You’d have to be on an extremely long silent retreat to have missed all the research studies and buzz around how mindfulness can elevate your performance at work. Most of it emphasizes how mindfulness can improve your focus, creativity, decision-making and problem-solving, as well as reduce stress. But I think its greatest impact on performance is through improving your attitude, particularly around the practices of letting go and nonresistance that run counter to conventional career wisdom.
Fortunately, they are easy to implement without becoming a Zen master.
This ties into the core principle of mindfulness, which is accepting the present moment and being content with whatever it contains. People tend to resist things they’re uncomfortable or displeased with–a habit that fosters internal negativity as well as a sense of self-pity or resentment toward others or the situation. This is not only damaging but largely ineffective, as it’s often subconscious and rarely acted upon.
Instead of allowing yourself to have immediate automatic reactions to things that bother you, recognize how the other person’s action or a situation makes you feel (angry, frustrated, annoyed, etc.) and recognize any physiological reaction you might have too (increased heart rate, heat, clenched muscles, etc.). Identify what’s triggering you, and make note of that along with your automatic response. When you begin to identify your automatic reactions before they control you, it becomes much easier to respond calmly and with understanding–plus things will trigger you less in the first place.
If you notice you’re continuing to have negative reactions to a colleague, task, or other situation, then you might need to bring that up with the colleague or a manager and take action to change the situation. But this type of mindful response ensures you aren’t being overdramatic or creating internal conflict uselessly.
Another way to do this at work is to stop resisting tedious tasks. Just do the task. After all, everybody has menial tasks to handle, no matter how high they sit on the totem pole. Again, make note of them, and if they become a continual issue, work to make a change. Likewise, rather than resisting challenges or creating negativity in your mind about why you aren’t prepared or why you might fail, accept your situation as it is (and your qualifications as they are) and proceed with an open mind.
For the most part, any resistance you give is a bigger burden mentally than the task itself. Mindfulness teacher Shinzen Young has described this concept with an equation: Suffering = Pain x Resistance. In other words, pain only becomes suffering if you resist it. If you feel pain (or negativity) about an activity, meeting, or interaction with a colleague, try simply accepting it as it is, and you’ll be amazed at how much better the experience becomes.
Let go of wanting more
If you want more, you’ll always want more—a better task, a better coworker, a better job, a better life, especially with all the things we are constantly exposed to through the internet that a “wanting” mind could perceive as “better.” Instead, recognize that wanting more is generally an endless pursuit that will leave you dissatisfied, and focus on what you do have. Appreciate all the things your coworkers and job do offer.
Of course, wanting is advantageous if applied the right way, such as wanting to thrive in your current role and wanting to grow as much as you can right now, rather than wanting something else that you don’t and can’t have right now. For example, instead of longing to be a manager, focus on what you can accomplish now to put yourself in a position to get there eventually.
In The Power of Now, Eckhart Tolle writes, “Focus not on the one hundred things that you will or may have to do at some future time but on the one thing that you can do now. That doesn’t mean you should not do any planning. It may well be that planning is the one thing you can do now. But make sure you don’t start to run ‘mental movies’ projecting yourself into the future, and lose the Now.”
Always maintain appreciation and positive intentions
As the Dalai Lama pointed out, “All things originate in the mind. Actions and events depend heavily on motivation. Appreciation of humanity, compassion, and love are key points. If we develop a good heart, whether our field is science, agriculture or politics, since motivation is so crucial, they’ll all improve.”
Do yourself a favor, and develop a genuine interest and appreciation for your coworkers and other work partners and clients. This will not only make work more enjoyable and improve your relationships, but you’ll have positive intentions to help them and succeed together, which will improve your attitude and your work. (It will also make you less replaceable by robots, even if they may be more efficient than you.)
If you feel this is difficult, you may need to ask more about their personal lives or spend more time together outside of work to find your common ground. Or you might just need a perspective change. You have plenty in common simply by working in the same industry at the same time but might be dwelling on a few differences or perceived negatives.
I’m particularly inspired by how motivational expert Scott Mautz suggested people change their perspective at work. He reflects on the primary thing he missed after leaving his corporate job and becoming an entrepreneur. “Look differently at your coworkers. See and appreciate them for what they are; co-pilots of shared experience in this journey called life. Creations of circumstance to be treasured. The single thing you’ll miss most when it’s no longer in your day-to-day.”
This mindset also makes it easier to accept when coworkers have a different way of doing things. Remember they, too, have positive intentions and simply perceive a different way of achieving the same objective. Rather than always trying to fix their approach, appreciate it as an opportunity to improve your collaboration skills and team chemistry, as well as your abilities to pivot and compromise, by looking for any advantages of their approach that you can incorporate.
Additionally, it’s helpful for me to remember that pretty much everybody wants to enjoy working with those around them—people just have different ways of expressing that.
Now, let’s go be the best copilots we can be.
Paul Gentile is a senior director of Product Marketing at LogMeIn, where he supports GoToMeeting within the company’s Unified Communications & Collaboration portfolio.