As a clinical psychologist and former yoga teacher who works with driven business people, I want to clarify a common myth that mindfulness is mainly about relaxation and “being present”. Relaxation and feeling fully present are certainly positive components of mindfulness practice, but mindfulness can also be used to increase your insight and awareness around one of your most valuable business assets: your thoughts. By learning to observe our thoughts without reacting to them, we can save ourselves considerable time, money, and energy by choosing to “follow through” only on the thoughts that are truly in service of what we actually want in any given situation. I know this sounds abstract, so here are some real-life examples of how growing your “mindfulness muscles” will help you in day-to-day life:
- Handle disagreements wisely: When you notice that you have a disagreement with a colleague or counterpart, do you have an immediate instinct to try and persuade that person to your point of view? Or perhaps to quietly accommodate and people-please? We all have default styles of conflict management that we’ll use when disagreements arise, especially if the disagreement matters a lot or rattles us in some way-- which is exactly the time when it would behoove us to mentally take a step back and choose an approach mindfully rather than just getting sucked into a pattern of persuading, pressuring, or accommodating. Different situations and relationships will be best managed by an accommodating and even submissive style, whereas other situations may benefit from you being super direct and even applying heavy pressure when needed-- while still other situations may benefit more from simply noticing and getting comfortable with both parties being able to comfortably hold different perspectives without feeling the need to persuade each other.
Mindfully noticing if you are feeling automatically pulled to persuade or accommodate in the face of disagreement will help you to pause and consider which strategy is best for each individual situation rather than just reflexively using your default style of conflict-management. Mindful awareness of your reactions to disagreements will also make it more difficult for others to deliberately push your buttons, since they won’t be able to count on you automatically responding to disagreement in a rote fashion-- instead, you’ll size up the situation like a chess board and make the best move given all the variables.
- Stay focused on what matters: We are more productive and fulfilled when we have a clear sense of purpose. It’s easy to lose track of why are doing what we’re doing, unless you work for an employer whose sense of mission is directly relevant to your personal goals (such as an animal-lover working for a pet shelter). Mindful awareness of the connections between your work and your personal goals will increase your sense of purpose, which will increase your productivity and fulfillment. For example, although the latest corporate initiative you’re spearheading may not feel especially compelling to you on a personal level, successfully implementing that very same initiative represents a ticket to providing your family with meaningful things like education, travel, or security in old age (or whatever goals the financial payoff of a job well done will facilitate in your life). Mindfulness allows you recognize and to remain aware of the mental reference points that connect your work to a greater life purpose.
- Get empathy (and understanding!) from others: Mindfulness guides you to practice observing yourself and putting those observations into words. The more you’re able to understand yourself, and the better you’re able to explain what you’re thinking and feeling, the more others will be able to see your perspective. Getting others to understand your perspective is a skill that helps others to increase their empathy towards you, which often makes them more willing to accommodate you when needed. For example, being able to help your boss understand that you’ve bent over backwards to get a client to the negotiating table may stimulate your boss to give you some extra latitude on certain negotiating points since she will realize how much you’ve sacrificed to get the client to the table. Conversely, as an employer or manager, being able to help your direct reports clearly understand the business-critical importance of certain goals, and how much the success of those goals matters to you on a personal level, will help employees to engage deeper with you and the company.
Mindfulness is one of my favorite tools both personally and professionally. I’ll admit that this blog covers the “why” of mindfulness but not really the “how” of mindfulness. The good news is that I’ve already written other blogs on how to increase your mindfulness skills! To read more about how you can grow your mindfulness skills, check out my other blogs or call my office so I can teach you personally!