Using Mindfulness to Balance Work and Life
As you enter the workforce eager to please management, the temptation can be to take on too many new projects. You may find yourself putting in longer hours, working weekends, and giving up vacation time. Life can become a cycle of eat-sleep-work before you know it. With your time so devoted to work, you might expect your business life to prosper, but in fact, such a lack of balance will cause all areas of your life to suffer.
Learning to maintain balance in life will lead to feeling fulfilled and having more energy to devote to work. Your projects will thrive with the new sense of creativity you feel when you find yourself energized from a life balanced with friends, family, and self-care. So how do you achieve this kind of balance? You practice mindfulness.
To be mindful is to be fully present and aware of what one is doing—being mindful means you are immersed in your activity, thoroughly engaging your senses in the experience. Being mindful is not reserved for monks.
Being mindful is a practice we can all bring to our daily lives. Being mindful helps us practice balance in our lives because it allows us to be fully present for each moment.
When we are working, we can focus on work. When we are relaxing, we are not thinking of anything but relaxing. Learning mindfulness will help you to find peace at home and work. Here are some ways you can be more mindful in your day-to-day life.
Mindfulness is a practice we bring to our daily lives. While we can practice being mindful when we meditate, eat, drink our tea, or work, we can be aware of what we are doing at any time. Being mindful doesn’t have to be a special exercise. Any time the word “mindfulness” occurs to you, be present with whatever you are doing. Allow yourself to really feel, see, smell, hear, taste, and enjoy all of what you are engaged in. Mindfulness is a gift you can give yourself every day.
One key to balance is getting enough rest. “Sleep deprivation negatively impacts our mood, our ability to focus, and our ability to access higher-level cognitive functions: the combination of these factors is what we generally refer to as mental performance,” says Drs. Stuart Quan and Russell Sanna, from Harvard Medical School’s Division of Sleep Medicine. (Huffington)
According to the Mayo Clinic, adults need seven to nine hours of sleep a night. Do the math; figure out what time you need to leave the house in the morning.
Deduct how long it will take you to get ready from that time. From that number, deduct seven to nine hours, and you will have the time you need to go to bed.
Set an alarm for twenty minutes before your bedtime. When the alarm goes off, turn off all of your screens. Shut off the television and plug in your smartphone.
Have a routine that signals bedtime. Activities like setting your clothes out for the next day, slipping into comfy pajamas, and brushing your teeth send a signal to your brain that it’s time for bed. Repeating this routine each night will make it easier to get to bed quickly.
Make sure to turn down the lights in your home, as lighting affects our circadian rhythm, a natural, internal process that regulates the sleep-wake cycle and repeats on each rotation of the Earth roughly every 24 hours.
Being mindful of your body’s rhythms, the time, and how much rest you need will leave you feeling refreshed and ready to take on your day energized.
Did you know you can work mindfully? So often, when we are at our desks, we get distracted from our work by email notifications or our phones ringing.
Set up your workspace to be distraction-free. If you work from home, let others know you will be working, and they shouldn’t disturb you during this time.
If focusing on only your project without checking your phone and email while you work is new to you, set a timer for fifteen minutes. After fifteen minutes, feel free to check your email or phone.
Each day you can work towards working for more extended periods undistracted. However, odds are you will get working and not notice your separation from these distractions.
When I work undistracted, I find it’s easier to enter a flow state where my thoughts flow smoothly, and I am “in the zone.” Time flies by without my noticing. Work doesn’t feel like a chore because my mind is fully immersed in what I am doing.
I don’t give any apps, including email, permission to provide notifications on my desktop. I know that I’m not going to forget to check my email several times a day.
Try getting to work early, so you have time to take a moment to yourself before the day begins. This will help you get settled and keep you from feeling overwhelmed by the work that awaits you. It also gives you a chance to greet co-workers, helping you establish connections in your network.
“Tom Coughlin, who won two Super Bowls as head coach of the New York Giants, was famous (or infamous with some players) for his five-minute rule. As part of the disciplined approach that he believed ensured success, Coughlin urged players to realize that arriving five minutes ahead of a meeting should be considered “on time” and anything after that was considered “late.”
