Mindfulness at work and boundaries

I’ve been auditing a number of courses in mindfulness through edX.org offered by the Greater Good Science Center at Berkeley and I would highly recommend them. They offer a balanced & insightful look at happiness, the behaviours that impact our levels of happiness in life, and how mindfulness can play a key role in our daily lives. In my latest course, “Mindfulness and Resilience to Stress at Work”, there was a key insight on corporate mindfulness programs that I had overlooked.

If the company you work for offers a mindfulness program as part of your employee wellness offering, that’s a great situation that I hope you take full advantage of. Even if your company doesn’t offer a formal program, it’s an opportunity for you to practice individually and perhaps model the positive benefits to others around you. You can help establish a program that the company can get behind, once they understand the investments & benefits.

Whether you define “mindfulness” simply as “presence of heart” like Jon Kabat-Zinn or more formally as a moment by moment awareness of your thoughts, feelings and physical sensations without judgement, mindfulness is often promoted as a coping mechanism for people. It’s a way for us to understand and deal with the experiences of everyday life, including stressful situations.

In my life, I have specifically focused on my triggers & reactions to a situation, using my understanding to come up with ways to mitigate the negative aspects and hopefully learn something. But, because of my focus on “me” I have neglected a more comprehensive view of the situation. I have an opportunity to speak up & bring to attention issues that may be systemic and not “my cross to bear”, so to speak.

Mindfulness is great for understanding our triggers & reactions but it’s not only about giving us a way to cope with a situation. Hopefully, it also gives the clarity & presence of mind to investigate and inquire about experiences that need to be addressed as a larger group where we work.

Using mindfulness to cope with an overload of work can work from a purely tactical perspective – it may help you come up with strategies for scheduling your time, and not being hard on yourself with deadlines or unexpected situations. But, remember that it can help you reestablish your boundaries and to thoughtfully come up with solutions to difficult situations at work.

Companies may think that offering a mindfulness program is the quick-fix to address employee happiness & coping with stress, but it shouldn’t be used as a way to gloss over or avoid real behavioural or systemic issues at your company. Instead, mindfulness can hopefully be a way to establish a thoughtful common-ground to discuss these issues. Through larger discussions, more people will benefit and perhaps result in more formal policies & procedures to help employees in various situations.

Mindfulness is a wonderful tool and I use it daily. It’s also important to remember that it’s not only meant to help us cope with challenging circumstances and think that “that’s just the way it is”. It’s our chance to be better understand ourselves, be authentic to our own needs & boundaries and hopefully help the company you work for to become an even better place.