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10 Ways to Begin Practicing Mindfulness

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Mindfulness has been defined as the awareness that arises from paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally. While decisions may be made and judgments eventually drawn, mindfulness is rooted in acceptance: acceptance of the situation, one’s own limitations, and the limitations of others. 

One expert in mindful leadership believes the path to mindfulness rests in your ability to:

  • Love your work.
  • Develop a regular mindfulness routine.
  • Avoid being an expert; keep an open mind and a beginner’s attitude.
  • Learn from experience; connect to your emotions.
  • Connect to the emotions of others, especially their pain.
  • Depend on others.
  • Keep making it simpler; concentrate on what is most important right now.

Research has shown that practicing mindfulness not only decreases stress but improves flexibility, empathy, memory, and relationships both in your personal life and at work. The benefits at work include improved performance, more focused concentration, fewer errors, more accurate decision making (in part, because of the increased awareness of personal bias), and greater satisfaction. The benefit to the company is also pronounced: productivity increases, turnover falls because of a greater commitment to the job, greater innovation, and greater objectivity, making change easier.

Here are 10 SMaRT strategies to help you begin practicing mindfulness.

Take Time 

All the strategies that follow require time for both reflection and action. They will help you decrease your stress and the stress of those around you. Among other results, they will open your awareness to what you can control and what you cannot. Time falls into the category of things you can control: one of the most important goals of time management is to make time for yourself. 

Use the Time You Have

Your workday might prevent an hour-long walk in the woods, but it can be conducive to a 15-minute walk at lunchtime or a stroll to the break room and back. You might be able to sit at your desk and breathe deeply for a few minutes or stand and stretch before taking on the next task. The objective is to bring yourself back to the here and now, slow down, and reflect. If it helps, program your computer or phone to interrupt you at intervals. Many studies have shown that people have difficulty holding concentration for more than an hour, so an electronic reminder to take a break is entirely justified.

TIP: If you decide to try meditation (or any other mindfulness routine), experts stress the importance of starting slowly. The important question is not how long you will meditate, but “when will you begin?”


Establish a Routine

In particularly high-stress jobs, such as healthcare, mindfulness training decreased the levels of stress as measured by the levels of salivary cortisol (which increased with increased stress). However, when the participants failed to establish a routine, the cortisol soared once again after just eight weeks. There are many paths to mindfulness—including mindful mantras, mindful movement, and mindful visualizations. Their benefit increases with repetition. You need to establish a habit of practicing mindfulness; perhaps you repeat a phrase in the morning, walk in the woods in the evening, or visualize yourself accomplishing a goal before the start of your workday. 

Give Attention to What You Are Doing

Divided attention quickly undermines mindfulness. Multitasking means you provide only part of your attention to each task. With your attention divided, how quickly will you notice if things go right or wrong or if other people are paying attention or have also lost focus? To be an effective leader, you must be here now.

Recognize What You Want

Your core values direct you toward your goals because they define what is most important in any situation. They also define your vision of leadership—the leaders you admire and the qualities you want to embrace, such as patience, trustworthiness, decisiveness, or clear thinking. By recognizing your own goals, you also increase your objectivity: while you want to stay true to your core values, there may be times when your wants (and feelings) interfere with what is best for your team. By practicing mindfulness, you increase your objectivity.

TIP: As a leader, you should act in accordance with clear goals and a clear idea of what is important to you. What effect do you want to have on the world around you, and how can you share your enthusiasm with others?


Recognize What You Feel

Some leaders dismiss physical and emotional pain as a weakness; others buy into the social stigma of stress; and still, others consider symptoms of sleeplessness, anger, and burnout to be a badge of honor, indicating their level of dedication to the job. Even success can be stressful. The first step toward a healthier lifestyle is to recognize when you are under stress, identify the immediate cause of each stress reaction, and decide on the best way to respond. Unrecognized stress may lead you to blame others, distort situations, and rely on potentially harmful coping mechanisms, such as smoking.

Recognize What Others Want and Feel

Mindful leaders ask their team how they are and what they need; they support their team in finding answers on their own. Assuming you know everything about the needs, goals, abilities, and emotions of other people comes across as arrogant and controlling. Emotionally intelligent people have enough self-awareness to realize that they might be mistaken in their assumptions about others. They ask and listen.

TIP: Mindful leaders relax their ego; they recognize how their words and actions affect those around them and adjust accordingly.


Don’t Force Anything

To cultivate mindfulness, mindfulness specialist John Kabat-Zin recommends seven attitudes: a beginner’s mind, non-judging, acceptance, letting go, trust, patience, and non-striving. He emphasizes that this is not “giving up” but recognizing a situation for what it is before deciding on or working toward a solution. To practice patience, try the STOP method: stop, take a breath, observe, and proceed.

Accept Your Limitations

Your mindfulness will also vary from moment to moment during the day, as (for example) your capacity for paying attention falters. “Perfect mindfulness” does not exist; and the striving for perfection conflicts with the very purpose of mindfulness. For example, mindfulness decreases the likelihood you will uselessly ruminate on a past mistake; yet, some rumination is necessary to prevent you from repeating the same mistake over and over. Mindfulness may also be misinterpreted. For example, your team may believe that, by refusing to force anything and exercising patience, you are showing indifference, even though you stepped back to selflessly allow them to exercise their leadership. 

Create a Quiet Space

Some companies create a physical, designated quiet space that is free of electronic devices, has windows or calming art, and is open to all employees who need a moment to recharge. But you can create quiet spaces by giving your team time to day-dream and relax; refusing to interrupt their downtime or family time; and blocking out unscheduled time for yourself, leading by example. You might begin meetings by asking everyone to take a moment to breathe and relax. Small movements toward mindfulness have big effects.

Key Takeaways

Mindfulness allows you to see situations and people as they are, not as you would like them to be. For a leader, practicing mindfulness means exercising patience, recognizing your goals and feelings and those of others, and facing new situations with a mind open to possibilities and free of distractions. Mindfulness reduces stress, increases productivity and focus, and allows for better decision making.

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