Moreover, it isn’t a matter of changing the way we think or “something we need to be sold on,” McKenzie notes. “Mindfulness is something we all have already, at least occasionally.” The goal of all the training that’s going on now is to develop more of it and hone the ability to tap into it under pressure. With that in mind, McKenzie suggests these four mindfulness techniques you can use at the office:
Concentrate completely on one thing at a time. McKenzie calls this being “fully connected to the reality of the moment”—that is, not multitasking, and hushing those nagging, negative little voices in your head that tell you what can’t be done. A total focus on the task at hand “eliminates unhelpful distractions, such as our ideas about a how a problem ‘should’ be solved,” he says. Letting go of self-imposed constraints, like how things have been done in the past, “makes people naturally open to new and creative solutions.”
Pause between projects. Getting mentally stuck on one problem interferes with humans’ natural ability to see different situations with fresh eyes. So mindfulness requires detaching mentally from one activity before starting to focus on another one. Standing up and walking around, or just deep breathing for a minute, can help.
Stop worrying. People often believe they are thinking about a problem when they are, in fact, just spinning their wheels. “We think that thinking about a problem again and again and again will solve it,” says McKenzie. “It won’t.” Mindfulness training aims to teach people how to get out of their own way and let what McKenzie calls “our natural flow of creative consciousness” come up with a fresh approach.
Respond, rather than react. “Rigidity is the opposite of creativity. We become rigid when we think we know what to do,” McKenzie says, especially when it isn’t working. Mindfulness, by contrast, is about “letting go of the belief that we know the best and only way to work something out.” Seeing a situation clearly, and questioning or putting aside assumptions about it, can open up new neural pathways that lead to novel ideas.
Fans of mindfulness say practicing it makes people more productive, less stressed, and more likely to reach decisions that are based on reality rather than, for instance, on wishful thinking or fear. Maybe so. The only real way to know whether it’s just a fad is to wait and see whether the current wave of enthusiasm for it lasts. McKenzie, whose view is admittedly biased, thinks that a fad that is already thousands of years old will stick around for quite a while longer “because it works.”
In any case, your current boss seems to agree, which is reason enough to keep an open mind. And if mindfulness really does produce more creativity with less angst, let’s hope it’s here to stay.
Talkback: Does your employer encourage the practice of “mindfulness”? If you’ve been trained in it, has it helped you in your job? Leave a comment below.