It’s no different in the corporate world; arriving early allows you to get organized and prioritize your assignments and deliver assignments ahead of deadline.” (Beale,2017)
As you get your day started, put away distractions like your cell phone. Silence your phone so that you won’t be tempted to check social media during work hours.
Being mindful at work means keeping your mind on work while you are working. Focus on assignments one at a time. If your mind begins to wander toward what needs to be done later in the day, make a brief note to yourself and get back to the task at hand.
Resist the urge to take on new tasks before you’ve neared completion on your current projects. If you know you have time to balance your workload and a new assignment, it’s OK to volunteer for an extra project. However, don’t bite off more than you can chew to impress upper-level executives.
No one will be impressed when you are hurrying to make deadlines stressed out, emailing that you need extra time because you over-booked. Part of being mindful is being aware of the limits to your time and capabilities.
Take your lunch away from your desk. If you can’t get out to a cafe’, at least pack a lunch and have it outside at a picnic table. Take in some fresh air and sunshine. While you are at lunch, resist the urge to check emails or make phone calls.
Make lunch about relaxing and having a break from the busyness of your day. Be mindful by keeping your thoughts on this time you are taking for yourself. Focus on the beautiful scenery, the tasty food, or how relaxed you feel. You’ll come back to the office feeling recharged and ready to give your work your full attention.
When you get home from work, take time to decompress. Leave work back at the office. Find things you can do that relax you and take your mind off of work.
You’ve spent most of your day working. Now that you’re home be home. Don’t let your mind keep you stuck in office mode. Treat yourself to a hot bath or a good book.
Do something that relaxes you. If your mind starts to think about work, say to yourself, “ahh, this is a nice bath or book.” Anchor your thoughts in the present with a statement that reminds you of what you’re doing in the here and now.
Friends and Family
When you’re not at work, take an extra ten minutes to call a friend or family member. Check-in on them to see how they’re doing.
Schedule a time to meet up with a friend or family member for coffee or lunch at least once a week. Meeting up with a friendly face in your off time will give you something to look forward to when you’re putting in those long hours.
“An article in the American Society of Aging noted that older adults with larger social networks have a good episodic memory, better cognitive functions and a lower allostatic load, which is the wear and tear on the body and brain from being stressed. Having a good relationship with marital partners, adult children, siblings, and friends contribute to these positive health effects.” (Piedmont Healthcare, 2020)
Too often, we wait until life hands us a crisis to call on the ones we’re closest to. Strengthen your connections with those you care about now.
Let others know that you care about what’s going on in their lives. It only takes a minute or two to send a text message or an email letting someone know you’re thinking of them or inviting them to lunch.
While it’s true that mindfulness is something we practice in our day-to-day lives, sometimes it’s nice to set aside a few minutes and focus on a special mindfulness exercise. Here are a few you can try:
When you are eating, slow down. Taste your food and chew slowly. Really smell the food. Look at your meal and take in its vibrant colors.
Think about your food and focus on your eating experience. If your mind starts to wander, say to yourself, “eating.” You’ll be amazed at how much better your food tastes when you eat mindfully.
Be mindful of the preparation process. Feel the knife slicing through the vegetables. Pay attention to where your food comes from when you are shopping at the store. Paying attention to how you shop and how you cook your food is likely to improve your eating habits. As you pay attention, you become more aware of the choices you are making.
“Although the ideal mindful-eating food choices are similar to the Mediterranean diet—centered on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, seeds, nuts, and vegetable oils—the technique can be applied to a cheeseburger and fries. By truly paying attention to the food you eat, you may indulge in these types of foods less often. In essence, mindful eating means being fully attentive to your food—as you buy, prepare, serve, and consume it.” (Harvard Health Publishing, 2020)
You don’t even have to eat mindfully with an entire meal. You can try this exercise with a piece of toast or when drinking a cup of coffee. The key is to be fully present for the experience, keeping your mind focused on the sensations your body is enjoying.
Let the joy you feel in being present for yourself sink in. Thank yourself for setting aside this time to be mindfully present. You have given yourself a gift to be grateful for.
