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by Nikki Kinsey | 18 September 2015

During Mental Health Awareness week I wrote a blog on having a positive attitude at work. Within this blog I briefly touched on mindfulness. After recently attending an interesting training course entitled Health and Performance and reading a book on self-compassion, I decided that I wanted to research further on this as it all interlinks. 

So what is mindfulness? 

Mindfulness can be defined as; 

1. The quality or state of being conscious or aware of something. 
"their mindfulness of the wider cinematic tradition" 

2. A mental state achieved by focusing one's awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one's feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique. 

Mindfulness is a scientifically researched approach and is widely discussed in both personal and professional situations. Mark Williams, professor of clinical psychology at the Oxford Mindfulness Centre, part of Oxford University's department of psychiatry, calls Mindfulness a "direct knowing of what is going on inside and outside ourselves, moment by moment". 

Have you ever been driving and all of a sudden arrived at your destination only to realise you remember absolutely nothing about your journey?  Most people have! This is a common example of being on automatic pilot, or mindlessness. 

Whilst mindfulness seems like a recent discovery, Buddhist monks have actually been practising a comparable technique for 2,500 years. 

Through research I have found out that in recent years, organisations such as the US Army, Google, Transport for London, PWC and the Home Office have started offering mindfulness training for employees and an increasing number of schools are incorporating it into the curriculum for 13 and 14 year olds. So there must be something to this - those people who I know practise it, certainly swear by it! The NHS also offers a form of mindfulness therapy to patients. 

In our modern and demanding lives, from juggling work, home and other conflicting demands, there is the constant need to multi task. It is therefore very easy to lose touch of the present moment and consequently we fail to notice the positive things about our lives, fail to hear what our bodies are telling us, or poison ourselves with negative self-criticism. 

Mindfulness - sometimes also called "present-centredness" - can help us enjoy the world more and understand ourselves better. It helps us pay clearer attention to whatever is happening in our lives, giving us the tools to aid us in dealing with life's pressures in a calmer manner - whether that be communicating better in a stressful work situation, or developing healthier personal relationships. 

Of course mindfulness will not fully eliminate life's stresses, but it can certainly help us respond in a calmer manner that benefits our heart, head, and body. 

So how can you be mindful? It's quite simple really… 

  • The first step is to switch off the auto pilot and remind yourself to take notice of your thoughts, feelings, body senses and the world around you
  • Secondly, most teachers recommend a set daily period of more formal mindfulness practice - I have found a great app called Headspace to help get started! 
  • The next step could be undertaking more formal mindful practices, such as yoga, meditation or tai-chi  
  • Finally, recognise that it is not all about you - when someone speaks to you in a rude way it's hard not to take things personally!  The key is to remember that often these behaviours say more about how that person is feeling about themselves, than how they feel about you!  

No matter what sector you are working in, today's working environment is often extremely stressful and highly pressurised, which generally means our home lives suffer - with more stress, we need more recovery, both physical and emotional.  If mindfulness helps, then I feel it is worth giving it a shot…what is there to lose?