedIn actually did a study and found that the top three workplace challenges are finding work/life balance, managing workload, and dealing with co-workers. Mindfulness is a meta-skill for the workplace, because it helps us address each of these challenges. When we practice mindfulness, we're in a state where we notice what's happening in the present moment, without any judgment. Multiple studies show that mindfulness practice actually changes the structure of the brain. Yes, my friends, it's true. Brain activity is redirected from the reactionary part of our brain to our rational thinking brain.
Some studies show that just three days of practice can have an impact. So how can mindfulness help us with our top workplace challenges? Well, to experience more work/life balance, we can use it to discover what's truly important to us. By noticing our experience in the moment, we can realize what energizes us and what depletes us. With that self-awareness, we can focus on what truly matters to us. To manage workload better, we can use mindfulness to notice how we actually work. We notice habits that are efficient, where we might need to ask for help, or that we need to learn to say no. Mindfulness helps us to see these patterns in ourselves. It also helps us experiment with new and more effective behaviours. Finally, to help deal with co-workers, mindfulness can help us better understand both ourselves and others.
Did you know that most stress is not caused by external events? It's actually caused by our mind's way of interpreting what is happening around us. Mindfulness practice helps us notice the negative bias that our mind has. Instead of reacting to external events through our amygdala, the fight or flight centre of our brain, we can respond more calmly through our prefrontal cortex. That's the rational thinking part of our brain. Mindfulness practice changes our brain's physiology, so our brain is less susceptible to being hijacked. MRI scans show that after eight weeks of mindfulness practice, the amygdala shrinks in size. As it shrinks, the prefrontal cortex gets bigger. As you continue to practice, you lower your reactivity to stress and improve your ability to handle stressful situations. Your practice lowers blood pressure and heart rate, and in fact, research shows that even three days of training can have an impact. With mindfulness practice, we breathe deeply to relax and release tension from the body. We also focus our attention. This slows down the pace of thoughts that can be overwhelming.
Think about a piece of work you did, a problem you solved, or a creative project that you're really proud of. How did you do it? Chances are that it required periods of deep focus when your mind was firing on all cylinders, and the answers just seemed to flow. We do our best work when we're in the state of focus. Yet, we increasingly live in a world full of distractions that demand our attention.
Imagine if you had the ability to find, almost at will, states of deep focus and flow. What could be possible for you? Mindfulness training has been shown to help you increase focus because you train your brain to bring your attention back to where you want it to stay. Mindfulness has also been shown to impact creativity.
Albert Einstein famously said, "We can't solve problems by using the same thinking we used when we created it." Mindfulness practice helps you observe your thoughts. By doing this you can have insight about how you're seeing a problem and what assumptions you may be making. You may be able to see where you're actually stuck. When you see your mind clearly, you may notice that what you think is a problem isn't actually a problem.
Most of us think we're more self-aware than we actually are. Did you know that one of the biggest reasons most of us fail is because we have blind spots? We don't know what we don't know. Our mind can ignore new information that is outside of our belief system. There's even a term for it. It's called cognitive dissonance. Mindfulness helps us see those blind spots. For growing our emotional intelligence.
Find meaning at work
Think about somebody who inspires you. Chances are, they're inspiring because they themselves are inspired. They're inspired because they're in pursuit of something much bigger than themselves, a sense of purpose. Your sense of meaning and purpose is a wonderful source of energy that fuels you. There are so many ways that we can find meaning in our everyday work and life, and mindfulness helps us stay present to those opportunities. As we gain new experiences and change, what we find meaningful may also change. Staying mindful will help us continue to find meaning as we evolve.
Manage your inner critic
Many of us live with a very loud inner critic. This voice lives rent-free in our heads, trying to keep us safe. It's quite normal, because as we evolved as a species, one of the primary functions of our brain was to help us survive. The problem is that our inner critic often seems to like to work overtime and meddle where we don't need it to. For many of us, the voice of the inner critic can be quite hurtful. It may tell us we're not worthy, it can prevent us from taking risks, from recognizing our essential goodness, and take away our freedom to pursue what excites us. It hampers our joy, peace, and confidence. I know this because it lives in my head, too.
One of the ways mindfulness practice helps is that we become aware and develop a new relationship with our inner critic. We accept our inner critic as part of us while not totally believing what it has to say. When we do this, we can live with less fear and more freedom and self-acceptance.
Mindfulness practice has been shown to increase self-confidence among children in schools, as well as among adults. This is not the kind of self-confidence that makes us think we're superior to others. It's the kind where we're grounded in who we are. We accept ourselves fully, including both our strengths and our weaknesses.
- Neuroscientists are telling us that our brains have a natural bias toward negative thoughts. This is because as we evolved, our brain's primary job was to help us survive. Congratulations, we're here because our ancestors survived, and they survived because the brain is constantly scanning for threats for what could go wrong in the jungle. Fast forward to today, our brain still scans. Much of the chronic stress we experience is because of this brain's alarm system from all kinds of imagined threats. No wonder many of us have a hard time experiencing contentment and joy from just being here now. We can actually prime our brain and body; we do this by creating a mindfulness practice, centered in joy. Every time we practice tapping into joy, we create and deepen neural circuits in our brain. These new circuits can help us overcome the brain's negative bias to help us find joy in simple moments, and since our emotions are contagious, our joy can benefit not just ourselves, but also those we live and work.