Mindful, or Mind Full?
Did you know the average worker checks Facebook 21 times each day? Checks email 74 times daily? Shifts computer screens an average of 566 times each day (documents to email to websites and around and around...)? Do you call this a typical day or does it stress you out just thinking about those numbers?
I attended a wonderful workshop this week on mindfulness, resilience, and focus in the workplace, presented by Brenda Fingold, JD, a teacher of stress reduction for the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Healthcare, and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. Ms. Fingold shifted my thinking about mindfulness beyond meditation or yoga toward an evidence-based practice. Mindfulness is scientifically proven to improve your health - not a "nice to have," but a scientifically researched neuroscience; a way to keep our brains healthy, make better decisions, and protect ourselves from toxic stress.
Research has proven that mindfulness supports the growth of the hippocampus' gray matter (learning, memory, resilience) and supports activity in the prefrontal cortex (executive function, perspective, emotional regulation, sense of well-being). So not only can this practice be effective for anxiety, depression, addiction, and burnout symptoms, but it has been proven to help lower high blood pressure, ease digestive issues, relieve headaches/migraines, and even impact your immune system among many other positive effects.
So what is mindfulness? Simple: mindfulness is paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally. What's the downside of being distracted and jumping from one topic (or screen) to another? Forgetfulness, redundancy, increased mistakes, longer completion time/lost productivity, increased frustration and stress, and lost opportunities for creative and innovative ideas. In other words: lost curiosity and creativity.
Fingold strongly recommended reading Jon Kabat-Zinn's Full Catastrophe Living, in which Zinn reminds us, "The very first and most important step in breaking free from a lifetime of stress reactivity is to be mindful of what is actually happening while it is happening." Whether you practicing meditation, go for a walk, or just sit and focus inward on your breathing for one minute each day, mindfulness means simply paying attention to the moment. Here are just a few tips shared by Ms. Fingold:
1. "Center before you enter" a meeting, and make the meeting mindful.
2. Notice when you become distracted - and gently return to what you are doing without judgment.
3. Before you speak, ask yourself: is it true, helpful, timely and kind?
4. Be a mindful listener. Lean in.
5. Take short mindful pauses for cognitive relaxation.
6. Keep trying - don't judge yourself if you slip - consistency is key to this practice.
Without a healthy brain, we cannot possibly be the best version of ourselves - and we certainly lose our ability to be curious and clever!