Mindfulness and You: How Association Professionals Can Use Mindfulness To Improve Their Workplaces

By Christina Rodrigues

Mindfulness; the buzzword that has been omnipresent over the last little while. What is your understanding of mindfulness? Have you perhaps dabbled in the practice?

Mindfulness, simply put, is being aware of where you are, what you are doing and how you feel at that very moment. It invites you to fully participate and experience that moment however it presents itself to you, good or bad, happy or sad.

Have you ever experienced attending a meeting or driving somewhere only to realize that the meeting is over or that you have reached your destination, but don’t remember the details of the event? That, dear friends, is a clear indication that while you were physically present, you were mentally elsewhere. You were probably going over your “to-do list” of project deadlines, meetings, and family and work balance. I can relate.

Research has shown that the practice of mindfulness can decrease stress levels, improve mood and sleep, and boost immune functions, just to name a few of the benefits. Brain scans of those who practice mindfulness demonstrate how these practices change the architecture of the brain, in particular the frontal lobe. This part of the brain, which is responsible for insight, self-awareness, abstract reasoning and empathy, is enhanced when mindfulness is practices and provides increased perspective.

Low stress levels – really? Did I get you intrigued? So let’s get down to brass tacks, how does one practice mindfulness? You can start with something as simple as being aware of your breath, giving your full attention to a conversation or being aware of how you feel throughout the day.

So perhaps, you feel inspired to take a mindful approach to life going forward, but I would invite you to do so keeping in mind that this process is not a sprint, but a marathon – a slow-paced one at that. So be gentle and accepting of yourself, as the practice is meant to be.

A mindfulness practice is built over time, little by little, and oftentimes you will notice that one little practice will support the other. I often compare it to starting a to visiting the gym to tone up our muscles. The results take time. We often fail or give up and start over multiple times. Each time, we build muscle memory making the journey a little more familiar.

Are you ready to start?

Here are a few ways you might try being mindful in the workplace.

Mindful Listening – Conversations at work are great opportunities to practice the art of mindful listening. I will admit, this was my Achilles Heel during my early learning days. When other people are speaking, we are often thinking of how to respond or judging them. We are, in essence, having a separate conversation in our heads. Next time a member, volunteer or colleague starts a conversation with you, try to put away your phone, take a deep breath to disconnect from where your mind was a moment ago and focus on what they are saying.

Mindful Breath – This is a great exercise that requires only you and your breath and the benefits are many. While practicing mindful breathing, just be aware of your breath, feeling it as it goes into your nostrils, expands your lungs and belly and feeling the deflation of your belly and lungs as you expel the air. Mindful breathing can enhance cognitive functioning (including memory, concentration and performance), help you regulate emotions and increase self-awareness; all great benefits for leaders of an association.

Mindful Appreciation – This is one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself. Each day before leaving work, take time write down or think of five things that happened that day that you are grateful for. Be thoughtful about people you met, supportive words, accomplishment, minor or major. Even simple things, like a kind email from a member, makes a difference.

The Five Senses Exercise –  This is a good exercise which provides an overarching guideline for practicing mindfulness in any scenario using your five senses:

Sight: Look around and notice five items. The practice is to take your time and really notice them, their shape, colour, cracks, shadows.

Feeling: Notice four things you are feeling now, like the air against your skin, or the seat of the chair or the sensation of the phone vibrating in your pocket.

Smell: Notice three smells that you don’t typically notice. These can be pleasant or unpleasant.

Sound: Notice two things you can hear outside of the norm that you don’t usually focus on; a bell going off in the distance, the hum of the copying machine or the fridge.

Taste: Take a sip of water, or eat something, and notice the taste in your mouth.

In developing a daily practice we disengage from being on autopilot. We stop having knee-jerk reactions to situations and start taking a breath and responding appropriately.

My hope is that you will try some or all of the exercises and find that it allows you to be more productive, compassionate and understanding.

Christina Rodrigues is the Coordinator, Business Development at MEDEC, the national association representing Canada’s innovative medical technology industry.