- Business Book Club
- 3rd April, 2017
“STOP…” she shouted very loudly.
This is how I often feel about my life and one of the lessons the great Sir Cary Cooper, Professor of Organisational Psychology, taught me over 25 years ago, in a class I attended organised through work about workplace stress. At the time, nobody had heard of mindfulness but now looking back I realise this is what he was teaching us.
This was in an era when stress was competitive, when you showed your worth and your value by being more stressed than the next person. Not being able to cope with high pressure living was seen as a weakness.
I remember Cary talking about just this. Competitive, work-stressed people (like me back then) ‘relax’ by taking up competitive hobbies – we must run faster, play golf better or sing louder than anyone else, because all this stress makes us better people. Well, guess what? It doesn’t, and it has probably already shortened my life by a few years. So, I decided a few years ago to make a change.
47% of our life is spent with our minds wandering
A Harvard study says that 47% of our life is spent with our minds wandering – and usually not in a good way – wandering, worrying and planning. This means I have already spent half my life feeling anxious and I don’t want the next half to be the same.
Mindfulness – the way forward?
Mindfulness is the way forward, but it can be hard to do. Even now whilst I was searching for mindfulness tips to share, a remarketing banner for some shoes I was looking at in John Lewis came up. Already I was distracted, thinking “Oh nice shoes, should I get them?”. Is there any hope for any of us to really practice mindfulness with all this going on? Well in short, yes, I think there is and you don’t have to go into a full-blown state of meditation to benefit from it.
For a start, there is a great TED talk by Andy Puddicombe that will give you a brief and amusing insight to the subject in “ten mindful minutes”.
Then there is the very irreverent and amusing Ruby Wax and her book “Frazzled”. This was recommended to me by a friend and is fabulous. Ruby has suffered for much of her life with depression and was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Her book is not for people with the same horrible debilitating illness, it is for people like you and me who are quite simply “frazzled” with modern life, in which she tells the story in such a way it takes the stigma out of admitting it.
Then there are some quick and simple tools you can use, that I think most people can benefit from. When you read about mindfulness it sounds like a cure for a problem, but it really isn’t, it is prevention – prevention from rushing through life and being in danger of exploding one day. Like our 5-a-day, the government will soon be recommending mindfulness, as modern day life is interrupting our enjoyment at every available point.
Where to start? Do nothing.
Much of what you read about mindfulness is about taking out ten minutes at least twice a day to do nothing, empty your mind and do and think about nothing apart from maybe your breathing. This is a big ask for some people and there are other ways to start the process of mindfulness.
Here are a few quick mindfulness tips supported by the NHS:
1. STOP (yes, the opening line was very relevant!) what you’re doing and take time to notice your breathing and your surroundings. Listen to your breathing, and you’ll soon be aware of the rise and fall of your body as you breathe in and out.
2. Take time to sit in the garden or perhaps a park during your lunch break. Sit somewhere peaceful and just notice the nature around you, the sounds of the birds or the way the grass moves in the wind. Notice determinedly the first two bites of your lunch and concentrate on the textures and tastes.
3. Breathe in the smells around you, this can help you feel positive about your day. This may include the freshly baked bread from the bakery on the way to work or the scent of flowers as you pass a garden or a florist.
4. Take a moment to think about when you zone out. This may be while emailing, texting or doing the washing. Next time you do that activity, practise being more aware of it. Breathe slowly and concentrate on the task and bring yourself back to focus on what you are doing and ground yourself to that task or activity.
5. When you are walking, don’t worry or feel stressed about your destination or your to-do list, tune in to how your body moves as you put one step in front of another.
6. Each evening, plan the next day. Take time to prioritise what is important. This will avoid a stressful rush in the morning, meaning you can take time to enjoy your environment. This may include breakfast with your partner or family, or catching a later train to avoid the rush hour.
Enjoy ‘me’ time
One of the greatest benefits of mindfulness is that it allows you to enjoy some quiet time with yourself and your thoughts. With the demands of busy lives, this can easily be forgotten.
Research has shown that people who practice mindfulness see positive changes in their lives, with improvements in their wellbeing, concentration levels and their ability to enjoy themselves. Where better to see these benefits than in the workplace?