Mindfulness at Work For Dummies

Mindfulness at Work For Dummies

by Shamash Alidina, Juliet Adams


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781118727997
Publisher: Wiley
Publication date: 06/16/2014
Series: For Dummies Series
Pages: 400
Product dimensions: 7.30(w) x 9.10(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Shamash Alidina is a professional mindfulness trainer, teacher, and lecturer. He has over 10 years' experience teaching mindfulness in schools and university courses. Juliet Adams designs and delivers professional mindfulness at work training, and co-delivers WorkplaceMT trainer development in the UK and Netherlands.

Read an Excerpt

Mindfulness at Work For Dummies

By Shamash Alidina, Juliet Adams

John Wiley & Sons

Copyright © 2014 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-118-72799-7


Exploring Mindfulness in the Workplace

In This Chapter

* Identifying what mindfulness is and is not

* Retraining your brain

* Getting started

In tough economic times, many organisations are looking for new ways to deliver better products and services to customers while simultaneously reducing costs. Carrying on as normal is not isn't an option. Organisations are looking for sustainable ways to be more innovative. Leaders must really engage staff, and everyone needs to become more resilient in the face of ongoing change. For these reasons, more and more organisations are offering staff training in mindfulness.

Major corporations in the USA, like General Mills, and major employers in the UK, such as the National Health Service, have offered staff mindfulness training in recent years. Google and eBay are among the many companies that now provide rooms for staff to practise mindfulness in work time. Business schools including Harvard Business School in the USA and Ashridge Business School in the UK now include mindfulness principles in their leadership programmes.

So what is mindfulness, and why are so many leading organisations investing in it?

Becoming More Mindful at Work

In this section you will discover what mindfulness is. More importantly, you'll also discover what mindfulness is not! You'll find out how mindfulness evolved and why it's become so important in the modern day workplace.

Clarifying what mindfulness is

Have you ever driven somewhere and arrived at your destination remembering nothing about your journey? Or grabbed a snack and noticed a few moments later that all you have left is an empty packet? Most people have! These examples are common ones of 'mindlessness', or 'going on automatic pilot'.

Like many humans, you're probably 'not present' for much of your own life. You may fail to notice the good things in your life or hear what your body is telling you. You probably also make your life harder than it needs to be by poisoning yourself with toxic self-criticism.

Mindfulness can help you to become more aware of your thoughts, feelings and sensations in a way that suspends judgement and self-criticism. Developing the ability to pay attention to and see clearly whatever is happening moment by moment does not eliminate life's pressures, but it can help you respond to them in a more productive, calmer manner.

Learning and practising mindfulness can help you to recognise and step away from habitual, often unconscious emotional and physiological reactions to everyday events. Practising mindfulness allows you to be fully present in your life and work and improves your quality of life.

Mindfulness can help you to:

[check] Recognise, slow down or stop automatic and habitual reactions

[check] Respond more effectively to complex or difficult situations

[check] See situations with greater focus and clarity

[check] Become more creative

[check] Achieve balance and resilience at both work and home

Mindfulness at work is all about developing awareness of thoughts, emotions and physiology and how they interact with one another. Mindfulness is also about being aware of your surroundings, helping you better understand the needs of those around you.

Mindfulness training is like going to the gym. In the same way as training a muscle, you can train your brain to direct your attention to where you want it to be. In simple terms, mindfulness is all about managing your mind.

Taking a look at the background

Mindfulness has its origins in ancient Eastern meditation practices. Jon Kabat-Zinn developed Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) in the USA in the late 1970s, which became the foundation for modern-day mindfulness. Figure 1-1 shows how it developed.

In the 1990s Mark Williams, John Teasdale and Zindel Segal further developed MBSR to help people suffering from depression. Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) combined cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) with mindfulness. In 2004, MBCT was clinically approved in the UK by the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) as a 'treatment of choice' for recurrent depression.

Since the late 1970s, research into the benefits of mindfulness has steadily increased. Recent studies have examined, for example, the impact of practising mindfulness on the immune system and its effects on those working in high pressure environments.

Advances in brain scanning technology have demonstrated that as little as eight weeks of mindfulness training can positively alter brain structures, including the amygdala (the fear centre) and the left prefrontal cortex (an area associated with happiness and well-being). Other studies show benefits in even shorter periods of time.

Busy leaders who practise mindfulness have long extolled its virtues, but little research has existed to back up their claims. Fortunately, researchers are now increasingly focusing their attention on the benefits of mindfulness from a workplace perspective.

MBSR and MBCT are taught using a standard eight-week curriculum, and all teachers follow a formalised development route. The core techniques are the same for both courses. Most workplace mindfulness courses are based around MBCT or MBSR, but tailored to meet the needs of the workplace.

Although MBSR and MBCT were first developed to help treat a range of physical and mental health conditions, new applications for the techniques have been established. Mindfulness is now being taught in schools and universities, and has even been introduced to prisoners. Many professional education programmes, such as MBAs, now include mindfulness training.

