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I met Katharina Mullen on a mindfulness course a few years back and wanted to chat with her on People & Digital, the podcast because, well, this year hasn’t been the easiest for anyone’s mental health.
I was keen to ask Katharina to help us explore what mindfulness is and how it can assist us in our working lives. As a trainer and coach who helps people enhance their vitality – especially their mental fitness – Katharina believes that mindfulness increases creativity by reducing stress and deepening your communications with other people.
“I’m very interested in helping people to stay playful and connect with other people, because those are the prerequisites for having a life that is of high quality; a life where you contribute to something that’s worthy,” Katharina explains.
She also adds that, even if we haven’t realised it yet, every one of us has already had a mindful experience. Ever been somewhere and suddenly noticed how beautiful the sunset looks? Stared into the eyes of another person and realised how much they love you? Woken up and saw that the light was so beautiful it stopped you in your tracks? Cultivating those experiences – just being in the moment with them – is a form of mindfulness.
But how can we embrace mindfulness, and a sense of calm, during moments of high stress? Here are some of Katharina’s best tips on being mindful in your everyday work life.
1. Just sit and be with your thoughts
Simply taking time out to pause is one of the core forms of mindfulness.
2. Use mindfulness to make a change
Katharina explains how mindfulness can help you achieve your goals.
3. Stay actively calm and calmly active
Mindfulness isn’t just about relaxing – it also helps to enhance your productivity.
4. Use mindfulness to boost concentration
Katharina explains how she uses mindfulness to amp up her concentration before meetings.
5. Make mindfulness a habit
Just like with exercise, mindfulness is more effective when it’s regularly practised.
6. Schedule in breaks to improve work performance
Working in intervals is incredibly important for enhancing productivity, Katharina says.
7. Try the body scan for better sleep
If you have trouble dropping off at night, give the body scan a go.
8. Follow the STAR technique
Need an anger management method? The STAR technique is for you.
Just sit and be with your thoughts
Take a moment to be still. Wait, see, hear, smell, taste and feel what’s around you. When you’re engaging in all of these senses, your life will feel like it’s broadening.
This simple act of sitting can bring us to a place where you gradually enter into a state of being that allows observation. You might start to contemplate the value of your contribution to the world while also experiencing a side effect of relaxation.
Use mindfulness to make a change
When you start to think deeply about the value you have, it might be a little scary at first. But new insights into your life can offer you the courage to step out of your comfort zone and get closer to your goals.
Stepping from discomfort into comfort and back again is like a form of mental or physical gymnastics. It trains us to transform into the person that we have the potential to become.
Stay actively calm and calmly active
When we are very agitated, simply sitting still can be a stretch. So another possibility is to walk in a mindful way. When you’re embracing this practise, you need to focus on making sure that every step is a conscious one. Lift your foot and slowly place it in front of you, feeling the whole of it touching the ground and taking in how the body moves while noting how your muscles and tendons feel. You’ll become very attentive to all your body sensations simply by walking mindfully, which can create a sense of calm.
Use mindfulness to boost concentration
You can also practise mindfulness while sitting actively. Slowly move, stretch, bend sideways, forwards, backwards and turn so that you engage your body. This creates a certain calmness, which you can then use to become ‘calmly active’. Katharina does this before she has to edit a piece of writing, have a Zoom meeting or carry out a presentation. It helps you become really attentive.
Make mindfulness a habit
The best way to approach mindfulness is to turn it into a regular activity. Mindfulness is a form of mental training that improves your quality of life, so the more you practise it, the more resilient you become.
You can, of course, have a one-off mindfulness session – something Katharina calls a ‘brain hack’ before a meeting. But it’ll be more successful if you have that practise often. Your mindful resilience isn’t built overnight – it’s a step by step, breath by breath process.
Schedule in breaks to amp up productivity
Humans can only concentrate for a short while, so we need to learn to work in intervals. It’s good to undertake between 20 to 40 minutes of just plain concentration and then take a short break of between five and 15 minutes. Then you can restart again for 20 to 40 minutes, depending on the intensity of the task.
Our focus, productivity and the quality of our output is greatly enhanced when we work in intervals as our concentration replenishes itself after a break.
Try the body scan for better sleep
Sleep is, of course, incredibly important for your quality of life. If you struggle to drop off at night, you can practise what we call the body scan. Simply lie down on your bed and ‘scan’ your body. Feel and observe what is happening in every part of yourself. This works because you become so attentive to everything in your body that the sleep comes easy.
Follow the STAR technique
Perhaps a colleague has stood on your foot and you think it could have been intentional? Instead of getting angry, embrace the STAR method: ‘S’ for stop, ‘T’ for tune in, ‘A’ for attention and ‘R’ for response.
So first you need to pause. Then tune in and observe your physical sensations, but also any thoughts that are coming up. Maybe you’re experiencing an emotion like anger? Become attentive to these feelings, then narrow your attention. Start concentrating on the palms of your hands, or the soles of your feet, to tune into something very, very specific and stay there for a moment.
Once you’re ready, decide on a response. Taking time to pause like this gives the most intelligent part of your brain the chance to deal with the situation in a wise way instead of saying or doing something you may regret.
So what do you think? Is mindfulness something you’ve tried before to deal with work stress? Will you give it a go?