We live in a goal-oriented society. It’s part of our culture. Every year, we celebrate making goals with a New Year’s resolution. That’s how much we love to strive.
While it’s great to aim for better health and more prosperity, after a while, setting a goal to lose 10 pounds or get promoted every year just gets … discouraging. No wonder, then, that the top resolution for 2023 was better mental health, according to a Forbes survey.
Ambition is out. Self-care is in. This year let’s aim for more balance, well-being and better relationships by making mindfulness an unshakeable habit.
What does any of this have to do with PR and marketing? Better mental health results in better results. It’s common sense, and it’s also science. “Poor mental health, manifesting most often as depression, anxiety, or burnout, can severely decrease motivation and production while increasing stress, [which] can have serious consequences for a person and their relationships,” Psychology Today reports.
Constant dissatisfaction doesn’t feel very good, and neither does missing a goal to get richer or thinner. Chronic stress strains relationships with colleagues, clients and loved ones. Instead of chasing goals this year, make mindfulness a part of your daily routine with these three simple methods.
First, the Science
Before we get into the techniques, let’s talk about how mindfulness changes your brain and, therefore, your life.
“Research in mindfulness has identified a wide range of benefits in different areas of psychological health, such as helping to decrease anxiety, depression, rumination, and emotional reactivity. Research has also shown mindfulness helps to increase well-being, positive affect, and concentration,” according to UCLA’s Mindful Awareness Research Center’s blog.
Simply put, our minds run on two modes: focused on a task, and default mode network. Default mode network (DMN) is mind-wandering and self-related thinking. When you do something you find easy and repetitive, such as driving or eating, your mind wanders. That’s DMN.
Where does your mind go? You can often categorize thoughts as either memory about the past, or fantasy about the future.
Some mind wandering is harmless — remembering a child’s joke that morning, or mentally preparing a grocery list. But harmless mental wandering can quickly become self-criticism, traumatic memories and worst-case scenarios. How easy is it for that mental grocery list to become an endless and overwhelming to-do list? How long does it take before we start thinking about a grating co-worker or begin making up arguments with our loved ones in our heads? No wonder the DMN is associated with higher stress.
Even though memories are the past and the future is a figment of the imagination, dwelling on these fictions have a real physiological impact in the here and now. We feel contracted inside as heart rate and blood pressure increase.
Mindfulness helps us stay in the present moment, and practice over time decreases activation of the DMN during tasks. Studies have shown that consistent mindfulness not only improves focus during a practice itself, but also while conducting other tasks and while resting. In other words, taking a little time in your day to practice mindfulness will help you stay more present all the time. Not only that, but meditators also commit fewer errors. Improved concentration is a boost to work quality.
That’s all fine and dandy, but how do you find time for yet another task to do every day? Here are three simple and easy ways to incorporate mindfulness into your daily routine.
The Aimless Walk
Corporate culture has us setting goals for every little thing, including breaks. Having every moment dedicated to a goal or task can have our nervous systems on constant high alert.
The first step to enjoying some more peace in the day is taking a 10-minute aimless walk. We aren’t taking a walk for exercise, to reach a destination, to go to the bathroom or to get a snack.
Instead, get up from your desk and start moving just for the sake of observing the movement. As you stand up, mentally drop everything. Let go of all the tasks for a few minutes, and watch your feet.
Don’t plan a destination. Just observe.
Make spontaneous decisions about where to go as you get to a juncture. In other words, notice if you find yourself thinking, “At the next turn, I will go right.” See if you can leave off making a decision until you get to the decision point, and make the choice based on how you feel in your body, not on trying to get somewhere.
As you walk, feel your feet on the ground. Feel the movement of air on your hands and face. Listen to the sounds all around you. Open your senses to what you experience. It’s as if you have become a benevolent alien who is new to this world. Observe everything with interest and openness, without rejecting anything, without judgment and without any goal.
If you realize that your mind has wandered, congratulations! You are becoming more mindful. Bring yourself back to the present and continue to enjoy your aimless walk.
The Mindful Coffee Break
Make your next coffee break a little ceremony to reset your focus. Try to notice every little detail about making and pouring your coffee. Smell the aroma, watch the steam rise. Observe your hand as you open the fridge and reach in for milk. Listen to the pour. Watch the light swirl on the liquid as you stir. Promise yourself to be fully present for every first sip of every cup of coffee — just the first sip. Savor the flavor.
Wait a minute. Are you trying to tell me that mindfulness is just another word for enjoying life’s little pleasures? And that’s good for me?
Desk Breathing to Reset the Nervous System
Sometimes getting a stressful message can throw your body into fight, flight, freeze or fawn mode. In other words, getting reprimanded, criticized or bad news can make us scared or angry. When we’re scared or angry, few people stop and think, “That message has triggered my sympathetic nervous system and now I have an urge to react with habitual patterning of fight, flight, freeze or apologize and over-explain.”
The sympathetic mode is as much a physiological response as an emotional and mental one. Heart rate increases, blood vessels constrict, airways dilate, organ function increases, and much more. Stress is physical.
With daily mindfulness practice, we can get better at recognizing triggers and can calm down before we react. Deriving from breathwork practices in yogic traditions, alternate nostril breathing is a simple technique that helps calm the body and restore balance to the parasympathetic nervous system, as some research has shown.
Sit up comfortably. Close your right nostril with your right pinky and inhale gently and completely. Switch your right pinky to close the left nostril and exhale. Keep the left nostril closed and inhale. Return the right pinky to the right nostril and exhale.
This is one round — two complete breaths. Do five rounds with the right pinky, then switch hands and do five rounds with the left pinky, starting with the left nostril.
Take the Initiative to Drop Initiatives
More time working does not equal more productivity. Lots of research is showing this — not only mindfulness research, but also recent results from a four-day workweek experiment.
In late 2022, the results of the workweek pilot showed that having an extra day off every week (without a reduction in pay or benefits) decreased worker burnout and fatigue, and increased satisfaction and well-being. Yet business revenue actually rose year-over-year. We are learning that mental health is critical to business success.
Until this sea change reaches the notoriously conservative legal sector, professionals will have to find their own healthy and sustainable ways to de-stress. Incorporating mindfulness is the cheapest and easiest way to do that, and the best foundation for reaching our other goals.
Want to learn more about mindfulness at your workplace? Reach out to me, Ada Kase, at email@example.com.