Officer Wellness Spotlight
Benefits of Mindfulness
Mindfulness receives a lot of attention these days, but it is not a new concept. In fact, people have practiced mindful meditation for thousands of years. Although its origins can be traced back to many spiritual traditions, it is not necessarily a spiritual practice.
So, what exactly is mindfulness, and why do many swear by its effectiveness? Simply stated, it means being aware of what you are thinking and then deciding where to focus your attention.
You might be wondering why it is such a big deal because it does not sound very exciting or original. But, consider this: How much of your workday would you characterize as mindful? In other words, how long do you spend on “autopilot” — going through the motions but not really putting much thought into what you are doing?
The answer is probably more often than you care to admit. By bringing present-moment awareness to the workplace and giving each task our undivided attention, we can see an increase in productivity almost immediately.
Focusing on one task may seem counterintuitive. Have we not been told the secret to success at work lies in multitasking, juggling three, or even four, things at the same time? But, multitasking is a fallacy, something the human brain is not wired to do. Research shows that only 2.5% of people can multitask effectively.1
You might be typing an email, reading a text message, and talking to a colleague on the phone at the same time. But, the truth is, you are constantly switching between these activities — sometimes quickly and other times not so quickly.
Studies found that multitasking kills productivity by up to 40%.2 It can also prevent us from living in the moment and noticing what is right in front of us. One study found 75% of college students did not notice a clown riding a unicycle as they were walking through campus while talking on the phone.3
In addition to increased productivity, practicing mindfulness in the workplace can help reduce stress levels, improve communication skills, and increase overall job satisfaction.4 The benefits do not stop there. After an 8-week mindfulness class, Harvard researchers discovered measurable increases in participants’ brain tissue in regions responsible for learning and memory and a decrease in brain cell volume in regions associated with fear and anxiety.5
Try mindfulness for yourself. Identify the task you want to complete, then give yourself the time and place to do it. Minimize outside distractions, close your email, and send your calls to voice mail. You might even consider hanging a sign near your desk letting others know when you will be available. Then, close your eyes and take a couple of long, purposeful breaths, in and out, to clear your mind. Consider the task before you, then open your eyes and start working.
“By bringing present-moment awareness to the workplace and giving each task our undivided attention, we can see an increase in productivity almost immediately.”
If you do become distracted or momentarily pulled away by something else, do not sweat it — it happens. Simply regroup by taking a few more of those mindful breaths, and return your attention to your task.
You may be surprised how quickly the task is completed. Not only that, but your increased focus and attention are likely to produce even better results compared with when you are attempting to focus on too many things at once. In fact, researchers found college students who multitasked spent more time doing their homework and had worse grades.6
It can be difficult to maintain focus for long periods of time. After a while, your brain and body need a break. If you need to complete multiple tasks, consider focusing on one thing for 20 minutes at a time instead of constantly switching between tasks.7 Use a timer to stay on track, and separate your work periods with shorter 5- to 10-minute breaks. Adjust this technique to meet your needs. Just remember to do one thing at a time, give it your full attention, and take breaks along the way.
Although it might be tempting to regard today’s fascination with mindfulness as just a passing fad, its benefits are hard to dismiss. Try finding ways to incorporate present-moment awareness into your day to increase productivity, reduce stress, communicate better, enjoy your job more, improve memory and learning, and reduce fear and anxiety.
“ ... mindfulness in the workplace can help reduce stress levels, improve communication skills, and increase overall job satisfaction.”
Supervisory Special Agent Scot Huntsberry, an instructor in the Leadership Education Unit at the FBI Academy, prepared this Officer Wellness Spotlight. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
1 “Why Multitasking Doesn’t Work,” Cleveland Clinic, March 10, 2021, accessed May 12, 2021, https://health.clevelandclinic.org/science-clear-multitasking-doesnt-work/.
2 Kendra Cherry, “How Multitasking Affects Productivity and Brain Health,” Verywell Mind, last modified on July 30, 2021, accessed September 1, 2021, https://www.verywellmind.com/multitasking-2795003.
3 Amanda MacMillan, “12 Reasons to Stop Multitasking Now!,” Health.com, last modified July 14, 2016, accessed May 12, 2021, https://www.health.com/condition/adhd/12-reasons-to-stop-multitasking-now.
4 Liz Mineo, “With Mindfulness, Life’s in the Moment,” Harvard Gazette, April 17, 2018, accessed April 5, 2021, https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2018/04/less-stress-clearer-thoughts-with-mindfulness-meditation/; “Bring Mindfulness to Work and Improve Your Communication Skills at the Same Time,” Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute, accessed May 12, 2021, https://siyli.org/resources/how-to-bring-mindfulness-to-work-and-improve-your-communication-skills-at-the-same-time; and Marlynn Wei, “New Research Suggests Mindfulness Improves Job Satisfaction,” Psychology Today, October 23, 2018, accessed May 12, 2021, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/urban-survival/201810/new-research-suggests-mindfulness-improves-job-satisfaction.
5 Alice Walton, “7 Ways Meditation Can Actually Change the Brain,” Forbes, February 9, 2015, accessed May 12, 2021, https://www.forbes.com/sites/alicegwalton/2015/02/09/7-ways-meditation-can-actually-change-the-brain/?sh=3f5be7441465.
6 Cleveland Clinic.