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Moving out of autopilot

Cox, Sharon MSN, BSN

doi: 10.1097/01.NUMA.0000580612.60875.e9
Department: Leadership Q&A
Free

Founder and Principal Consultant, Cox & Associates, Brentwood, Tenn.

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Q I know mindfulness is helpful and I have a daily practice of quiet time; however, I find myself losing focus at work. By the end of the day, I feel scattered and am anything but mindful. Do you have any tips for integrating mindfulness during my workday?

Studies show that for 47% of our day we're on autopilot—our body is one place and our mind is somewhere else.1 The discipline you've used to routinely carve out quiet time will serve you well as you turn now to the more informal way to be mindful. Some call this type of mindfulness “off the cushion.”

Trade old habits for new ones. Start by giving up multitasking because it works at cross-purposes with mindfulness. Savor the flavors at breakfast instead of eating while checking emails. Turn off the radio as you drive to work and take in the sounds and scenery you would otherwise miss. Look people in the eye and greet them with warm regard, creating a moment of connection rather than reading emails until a meeting starts. Walk outside between meetings and tune in to your senses rather than walking the hallway with your mind rehashing the last meeting. As you move through your day, use mental phrases such as “be here now,” “just this,” or “one thing at a time” to help you avoid distractions and stay present.

Perform rituals that support mindfulness. Remember to use your breath as an anchor to come into the present moment. When you find yourself escalating with the events of the day, “just three breaths” is a reliable ritual to move out of the trance of thinking. With the first deep breath, say the word calm to yourself. On the second breath, let go of the tension in your body as you say the word relax. With the third breath, ask yourself, “What's most important now?” as you say the word focus.1 Returning to your breathing allows you to downregulate and come back into your body instead of getting stuck in rehearsing or rehashing, which is our normal state. As you pause, notice what you're feeling and shift your experience. This “purposeful pause” creates a space that allows you to respond rather than react.2 Letting go of the need to judge what you're feeling also allows you to cultivate an attitude of curiosity or compassion. Each time you return to the present moment, it's as if you're strengthening the muscle of remembering—this is being mindful.

Structure your day to augment your efforts. Routinely take a few moments to breathe and center yourself as you start your workday and ask yourself, “What matters most today?” Jot down your intention for the day around seeing, being, or doing the things that feed your sense of purpose. Maybe you want to work on seeing the “glass half full” for positivity, be a better listener and not interrupt, or do one thing at a time. These intentions are aligned with the person you want to be and provide direction for your day.3 Setting an intention is different from a goal by which you judge or evaluate yourself. Intentions are open-ended and allow for an unfolding without the need to control. Keeping this note where you can see it will inspire you during the day; sharing it with a friend can help you follow though. Make a 20-minute appointment with yourself to close your workday and notice what went well and how you kept your intentions. Reflect on moments when you got in your own way and what you want to do differently. Practice self-compassion rather than judging yourself. Say to yourself, “It's okay, tomorrow is another day.” Make a list of what's most important for tomorrow so you can let go of work and transition into the rest of your day.

Developing new habits, using rituals to deal with stressful situations, and structuring your day with time for reflection will deepen your experience of mindfulness and allow you to use the day instead of the day using you!

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REFERENCES

1. Cameron J. The Mindful Day. Washington, DC: National Geographic; 2018:14.
2. Marturano J. Finding the Space to Lead. New York, NY: Bloomsbury Press; 2014:64.
3. Cameron J. Everyday Mindfulness. Washington, DC: National Geographic; 2018:20.
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