Researchers have linked the practice of mindfulness to skills that are highly valuable in the workplace. Research suggests that practising mindfulness can enhance:

[check] Emotional intelligence

[check] Creativity and innovation

[check] Employee engagement

[check] Interpersonal relationships

[check] Ability to see the bigger picture

[check] Resilience

[check] Self-management

[check] Problem solving

[check] Decision making

[check] Focus and concentration

In addition, mindfulness is valuable in the workplace because it has a positive impact on immunity and general well-being. It has been demonstrated to relieve the symptoms of depression, anxiety and stress. See www.mawt.co.uk for a list of some of the research papers on mindfulness at work.

Recognising what mindfulness isn't

Misleading myths about mindfulness abound. Here are a few:

Myth 1: 'I will need to visit a Buddhist centre, go on a retreat or travel to the Far East to learn mindfulness.'

Experienced mindfulness instructors are operating all over the world. Many teachers now teach mindfulness to groups of staff in the workplace. One-to-one mindfulness teaching can be delivered in the office, in hotel meeting rooms or even via the web. Some people do attend retreats after learning mindfulness if they wish to deepen their knowledge, experience peace and quiet or gain further tuition, but doing so isn't essential.

Myth 2: 'Practising mindfulness will conflict with my religious beliefs.'

Mindfulness isn't a religion. For example, MBSR, MBCT are entirely secular – as are most workplace programs. No religious belief of any kind is necessary. Mindfulness can help you step back from your mental noise and tune into your own innate wisdom. Mindfulness is practised by people of all faiths and by those with no spiritual beliefs. Practising mindfulness won't turn you into a hemp-clad tofu eater, a tree-hugging hippie or a monk sitting on top of a mountain – unless you want to be one of these people, of course!

Myth 3: 'I'm too busy to sit and be quiet for any length of time.'

When you're busy, the thought of sitting and 'doing nothing' may seem like the last thing you want to do. In 2010 researchers at Harvard University gathered evidence from a quarter of a million people suggesting that, on average, the mind wanders for 47 per cent of the working day. Just 15 minutes a day spent practising mindfulness can help you to become more productive and less distracted. Then you'll be able to make the most of your busy day and get more done in less time. When you first start practising mindfulness, you'll almost certainly experience mental distractions, but if you persevere you'll find it easier to tune out distractions and to manage your mind. As time goes on, your ability to concentrate increases as does your sense of well-being and feeling of control over your life.

Myth 4: 'Practising mindfulness will reduce my ambition and drive.'

Practising mindfulness can help you become more focused on your goals and better able to achieve them. It can help you become more creative and to gain new perspectives on life. If your approach to work is chaotic, mindfulness can make you more focused and centred, which in turn enables you to channel your energy more productively. Coupled with an improved sense of well-being, this ability to focus helps you achieve your career ambitions and goals.

Myth 5: 'If I practise mindfulness, people will take me less seriously and my career prospects will be damaged.'

Some of the most successful and influential people in the world practise mindfulness. US Senator Tim Ryan, Goldie Hawn, Joanna Lumley and Ruby Wax are all keen advocates of mindfulness. Practising mindfulness doesn't involve sitting cross-legged on the floor – an office chair is fine. If you find it impossible to sit quietly and focus because you work in an open-plan office, or you're concerned about what others think, plenty of other everyday activities are available that can become opportunities to practise mindfulness that nobody will notice. Walking, eating, waiting for your computer to boot up or even exercising at the gym are all good opportunities to practise mindfulness. Mindfulness can be practising with your eyes open, whilst you're moving around during the day.

Myth 6: 'Mindfulness and meditation are one and the same. Mindfulness is just a trendy new name.'

Fact: Mindfulness often involves specific meditation practices. Fiction: All meditation is the same. Many popular forms of meditation are all about relaxation – leaving your troubles behind and imagining yourself in a calm and tranquil 'special place'. Mindfulness helps you to find out how to live with your life in the present moment – warts and all – rather than run away from it. Mindfulness is about approaching life and things that you find difficult and exploring them with openness, rather than avoiding them. Most people find that practising mindfulness does help them to relax, but that this relaxation is a welcome by-product, not the objective!

Training your attention: the power of focus

Are you one of the millions of workers who routinely put in long hours, often for little or no extra pay? In the current climate of cutbacks, job losses and 'business efficiencies', many people feel the need to work longer hours just to keep on top of their workload. However, research shows that working longer hours does not mean that you get more done. Actually, if you continue to work when past your peak, your performance slackens off and continues to do so as time goes on (see Chapter 5).

Imagine your job is to chop logs. After a while, your axe needs sharpening and your muscles need resting. If you keep going, you'll become very inefficient and are more likely to have an accident. By taking a break, and sharpening your axe, you can return to the job and get more done in less time. You'll probably enjoy the job more too. Mindfulness practice is like taking that break – you both re-energise yourself and sharpen your mind, ready for your next activity.

