Mindfulness and how it helps in business

“Being the richest man in the cemetery doesn’t matter to me. Going to bed at night saying we’ve done something wonderful… that’s what matters to me.” ― Steve Jobs

If you work in a business, at some point you are going to have to sit in front of your colleagues and present an update on your part of the business. Whether this is yearly, quarterly or even monthly, this is the beating heart of the company business review cycle. I have worked in organisations where the reviews can be any and all of the above. I think probably, the only company where this does not happen with such rigor, is if you run your own one-person business, though I am sure there are other pressures.

I am in the current company review cycle. The normal process is to review current performance for the period that has just past and to then predict what will happen the following period. Now, this takes time, skill, lots of effort and understanding of the business. And, unless you are in a guaranteed utility business  where the run rate of the business can be predicted over a long time scale – say years – requires a degree of, how can I put it, “predicting the future”.

So how can mindfulness play into this? For the past six months, I have been deliberately practicing a series of mindfulness exercises during the preparation period and even more so, on the day of the review. The reason is twofold: to help me reduce the tension and stress of the review and more importantly: enable me to be more focused in both the preparation and delivery of the review. Mindfulness actually helps improve your attention by getting you to focus on the present moment.

How does it work? For the three or four days leading up the final meeting I do the following. Firstly, I get up early. Well, if you are like me, your mind is going to going at a 100mph anyway, so why on earth stay in bed and ruminate when you can be doing something about it. I practice mindfulness movement exercises and focus really hard on the movements to still the mind. Secondly, I practice a forgiving meditation – this I will cover in a separate post. The combination eases my mind and at the same time, makes me feel more calm as I carry out the review.

So what is the mindful movement exercises? A short explanation follows:-

You want to start at the top of the body, with head and neck movements. Next you move onto the shoulders and the arms. Finally, you move down the body to the feet. I base mine on the audio CD of the book “Mindfulness: Finding peace in a frantic world”, though you may have your own approach.

One of the areas it has helped me to identify is where I have a stress related pain. Generally, in my neck and shoulder area. It has helped me to “lean into that area” as the exercise suggests. First, recognising that the pain is there and also the reason for the pain – the stress. Next, it asks you to accept the pain and move into the pain, exploring with kindness, what that pain is. I know this sounds really weird, but trust me, give it a try for a few days and it really, really works.

The website with the guide notes and also a audio of the exercise is below. Please do try it out, it makes such a difference.

http://franticworld.com/huffington/ main web site


Exercise audio instructions

I leave you with the following quote:

“Our life is made up of time; our days are measured in hours, our pay measured by those hours, our knowledge is measured by years. We grab a few quick minutes in our busy day to have a coffee break. We rush back to our desks, we watch the clock, we live by appointments. And yet your time eventually runs out and you wonder in your heart of hearts if those seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, years and decades were being spent the best way they possibly could. In other words, if you could change anything, would you?”

Cecelia Ahern, Love, Rosie

Mindfulness at work – How are you developing it?

“Do more than belong: participate. Do more than care: help. Do more than believe: practice. Do more than be fair: be kind. Do more than forgive: forget. Do more than dream: work.” William Arthur Ward

The practice and discussion on Mindfulness is expanding into the workplace. The list of blue-chip businesses and public bodies that have adopted mindfulness programmes grows and grows. They include:- Google, Apple, Sony, Ikea, BT, Transport for London and the Department of Health. I have seen a number of YouTube videos from Google, where they have invited speakers into their organisation to discuss, share practices and promote Mindfulness at Work. If you have time, you can check them out at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jUlWDxhSlt8

I have read with interest, articles in the UK press on the expansion of Mindfulness into the corporate world [I enclose at the end of this post, ones from the FT & Independent], with many professionals extolling its virtues to help people deal with the pressures of work and also to help improve performance whilst at work.

As part of the Corporate Social Responsibility programme at my place of work, one of the HR colleagues has put together a short overview for one part of the organisation, where they wanted to trial a short set of mindfulness practices. I was keen to find out more and contacted them. The overview covered the basics, but in terms of a fully developed programme, that is still a way off. I would reflect, it is more of a “try before you buy” approach, to see where the benefits manifest themselves. Still it is a start.

As a practitioner of Mindfulness, I know the benefits of regular practice, but have tended to practice outside of the work situation. I work in an open plan office and with people constantly walking past, the idea of practicing meditation at my desk has felt strange. However, I have tended to do short, three minute practices at lunch times, especially when I have experienced a stressful morning, or feel that the afternoon will run away with me. The three-minute breathing space meditation is explained below:

Three-minute Breathing Space meditation

Minute 1: Acknowledging what is going on

Deliberately adopt an erect and dignified posture, whether sitting or standing. Imagine that there is a string attached at the back of your head and spine, gently pulling you upright. If possible, close your eyes. Then, bring your attention to your inner thoughts, asking: what is my experience right now?

  • What thoughts are going through the mind? As best you can, acknowledge thoughts as mental events.
  • What feelings are here? Turn towards any sense of discomfort or unpleasant feelings, acknowledging them without trying to make them different from how you find them.
  • What body sensations are here right now? Perhaps quickly scan the body to pick up any sensations of tightness or bracing, acknowledging the sensations, but, once again, not trying to change them in any way.

Minute 2: gathering and focusing the mind

Now, redirecting the attention to a narrow ‘spotlight’ on the physical sensations of the breath, move in close to the physical sensations of the breath in the abdomen…… expanding as the breath comes in…… and falling back as the breath goes out. Follow the breath all the way in and all the way out. Use each breath as an opportunity to anchor yourself into the present moment. And if the mind wanders, gently escort the attention back to the breath. Acknowledging that that is what minds do, with kindness and compassion.

Minute 3: expanding attention

Now, expand your field of awareness around the breath so that it includes the body as a whole, your senses, the skin, your hands and toes, your posture and facial expression, as if the whole body was breathing. If you become aware of any sensations of discomfort, tension, feel free to bring your focus of attention right into the sensation by imagining that the breath could move into and around the sensation.  In this, you are helping to explore the bodies sensations, befriending them, rather than trying to change them in any way. If they stop pulling for your attention, return to the breath, aware of the whole body, moment by moment.

The hourglass shape of the Breathing Space

It is helpful to view your awareness during the Breathing Space as forming the shape of an hourglass. The wide opening at the top of the hourglass is the first step of the Breathing Space meditation. In this, you open your attention and gently acknowledge whatever is going on.

The second step is the narrowing of the hourglass at the neck. It’s where you focus your attention on the breath, generally in the lower abdomen. You focus on the physical sensations of breathing, gently coaxing the mind back to the breath when it wanders away – as it always does. This helps to anchor the mind. In effect, grounding you back into the present moment.

The third step is the broad base of an hourglass. In this, you seeking to open your awareness to life as it is, preparing yourself for the next moments of your day. Here you are, gently but firmly, reaffirming your grounded place in the world. THat your whole mind and body together, just as it is, in all its peace, compassion and whole.

If you have specific ways that you practice or ways you have developed at work, or if your organisation has started a mindfulness programme, please feel free to share. It would be fantastic to share what you are doing with my colleagues. 

I leave you with the following quote:

“He who becomes the slave of habit,

who follows the same routes every day,

who never changes pace,

who does not risk and change the color of his clothes,

who does not speak and does not experience,

dies slowly.

Martha Medeiros

The FT article on Mindfulness at Work


The Independent article on Mindfulness at Work