Walking is something we often don’t give much thought to. However, walking with purpose is harder than it sounds. Set a timer for five minutes where you will walk slowly with intention. Pick up your leg slowly. Place your heel down on the ground, feeling your foot roll forward to the front of your toes. Shift your weight to your other leg and repeat the process. Don’t be surprised if you lose your balance and suddenly find you don’t know how to walk.
When we walk slowly, we have to think about the process of walking. This puts our thinking fully present in the process. Suddenly your thoughts are not wandering. Your mind and your body are in sync because they are walking and only walking.
This is the state of mindfulness—when our mind and our body are on the same task.
“People usually consider walking on water or in thin air a miracle. But I think the real miracle is not to walk either on water or in thin air, but to walk on earth. Every day we are engaged in a miracle which we don't even recognize: a blue sky, white clouds, green leaves, the black, curious eyes of a child—our own two eyes. All is a miracle.” ― Thich Nhat Hanh, The Miracle of Mindfulness: An Introduction to the Practice of Meditation
One way to practice being fully present with where the mind goes is to keep a journal. While being mindful is often thought of as a practice of keeping the mind from wandering, it is being present for where your mind and body are.
If you want the experience of letting your mind run wild while being present:
- Keep a journal.
- Let your thoughts flow freely and write down everything that comes to mind.
- Don’t leave anything out.
- Write it all down. If your mind wanders, write “mind wandering.”
- If your mind is blank, write “mind blank.”
- Use the page to be present with your thoughts.
- Again, turn off your cell phone or any devices with notifications that will distract you.
- Write in a quiet place where you will not be disturbed.
- Write until the thoughts stop flowing.
- Date the page so you can reflect on it at another time.
Thank yourself for taking this time to be fully present. You are treasuring your time for the sacred gift that it is.
Meditation intimidates many people more than it should. Meditation has the proven benefits of reducing anxiety and helping the body to heal quickly from illness.
There are many helpful apps like Insight Timer available in the app store full of free guided meditations to help a beginner learn to meditate.
I recommend using headphones to block out surrounding sounds when you’re first starting. Meditating for as little as five minutes is beneficial.
According to The Mayo Clinic the emotional benefits of meditation can include:
Gaining a new perspective on stressful situations
- Building skills to manage your stress
- Increasing self-awareness
- Focusing on the present
- Reducing negative emotions
- Increasing imagination and creativity
- Increasing patience and tolerance
(Mayo Clinic, April 2020)
Start by finding a place where you will not be disturbed. Set a timer for five, ten, twenty, or thirty minutes. Sit upright and with your palms resting on your lap. Close your eyes gently and breathe normally. Take three deep relaxing breaths, then let your breath return to a normal rhythm.
Listen to your breath. Find the root of your breath. Where do you feel it? Is it in the rise and fall of your belly, or maybe your chest? Do you feel your breath passing over your lips or out through your nose? Be fully present with the sensation of your breath.
When your mind starts to wander, return to focusing on your breath. The mind will wander; it’s what minds do. Like a puppy wandering off a blanket, gently bring the puppy back. We do not scold the puppy. We are training the puppy. “Stay,” we say.
Our breath is our anchor. Focus on the ins and the out-breaths. If it helps, you can choose a word that helps you feel grounded. This is known as a mantra.
Words that help are different for everyone. Some people like to choose a name for the divine, love, breathing, present, gratitude, or om. Say this word mentally each time you breathe out. Like your breath, it will anchor you.
Stay present with your breath and your mantra until the timer rings. Thank yourself for taking this time. If it suits you, thank any divine guidance you feel connected to for helping you to center and have this time.
A Life Worthy of Being Mindful Of
Whether it’s meditation or eating, walking, or journaling mindfully, mindfulness keeps us absorbed in the wonder of the present moment. When we are mindful, we fully taste, smell, feel, and hear everything the here and now has to provide. Our senses delight in all that we offer them when we pause to check in with ourselves.
The miracle of a juicy peach, the brilliance of orange leaves in the fall, all become works of awe with mindfulness. This sense of awe and wonder leaves us renewed and invigorated. It keeps us fully at work when we are working and fully relaxing when we are vacationing or having lunch.
Mindfulness creates the balance we need to do better, play harder, and live more fully, and that is a life worthy of being mindful of.