Have you ever driven home from work and realized you don’t remember any of your commute? Can you not recall what route you took? Most Americans can relate and have experienced the sensation of zoning out frequently, sometimes even on a daily basis. We strive to be a productive member of society as we continuously provide only partial attention to various tasks throughout our day. The Institute for Communication Technology Management (CMT) at the USC Marshall School of Business produced a report in 2013 finding that the total amount of media consumption by Americans equaled a whopping 13 plus hours a day and was estimated, at the time, to increase to almost 16 hours per person per day in 2015. This amount of stimulus overload and unceasing distractions makes focusing difficult. In fact, a new study conducted by the Microsoft Corporation found that people lose concentration after eight seconds when the basic gold fish has an average attention span of nine seconds. These results ultimately prove the effects of our “increasingly digitalized lifestyle on the brain”3.
We live in a society where someone’s undivided attention could be considered “the rarest and purest form of generosity,” (Simone Weil, philosopher). Businesses have taken steps to mitigate the lack of present-moment attention by providing mindfulness programs for employees.
Let’s practice mindful reading of this blog right here, right now. We estimate this to be a 4-minute read, so for the next 4-minutes practice staying focused throughout this entire article.
Mindfulness is considered a new science of health and happiness that experts are embracing in regard to stress management and overall better well-being. Jon Kabat-Zinn, author, instructor, and professor, defines mindfulness as purposefully paying attention in a particular way, without judgement and in the present moment. It is simply a deliberate effort to be where your feet are in that moment in time and to let go of any straying thoughts irrelevant to that specific moment. Mindfulness is the ability to pay more attention to the present moment inclusive of both external and internal stimuli. For example, you can practice mindfulness during a work project or the way in which you are sweeping your kitchen floor. Being in tune to that particular task at hand without any intruding thoughts or distractions is the ultimate goal.
Take it from the 1986 teen comedy film star, Ferris Bueller –
“Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”
Mindfulness has been associated with lower stress levels and controllability, improved sleep and cognitive functioning, and illness prevention1. Health benefits are tangible by means of mitigating depression, anxiety, and alleviating pain, according to the American Psychological
Association1. Additional benefits of mindfulness include immersion in the experience, heightened creativity, and a deeper level of thinking1.
Understanding the power of mindfulness is important and it is also important to understand why we feel the need to multi-task and divide our attention to multiple things at once? The main culprits are how our brains are wired and technology, especially smart phones. How many times are you writing a proposal or constructing an email blast out to your staff when interrupted by a notification on your cell phone? Do you immediately answer that notification? Research conducted by Earl Miller, neuroscience professor at MIT, found that it could take 15 to 25 minutes for you to get back to the task at hand, deeming it the “switch cost”, after you stopped to check your phone or got wrapped up into any of your various media outlets. Now companies are investing in digital detox retreats for staff to elicit mindfulness and answer the effects of a very demanding work culture.
Being mindful has a lot to do with attentional control, being able to focus on the right thing at the right time. Present-moment focus immensely affects your ability to get things done and efficiently. There are ways to improve your well-being even while on the job, some of which are already discussed in a previous blog like placing you phone strategically out of reach so you do not feel tempted even by the phone’s presence to pick it up and start tinkering.
Other strategies include:
- Taking tech-free breaks (in addition to lunch) away from your desk or doing your co-worker a favor. Be deliberate about not bringing your phone to lunch and ask a co-worker to join you (presuming you both won’t talk about work – you are on a break remember?). Consider a break the when and where, you mentally remove yourself from the task at hand to collect or recharge yourself.
- Doing a small act of kindness for someone helps you connect with people and allows you to recover from stress. Surprise a colleague who needs a pick-me-up with a cup of coffee or leave your administrative assistant a note of thanks for all that he or she does.
- “Ending the day like you mean it1.” A recent study found that individuals who believe they should be accessible after work hours process more cortisol, the stress hormone, and feel as if they have less control1. If you are an employee who must take your work home, consider setting up automatic replies on the weekend so you can hold yourself accountable to your recovery days and others know what to expect and when.
As with any skill, practice makes permanent. Mindfulness requires strategic acceptance of the irrelevant thoughts you have while doing something you should be focused on and letting it go. Take the time to actually be at the grocery store, purely being there as a buyer of food. Take in the scenery around you during your early morning work commute which may include many different car bumper stickers. Soon you will be able to live in that moment as it is happening and experience more. Doing so can positively affect your work with enhancement in creativity and deeper thought.
If you’re interested in learning more about mindfulness and the power of living in the present feel free to reach out to HigherEchelon for more specific ideas.
- “Mindfulness The New Science of Health and Happiness”: available TIME magazine Special Edition, Mary Elizabeth Williams, Mandy Oaklander, and Markham Heid, 2017
- “Mindfulness At Work: 5 Tricks For A Healthier, Less Stressful Work Day”: available Huffington Post, Carolyn Gregoire, June 24, 2013, https://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/24/mindfulness-at-work_n_3475045.html
- “You Now Have a Shorter Attention Span Than a Goldfish”: available TIME, Kevin McSpadden, May 14,2015, http://time.com/3858309/attention-spans-goldfish/