Four years ago I began on a journey of making a conscious choice to focus on my well-being at work. Many of us spend an inordinate amount of time and energy at work and then we go home and focus on eating a healthy diet. But, we don’t think much about being healthy in mind, body, and spirit at work. That’s a shame because we spend a good portion of our lives at work. I have found that the more I incorporate practices and principles of well-being into my work life, the more productive, energized, and content I feel while I’m working.
This was not the case before. Before, my idea of getting a break from the stress of a high intensity job was to go out and smoke a cigarette. This did nothing but flood my body with cancer-causing chemicals and suck more energy from me! Needless to say, I was more focused on very unhealthy habits and behaviours than good ones. Then, I’d go home and carry all the baggage of the day with me – ruminating about interactions with colleagues during the day or stressing about things on my to-do list for the next day. I rarely fell asleep easily. All that has changed now. That’s because I’ve gone from self-sabotaging and unhealthy ways to managing stress, emotions, and just everyday life to much more positive and useful ones. And, I do this in all areas of my life – especially work.
Life is More Than Work
Work is where we put a lot of our energy – it’s our livelihood and we depend on it immensely. It is also often a status symbol or outward recognition of our accomplishments and we value it highly. So, it’s no surprise that many of us, especially in corporate America, put in a lot of hours, energy, and focus in our work. But, as I mentioned, this often times becomes an addiction in of itself. We become the classic workaholic where work becomes our primary focus and our sole form of identify. Our work spouse spends more time with us than our actual spouse. This is not healthy and leads many of us to suffer needless health issues (chronic stress syndrome is now a leading factor in causing severe depression) – creating fractures in our marriages and distancing us from our own children. How do we work on disentangling ourselves from becoming enmeshed with our work to the point that we have no healthy boundaries with it? How do we help ourselves from getting stuck in our cycling thinking patterns of obsessing about upcoming meetings, agendas, priorities, and office politics?
One of the simple techniques that I’ve learned to use is what I call a mindfulness minute. Most of us have heard about mindfulness, many of us may have tried it, but my guess it that still the majority of us don’t “get it.” I certainly didn’t get it. When I first started to hear about mindfulness I didn’t understand what it was. What, you want me to sit still for an hour and do nothing but hear the thoughts running through my head? Or, try against all possibility to not have any thoughts at all? Either way, I didn’t see how I could “sit” for an hour. So I decided to a) simplify it, b) figure out what it’s really about, and c) use it to my advantage.
What mindfulness is really about is getting out of your head. It’s about focusing on something else so you can have space. What is that something else you’re focusing on? It’s the actual present moment in time and space that you are in. Meaning, it’s about being in your body, being aware of your body, and sitting in a state of just “being.” It is not about thinking, it is not about doing, it is not about even keeping your mind free of thought. It’s about disconnecting from the world and actually being in the world at the same time. It’s about just being in a state of being. I like to think of it like a tree in the wind. You watch the branches flowing back and forth in the wind. It’s just going wherever the wind takes it. It’s just in the moment it’s in. It is not striving against the wind, it’s not pushing another way, it’s just being where it is at that moment in time – which just so happens to be blowing in the wind. It’s not complaining that the wind shouldn’t be blowing, it’s not daydreaming about a land with no wind – it’s just sitting in it. The way it is. Just being.
Practicing a Mindfulness Minute
So, what I found is that I can do mindfulness one minute at a time. And I can do it at work. Because who has an hour at work to do meditation? I don’t. But I do have a minute. And consciously deciding to take a minute here and there at work provides an immense break from things and allows you space to just be. This allows you a moment of true peace and rejuvenation. So, here’s how I go about practicing a mindfulness minute. I start with something small that I focus on. Usually, it’s my breath. I simply stop and pay attention to my breathing and listen to it. I listen to the inhale and then the exhale of my breath. I feel my lungs fill up – I pay attention to my diaphragm rise and fall. And I settle into the rhythm of it – in and out, in and out, in and out. It can become like a state of trance. And in this state there is nothing else. There is just being. The world falls away and you are deep in a moment of reprieve from the noise and demands of the world.
Being Still in the Storm
It is not that complicated actually. Really, all you have to do is something small. That is, pay attention to your breathing for one minute. For just one minute focus on only your breath. Feel it rise and fall within your body, listen to it as it travels through your lungs. Connect with this life-affirming natural state of being that is happening in the very moment you are in it. In this way, you can become grounded. And, being grounded is like being still at the center of a big storm. It’s being calm while the winds fly around you, it’s about being anchored to the seafloor in a stormy sea. And, it’s this center of calmness that can carry you through any kind of day at work, whatever comes your way, in a manner that doesn’t raise your blood pressure through the roof. It also allows you space to see things more clearly – you’ll realize that finishing that PowerPoint presentation can wait until the next day and you won’t be taking it home instead.
Establishing Your Mindfulness Practice
You can practice mindfulness at any point in the day, at any time, and anywhere. The idea is to just disconnect for a brief respite from the constant chatter and noise in your head that keeps you from being connected to the present moment. In that single moment of disconnection you can find a place of repose, a bubble of peace, and a calm center. Doing this as a regular practice will help you create good grounding and centeredness in your life, one mindfulness minute at a time. This practice can help you keep sane in an often insane world.
If focusing on your breathing for a minute doesn’t work for you, there are many others ways to do it. I will also sometimes just use a small smooth rock – an ocean stone I picked up from a walk on the beach. I rub it in my hand, or flip it back and forth through my fingers. And, I focus on the rock – the smoothness of it, the rhythm of flipping it back and forth. This grounds me in a moment of concentration of just being in that moment flipping my little stone and doing absolutely nothing else. I try all sorts of different ways to get in a mindfulness minute. I’ll even do it while sitting in my car at a stoplight on the way to work.
So, when you’re feeling frazzled and stressed at work, think about how you could be doing a mindfulness minute instead. I guarantee you after spending a minute to just be in a state of being with your breath or by doing something repetitive with your hands, you’ll feel more grounded and better than beforehand. Using this simple practice has helped me develop a stronger way to support my well-being at work, which has helped me become a more well-balanced and peaceful colleague. Now, when I go on a mental break it’s not to smoke a cigarette. It’s to take a mindfulness minute and get grounded in just being. Then, of course, it’s back to work!
Focusing on Well-Being at Work
Try doing a mindfulness minute at a certain point in your day. Decide what time of day, where that is, and what you are going to do. Pick something that is part of your daily routine, so it’s easy to fold it in. For example, you can chose to do a mindfulness minute at lunch, or at an afternoon break. Maybe you do it first thing in the morning before you open your emails. Maybe you do it at all three of these times! Whatever it is, keep it simple, build it as a regular practice and habit, and it will reward you in kind. It will help you establish a more conscious focus on your well-being at work. And, who couldn’t use some well-being at work?