Research from the University of California found that we’re distracted an average of every three minutes at work. The Wall Street Journal reports that we check our emails a whopping 74 times daily. There’s no wonder we’re feeling stressed at work. Time to hone some ninja like workplace focusing skills with our black belt mindfulness hacks.
Using mindfulness to develop an empathic police force
It’s always great to hear about the benefits of mindfulness being experienced in the workplace, one fascinating example is the use of mindfulness practices to reduce stress in the US police force.
Psychologists at Pacific University have been working on an innovative study, instructing police officers in mindfulness based stress reduction (MBSR) practices. Training the officers began in 2006. Training involved learning a combination of skills to enhance mental clarity, health, and mindful exercises that emphasised a range of motion and injury prevention. Police officers also learned practical skills to reduce stressors at work and home. An emphasis was placed on self-awareness and compassion. The impact of stress and anger on officers and their work can be significant, the research findings have been published in the journal of Mindfulness.
Compassion and work, strange bedfellows or not?
At first glance they might seem strange bedfellows; compassion and work? Surely not? Whereas compassion may not appear to be a priority in the work place there is increasing evidence that when it’s present, employees flourish and organisations thrive.
So what is compassion at work?
Sogyal Rinpoche describes Compassion as “not simply a sense of sympathy or caring for the person suffering, not simply a warmth of heart toward the person before you, or a sharp recognition of their needs and pain, it is also a sustained and practical determination to do whatever is possible and necessary to help alleviate their suffering”. Wharton Management Professor, Sigal Barsade describes compassion as “when colleagues who are together day in and day out, ask and care about each other’s work and even non-work issues.” Barsade talks about the importance of an emotional culture, stating that this is equally as important as cognitive organisational culture, stating compassionate employees “are careful of each other’s feelings. They show compassion when things don’t go well. And they also show affection and caring — and that can be about bringing somebody a cup of coffee when you go get your own, or just listening when a co-worker needs to talk.”
Put simply, compassion at work is empathy with action. The ability to notice the suffering of colleagues, whether it be a stressful day, a difficult conversation with peers or a problem at home – and then the ability to act upon that noticing.
Why is compassion at work important?
There is a growing body of research that suggests that the happier we are at work the more productive we are. Sonja Lyubomirsky’s research suggests that happier staff are more engaged, creative, productive and motivated. Successful leaders recognise that happy employees mean increased productivity and ultimately increased profit. It’s not just about the bottom line, nobody wants to be miserable in the place where they spend the majority of their waking hours.
It’s not just about the feel good factor and being civil to each other in workplace. In a 16 month longitudinal study “What’s Love Got to Do with It?” set in a health care facility, Barside and Olivia O’Neil researched the impact of compassion upon the emotional behavioural outcomes of employees. They found that compassion reduced levels of exhaustion and burnout. The researchers also saw a decrease in absenteeism with a corresponding increased levels of employee engagement. Increasingly research in the field of compassion at work is beginning t show that there are tangible results when we develop compassionate individuals, leaders and cultures;
• When we’re on the receiving end of compassionate leadership at work we’re more likely to be committed to our organisation and to talk about it in positive terms (Lilius et al. 2008)
When we experience compassion at work connects co-workers psychologically and results in a stronger bond between them (Frost et al. 2000).
Managers who believe that their organisation is concerned about their well-being are more likely to show supportive behaviour towards their team members (Eisenberger, 2006).
• Those who receive compassion are subsequently better able to direct their support and care giving to others (Goetz et al. 2010). As Bayside found, this is important in healthcare organisations. Working in a compassionate organisation reduces the chance of compassion fatigue and burnout in caregivers (Figley 1995). This also provides them with essential emotional resources that they need to care for their clients (Lilius et al. 2011).
• Compassionate leadership also influences employees’ perception of their colleagues and organisations. Studies show that employees who believe that their leaders care about their well-being are happier with their jobs and more commitment (Lilius et al. 2011). When we experience compassion ate work we are also less likely to leave the organisation, reducing employee turnover.
• Fredrickson et al. 2000 found that when we experience positive emotions our heart rate and blood pressure is lowered. Our psychological distress also decreases. Compassionate leadership has the potential to improve employee wellbeing.
How can you develop compassion at work?
Consider the way that you interact with others in the workplace. Think about;
- Say ‘Good Morning’ to colleagues, acknowledge their presence and let them know you care.
- Actively look for ways to help colleagues, direct reports and clients.
- If you’re making a coffee, offer to make one for a colleague.
- Notice how others are feeling, bring mindfulness to your interactions and if someone appears to need help, reach out to them.
- Practice mindfulness. Professor Paul Gilbert one of the world’s leading experts in compassion says that mindfulness can be used to develop an attitude of compassion at work.
