Mindfulness at Work
How to use Mindfulness for Career Success
By Richard J. Loebl, LCSW, BCD
I’ve been a practicing psychotherapist for over 30 years – and I consider myself to be a successful entrepreneur. I credit much of my success to the use of mindfulness practices, which also help me to manage the stress that’s inevitable with many career and work issues. There are 5 proven, easy-to-use mindfulness based and stress management techniques to create success in any business or career.
First, to provide an example of career success achieved using mindfulness practices, I’ll brag a little about my Center. We have an excellent reputation and we’re highly visible in our community. It’s a busy psychotherapy practice with full caseloads, a staff that includes several therapists and a practice manager, and I rent office space to a psychiatrist and several other psychologists and counselors. I lease a large suite of upscale offices in the center of town, and manage an operating budget that includes sizable monthly expenses for marketing and promoting the practice.
Most definitions of the word entrepreneur emphasize the financial risk in starting and operating a business. Over the past 10 years I’ve personally assumed considerable financial risk to create the successful practice of my dreams. One of the biggest obstacles in taking this risk was my own fear and self-doubt. I faced these fears and overcame the doubts that limited my career success by using mindfulness methods and other stress management techniques.
One popular example of the successful use of mindfulness techniques is Phil Jackson, the professional basketball coach who has won 11 NBA titles. His use of mindfulness meditation with Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls resulted in a great deal of media attention in the 1980’s into the 1990’s. Jackson encouraged his players to meditate; he led the team in group meditations, and taught them to use a variety of mindfulness techniques. Jackson spoke about a mindful approach to career success and winning so many championships:
…I know that being fixated on winning (or more likely, not losing) is counterproductive, especially when it causes you to lose control of your emotions. What’s more, obsessing about winning is a loser’s game: The most we can hope for is to create the best possible conditions for success, then let go of the outcome.
Mindfulness, quite simply, is awareness without judgment. Mindfulness methods include a focus on breath work, meditation, and a focus on the here and now. Many stress management practices incorporate mindfulness methods – such as relaxation exercises, emotional detachment and the rational use of objective problem solving. I’ve grouped together the 5 most effective methods useful in career success and stress management in the workplace:
1. Meditation and Journaling – There are many types of meditation, and there’s no right or wrong way to meditate. Mindfulness meditation most commonly involves sitting in an upright position in a quiet room for 15-20 minutes without interruption. The body is relaxed and the mind is alert and focused. The most classic, effective type of meditation begins with a focus on normal, regular breathing – following the air as it comes into the lungs and out through the nostrils. Our minds will rapidly shift to some other thought or sensation. We simply notice the feeling or the thought, let it pass by, and refocus on the breath.
Journaling immediately following the meditation can be quite helpful and productive when dealing with work or career issues. When I decided to develop my practice, I meditated in a more focused manner by simply asking myself what I wanted – my vision for the future. Then I allowed for the thoughts and fantasies to surface without intentionally guiding the process. After each mindfulness session, I wrote out all the ideas that came to mind.
2. Nurturing a Mindset of Creation & Intention – The process of mindfulness meditation and journaling will reveal your current mindset. Is it positive, creative, motivated and purposeful? If negative thoughts and feelings are present, observe them dispassionately, without judgment, and imagine those thoughts and feelings floating away and dissipating, like clouds in the sky. Record the negative thoughts in your journal, along with cognitive corrections. For example, if fear thoughts or self-doubts come up, correct those thoughts with a written challenge based on personal experience in facing fears and positive accomplishments.
The use of positive affirmations can be helpful in nurturing a mindset of creation and intention. Write a list of at least 7 affirmations and repeat these daily as you look into the mirror. Examples include “I am creative and inventive; I am accomplished in my career; I will create success in my business/work”. Mindfully focus on the reality of abundance – there are plentiful resources available when we believe in opportunity and possibility. The so called “Law of Attraction” is based on the belief that we create our own experience and outcomes. My use of mindfulness practices included all of these methods. I believe my success as an entrepreneur resulted mostly from this positive mindset of abundance, creation and intention.
3. Mindful Business Plan – The process for creating my Center included a formal, written business plan. This plan resulted from a process that included the use of mindfulness methods. My focused meditations and journaling was the basis for writing out a vision statement. This was one of the most helpful and revealing exercises in creating a successful practice. I suggest writing your vision of future work or career success as a current reality, in the present tense. For example, it’s now 3-5 years from now, and you are describing the level of success or achievement you have intended. Write several pages with full details of where you are, what you are doing, and who is with you. Include specifics such as the location(s) of your office(s), your home, what they look like, the number and type of people you work with, your business and personal income, and the type of work you’re doing. Be optimistic, and create a vision based on an abundance mentality.
4. Daily Mindfulness Practice – The daily use of mindfulness methods is highly effective in creating success and stress management at work. Daily practice includes morning meditations, objective review of work and career issues with honest reflection and non-judgmental acceptance, and moment to moment awareness using emotional detachment. Work problems or issues are managed most effectively one day at a time with a level of emotional equanimity.
5. Mindful Stress Management – Stress occurs in all careers and work environments. We can’t control stress, but we can manage it with the use of mindfulness methods. Work stress, like all other forms of stress, is generated from both external and internal sources. External sources of stress include co-workers, the office environment (noise, crowded conditions, etc.), customers and clients. Internal stress is something we generate ourselves – for example, when we make unreasonable demands on ourselves, or when we perceive situations as threatening or overwhelming and we react with anxiety and anger.
Several proven, easy-to-use methods of mindful stress management are suggested:
o Use the breath – Breathe in deeply through your nose, expanding your diaphragm (the area around your stomach), and blow the air out through your mouth. One or two of these breaths provide a calming and centering experience, clearing the way for other mindfulness methods.
o Detach emotionally – don’t react – mindfully know that there is no need or benefit from taking anything personally.
o Use progressive relaxation exercises – tense and release each part of your body from the feet up to the neck and shoulders and facial muscles.
o Daily physical exercise, balanced diet, and limit the use of alcohol
o Take frequent breaks from your normal work routine (brief, focused time outs for breath work, relaxation, detachment, review and planning)
o Use affirmations and gratitude exercises
Remember to practice these mindfulness methods on a daily basis. It takes very little time and effort, and your work, your career, and your peace of mind is well worth the effort.