The Missing Link in Mindfulness at Work

There are some fundamental differences between a mindfulness meditation class someone chooses to go to in their own time, and a mindfulness course they attend at work. First and foremost is motivation; if someone chooses to take time out of their schedule and attend a meditation class, it is often because they have already researched mindfulness, heard about its benefits from a friend, or are simply curious. At work, mindfulness is usually offered by the company you work for, and as such is directly available to you regardless of whether you've heard about it or not.

This is a great situation to be in, even if you haven't heard of mindfulness, because it shows that your employer understands that ultimately well-being springs from the mind. The understand that you are their greatest asset and that what they are really paying you for is your mind. The more they can help you to master it, the more your career will advance and the more successful the company will become. While some people will practice mindfulness at work because they've been actively searching for mindfulness classes (or have requested it directly from their employer), most will attend out of curiosity.

In many ways this second group can be better for us as teachers, because they will come without expectations. Usually we spend introductory meditation classes deconstructing expectations that will hold our students back, and explaining the nature of beginner-mind (a state of openness and curiosity in which sensory experience isn't analysed, judged or reacted to, simply experienced). As such, mindfulness can be easier to learn at work because this openness is already there to some degree. However, there is also a missing link. To understand what that is, it's useful to look at Shauna L Shapiro's 'Mechanisms of Mindfulness' .

Shapiro points out that the process of mindfulness revolves around an interaction of 'Intention, Attention and Attitude'. To put this simply - you set your intention (I want to be more aware of myself), set your attitude (I will be patient with myself and not beat myself up) then pay attention. When attention is lost, which invariably happens when you start learning mindfulness at work or anywhere else, you remind yourself of your intention using your attitude, which brings you back to paying attention. You have to have a reason for focusing and developing your skill, otherwise you'll give up.

People approaching mindfulness at work may not have fully considered what they are looking to achieve (mindfulness is not about achieving anything, incidentally, but for the purposes of this explanation we'll work with this phrasing) or what kind of attitude they are going to take. A good mindfulness instructor should identify this early on and ensure that people are familiar with Shapiro's model. Everybody wants to improve themselves on some level, and everybody is looking for a sense of psychological cohesion, so it's simply a matter of helping people identify what it is that motivates them if they've come to mindfulness through work. Whatever it is, mindfulness will get them there. This is not an overstatement; self-awareness is literally the definition of being human, and mindfulness is a cultivation of self-awareness.

There are countless tangible benefits people can choose from. A recent article was published in Psychology Today listing 20 scientifically verified benefits of mindfulness, many of which are directly applicable to work (there's a whole section on productivity). Among the most exciting are improvements in multi-tasking, concentration, creativity and improvements in working memory. With this in mind, who wouldn't want to practice mindfulness at work?