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What is Mindfulness?

By Emily Cogburn 

Screenshot 2023-07-19 153155_edited.jpg

At first glance, mindfulness and work seem like they wouldn’t go together. After all, mindfulness is the idea of enjoying and focusing on, or being present in, the very moment in which we are. But so much of working is about preparation—planning to attend a conference, preparing a presentation, organizing your workday or someone else’s, even deciding who will work which shift—that it might seem the task of being in the present is impossible in the workplace. So what is mindfulness and how can it help us be better remote workers?
At its core, the idea of mindfulness is simply the practice of attending to the given moment rather than focusing our attention on the past or the future. “It’s about paying attention in a systematic way,” says Jon Kabat-Zinn in a series of lectures on his Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program. Launched in 1979 at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, its model has been used in schools, prisons, hospital, and veterans’ centers. Most of the time, he says, we focus on the future (what we are going to do) and the past (what we have done wrong or what others have done to us). The practice of mindfulness is about avoiding focusing on anything outside of the present moment.

Most of us think this is necessary. How can we work without planning for the future? How can we move forward without dwelling on the past? When we are casting our mind into the future or in the past, it is seldom productive. Usually, we are not doing something as useful as planning a trip. Often, we are just worrying about a past we can’t change or a future that might not even happen the way we think. 
In fact, attending to the present moment has been shown to have benefits beyond just increased focus. First, it’s actually good for our health. A study at the University of Wisconsin showed that a short program in mindfulness meditation gave participants improved immune and brain function. During another study in 2008, college students exhibited reduced stress levels after engaging in mindfulness practice. Mindfulness makes us more compassionate and thoughtful as well. 

Perhaps even more directly work-relevant is the evidence that mindfulness can improve our focus and our ability to tune out distractions.

Engaging in the practice also helps people be more creative, have confidence as leaders, and reduce multitasking, according to the University of California at Berkeley. It might even reduce obesity, improve sleep, and help us deal with negative feedback.

Mindfulness at Work
According to Forbes magazine, Google, Intel, and other companies have found that implementing mindfulness programs at their workplaces have led to decreased stress levels, better decision-making, and improved overall wellbeing in their employees. Better engagement at work and dedication to a job or company can also result from increased mindfulness. 

More companies are seeing the benefits and offering mindfulness training. A survey of 163 companies in 2018 showed that more than half offered mindfulness programs to their employees. Research shows that even short sessions of yoga, meditation or mindfulness training can help employees be more productive. 

Mirabai Bush, who introduced mindfulness to Google, told the Guardian that mindfulness doesn’t stop conflict from arising in the workplace, but it makes employees better at dealing with issues so that “they are more likely to be skillfully acknowledged, held, and responded to by the group.” 

Part of the benefit is making people more aware of their own emotions, she says, giving them more choices on how to deal with them. Mindfulness practitioners are then able to reflect on where the emotions are coming from and react with compassion rather than just reacting quickly in the moment. Some people sum up these benefits as something called “emotional intelligence.” The idea is that we become more aware of our own emotions but also attuned to the emotions of others.


Though emotion isn’t something we like to associate with work, it is very important to developing work relationships with others. Almost any business is ultimately successful or unsuccessful because of interpersonal relationships—between workers, with workers and clients, and among management and employees. Being attuned to emotion, then, can be a skill with great value in the workplace. 

In order to learn to improve our emotional intelligence, we have to slow down and make an effort. Reflection is key and this is something many of us don’t take time to do. Mindfulness encourages us to take a step back and figure out what is causing us to lose focus, feel under stress, react badly to conflict, or simply lose the ability to cope in the workplace.

How to integrate mindfulness into your work.


How to Integrate Mindfulness Into Your Work 
What if you don’t work at Google or another company that offers mindfulness training? What if you work remotely or from home? 
The great thing about mindfulness is that you don’t really need any special equipment or even training. A few simple steps practiced regularly can produce results.

First, schedule time out of your day to do it. If you’re the sort of person who schedules your day anyway, it should be easy to find a couple of five or ten minute blocks to devote to practice. If not, choose places in your schedule (before breakfast, after lunch, during that down time in the late afternoon when you really just want to take a nap). 

But what to do? How can we become more mindful and focus on the present moment? There isn’t just one answer, which is good because it means that you can find something that works for you. Whatever it is, your practice should be about breathing and focus. Bringing attention to your breath is a great way to get ourselves into the present moment, however, it’s easier said than done. Here are just a few suggestions:

1.    Try yoga. Going to classes is great, but if you don’t have time or money to physically head to a studio or the gym, it’s easy to do at home. A mat is helpful but not necessary. According to Yoga Journal, Bright + Salted Yoga, Yoga with Adriene, and Breathe and Flow are some of the best yoga channels on YouTube. My favorite yoga app is Nike Training Club, which is free. There are also other yoga apps to try including Daily Yoga, Pocket Yoga, and Down Dog.

2.    Learn to meditate. Getting started with meditation can be intimidating. The idea of sitting still and focusing on only your own breath seems impossible at first. There are many YouTube videos and apps for this too, however, such as Headspace and Calm. Buddhist temples sometimes offer services that are essentially meditation lessons. Participants sometimes listen to a lecture and then sit in silence for up to ninety minutes. 

3.    Float. A float tank or sensory deprivation tank is a good way to nudge yourself into a calmer state of mind. Usually salt water, the tanks are located in dark rooms with soundproofing. As you float for 60 or 90 minutes, you focus on your breathing without distractions. At the same time, the water also helps you into a calmer state of mind.

4.    Kabat-Zinn suggests incorporating mindfulness into everyday life by taking moments to focus intensely on something like a sight, sound, or smell. Doing this at moments of intense stress or anxiety can help temper those feelings, but you can also choose random times to do it, especially at first. He also says it can be helpful to focus your mind on how your body feels. Notice what the chair feels like under you or how the water feels hitting your skin in the shower. He calls these “micro-moments” of meditation.

5.    Walking meditation, another exercise Kabat-Zinn suggests, involves taking a walk anywhere—in your house, your office, or outside—while paying attention to each step. Feel the sensation of your feet touching and leaving the ground and try not to focus on any thoughts that might intrude in your mind.

6.    Body scan. This can be done seated or lying down. Draw your focus to one body part at a time. You can start with the feet and work your way up if you want. As you hone in on each part, try to relax it as much as possible. This is a great exercise to do before bed, to promote better sleep.

7.    Just take some quiet time. If all of this seems too difficult, just schedule a few minutes away from the screen and the phone every day. Go outside or into a place where you don’t normally work, and just sit quietly. Crafts can also be a good way to focus the mind away from work or conflict. Learning to knit or crochet is easy with YouTube videos or try cooking, sewing, or learning an instrument, anything that doesn’t involve a screen or other people. The feeling of the yarn in your hands or the scent of tomatoes cooking can be a little mini-meditation. 

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