This is the fourth post in a multi-installment series on mindfulness. Other posts include An Introduction to Mindfulness, How Mindfulness Supports Leadership Development, and The Neuroscience of Mindfulness.
Everything that I am presenting in this series on mindfulness I also cover in my seminar on Mindfulness & Leadership Development. And normally by this point, the audience members are very excited about mindfulness. After all, there are many benefits of mindfulness in the workplace. It’s easy to see why so many companies are offering mindfulness programs. Then I get to the part about practicing mindfulness, and the room goes silent. I can practically read minds: “Practicing mindfulness means…meditating? That sounds very ‘woo,’ and I’m not into that.”
“Meditation” is the term used to describe a practice that is dedicated to mindfulness, which has roots in 2,500-year-old Buddhist traditions. The original word for mindfulness meditation is Vipassana, which means insight into the true nature of reality. Because of this, mindfulness meditation is also referred to as insight meditation.
Beginning in the 1970s, mindfulness was widely popularized by Jon Kabat-Zinn through his work with medical patients at the University of Massachusetts. He found that mindfulness was particularly effective in treating many kinds of physical and mental health ailments. He also realized that you do not need to study Buddhist tenets to benefit from mindfulness—you simply must cultivate the ability to be mindful.
When I use the term meditation, I am referring specifically to a practice of mindfulness. However, transcendental meditation is an example of another traditional school of meditation in which attention is focused on a single object until the mind enters a deep, trance-like stillness. In mindfulness meditation, we are not trying to leave or alter our current experience—we are bringing attention to it exactly as it is. We are trying to expand our awareness, not focus it.
Meditation is also used as a synonym for contemplation or deep thinking. Mindfulness meditation is not contemplation or thinking; instead, it is bringing awareness to our thoughts. Quite simply, mindfulness meditation is time dedicated to practicing mindfulness.
As an executive coach, I do not ask my clients to meditate. I may not even mention the word in conversation, given the misunderstanding around what meditation means. What I do, however, is give my clients exercises to help them be more aware in their work environments. I tell them that being mindful is directly relevant to being a strong leader and that the more they practice mindfulness, the better they will be at it.
One of the questions I frequently get is, “How can I be more mindful at work?” Here are some suggestions:
- Pause several times a day and pay attention to the sensations of your breath. I set an alarm on my phone to remind me to do this.
- Eat your lunch or a snack mindfully, paying attention to the sensations you see, hear, smell, and taste as you eat.
- Give your full attention to the task at hand, and reduce distractions as much as you can: Shut your door and turn off the phone and email.
Check in with yourself to note your thoughts and feelings in a given situation, especially one where you may want to respond differently.