There's only one thing that we all have in common: No matter our social status, job, emotional state, or geographical location, we are all alive right now. Our work happens now. The toughest negotiations happen now. The best moments of our lives happen now.
But we have the damnedest time actually being here and now.
As the year ends and we pause for a bit from work to reconnect with the rest of our lives, it's worth reflecting on "now." Why do we spend so much of our day only vaguely aware of our surroundings? How many times a week do we arrive at the office lost in thought, headphones firmly plugged in, with no clear memory of the things we saw on our commute? Why do we look at our phones more than we look at one another? Is our obsession with our mobile phones really about increasing productivity, or is it about distracting ourselves from the present moment? Do I really need to check email on the toilet? I suspect not.
I struggle with being present all the time, despite having studied and actively practicing a wide range of meditation teachings and techniques. Being mindful is a work in progress, and requires daily practice in both your personal and professional life--it's as important as brushing your teeth or managing your inbox.
In fact, there's a growing appreciation of mindfulness right in the workplace. Major corporations are recognizing the benefits of providing resources to improve employee consciousness and engagement. Intel Corporation, for example, is training 100,000 of its workers to disconnect from their phones and computers, place value on emotional intelligence, and practice mindfulness. Google, General Mills, and many others are rolling out similar programs.
As more and more people practice mindfulness, and as scientists study the results, concrete evidence of its value is coming to light. Employees who participated in the Intel program reported, on average, they experienced a two-point decrease in their stress levels (on a scale of 10) and a three-point increase in "overall happiness and well-being." They also cited many improvements in their day-to-day work performance--heightened creativity, mental clarity, and focus are just a few examples. It's no wonder companies are starting to see results in the bottom line. Take the experience of Aetna's CEO, Mark Bertolini. He's an advocate for mindfulness who has seen a difference at his company: "If you're more mindful and more present, the meetings are shorter, the rework is gone, the people around you appreciate your leadership, and you have a better life. It's so simple if you would just do it."
For busy people, setting aside 10 minutes to be mindful can be a major adjustment, and knowing where to begin is difficult. Here are three tips for getting started:
- Lower your expectations: Nothing particularly special will or should happen. Just relax and spend 10 minutes with yourself.
- Minimize interruptions: Turn off your phone, close your laptop, and find a place where your time alone won't be interrupted. If it is, that's fine. Just return to your mindfulness.
- It's OK to think: When people talk about mindfulness practice, they often focus on "clearing your mind." The truth is that your mind is going to keep thinking, just like your eyes are going to keep seeing. Thinking is just what your mind does! The key is to notice the thinking, relax, and return to your mindfulness.
Better performance at work is not the only result of mindfulness practice. People who sit quietly for just a few minutes a day report lower stress, better health, closer relationships with people around them, and generally happier lives.
Tools for mindful practice are now becoming more approachable and accessible. When I was first exposed to practices that help people connect with the present moment, I had to move to a retreat center in the northern Colorado mountains for a year! Now, there are hundreds of resources available for people interested in developing mindfulness. Here are three I have personal experience with:
- Headspace: This mobile phone app supports 10-minute daily mindfulness sessions with guided talks and very cute animations.
- Turning the Mind Into an Ally: This book starts with basic mindfulness practices, such as making "friends" with the never-ending stream of thoughts that come from our mind.
- Shambhala Training: A set of classes offered globally to help develop mindfulness in an evening, a weekend, or longer.
In the year ahead, I will be writing a column on Inc.com called Occupation: Human. It will touch on a variety of themes and examine the role of work in our lives. It will look at how work can be a vehicle for personal development. More and more people are working in places that take an active role in helping us grow and thrive as human beings. From preventative health care, to exercise, to mindfulness practice in the office, work environments are slowly changing to encourage personal growth and community involvement. Next year, Occupation: Human will examine these developments and bring you stories from the frontier.
In the meantime, please take a moment for yourself. In the mad rush of work, shopping, cleaning, families, and all the other stresses of the holidays, give yourself a present--10 minutes (that's just 0.6 percent of the day!) of sitting quietly, feeling your body, seeing the world. Be present for your life. You've worked hard to create it. You deserve to enjoy it for at least 10 minutes a day.