Our careers occupy most of our waking hours during the week and sometimes weekend. They may give our lives meaning and they may also be our greatest source of stress: never-ending to-do lists, difficult relationships with your boss or co-workers, endless demanding customer requests, long days. No matter what you do, work can feel stressful.
Mindfulness can help you, not only manage stress effectively but also be your best confident self at work. Here’s a guide to get you started.
Mindfulness improves your focus
You’re in the middle of writing a work email, when you receive a message on Slack. Long after you’ve answered the message, you’re reading and replying to other messages. When you finally get your attention back to your email, you don’t have any of the concentration you had before getting interrupted. Sound familiar?
“The human brain isn’t wired to multitask”, says psychologist and science journalist Daniel Goleman. He explains that the brain is unable to work on parallel tasks simultaneously, instead switching rapidly from one thing to the next. As a result, when we multitask, our concentration levels deplete.
When you practice mindfulness, you learn to bring your attention back to the breath each time you catch your mind wandering. This helps you strengthen your brain’s ability to focus. So with a regular mindfulness practice, we are better equipped to catch the day-to-day distractions and bring back our attention to the task in progress.
Mindfulness changes the way you respond to stress
Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh, USA studied the MRI brain scans of participants in an 8-week course of daily mindfulness practice. The study showed that the amygdala, the brain’s region switching on our stress response (“fight or flight”), shrinked, while the prefrontal cortex, associated with higher order brain functions such as awareness, concentration and decision-making becomes thicker. In other words, our background level of stress is reduced and our responses to stress are superseded by more thoughtful ones.
Here’s how to get started: the STOP technique. STOP is an easy technique to practice being mindful in the face of stress. When you notice something has triggered you and you are about to react, follow the steps below:
Take 3 deep and slow breaths (close your eyes if it feels comfortable)
Observe: What are you thinking? Remember that thoughts are not facts, they are not permanent. What other possibilities exist?
What are you feeling in your body? Notice any emotions present and how they are expressed in your body – naming them actually tune them down.
Proceed with awareness and calm.
Extra Tip: It helps to bring an attitude of kindness to this practice, accepting your thoughts and feelings as they are, without trying to change them. It also helps to bring openness in order to explore any new possibilities.
Mindfulness improves your confidence
Our lack of confidence is often caused by a constant stream of negative thoughts. Behind that stream, comes our identification with these thoughts. We hear and listen to our (mean) inner voice telling us that we are somehow unworthy, a “fraud”. The imposter syndrome kicks in and we assume that we are that voice.
Mindfulness helps by removing our barriers to confidence. The practice of mindfulness puts space between ourselves and our thoughts. We learn to stand back and observe thoughts, non-judgmentally, as they come and go. A commonly used analogy is to watch our thoughts in the same way we would watch clouds move across the sky. When the stream of negative thoughts diminishes, your self-confidence and self-esteem grows.
Similarly, the practice of mindfulness puts a space between us and our emotions. In a mindful state, we stop identifying with our emotions. This means that while we still own our emotions, we learn to choose which emotions to give free rein to and which ones to step back from.
Click here to listen to a guided mindfulness meditation to get started with boosting your self-confidence.
Let us know in the comments section below which of these strategies you try out first!