Do you feel that you go through most of your days on auto-pilot? Whether it be travelling to work, ticking off those tasks on your to-do list, or even eating your dinner each night? Are you truly present in these moments, or do you arrive on the other side of them not entirely sure of how you got to where you are?
Let’s face it, despite a growing interest in the wellbeing benefits of the ancient practice of mindfulness, finding the time to meditate can be challenging for many of us. But what if being more mindful as you move through your day, could actually be just as easy as being mindless?
“The mistake most people make is to assume that mindfulness is hard work and exhausting,” explained Professor Ellen Langer, from the University of Harvard, Director of the Langer Mindfulness Institute, and one of the world’s leading researchers on mindfulness when I interviewed her recently. “But mindfulness is extremely easy, fun, energizing, and is the essence of engaging in your life.”
Ellen explains that, contrary to popular belief, mindfulness doesn’t require hours of meditation, but instead is simply the process of noticing new things as you move through life. “Think of it like travelling to new places,” said Ellen. “You expect to see new things, try new experiences, meet new people so you are more aware, open, and present to the experiences you’re having in each and every moment.”
Unfortunately studies suggest that you are more likely to spend most of your time in a mindless state and miss seeing new opportunities and get stuck evaluating situations and people the way you always have. “You risk using yesterday’s solutions to solve today’s problems,” cautioned Ellen.
So what impact might mindfulness have in workplaces?
Studies have found that being in a mindful state - actively noticing and being curious– lights you up, enables you to be more open and engage better with others, and as a result you are more likely to be seen as trustworthy and charismatic. It puts you in the present and makes you more sensitive to context and perspective, helping you to avert the dangers that have not yet arisen and resulting in fewer accidents.
Ellen has even found that others notice the imprint of your mindfulness on what you produce. For example, one study with members of an orchestra – who as it turns out are often very bored with playing the same pieces of music over and over again – had half of the musicians play mindfully and the other half play mindlessly. Not only did the musicians prefer playing mindfully, but also audiences overwhelmingly preferred recordings from the mindful music performances.
How can you be more mindful at work?
Ellen shares three ways you can develop the practice of noticing new things to engage more in your work and life.
While the uncertainty that comes with not knowing anything may sound frightening, this is often because you’re assuming that others do know or you think that you should know and you don’t want to be caught out. The good news, Ellen points out, is that none of us really know! Try to embrace the uncertainty of not knowing, and that not knowing is just fine as it's what will enable you to ask the questions that help you to be more mindful.
How could a more mindful approach help you to thrive more consistently at work?