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ATD Blog

How to Practice Mindfulness at Work

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

You’re in a meeting, but you’re thinking about how you have to go grocery shopping tonight.

You started your day with many things on your to-do list. Just the thought of it stresses you out.

Your employee stops by your office when you’re in the middle of an email, and a tiny inner voice is saying, “Why won’t he stop talking?!”

Are you familiar with any of these experiences? Believe it or not, most of the time, we don’t really control our minds. Our thoughts are constantly driving our minds everywhere. When we are not living totally in the present moment, we are distracted by past or future events, neither of which we can control. There have been times when I’ve been so stressed out that I’ve driven past my own house after work without even realizing it!

Mindfulness is the art of living in the present. In the UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School whitepaper Bringing Mindfulness to the Workplace, executive director Kimberly Schaufenbuel presents research by the National Institute of Health UK, the University of Massachusetts, and the Mind/Body Medical Institute at Harvard University that suggests that mindfulness:  

  • reduces employee absenteeism and turnover 
  • improves cognitive functions such as concentration, memory, and learning ability 
  • increases employee productivity 
  • enhances employer-employee and client relationships 
  • improves job satisfaction.

Just like any skill, mindfulness can be learned and mastered. According to a study by psychologist K. Anders Ericsson, deliberate practice is the key; focus on improving mindfulness during practice or day-to-day activities, and pair it with immediate coaching feedback.
Here are three easy techniques to become more mindful, one step at a time:

1. Observe Yourself


Imagine you are your best friend. Observe yourself from a distance; be aware of your emotions, feelings, and reactions.

For example, let’s say your employee does not complete a report on time, which upsets you. This is the time to pause and observe yourself. If you were your best friend, what would you see about yourself? When you experience intense emotions such as anger, pause for a moment, take two deep breaths, and be aware of your emotions.

2. Accept the Reality

Let’s admit it: Reality is not always pleasant. Accepting the reality means you recognize the present situation and calmly surrender to it.


For example, after you observe your anger caused by the late report, say to yourself: “Well, I can’t reverse this reality. What can I do to still create a win-win situation?” Accepting the reality can remove the anxiety and negative reactions you have toward a particular situation. Sometimes, when your negative emotion is very strong, you can say to yourself: “I recognize I am angry and I respect my feeling.” Either way, there’s no judgment involved. 

3. Focus Completely on Others When Talking With Them

Communication is the number 1 leadership quality, stresses John Maxwell in his book, Everyone Communicates, Few Connect. Whether you’re in a one-on-one conversation with your manager, direct report, or even a family member, devote your full attention to that person. This means you not only listen to what the person says, but you’re also aware of the person’s volume, vocal variety, facial expressions, hand gestures, and body language. To take it further, listen for what the person actually means—the unsaid.

For example, perhaps your employee says to you, “The report is late because I found a mistake at the last minute and I took extra time to fix it.” If he has your undivided attention, you are not only listening to him closely, but also observing his facial expressions. You can see he is sincerely contrite and wants to be good at his job. Imagine yourself as a data collecting machine, absorbing information to understand the situation. No judgment involved.

As you probably know, changing a habit doesn’t happen overnight. A common belief is that it takes 21 days to sustain the change. One way to implement permanent change it is to practice one technique at a time for 21 days. Invite someone you trust to be your accountability partner; regularly share your progress with that person and receive feedback. Think about, and discuss with your partner, what works for you, what doesn’t work for you, and what could you do to improve. Sharing with someone you trust enhances your ability to feel connected.

With deliberate practice in daily life—one technique at a time, practiced consistently for a period—and feedback from your accountability partner, you will be living a more mindful life! Remember: The present is the only thing we can control.

About the Author

Jenny Wang has a passion for helping people improve performance through holistic learning. She is a senior consultant responsible for Career and Professional Development Programs for Office Depot. She is also a certified yoga instructor and health coach. Contact her at [email protected]

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