- Here’s a Mindful practice from Compassion Life by HH The Dalai Lama to help you o your way:
Sit in a comfortable position. Take a few moments to pause and relax bringing your focus to your breath. Gently settle into a relaxing breathing rhythm.
Bring to mind a person or situation where you got angry, impatient, frustrated or seriously annoyed. Get a clear picture of the people in this situation and what they were doing that really bothered you…..
Now think of each person when they aren’t at work. Connect with them as another human being.
Picture them as a fellow human being with a family, pets, children, brothers and sisters… just like you
Think of them working to support their family and wanting to live happily…. just like you
Imagine them working as best they know how to work ….. just like you
Think of them having life challenges, fears, worries, insecurities….. just like you
Picture them trying to do their best with what they know to do…. just like you
Know they desire happiness and want to be free from suffering… just like you
Breathe deeply as you picture them with their family or neighbors enjoying life and being happy. Feel the wave of compassion in your body as you connect with your desire for their happiness.
We love to talk about all things compassion at work related at Positive Change Guru. Check out our forthcoming events or get in touch to find out more about our suite of courses and discuss bespoke compassion at work training for your organisation.
Our Step by Step Guide to Meditation
Maybe you’ve often thought about meditating but never really known where to start? Perhaps you’ve started and thought that it’s too difficult to continue? Or wondered if you’re doing it ‘properly’. Relax, meditation is easier than it sounds. You don’t need to sit on the floor cross-legged, tie yourself in impossible knots or cut yourself off from the rest of the world. Meditation is deceptively simple and something that you can practice any time, anywhere.
With the science backed benefits of regular meditation ranging from;
Positive effects on immune and brain function
Elevated levels of emotional intelligence
There are a whole host of reasons to set time aside each day and create your own Zen moments. But where to start? Look no further. We’ve created your very own step-by-step beginners guide to meditation.
Start where you are
Forming the habit of meditation can start right here, right now. If the thought of sitting down for half an hour everyday sends you into a cold sweat, you’re not alone. Start by making a commitment to a more achievable goal. 5 minutes is a great place to begin and you can build your meditation practice from there. And if 5 minutes sounds too long, start with 1 minute.
Most people tell themselves that they simply don’t have the time to meditate. The truth is we don’t have time not to. Think of meditation as a workout for your brain. The brain is a muscle like any other muscle in your body. You wouldn’t go to the gym once and expect to be match fit straight away. Meditation is the same, the more you practice the greater return on your time investment you’ll see. Once you start to notice the benefits you’ll naturally want to do more than 5 minutes.
Choose a time
For a formal meditation practice (one that you do sitting down everyday) it can help to choose a daily time and place to embed your new habit. Try and link it to something that you do everyday, waking up, a morning coffee, arriving into work first thing, perhaps your lunch break, getting home from work or just before you go to bed. Linking your new meditation practice to something that you already do will make it easier to create space for it within your day. If you miss a day, don’t beat yourself up, be kind to yourself and remember, tomorrow is another opportunity to practice.
Create your own meditation space
Find a quiet space where you won’t be disturbed. It doesn’t need to be an entire room and you don’t need any special equipment. You can create your own meditation zone in a corner anywhere in your living space. If you prefer to meditate outdoors, try your favourite park or a green space where you can sit and relax. Wherever you choose, make sure it’s somewhere comfortable and right for you.
Rest easy, you don’t need to sit cross-legged to meditate. Whether you’re sitting on the floor or you choose to sit in a chair, there are some really simple rules when it comes to posture. Make sure that your spine is upright, allowing you to sit comfortably without being rigid. If you lean to one side or slump against a chair it’s easy to feel drowsy, lose focus or fall asleep. An upright posture will help you to remain focused. Your head should be slightly lowered, chin tucked in, with your shoulders back and relaxed. Use whatever you need to make yourself comfortable whether it’s leaning against a wall, using a specially designed meditation stool, stacking cushions to sit on or laying down on the floor. Listen to your body and allow it to act as your guide.
This is really down to personal preference. For some people it’s easier to meditate with their eyes open. For others, eyes half closed focusing on a single point in front of them works best. Others find it easier to meditate with their eyes completely closed. It’s different strokes for different folks and the best way to find out what works best for you is by trial and error.
Set an intention
Before you sit down to meditate it can be helpful to set an intention. Doing this for each meditation session can help to guide your practice. As Wayne Dyer said, “Our intention becomes our reality”. If you’re not clear on your intention ask yourself a few simple questions:
Is there something you’d like to explore?
What matters most to you about this particular practice?
What are you grateful for?
What is challenging for you?
What would you like to focus on?
Is there something that you would like to create or build in your life?
Think of your intention as a way of reminding yourself why you choose to meditate.
