With time always a precious commodity for business owners, many are turning to better mindfulness to not only improve their health, but to help them get more out of their busy schedules.
With hours in the day often in short supply, it’s no surprise that in the business world, stress, distraction and mental fatigue are leading causes of poor mental health.
In just one year, unmanaged mental health issues cost Australian workplaces approximately $10.9 billion due to absenteeism, presenteeism and compensation claims.
With these alarming statistics only climbing, a solution lies somewhere many don’t expect: mindfulness.
Yet, despite the impressive mental and physical health benefits of mindfulness, such as anxiety relief and decreased blood pressure, this proven form of self-care remains ignored by many workers and their employers.
For these individuals, Dr Craig Hassed, a coordinator of mindfulness programs at Monash University, offers an enticing proposal:
“If you’d like to save time in your day and spend less time with useless, distracting processes, maybe you’d like to learn a little bit about mindfulness.”
Hassed, an associate professor and ambassador for Smiling Mind, has demonstrated the benefits of mindfulness to countless Australian workplaces over his decades of teaching.
But before you can leap into practicing mindfulness, you’ll want to understand what it truly means to be mindful.
“Mindfulness is a lot more than just meditation – it starts with meditation, and that’s the cornerstone of it, but mindfulness really relates to the quality of attention – a way of being as we go about our day-to-day life,” said Hassed.
“Mindfulness not only includes mindfulness meditation, but also being mindful in day-to-day life – both the formal practice of mindfulness, and the informal practice of being mindful when you’re doing something.”
So then, what exactly is mindfulness? Its actual meaning might be a surprise to many.
“People assume that mindfulness is always about relaxation and just feeling really comfortable,” said Hassed. “It’s primarily an exercise in cultivating awareness. So, when you sit down to practice it in the formal practice, like mindfulness meditation, and you’re more mindful as you go about your day-to-day life, we notice a lot we weren’t noticing before, like how distractible the mind is.”
Although mindfulness practices have been of interest in the scientific community for over 50 years, it’s a field that has grown exponentially more popular in the last decade.
Much of this growth can be related to the discovery of impressive benefits related to mindfulness practices that can be applied to the everyday person.
“The most important early research was looking at mindfulness and its effects on mental health in preventing relapse of depression and helping people with anxiety,” said Hassed.
“Then people got interested in how it may help in other ways, such as communication, relationships and how people might communicate and relate differently.”
As research into these practices continued, it became quickly apparent that much of the research pointed to them improving issues frequently encountered in the workplace.
“We know that stress, distraction, the misuse of technology and complex multitasking interfere with how the brain works, but we now know that, on the other side, there is quite a lot of research showing mindfulness helps the brain to function better.
“We know that mindfulness stimulates new connections, new brain cell growth, in areas related to memory circuits, decision-making requirements, it quietens down the stress area of the brain, switches on the emotion regulation areas of the brain so a person finds it easier to manage emotions like anger, frustration and fear.”
With the benefits of mindfulness translating remarkably well to the needs of the workplace, organisations applying mindfulness practices are finding their workforces developing far healthier work habits as a result.
In spite of this, there are many that feel mindfulness and its related practices are still a bit of a joke.
The issue is often related to a predisposed understanding of what these mindful activities really are. This belief makes teaching them a challenge – and these kinds of people are not uncommon in Hassed’s experience.
How can business owners connect with these problematic employees, then? Hassed offers a solution:
“When it’s being taught it needs to be contextualised in a way that is relevant to them – it’s about contextualising this generic thing we call mindfulness and in emphasising the particular applications that are relevant to them personally or professionally,
“Give people some of the science and the evidence so they get a sense you’re not just plucking statements out of the air or making things up.”
With health benefits obvious and many organisations rushing to teach it, mindfulness still faces another obstacle: encouraging workforces to actually practice it.
Hectic work schedules see people shrug off mindfulness practices for a variety of reasons, with a permanent lack of time being the main culprit.
Instead, mindfulness – as Hassed and many other qualified teachers of the practice can attest to – doesn’t require that people dedicate time to its practice. Instead, a very simple, relaxed state of mind should be carried everywhere.
“The informal practice of mindfulness is a very simple thing to apply – just walk mindfully. Give yourself some mental space, free up a little bit of bandwidth in your mind by not complicating the next few minutes with anything more than just walking,” said Hassed.
“Be in touch with the rhythm of your body, the feeling of air on your face.
Be aware of the sounds around you so that your senses always bring you back to the present moment.”
“If a person does that, they’ll step into the next situation with a calmer, more attentive state of mind ready to engage with a complex situation.”
Although a short walk might seem insignificant considering the scope of your work day, small moments have a big impact when they add up.
“If we worry about things then that’s the mode of mind that we cultivated in our whole day, and it leads to a massive amount of mental fatigue at the end of the day,” said Hassed.
For people still unsure or on the fence about practicing mindfulness, Hassed likes to apply an interesting analogy.
“Rather than it just being a blur, consider punctuating your day with two full stops and lots of little commas.
“A full stop might be five minutes before you head out the door to go to work in the morning, and five minutes at the end of your working day. This helps you to move into your day mindfully, and also helps at the end of the day to put some space between the work and your friends, family or whatever else you’re going to do.”
As for the commas?
“A comma might be that you just finished a project and you’re about to head off to a meeting – your mind’s still buzzing and preoccupied, so just before you head off to the meeting you might have a one minute mini-meditation practice, just to put some space between the completion of one thing and the commencement of the next.”
If you’re unsure about how to apply mindfulness to your life, there are a few great resources around the internet designed specifically to help business owners expand their understanding of themselves.
Smiling Mind is one such resource — MYOB has partnered with Smiling Mind to create a custom program designed to support the mental, emotional and physical wellbeing of small business owners.
For a more in-depth look at mindfulness practices, Hassed also recommends Monash University’s Mindfulness for Wellbeing and Peak Performance course, which is also free.
The takeaway? Applying a new way of approaching the way you do things can leave you happier, healthier, and more in control of your work schedule.
Hassed says it best, though:
“Mindfulness is not something you keep for the five or 10 minutes sitting in a chair and then just getting on with life as usual – it’s a training for life so we can meet life in a more mindful way.”
So, next time you’re once again spending “five minutes worrying in the shower on automatic pilot and a good half-hour ruminating on the way to work in the morning,” as Dr Hassed puts it, make sure to keep mindfulness in mind.
Get started on your mindfulness journey today with the Smiling Mind app, now including a unique Small Business Program.