Several years ago, I was in the small town of Luang Prabang in Laos, the small country nestled between Thailand, Myanmar, Cambodia and Vietnam. As my husband and I sauntered through the streets, admiring the many Buddhist Temples and street markets, we noticed that we were continuously being greeted by people with smiles, a gentle bow and the words “Good luck for you”. It became such a common occurrence that I started repeating these words throughout our travels and remarked to my husband “Wouldn’t it be nice if we could bring this back to London, and before every business meeting everyone smiled kindly and said, ‘Good luck for you’?”
To which he responded… “People will think you are nuts.”
He was of course right, and I didn’t bring the expression home with me. However, this small, gentle phrase has made me think about intentions. Meaning, what if we planned our days, and set our intention for the day, rather than live in autopilot mode? And more specifically, what if we were all mindful and set our intention for a meeting before a meeting starts?
Now you may be thinking to yourself, well of course, if a meeting is set, then obviously there is an intention to the meeting. I hear you. What I mean is something different.
I am currently taking a course with UC Berkeley on the Science of Happiness at work, which includes studies on empathy, emotional intelligence (EQ), resilience, compassion, gratitude and mindfulness; and the coursework on mindfulness has really resonated with me. I have been practicing mindfulness for the past 5 years and I resolutely believe that there is place for mindfulness in the workplace.
I believe in this because in 2013 my world came crashing down around me due to burnout, panic attacks, anxiety and depression, and it happened in part because I didn’t have any awareness or mindfulness practices in my life. I was living in a perpetual state of autopilot mode. I went from one meeting to the next, from conference calls to conference calls with no time in between to just take a moment and breathe, be present and check in with myself. And because of this it was only a matter of time before burnout occurred.
And the reality is that my experience with burnout is not unique.
We live in a global environment, with many leaders and employees accommodating multiple time zones, leading them to ‘always being on’ – meaning contactable 24/7. As the norm of working the standard 9-5, Monday to Friday erodes and the expectation of always being on becomes the norm, it is imperative that we implement mindfulness practices not only in our personal lives but also in our professional lives.
What is mindfulness exactly?
To those that don’t know what mindfulness is, it can seem a bit ‘woo’ and can induce feelings of scepticism. One can conjure up images of incense sticks, chanting, hot yoga, yogi’s in sandals and robes and hippies sitting in the lotus position.
Mindfulness is not this.
Mindfulness is quite simply paying attention to the present moment. It’s not about emptying the mind and attempting to ignore and push all thoughts away. It’s simply taking a moment to understand what you are thinking and feeling in the present moment with no judgement about the thoughts or feelings.
So, going back to my original point. What do you think would happen if you introduced mindfulness to your working life? And specifically, what do you think would happen if you spent 5 minutes before each meeting focussing on your breathing, feelings and body sensations?
There is no doubt in my mind that by implementing 5-minute mindfulness breathing, alongside more formal mindfulness training, that it will decrease stress, and increase both personal and social wellbeing.
And what about going one step further and being intentional before each meeting? For example, breathing deeply and calmly and saying to yourself ‘It is my intention to show up and be fully present in this meeting and to purposely listen’.
I suggest that if all of us attended each meeting with this intentionality, the workplace would become a kinder, more compassionate place.
No time for mindfulness? Give yourself 5 minutes:
Until next week, Good luck for you....