In our busy working lives it is common for our brains to take short cuts and start to run on autopilot. This is an incredibly adaptive skill where our brain works more efficiently to complete tasks without having to think about them. However, as more of what we do becomes automatic, the mind can become distracted further and further away from the present moment. This is because the activation pattern in our brains when we are on autopilot, results in experiencing the world through thoughts and ideas, rather than directly through the senses. We find ourselves all too frequently drifting to plans for the future, reminiscing about the past or wandering to possible scenarios, worries or concerns. We can start to develop patterns and habits of being so distracted that we are unaware of what is immediately in front of us.
The concern about being on autopilot in the workplace is that we are less able to notice our own physical and emotional wellbeing, or our wider social and functional environment. When we are distracted or stressed we struggle to pay attention to our co-workers, to remember our task lists and to carry out our work efficiently. When our brain is unaware of the moment we are in, we lose the ability to notice the tension in our bodies, to know how we feel moment to moment and to control our behaviour and emotional responses to our environment. This disconnect between mind, body and senses can lead to ineffective communication, angry outbursts, frustration, decreased confidence, decreased performance, difficulty disconnecting from work when at home and decreased physical health.
If I could recommend learning one psychological skill for increased wellbeing at work, it would be mindfulness. Increased mindfulness positively impacts every aspect of working life.
What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is living in the now. To be mindful is to be aware of the present moment. It involves intentionally paying attention to each moment, being fully engaged to whatever is happening around and within you. Mindfulness is not only about awareness and paying attention but also cultivating an attitude of curiosity, acceptance and kindness rather than habitual judgement and criticism. It is a way of being in the world but also, like many life skills it is improved through practice.
When trying to decide whether you are mindful, consider the following points. In the last week have you found yourself:
- Unable to remember what others have said during conversations?
- With no recollection of your daily commute?
- Eating at your desk without tasting your food?
- Paying more attention to your iPhone than to your nearest and dearest?
- Dwelling on past events or dreading what the future holds?
- Are you skim reading this article?
Mindfulness practice is a powerful antidote to the distractions and stressors of modern lives. Dr Stephen McKenzie has written a detailed guide to adopting mindfulness in a variety of workplaces. His book outlines ways in which developing skills in mindfulness can:
- Reduce your stress
- Become more productive
- Improve your decision-making skills
- Enjoy better relationships with your colleagues
- Work more creatively
- Develop your leadership skills, and
- Generally enjoy your job more
The Axis Staff are trained to use mindfulness to assist them to focus their attention each and every moment they are seeing patients and communicating with stakeholders and other staff. If you are interested in learning more about Mindfulness, our psychologists specialise in teaching mindfulness meditation and conducting mindfulness-based cognitive therapy for depression, anxiety, chronic pain and other mental illnesses and chronic health conditions.