“the awareness that arises from paying attention, on purpose, non-judgmentally, in the present moment” ~ Kabot-Zinn, 1999 ~
Most of us have enough to worry about at work without having to think about whether not we are being mindful. Yet, there are many benefits to mindfulness if we actually practice it rather than worry about it. When we take a moment to pause and shift from worry to experience, our minds become clearer, our emotions settle and we have an opportunity for a fresh perspective. In other words, mindfulness works, but it is not always easy to remember to do it. Perhaps exploring the qualities of mindfulness will help us remember to practice it at work.
According to Jon Kabot-Zinn, one of the founders of the modern mindfulness movement, mindfulness is “the awareness that arises from paying attention, on purpose, non-judgmentally, in the present moment” (Kabot-Zinn, 1999).
What does it mean to pay attention? What happens when we don’t pay attention? Typically our mind is wandering. We’re thinking about other things, and concerned about what might go wrong or what must go right to get the specific outcomes we want. These thoughts and feelings are also playing out physically in ways that sometimes we’re conscious of and sometimes not. We may grind our teeth, tighten our gut or clench our fists. When we bring attention to our actual experience, we begin to see what’s going on. “Oh, my mind was wandering. Oh, I’m concerned about my future. Oh, I’m feeling a little bit stressed.” Paying attention allows us to relax with “what is” rather than struggling with how we want it to be.
What does it mean to do something on purpose? It means to do it with intention and choice. When we are practicing mindfulness, we are beginning to train our minds and expand our capacity to be present with all that is happening. A simple technique, such as “following the breath,” allows us to notice when we lose track and we can strengthen our attention by coming back to the breath again and again. Not only that, we are learning to make friends with ourselves. Being mindful “on purpose” means shifting our awareness from what’s happening “out there: to what’s happening “in here” and giving ourselves the opportunity to get to know ourselves in a new way.
Nonjudgmentally means that we can experience all of this–whether we like it, we don’t like it–without judgment. And by doing this, we open ourselves up to new experiences. Because of our habitual likes and dislikes, we might not have allowed ourselves to fully engage with our experience. Often when we are beginning to practice mindfulness we bring in a lot of analysis and judgement. We wonder, “Am I doing it right? When are the results going to happen?” We’re constantly measuring ourselves. However, when we are mindful and can be present and engaged with intention, we bring an attitude of welcoming and nonjudgment to that very moment. Whether we’re involved in planning or decision making, or we’re working in a team, our goal is usually to get something done. When we can bring non-judgmental awareness to those moments, it can reduce conflict and struggle and help us accomplish more in less time.
In the Present Moment
The ability to be present in this moment is an important quality of mindfulness, since life only happens “now.” It doesn’t really happen in the future, no matter how much we plan. And it doesn’t really happen in the past, no matter how much we rethink what we should have done. We often miss this in the busyness and the pressures of work, but when we bring ourselves into present moment awareness, we can actually enjoy each moment as it’s unfolding. Even if the meeting is not going as planned, we can see what is occurring and offer helpful suggestions since we are present to what is happening in the moment. Flowers may not have been what we ordered or what was planned, but we can still smell the roses.
Over the last 25 years Susan has worked with thousands of leaders in the US, Canada and Europe to cultivate mindfulness and authenticity, strengthen relational skills, and effectively lead the changes they want to see in their organizations and in the world. Formerly a Vice President and Chief Learning Officer and an international consultant, Susan is currently the director of the Authentic Leadership Center at Naropa University which trains and empowers current and next generation leaders to act as catalysts for positive organizational and social change.
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