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Mindfulness: How to Pay Attention to What Matters


MindfulnessMindfulness is your capacity to focus on what matters to you, and use your brain’s capabilities to their fullest potential.

Put like that, who wouldn’t want to enhance their mindfulness?

So, it’s little wonder that this Big Idea is constantly resurfacing through human history. The label ‘Mindfulness’ may suggest a Twenty First Century fad, but the ideas behind it and the techniques that underpin it have millennia of credibility.

Most of these Big Ideas articles draw ideas from a number of sources: books and websites. And, whilst I have felt free to do the same here, this article has one dominant source; my new favourite Management Pocketbook: ‘Mindfulness at Work Pocketbook’ by Margaret Chapman-Clarke.

Why is Mindfulness Important?

Your mind wanders. Have you ever felt it seem to take control and rip your attention from what matters to the trivial distractions of the moment. Wouldn’t it be better, if you could over-ride that auto-pilot response? Or better still, how about training your mind to keep its focus on what you choose to value?

And there’s another very common feature of modern everyday life. Margaret Chapman-Clarke calls it ‘Mind-fullness’. That’s the sense of overwhelm we get when there’s so much to do and to think about. The water’s running, the children screaming, phone’s ringing, television’s blaring. You have calls to make, emails to answer, colleagues to see, and reports to write… by lunchtime. Sound familiar?

And the consequence of mind-fullness is what I call ‘busyness without doing the business’.
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What is Mindfulness?

Mindfulness is placing your attention where you want it to be, and keeping it there. Chapman-Clarke echoes the definition offered by Jon Kabat-Zinn, who is an international leader in the field and founder of the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program. Mindfulness is:

‘our ability to pay attention to the present moment, without judgement.’

More Definitions of Mindfulness

You’ll find plenty of alternate definitions. This is especially the case because many promoters focus on therapeutic uses from the low level life-stress end of the spectrum to the clinical application to serious mental health problems. The UK’s National Health Service (NHS) quotes Professor Mark Williams, a former director of the Oxford Mindfulness Centre:

‘Mindfulness means knowing directly what is going on inside and outside ourselves, moment by moment.’ has a similar definition:

Mindfulness is the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us.

And finally, because I don’t want to bore you, the mental health charity, Mind, says:

‘Mindfulness is a technique which can help people manage their mental health or simply gain more enjoyment from life.

It involves making a special effort to give your full attention to what is happening in the present moment – to what’s happening in your body, your mind or your surroundings, for example – in a non-judgemental way. Mindfulness describes a way of approaching our thoughts and feelings so that we become more aware of them and react differently to them.’

So What’s this Millenia-long History for Mindfulness?

Quite simply, huge amounts of what we call mindfulness today would have been called meditative practices. Here’s not the place to dive into that ocean. Like Chapman-Clarke, I want to focus on (be mindful of) its workplace implications and uses.

How to Develop Mindfulness at Work

Practitioners use mental training exercises to help people in organisations to focus better and become more effective in their daily work. These Organisational Mindfulness-based Interventions (O-MBIs) typically produce gains in productivity by reducing stress levels and improving concentration. Other claims practitioners make include:

  • Greater attention capacity
  • Enhanced resilience to stress
  • Reduced negativity and feelings of blame
  • More positive emotions
  • Lower levels of absence and illness
  • Raised self-esteem
  • Improved EQ (Emotional Quotient, of Emotional Intelligence)
  • Greater empathy and compassion
  • Reductions in conflict

In the Mindfulness at Work Pocketbook, Chapman-Clarke presents her adaptation of Kabat-Zinn’s MSBR program. She describes 8 steps:

  1. Saying hello to your autopilot
    Recognising the issues of everyday overwhelm
  2. Waking up the wisdom of your body
    Increasing your bodily awareness
  3. Deepening your embodied knowing
    Deepening and sharpening your awareness of what matters
  4. Taming the wandering mind
    Taking control of your autopilot and stopping unwanted automatic responses
  5. Tackling the tough stuff
    Learning to face life’s, and work’s, difficulties with equanimity and control
  6. Developing compassion
    Understanding your emotional responses, how they interact, and practicing kindness to others and to yourself
  7. Tools for VUCA surfing
    VUCA stands for the kind of wold we live in today: Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous. To thrive, you need to be resilient.
  8. Creating a mindful toolkit
    Integrating a set of 10 tips to help you practice your mindfulness.

What if you want to Implement Mindfulness in your Workplace

If you want to implement some of these ideas where you work, Margaret Chapman-Clarke has you covered. On pages 109-112, she sets out a ten-step strategy for implementation, which she then supplements with a case study that follows her steps. And there is also a nice summary of lessons learned on page 124.

What is Your experience of Mindfulness?

We’d love to hear your experiences, ideas, and opinions. Please leave them in the comments below.

To learn more…

The Mindfulness at Work Pocketbook is full of tips and tools to help you unlock the power of mindfulness and take workplace performance to new levels.

And for more, here is a video of Jon Kabat-Zinn introducing his ideas…

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