By Dr. Geoff Soloway
Mindfulness is not just a passing fad. There’s a reason why it's being integrated into public health care, education, business and more…it works. Mindfulness is not a panacea for all of life’s problems, and workplace wellness programs are not meant to be clinical interventions. Mindfulness is a technology of the mind, learning to use our attention and intention in ways many never got introduced to. While the practice is actually pretty simple and easy to pick up, it is a practice which means the benefits only come with repetition and exercise.
Workplace Wellness Programs often promote physical exercise, and we now know the importance and possibilities of mental exercise. Mindfulness practice is a form of mental exercise, and when practiced routinely (similar to going to the gym or walking 10,000 steps) there is a significant benefit. Mental health is top of mind for most workplaces and therefore workplaces need to be offering trainings – not simply education – in the area of mental health.
There are lots of programs talking about what is mental health and reducing the stigma which are important. Yet, we now have to develop the skills of mental health that include mental exercises such as mindfulness practice.
There is no shortage of research illustrating the benefits of training our minds to be more present and aware. In fact, you would be hard pressed to find one research university across North America that doesn’t have a handful of researchers conducting studies into mindfulness.
Mindfulness is not going to solve all of problems, yet it does make a qualitative difference in our moments. When we slow down to pay attention, we realize moments are what make up our minutes, hours, days, weeks, months and years. Moments matter when it comes to our lives, and the benefits are trackable. Create a way of measuring and tracking the benefits of your mindfulness initiative.
Mindfulness helps people focus
Given the increasing demands on our day, there isn’t anyone I know who couldn’t benefit from a bit more focus, a bit more calm, and a bit more joy. Presenteeism is one of the biggest issues in today's workplace, people showing up for work, but not really as focused as they could be. The endless messages and connectivity keep our brains and bodies constantly on the go, with little time for rest and recuperation. Have you gone on a holiday lately – not much of a holiday if you take your smartphone! Technology is not the culprit, we need to learn new tools for tuning our brains into the moment, and down regulating our bodies back to physiological balance, and resisting the urge to constantly check our phones helps too!
Mindfulness – not just Meditation
Mindfulness is most closely associated with the practice of meditation. When we think of meditation, the stereotypical image of someone sitting cross legged comes to mind. There are many people open to the practice of meditation, however many more that are not quite there yet. Reducing mindfulness to meditation potentially loses the breadth of impact in your organization. You can find evidence-based mindfulness programs that are customized for the workplace (remember that the standard 8-week mindfulness-based program that you probably heard of was developed for clinical populations, not employees in the workplace).
For example, the 30 Day Mindfulness Challenge was developed as a workplace intervention aimed at engaging a broad audience, teaching a core mindfulness-in-action practice called Take 5. Once you complete the Challenge there are opportunities for continued learning in mindfulness and that may include more intensive meditation practices. Meditation is great and it works, it just may not be the best doorway for everyone to enter into, especially within a workplace context.
Mindfulness is like exercise, once you stop you lose the benefit. So best to focus on mindfulness as an enduring or lifelong practice that you are trying to instill in the workplace. It isn’t a sprint or flavor of the month training whereas you get the certificate of completion and onto the next thing, it is wise to consider an approach that can scale and grow in order to support employees over time.People who are into mindfulness typically love it and want to share it. Harnessing the energy of early adopters in your organizations can help to spread the work and support initiatives. Try different initiatives to find out who is already into mindfulness and get them involved to help gain momentum.
Finally, mindfulness is fundamentally a personal practice with professional applications. Outlining a range of applications and benefits of the practice will help to speak to a wide variety of people in your workplace. Remember that everyone is motivated by something different, and it is important to help people make connections to the things that matter to them. The opportunity is that mindfulness is a foundational skillset, a core competency that enhances many different aspects of personal and professional life.