Is Mindfulness As Easy As Mindlessness?

Do you feel that you go through most of your days on auto-pilot? Whether it be travelling to work, ticking off those tasks on your to-do list, or even eating your dinner each night? Are you truly present in these moments, or do you arrive on the other side of them not entirely sure of how you got to where you are?

Let’s face it, despite a growing interest in the wellbeing benefits of the ancient practice of mindfulness, finding the time to meditate can be challenging for many of us. But what if being more mindful as you move through your day, could actually be just as easy as being mindless?

“The mistake most people make is to assume that mindfulness is hard work and exhausting,” explained Professor Ellen Langer, from the University of Harvard, Director of the Langer Mindfulness Institute, and one of the world’s leading researchers on mindfulness when I interviewed her recently. “But mindfulness is extremely easy, fun, energizing, and is the essence of engaging in your life.”

Ellen explains that, contrary to popular belief, mindfulness doesn’t require hours of meditation, but instead is simply the process of noticing new things as you move through life. “Think of it like travelling to new places,” said Ellen. “You expect to see new things, try new experiences, meet new people so you are more aware, open, and present to the experiences you’re having in each and every moment.”

Unfortunately studies suggest that you are more likely to spend most of your time in a mindless state and miss seeing new opportunities and get stuck evaluating situations and people the way you always have. “You risk using yesterday’s solutions to solve today’s problems,” cautioned Ellen.

So what impact might mindfulness have in workplaces?

Studies have found that being in a mindful state – actively noticing and being curious– lights you up, enables you to be more open and engage better with others, and as a result you are more likely to be seen as trustworthy and charismatic. It puts you in the present and makes you more sensitive to context and perspective, helping you to avert the dangers that have not yet arisen and resulting in fewer accidents.

Ellen has even found that others notice the imprint of your mindfulness on what you produce. For example, one study with members of an orchestra – who as it turns out are often very bored with playing the same pieces of music over and over again – had half of the musicians play mindfully and the other half play mindlessly. Not only did the musicians prefer playing mindfully, but also audiences overwhelmingly preferred recordings from the mindful music performances.

How can you be more mindful at work?

Ellen shares three ways you can develop the practice of noticing new things to engage more in your work and life.

  • Embrace uncertainty – recognize that the things that you think you may know, you may not know. So even when you believe you have absolute answers, chances are there are contexts in which you’re wrong. For example, you may think you know that one plus one always equals two. However, in reality one plus one doesn’t always equal two. For example, if you take one pile of snow and you add it to one pile of snow, you just have one bigger pile of snow. While the uncertainty that comes with not knowing anything may sound frightening, this is often because you’re assuming that others do know or you think that you should know and you don’t want to be caught out. The good news, Ellen points out, is that none of us really know! Try to embrace the uncertainty of not knowing, and that not knowing is just fine as it’s what will enable you to ask the questions that help you to be more mindful.
  • Broaden your perspective– understand that other people’s behavior always makes sense from their perspective or they wouldn’t do it. This can help you to be less judgmental of yourself and others. When someone’s perspective is different from your own use this as an opportunity to understand and learn from their perspective. Ellen suggests that being less judgmental allows others to feel more comfortable and happier at work and helps to open up your mind to discover new possibilities.
  • Free yourself of evaluations – events do not come with evaluations; we impose evaluations on our experiences and, in so doing, create our experience of the event. For example, a mistake in one context can be a success in another – the Post-it note was created as a result of a glue that failed to adhere.   And yet the cost of evaluation to our wellbeing is prodigious. We try to get through the “bad” times; we hesitate to make decisions because the “negative” consequences may be overwhelming; we want to avoid “failure” at all costs. But what if instead of falling down when things don’t go to plan, you could fall up by finding ways to be curious, more engaged, and mindful in what you do?

How could a more mindful approach help you to thrive more consistently at work?

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