Using Mindfulness as a Tool to Help Your Career Grow

The greatest tool you will ever have in your career is found within yourself. As you progress in your career, you must sharpen your skills and learn new techniques to do what you do best, but you will always be you. Life and career paths can be unpredictable, but the DNA that makes you unequivocally who you are is unique. In order to leverage this reality, you may wonder: how do you become more emotionally resilient and empathic in order to drive success in your career?

In my experience, I’ve found that a consistent mindfulness practice has allowed me to build a successful career that matches my values and priorities, inside and outside of work.

Let’s dig into that term: mindfulness. Mindfulness asks the individual to look inward and bring his/her attention to the mind and body; it directs one to observe where he/she is rather than where he/she aspires to be. This perspective allows one to better understand what is causing stress or driving a certain action, all while understanding that we each have the ability to change the things that might be blocking our path to success or dulling our tools.

I acknowledge that no one (in our industry, at least) has the time to sit under the proverbial Bodhi tree and examine their actions all day. However, we all can work small amounts of time – “minutes of mindfulness” – into our everyday routines. Here are two popular concepts in the world of mindfulness, and how I work them into my daily life.

But first, a few tips:

  • Be kind to yourself; practice self-acceptance and love.
  • The most important part is doing; it gets easier with time.
  • Find a great timer that you like; there are simple apps like Headspace, or you can simply use the timer function on your smartphone.
  • Measure yourself; assess how you feel before and after, and rate your feelings on a scale of one to ten.

Mindful Check-Ins

When readying yourself to check-in, set your timer for three minutes (and make sure to turn off all of the other notifications that typically pop up on your phone). Sit with your shoulders back and your feet flat on the floor. Close your eyes, and breathe deeply. Mentally congratulate yourself for taking this time. Release judgement of yourself, and ask yourself how you are feeling at this moment.

Start at your feet or at your head. (I, personally, am a toes person). Breathe deeply and imagine a light coming up from your toes, checking in at your calves, to your knees, across your hips, over your back. Are you suddenly noting that your back is killing you? Is your heart beating rapidly? Are your shoulders tight? Acknowledge it, but don’t judge it or analyze where the pain stems; continue moving in your assessment. Take this time to see how you’re feeling. If your mind wanders, acknowledge the thought, but come back to your check-in with your body. Before you know it, your three minutes are up.

You are probably asking yourself: when do I find the time do this? For me, it’s on the bus to work, or in the Uber to the next event. Other days, it’s first thing in the morning or if I close my office door. However I find the time to check-in with myself, I come back to my day more focused, refreshed and ready to tackle the next to-do item.

Mindful Eating

If you have read anything about mindfulness, you have likely heard about the “raisin exercise.” The short story is: someone gives you a raisin, and you are supposed to look at the raisin, feel it between your fingers, smell it, etc. Then you put in your mouth, roll it around, and take one bite of it, focusing on the sensations. You get the picture – and acknowledge that it takes an exceedingly long time to eat one raisin this way.

I’ve found this approach to be a bit extreme. I eat my lunch at my desk more days than I would like to admit. But I have made a choice to make my “desk lunch” days an exercise in mindful eating. I do not eat my whole meal like this, but I take out my timer and set it for five minutes at best, three minutes at worst.

I turn off my music, shut my door, turn off the computer screen and hit “start” on my timer. I take my time opening my lunch. I smell it. I take a good look at my food, and then I grab my utensils. I dig in one bite at a time. I try to chew each bite ten times, taking note of how it tastes, smells, and feels in my mouth and on my teeth before I swallow. I focus on the act of eating, and when my mind inevitably wanders to whom I am supposed to call next, I acknowledge the thought and focus back on the smell, texture or taste of my meal. I repeat this process until my timer reminds me that it’s time to jump back into the office world. Some days, this is a forced effort, and other days it feels like a great timeout. The goal is to practice and acknowledge where you are, without judgment.

Work these practices into the time spent walking to the office; try to move a little slower. Take out your earbuds (or at least turn off the music). Think purposefully about what the city sounds like, how the wind feels on your face or how your coffee tastes. Slow down and recognize what and where you are is the first step in weaving mindfulness into your daily life. Integrating this type of practice into your routine will allow you to be more resilent and more focused on building your path to success.

By Rachel Shields Williams, Senior Manager, Experience Management, Sidley Austin LLP

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