Discovering how to focus and concentrate better is the key to maintaining peak performance. Recognising when you've slipped past peak performance and then taking steps to bring yourself back to peak is also vital. Mindfulness comes in at this point. Over time, it helps you focus your attention to where you want it to be.


Focusing your attention may sound easy, but try thinking of just one thing for 90 seconds. It could be an object on your desk, a specific sound or the sensation of your own breathing.

Focus your full attention on your chosen object, sound or sensation and nothing else. Then consider these questions:

[check] Did you manage to focus your complete attention for the full 90 seconds, or did your mind wander and random thoughts arise?

[check] Did you become distracted by a bodily pain or ache?

[check] Did you find yourself getting annoyed with yourself, or annoyed with a sound such as a ticking clock or traffic?

You're not alone! Most people find this activity really difficult at first. In truth, you're unlikely to ever be able to shut out all of your mental chatter, but you can turn the volume right down. Doing so enables you to see things more clearly, reduce time wasted on duplicated work and stop your mind wandering. Mindfulness offers you a way of getting more done in less time without burning yourself out.

Applying mindful attitudes

Practising mindfulness involves more than just training your brain to focus. It also teaches you some alternative mindful attitudes to life's challenges. You discover the links between your thoughts, emotions and physiology. You find out that what's important isn't what happens to you, but how you choose to respond that matters. This statement may sound simple, but most people respond to situations based on their mental programming (past experiences and predictions of what will happen next). Practising mindfulness makes you more aware of how your thoughts, emotions and physiology impact on your responses to people and situations. This awareness then enables you to choose how to respond rather than reacting on auto-pilot. You may well find that you respond in a different manner.

By gaining a better understanding of your brain's response to life events, you can use mindfulness techniques to reduce your 'fight or flight' response and regain your bodies 'rest and relaxation' state. You will see things more clearly and get more done.

Mindfulness also brings you face to face with your inner bully – the voice in your head that says you are not talented enough, not smart enough or not good enough. By learning to treat thoughts like these ones as 'just mental processes and not facts', the inner bully loses its grip on your life and you become free to reach your full potential.

These examples are just a few of the many ways that a mindful attitude can have a positive impact on your life and career prospects.

Finding Out Why Your Brain Needs Mindfulness

Recent advances in brain scanning technology are helping us to understand why our brain needs mindfulness. In this section you discover powerful things about your brain – its evolution, its hidden rules, how thoughts shape your brain structure and the basics of how your brain operates at work.

Evolving from lizard to spaceman

In order to understand how mindfulness works, you need to know some basics about the human brain. Over millions of years, the human brain has evolved to become the most sophisticated on the planet (see Figure 1-2).

The oldest part of the brain is known as the reptilian brain. It controls your body's vital functions such as heart rate, breathing, body temperature and balance. Your reptilian brain includes the main structures found in a reptile's brain: the brainstem and the cerebellum.

The middle part of your brain is known as the limbic brain. It emerged in the first mammals. It records memories of behaviours that produced agreeable and disagreeable experiences for you. The limbic system is responsible for your emotions and value judgements. The reptilian brain and limbic system are quite rigid and inflexible in how they operate. We call these two areas the primitive brain.


Excerpted from Mindfulness at Work For Dummies by Shamash Alidina, Juliet Adams. Copyright © 2014 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. Excerpted by permission of John Wiley & Sons.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Introduction 1

Part I: Getting Started with Mindfulness at Work 5

Chapter 1: Exploring Mindfulness in the Workplace 7

Chapter 2: Exploring the Benefits of Mindfulness in the Workplace 29

Chapter 3: Applying Mindfulness in the Workplace 49

Part II: Working with Mindfulness 75

Chapter 4: Practising Mindfulness Day to Day 77

Chapter 5: Boosting your Mental Resilience 97

Chapter 6: Discovering Mindfulness At Work Training 117

Chapter 7: Applying Mindfulness At Work Training 143

Chapter 8: Practising Mindfulness in the Digital Age 169

Part III: Mindfulness for Organisations 187

Chapter 9: Improving Team Performance with Mindfulness 189

Chapter 10: Using Mindfulness to Assist Different Business Functions 207

Chapter 11: Integrating Mindfulness with Coaching 225

Chapter 12: Commissioning Mindfulness Training in the Workplace 243

Part IV: Leading with Mindfulness 261

Chapter 13: Thriving on the Challenges of Leadership 263

Chapter 14: Leading without Boundaries 279

Chapter 15: Leading People, Change and Strategy 295

Part V: The Part of Tens 313

Chapter 16: Ten Ways to Be More Mindful at Work 315

Chapter 17: Ten Ways to Improve Your Brain with Mindfulness 325

Chapter 18: Ten Ways to Mindfully Manage Work Pressures 333

Chapter 19: Ten Ways to be Mindful in a Minute 341

Chapter 20: About Ten Resources for Further Study 349

Part VI: The Appendixes 357

Appendix A: Answers to Learning Check Questions 359

Appendix B: Summary of Research 361

Index 365

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