In January, I decided that 2016 would be a ‘do’ year for me – no more failed New Year’s resolutions or plans that never materialise – I would shake things up and say yes to more, in true ‘bucket list’ style.
So when the company I work for announced that they would be launching a ‘mindfulness series’, I enrolled myself immediately and vowed that 2016 would be the year I would become more self-aware and ‘present’.
But what is mindfulness? Well according to Bemindful.co.uk:
Mindfulness is a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations…
With a long list of possible results including enhancing focus and clarity, increasing productivity, improving sleep and boosting the immune system, I had high expectations…
Here’s what I learned, both about the art of mindfulness, and also myself.
It’s not as easy as it looks…
The idea of sitting around for an hour, focusing on breathing, movements and ‘the present moment’ didn’t seem like a tall order. In fact, I was quite looking forward to taking an hour out of my busy week to just relax and let go.
In actual fact it was incredibly hard. Painfully hard.
Now, this could be to do with my highly-strung personality or my inability to ever be able to empty my mind (even asleep I have vivid, lively dreams), but the effort it took to just sit and focus whilst on not allowing my mind to wander was, at some points, herculean.
I fidgeted, my breath felt forced and uncomfortable, and no matter how hard I tried, my mind eventually ended up down a winding, distracted path into nonsense.
We spend a lot of time wrapped up in our own thoughts
Whilst I wasn’t very good at controlling my thoughts, it did show me how much time we spend inside our own head. Ever left the house and thought only five minutes later, did I lock the door? I do. Pretty much every other day.
Most likely I have been playing over in my mind a daily to-do list or mentally preparing for a big meeting – it’s a detrimental habit though. There is nothing I can physically do until I arrive at work, so playing it over and over in my mind only serves to make me feel overworked and inevitably burnt out.
It’s not for everyone
In fact, it isn’t for me. I think I realised this on one of the exercises where we had to wander around the room and ‘feel’ daily objects, using touch as a tool to be ‘present’.
I felt stupid and embarrassed and spent most of my time pretending to touch the fabric of a chair whilst staring out the office window, wondering what to have for lunch.
Again, I think this may be because of my personality. Whilst I consider myself a creative, I am also very practical; mindfulness is a bit like homeopathy, without belief it has no meaning. Hence, here I was wandering around an office space, stroking chairs and feeling foolish.
Mindfulness is a great sleeping tool
Whilst I may never be a ‘Mindfulness’ guru, I have taken away a few useful practical skills from the classes. One of which is the ‘body scan’, where you complete a running scan of your body focusing the mind and senses on each particular part until, in my case, you experience a sense of ‘letting go’ throughout.
If you are anything like me and you find it hard to sleep at the end of an exhausting, busy day, mindfulness and meditation can be excellent winding down tools.
The world isn’t going to end if you slow things down for an hour
This was the biggest revelation for me (my lunch hour is usually spent working/eating at my desk) and hands-down the best thing I took away from the sessions.
Most days I would come out of my mindfulness classes with a guilty feeling that I had the spent an hour essentially doing nothing and expect to return to a barrage of emails. Most days I did not, making me realise that as long as I worked smart, an hour out of my day would not be harmful, but in fact very valuable.
Since finishing the series I have vowed to myself that, whilst I won’t necessarily spend an hour wandering around rooms fondling office furniture, I will make sure to take time out of my working day to do something just for me; be that swimming, walking, working out or simply just going to lunch with a friend.
So whilst I may not have mastered the art of being ‘present’, mindfulness did teach me some important lessons: the more working hours put in does not in fact equal more work out and taking a break is an important, but undervalued tool in increasing productivity and quality of work.
But, just like with homeopathy, mindfulness can only take you so far… my best advice for anyone feeling work burn-out would be to fly somewhere exotic or book yourself into a spa for the weekend – now these are practices of which I am big believer!
Want to explore more on Mindfulness and Meditation? Here are some useful free guided sessions to help you switch-off and sleep…