Who isn’t busy these days? Whether it’s too many tasks and too few hours at work, family obligations, needing to take the kids to and from school activities, or house and home repairs, we are often pulled in all directions like Stretch Armstrong. How, then, do we keep our focus, and stay level-headed, while facing all these daily stressors?
Practicing mindfulness is a great way to keep balance in your mind, and in your life. Mindfulness is not all about chanting mantras or practicing yoga either. According to Tara Healey in her article Train Your Mind To Work Smarter, there are four simple daily habits that can help you find peace and harmony in an increasingly chaotic world.
The power of the mind
Healey sums up why it’s so important to learn to harness the power of the mind. “The mind contains untold resources and possibilities - for creativity, kindness, compassion, insight and wisdom. It’s a storehouse of tremendous energy and drive. And yet it can also be a nattering annoyance, an untamed animal, or a millstone that drags us down. Sometimes we would like to just shut it off so we can get some work done or have a moment’s peace. Yet our mind is the one thing we can’t shut off. So why not make the most of it instead? Why not put it to good use? Through mindfulness, we can train our minds to work better.
By training us to pay attention moment by moment to where we are and what we’re doing, mindfulness can help us choose how we will behave, nudging (or jolting) us out of autopilot mode.” Healey believes that implementing these four daily habits won’t just give us some relief from stress; she believes it can actually change, or even transform, how we work. These habits include: keeping an open mind, responding rather than reacting, remembering that thoughts are not facts and building healthy habits.
Keeping an open mind
Most people have strong beliefs about, well, just about anything. We tend to believe what we believe and stand behind those beliefs. Sometimes, these beliefs can cause us to put filters on how we see the world, and what we perceive might actually be a distorted view of the true reality of what we experience.
Because of this self-imposed distortion, we don’t often see the world for exactly how it really is. When people don’t conform to our way of operating, we encounter stress. Some of the stress may be valid, but a certain portion of it may be, unknowingly, our own creating due to our perceptions of the outside world. Instead of changing what we are seeing, we need to take a closer look at how we see things.
The key is to learn from your past mistakes and to not repeat them. If a similar action from a coworker or job tasks elicits a negative response in you repeatedly, it’s time to view the person or task from a different point of view. Accept the way you feel and then decide that you want to maintain the power, rather than letting the person or task take control of you.
Respond, don’t react
Have you ever been irritated, or even angered, by a person or situation and temporarily lost control of the situation? If so, you also likely later regretted that you weren’t able to keep your cool. This ties back to a person’s self-regulation. Possessing the ability to self-regulate makes it easier to handle these pressure-packed situations in a more graceful way.
Simply becoming aware by thinking about how we react to negative stimuli starts us on a path to improvement. Lucky for all of us, self-regulation can be improved with time and effort, and, of course, a willingness to improve. When we think about responding before we actually respond, we are practicing mindfulness. Doing so allows us to keep control of the situation. When you’re in control, you can respond to any situation, rather than react (usually unfavorably) to it.
Try looking at a negative situation as an outsider, as if you are viewing someone else’s story. Experience the story and then choose to simply let it go. Once you do that, it no longer feels like your problem, but simply a problem. When you lose ownership of the problem, its intensity lessens greatly.
Thoughts are not facts
How many of us operate on auto-pilot for at least part of the day? We can so easily fall into the trap of doing the same things the same way, day in and day out, that we sometimes do them without even being consciously involved.
This can especially be true if we are deeply involved with a particular project, and someone comes in, breaks our flow, and requires us to attend to something else immediately. Most people’s minds simply don’t change gears that quickly. You may complete the newly urgent task, but you may not have been mentally present during any of it. I know that’s happened to me more times than I’d like to admit, but sometimes it’s just part of the workplace experience.
We need to reimagine how we do the things that we do. From the big tasks to the mundane and unimportant. We need to take stock of our approach and look for trends. If we are unwittingly casting a negative shadow on certain things, tasks or people, we can begin to change that pattern simply by being aware of it - and choosing to make a change.
As Healey states, “the more you understand your own mind, the more you can understand the minds of others.” Once you can do this, you can begin to become more tolerant of others’ perceived shortcomings.
Create healthy habits by living in the moment
What are you doing right now? I don’t mean this year, this month or this weekend. I mean what are you doing right this second? That is a question we need to work into our daily lives several times a day. By learning to live in the now, we can lessen some of the stress that can build up quickly and sabotage our successes.
I, for one, am not someone who enjoys meditation. In fact, I am convinced I am incapable of successfully practicing it. However, I can commit to thinking about this moment in time, and doing so several times throughout the day.
When I start to drift into a place where I’m focusing on life obstacles that seem too big to overcome, I try to bring it back to where I am - right now. Sure, I may need to do 253 things before the end of the weekend, but the good news is I don’t have to do them all right now. Taking a deep breath, holding it a few seconds, and exhaling slowly can get yourself back into a gear that puts less torque on your mental engine.
By living in the moment, you are able to break negative thought patterns and retake control of your situation. At the end of the day, it’s all about being in control, rather than being controlled. While we may be quick to blame others, it’s often our own minds that are creating the negative movie that plays out before us. Taking back control of our minds can change everything we experience, including how we handle the negative situations we experience in the workplace.