Now you’re ready to meditate. Relax. There’s nowhere to go and nothing to do. The beauty of meditation is that you’re not trying to achieve anything. There is no end goal. Forget your ‘To do’ list, this is the time for you to stop doing and start being.
The breath is a natural anchor to use when meditating. You’re not trying to change your breath, control it, or change it in any way. Simply notice the sensation of the breath as it enters and leaves the nostrils. Perhaps the air feels a little cooler around the nostrils as you inhale? As you breathe out it may feel a little warmer around the nostrils, or you might feel a stream of warm air passing over your upper lip.
Observe the sensations in your body as you breathe in and out. Notice the rise and fall of your abdomen, the movement of your shoulders. If your mind wanders, congratulate yourself for noticing and bring your focus back to the breath. If you become distracted by thoughts, emotions or feelings, once, twice or ten times, it’s fine, just notice that you’re focus has drifted without beating yourself up. Gently bring your awareness back to your breath each time, noticing whatever is here, right now.
Formal or Informal?
For those times when you just can’t fit a formal sitting practice into your day, informal practice is the way to go. By performing these short, simple meditations you’ll still be building your meditation muscles and reaping the benefits.
The Traffic Light
This one is simple and takes just one minute. Think of what you do at a traffic light; STOP! You can do this sitting in your car every time you really are stopped by a red light, sitting at your desk or just sitting in your chair.
Stop: Stop what you are doing.
Pause for a moment.
Take a breath: Breathe, it’s easy, we do it all of the time, we just don’t think about it. Really notice how the breath feels entering your body and how it feels as you exhale. Concentrate your attention solely on your breath.
Observe: Now you’ve had that pause and breathed a little, how do you feel? What’s going on for you? What thoughts are popping into your head? How do you feel right here, right now in your body? Just notice, observe it without judging.
Proceed: Time to continue on your journey.
The one-minute breath
This is another technique that only takes a minute. Set your stopwatch, use one of the many meditation apps or sit in front of a clock and breathe for one minute. Your aim is to focus on your breath for one whole minute. Notice how the breath feels as it enters the nostrils, does it feel cool as you inhale? Or perhaps it’s a little warmer as you exhale? Notice how the breath feels travelling down your throat, filling your lungs and then leaving the body. That’s all you’re doing, focusing on your breath, using it as an anchor for an entire minute.
This is a mindfulness favourite. You can do it with chocolate, raisins, dinner, breakfast, anything you like as long as it’s edible. Get rid of distractions like the TV, newspaper, mobile phone, radio or conversation and sit down to eat, bringing your full attention to your food. Reflect on the following;
Where did it come from? How was it produced?
How does it smell, what colour is it? What are the textures like?
Chew slowly and really savour your meal. Finish chewing before you reload your fork. Notice how your food tastes. What is the consistency like? Really bring your awareness to each mouthful.
This is also a great technique if you are watching your weight, helping you to feel fuller for longer rather than wondering where that bar of chocolate went….
A mindful cup of tea.
It’s a simple task, but there’s a reason it’s a ritual in the Far East. Making (and of course drinking) tea can be a profoundly relaxing experience. Notice the weight of the kettle as you fill it with water, listen to the sound of the water as it runs from the tap, how the light bounces off the endless stream. Notice the sounds of the water in the kettle as it comes to the boil. Stay in the present as you prepare your cup and place the tea bag in it. Watch as you pour the boiling water onto the bag, notice the colour of the water change, how it floats as the steam swirls upwards. Then sit down and reward yourself as you notice the heat, the initial taste of the tea as you sip and then the flavours in the different parts of the mouth until you swallow.
The next time you’re walking, feel the ground under your feet, the weight shifting from one foot to the other, the stretch in your calves and thighs as you move forwards with each step. Perhaps notice how you breathe as you walk, or any changes in the body.
Really notice what’s going on around you. As you walk, observe the light, the sky, the clouds and the leaves in the trees.
Notice the buildings you pass, the architecture.
Who are your fellow pedestrians? How do they move?
Remain in the present moment as you head towards your destination. Bring your attention to the wind on your face, how the sun feels as it shines down, the temperature on your skin, how it feels to move your whole body. Notice how you feel when you finally arrive at your destination.
Now you’re ready. With just a few simple practices you’ll begin to notice that you can easily and skillfully introduce meditation into your everyday life. The great thing about meditation is that you can use it any place, anytime, anywhere. Practiced on a regular basis, you’ll see that meditation can improve both your mental and your physical health, offering a great return on investment for a few just a few minutes of your time each day. So what are you waiting for?
We love to talk about all things mindful at Positive Change Guru. Check out our forthcoming events or get in touch to find out more about our suite of courses and discuss bespoke mindfulness training for your organisation.