I was quite upset when I read a recent Inc.com article by Kayla Matthews. “We’re Screwing Up Mindfulness at Work” was an opening line of the piece and, frankly, it sent me into a tizzy.
“This is terrible!” I shouted. “What’s wrong with management today? How can America possibly compete in a global economy without mindfulness?”
It was at this point that I realized that I had absolutely no idea what mindfulness was.
Intrepid, investigative journalist that I am, I immediately turned to my well-worn copy of Richard Scarry’s “Best Picture Dictionary Ever.” Turns out that mindfulness is the opposite of mindlessness, and obviously, there’s no shortage of that.
My research eventually brought me to the Mrs. Mindfulness website of Melli O’Brien, who describes mindfulness as “maintaining a moment-to-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations and the surrounding environment.”
It was at this point that I changed my mind about mindfulness. The problem is not that we have too little mindfulness; it’s that we have too much.
Think about it — the only reason you have lasted so long at your job is because you go through the days like a robot. A Roomba 650 does its job with more mindfulness than you could ever muster. And a good thing, too. If you ever experienced even a moment of moment-to-moment awareness, you’d be out the door before your manager could put on your ankle shackle and chain you to your desk.
Which brings us back to Kayla Matthews and her prescription for making mindfulness top of mind at work.
Actually, top of mind is not enough. Mindfulness “needs to become embedded in the organization’s context, and mindfulness tools and techniques need to target cultural change as well as individual transformation.”
Nice thought, but I know you’re not going to become a transformer, not unless management brings in Megan Fox and Shia LaBeouf to provide one-on-one counseling.
One of the major enemies of mindfulness is email. Convinced that “people are more focused and creative in the morning,” a sentiment that could only come from someone who has never met you, Mathews suggests that “employers should encourage workers to spend the initial hour of the day focused on other things, such as strategic work or important meetings and conversations.”
It is true that ignoring your email would provide more time for important conversations with the people you respect most, but because your favorite bartender at the Kit Kat Klub doesn’t come in until 10 a.m., what’s the rush?
Ignoring the distraction of email is so important to the mindfulness mafia that employers are instructed to set policies that demand workers “not be allowed to check email for the first 30 or 60 minutes of the day.”
Instead of creating this kind of oppressive environment, it would be much easier to zip workers into body bags. This would not only keep them from checking email, but would eliminate distractions, like breathing.
They won’t last long, but they’ll be mindful when they go.
Another important technique in improving mindfulness at work is to “embrace the 4 Cs.” And no, the four Cs are not coffee, coffee, coffee and coffee. They’re “calm, compassion, clarity and choice.”
A calm employee “can boost creativity and innovation, while also improving their immune systems.” This seems unlikely, unless you’re talking about immunity to bugs and the diseases they cause. If you’re talking about immunity to bosses and the diseases they cause, the only thing that can make you immune are photos of your manager frolicking in the nude at the company picnic, or a gigantic trust fund.
Clarity boosts productivity, because “keeping clear minds helps communication, as well as decision-making and problem-solving processes.” Big deal. If all management wants are “clear minds,” they’ve already got those in spades. Your mind is so clear that Dora the Explorer could search your entire brain and not find a single thought.
Of course, choice plays no part in the workplace. If you had any choice, you’d never go to work. But compassion could make a difference, especially if you follow Matthews’ advice to “show compassion to yourselves first.”
This idea, I like. Why not start off your own personal mindfulness project by giving yourself compassionate leave with full pay for a year or three? Wouldn’t a gesture like this make you totally mindful of what a wonderful job you have, and, when you return, roasted and rested, from the talcum-powder beaches of Bongo-Bongo, won’t you feel totally compassionate about your managers and your co-workers?
Bob Goldman was an advertising executive at a Fortune 500 company, but he finally wised up and opened Bob Goldman Financial Planning in Sausalito, California. He now works out of Bellingham, Washington. He offers a virtual shoulder to cry on at email@example.com.