How mindfulness improves your life at work
[Part of a series on learning to love your life at work.]
Picture this. You’re sitting at work, doing what you do. It’s an ordinary day, just like any other. Except…today there’s a twist.
You’re still doing your work, but somehow you find yourself in the proud possession of a magic button that pushes pause on three things:
- The past
- The future
- Your judgment about whatever is happening right now
Think your experience might be a little different that day? Let’s take a look.
OK, let’s assume that whatever magic wand cleared out the past left all the past awareness you need to do your job intact. What it pushed pause on was all your memories and associations from the past that you have negative associations with.
So for example, on this particularly unusual day you won’t have:
- Regrets about mistakes you have made
- Doubts about yourself stemming from past failures
- Negative stories about your co-workers based on conflicts you have had in the past
- Resentments based on past perceived slights
The list goes on, but you get the idea.
Notice anything about all of these? Not a single one of them is happening in the present moment of your work day. And yet, if you’re anything like the rest of us, you spend untold amounts of energy in the suffering they create.
Press pause and – POOF – that suffering disappears.
Bottom line, we layer all kinds of unpleasantness over our experience of the present moment by bringing our negative past experiences into the present and giving them life. Push pause on that, and our experience of the here-and-now improves immensely.
Bringing the past forward into the present moment is bad enough (or rather, the perceived past, since studies show that what we remember tends to be a poor representative of what actually happened). But bringing the future into the present moment is sheer folly.
Because, while the past at least has something you can point to and say, “that happened,” (however inaccurate that might be), the future is 100%, no ifs-ands-or-buts made up. Complete fantasyland.
And yet, how often do you get your knickers in a knot about something that might happen? How often do you make yourself miserable worrying about some future outcome that may or may not ever become reality?
For most of us, the answer to that is, “Waaaaaaay too often.”
Now imagine going through your day with none of said knicker-knotting. How much more energy would that free? How much more peaceful would that feel?
Judgments about the Present
Finally, imagine that someone hit “mute” and quieted that voice that gives a running commentary about what you’re doing and experiencing.
You’ll still experience everything, both pleasant and unpleasant. But you won’t hear the comments from the peanut gallery. No commentary saying:
- That was stupid.
- Why can’t I be more patient?
- I shouldn’t be so _____. (fill in the blank with your favorite self-criticism of choice)
- I should be more _____.
- This shouldn’t be like this.
- When will this stop?
- They shouldn’t be so _____.
All of those judgments add mental suffering to the picture. They add a projected pain to any unpleasantness that actually exists. They also get in the way of more fully experiencing (and enjoying) the present moment.
The “magic” of mindfulness
So you have looked all around and you can’t find the magic button to push so you can hit pause. What to do, what to do?
You’re in luck. Because you don’t need a magic button. All you need is mindfulness.
What, you might ask, is mindfulness? I’ll let Jon Kabat-Zinn, one of the people behind the introduction and popularization of the idea in the West, explain:
“Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way: On purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.”
So basically mindfulness is way of experiencing the present moment without all the chatter of the past, the future, and judgments about the present mucking it up.
Think that might make any difference in how you experience your life at work?
(Hint: The answer is yes.)
p.s. If you want a deeper look at mindfulness, here’s a what is mindfulness post – a short video of Kabat-Zinn giving an overview of the concept, as well as a longer one of him doing a talk and mindfulness session at Google.
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Brought to you by Curt Rosengren, Passion Catalyst TM
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