Annabel Beerel

Mindfulness at Work

by Annabel Beerel, PhD

Challenges of the Times

A great deal of what we do at work is not working. We have employee engagement problems, performance problems, resource allocation problems, ethical problems, stress related problems, and as always, communication problems. Many complain of long hours at work with little real added value to show for it. Anxiety, stress, and overwhelm punctuate our times.

In response to these challenges, many organizations are introducing new employee engagement programs in efforts to make the workplace more relaxed and appealing. In addition, managers have been charged with developing visionary slogans and statements of purpose that will supposedly make work meaningful.

Alas, Abraham Maslow’s wisdom regarding the power of intrinsic motivation has clearly been ditched or forgotten.

It’s All in the Mind

Some organizations are taking a different approach. They are addressing workplace challenges by introducing Mindfulness and Meditation into their cultures. Management in these organizations recognize that self-awareness, self-esteem, and self-empowerment are the healthiest and most sustainable ingredients of the self-actualizing employee. And, in these challenging times, successful organizations depend on self-actualizing employees for creativity, performance, and engagement.

Mindfulness

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A Definition

Mindfulness is the intentional directing of awareness to attending to the present moment, in a focused and sustained manner, with non-judgment.

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Mindfulness is about cultivating self-awareness of one’s own mental processes, feelings, and emotions in real-time, i.e. while they are occurring. Mindfulness is a special type of attention that we direct to whatever is occurring in the present moment with non-judgment. It is a way of being present to ourselves and to the events and phenomena we encounter; moment by moment by moment.

Mindfulness concerns making the quality of awareness one brings to each moment, as spacious as possible. This means we try to suspend conceptualization, objectification, and judgement. We experience the moment with our entire being before labeling it. The simplest example is enjoying the smell and beauty of a rose before we name it a rose.

What we learn about ourselves from this open awareness is how quickly we label, objectify, evaluate and judge all phenomena. We also learn our biases and prejudices in real time. We see how once we have defined something, we automatically evaluate it.

Mindful attention is bringing this quality of awareness, to every moment with our full presence. We are present to ourselves and to others in an open, curious, available, and accepting manner. We are present intellectually, emotionally, and in an embodied way. We are not simply present in our heads. We are in our bodies, as our bodies are the instruments of our experience.

With mindfulness, we learn that we are not our thoughts or our feelings. We, the experiencer, can observe and witness our thoughts and feelings. We do not have to identify with our anxiety, our fears, and our insecurities. We can choose whether to react or not to react. This gives us perspective and inner freedom.

With mindfulness, we are totally lost to the present moment. Each moment counts. Each thought and action is recognized and appreciated in the immediate present. We lose our sense of instrumentality, where we are always doing something for the sake of something else. Where we live in perpetual longing for a future outcome. Attention to the present moment, makes every moment fulfilling for its own sake. We live in a state of devoted absorption which leads us to ever more opportunities for flow.

With mindfulness, we learn that we see the world not as it is, but as we are. We are the constructors of our experience. We have the power to choose our attitude, our responses, our stories we tell ourselves. We learn how important it is that we select the perceptions we embrace, as they shape our attitudes, fears, angers, and hopes. They create the web of our reality from which it is difficult to extract ourselves.

Mindfulness creates the following opportunities:

  • Greater self-awareness, something that is essential for personal and organizational leadership.
  • A healthy challenge to our deeply held values, assumptions, and biases that seldom get tested until we see them play out in real time.
  • A slowing down between stimulus and response, thus giving us time to choose our reactions instead of living in programmed, mechanical mode.
  • Greater perspective on events and phenomena we encounter, enabling us to be more open to new and different options.
  • Less identification with our fears and anxieties, resulting in less stress and the feeling of overwhelm. We become less self-centered and fear driven.
  • A heightened ability to manage our emotions and inter-relations with others, thus enhancing our emotional intelligence, and our team work.
  • We behave with less compulsion and reactivity. We are more indifferent to the behaviors and pressures of others and are more intrinsically motivated.
  • An increased ability to concentrate and stay focused amidst competing distractions. Our performance and productivity improves as does our creativity.
  • We gain greater self-acceptance, self-esteem, and self-confidence.

Initiating Mindfulness in the organization begins with learning mindful practices and meditation as part of a culture change initiative. The best results of course occur when there is commitment from the top.

In working with organizations that are introducing Mindfulness, I am privileged to see how employees benefit either in their personal lives, or in their ability to cope with work. Many people report increased self-awareness and self-esteem. Most claim they experience a slowing down and a greater sense of calm.

One of my current Mindfulness projects includes working with Tom Raffio, CEO of North East Delta Dental. Every few weeks employees attend discussions on Mindfulness where they also practice meditation. They receive regular articles and a weekly Mindfulness blog. They are also invited to write mindful comments as part of their communications. The monthly newspaper offers comments on mindfulness, and Tom hosts “Mindful Coffee with the Coach” sessions. Tom and I are currently collaborating on a mindfulness book for business managers based on our experiences.