Mindfulness is making its way into the mainstream- and onto conference agendas. Salesforce included a session on it in its September 2015 Dreamforce conference, where A-lister mindfulness advocates such as author Jack Kornfield, actress Goldie Hawn and designer Donna Karan shared the stage. At the 2015 World Economic Forum, The New York Times reported that author and mindfulness guru John Kabat-Zinn led some 100 delegates through a meditation exercise during a panel session. And at IMEX America 2015, author and mindfulness trainer Lee Papa led a keynote session on the subject, as well as “meditation tasters” throughout the event. Mindfulness is clearly, well, top of mind in today’s business world.
And with good reason: Today’s fast-paced work culture leaves little time for reflection. “We are often on autopilot,” notes Tim Burnett, executive director of Mindfulness Northwest, a professional-development and mindfulnesstraining organization in Bellingham and Seattle, Washington. “That causes mistakes, can burn us out and create conflicts.” Burnett says mindfulness training teaches people to tune in to the present and ignore the noise. “Mindfulness is learning how to pay attention on purpose in the present, with more acceptance,” he explains.
The practice has become more popular in the Northwest in the past several years, says Burnett, who teaches individuals and teams what it is, why it’s beneficial and how to practice it. His clientele includes a raft of health care organizations, such as King County Wellness Program, Virginia Mason and EvergreenHealth, as well as corporations such as Nordstrom and Google. “Mindfulness helps us let things go,” says Burnett. “It’s been shown to help a lot with anxiety, depression and clinical social anxiety disorder.”
In addition to taking a class, Burnett says there are a number of ways people can begin to incorporate mindfulness into their everyday work lives. Here are his tips for incorporating mindfulness into your business:
1. Before you enter a room, practice “two feet and a breath.” Feel your two feet on the floor, take a breath—then take a step into the room. This is an exercise in taking a “purposeful pause.” It allows you to collect yourself before jumping ahead to what’s on the agenda. Burnett recalls a study from the University of Wisconsin that investigated mindfulness for physicians and studied the response between doctors who practiced this exercise before walking into a patient room and those who didn’t. Those physicians who took the time to pause listened and responded better to their patients.
2. If you find your mind wandering away from the present task and thinking about conversations that haven’t happened yet, take a few moments with “awareness of breathing.” Bring your attention to your breath, notice when the mind wanders and bring it back. Do this a few times. “The mind is really good at traveling in the past and the future,” explains Burnett. Being aware of your breathing, he says, “acts sort of like a circuit breaker,” and resets your thoughts.
3. Just like exercise, emphasize regularity over quantity. Ten minutes or two, notes Burnett, of “stillness, stability and breathing” will help prime your brain to recognize when it needs to pause.
4. Don’t stress about doing it the “right” way. “We’re so wired up for instant gratification and for doing it right versus doing it wrong—in mindfulness you can’t bring that,” says Burnett.
He notes that after following these steps, you may notice results—or you may not. But your friends and family may see the difference in you. Burnett says he’s had clients tell him, “I don’t think this is working—but my wife notices I’m calmer!” He notes, “Everyone’s experience is different.”