What Is Mindfulness? Strategies for Work and Daily Life

Written by Coursera • Updated on

Mindfulness is a practice that can be done anytime, anywhere. Learn more about mindfulness strategies for your personal and professional life.

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In the Pali language, there is a word sati which means “memory” and is commonly translated as “mindfulness” [1]. Originating in Buddhist practice, mindfulness is the act of maintaining awareness of the body and mind—remembering to observe what’s going on, breathe, and be in the present moment.

Practicing mindfulness can help you gain focus, clarity, and compassion when you’re feeling overwhelmed or stressed. There are methods that can help you focus on the breath, body, and mind.

This article will take you through what mindfulness is, its benefits, and some practical strategies for incorporating it into your work and daily life.

What is mindfulness?

Mindfulness is the practice of being fully present and aware of your surroundings and what you’re doing, with as little judgment or reaction as possible. It is a skill often linked with meditation, yoga, or other types of training, which can help bring your attention to your present moment and what you’re experiencing without getting overwhelmed or distracted.

Rather than trying to “perfect” mindfulness, instead think of it as cultivating a state of mind or being. Over time, practicing mindfulness will get easier and more intuitive.

Benefits of mindfulness

Focusing on the concrete benefits makes mindfulness seem like an achievement, when its purpose is just to practice. But it’s true., Mmindfulness is beneficial to the mind, body, and spirit.

Here are just a few key benefits:

  • Reduce stress: Focusing on the present moment can help eliminate worries (the future) and regrets (the past) so you can reduce the amount of stress weighing on your mind.

  • Gain insight: Eliminating the unnecessary “static” from your mind can help you gain insight by visualizing your problems from an objective perspective. You might think, “Oh, this feeling is familiar. I’ve gone through this before, and I can do it again.”

  • Eliminate negative emotions: Practicing mindfulness can help eliminate stress and negative thoughts as you focus on what you’re feeling, what you can change, and what is out of your control.

  • Enhance performance: In a work setting, a few moments of mindfulness can help calm your nerves before a big presentation, a difficult conversation with your boss, or simply to focus on the task at hand. Being more mindful can also bring balance into your day, as you prioritize a midday walk or mindfully chewing your meal.

  • Increase empathy: Awareness of the present moment can increase your attention to others’ well-being. It allows you to connect with friends, colleagues, and family with more intention and curiosity, to suspend judgment and negative reactions.

  • Focus the mind: Sometimes work or daily life requires you to concentrate on a task, such as analyzing an Excel spreadsheet, brainstorming marketing campaigns, or cooking an elaborate meal. Practicing mindfulness can help maintain more focus and attentiveness.

  • Manage anxiety and depression: In a 2018 study, over 12,000 participants with diagnosed psychiatric disorders such as anxiety or depression examined the effects of mindfulness meditation compared with no treatment and with evidence-based treatments like cognitive behavioral therapy and medications. Researchers found that mindfulness-based approaches were better than no treatment, and worked as well as evidence-based therapy [2].

Read more: Work-Life Balance: What It Is and How to Achieve It

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How to cultivate mindfulness

While mindfulness is more about cultivating a state of being, than a practice or training, there are strategies that can help you achieve that state of mind or being. Just like you might run thirty minutes a day to stay fit, practicing these methods consistently can help you come back to the present moment and be a more mindful person [3].

There are two main types of mindfulness practice:

Formal practice: Setting aside dedicated time for mindfulness meditation. This is what most people think of when they hear “mindfulness.” Formal practice requires you to be intentional, to sit relatively quietly for a period of time.

  • Body scan

  • Sitting meditation

  • Mindful movement

Informal practice: Paying attention to everyday activities with fresh eyes, as if you are doing it for the first time. This is probably more accessible for most people. You might think, “Brushing my teeth is mindfulness?” Yes, it can be, if you brush your teeth with a curious, focused, and open mindset.

  • Brushing your teeth

  • Folding laundry

  • Washing your dishes (or your hands)

To get better at being mindful requires regular practice. Rice University’s Dr. Elizabeth Slator advises committing to about twenty minutes of practice every day. “Ironically, most people struggle with mindfulness because they overthink it. It's not that complicated, it's just hard,” Slator says.

Do one of these methods every day for a few weeks, and you’ll start to feel the benefits, which can help you push forward to continue your mindfulness practice.

6 mindfulness practices

These are some practices you can try incorporating into your daily routine to help you develop a more mindful attitude toward work and life.

1. Meditation

Meditation is the practice of focusing or clearing your mind. This can be done using any combination of mental or physical techniques. Most often, you’ll think of practitioners sitting cross-legged with their fingers in “om” position. But you can meditate sitting, laying down, or even walking, in positions that feel most comfortable to you.

Studies show that four days of meditation can enhance the ability to sustain attention [4]. Try an app like Calm or Headspace, which can track your progress and provide an array of guided meditations to get you practicing today.

2. Body scan

Body scanning is considered a meditation technique that involves paying attention to parts of the body and any bodily sensations in a gradual sequence, from feet to head. This can be a very grounding practice because you are bringing mental awareness to each part of your body. Be sure to notice any aches, tension, pain, or discomfort.

3. Movement

Who knew mindfulness could also be active? Well, the act of moving your body can cultivate mindfulness simply by being aware of your body in motion. Walking meditation can be a wonderful way to get into meditating because it is less intimidating. You can focus on your breathing, the ground below you as you walk, and notice any sights or smells. 

Yoga, dance, and other types of sports can also provide the movement needed to become mindful to the present moment. You might like to try Down Dog, a free app where you can customize the difficulty level, duration, and focus area for your yoga session. 

4. Visualization

Visualization is focusing on a specific event, person, or goal you want to achieve, and then imagining it becoming a reality. This is a mindfulness technique that can be incorporated into meditation.

In popular culture, you might hear someone say, “I’m manifesting…” a lofty goal, like a dream job or another life change. Though it may seem unconventional, visualization can be a powerful tool in mindfulness because you are envisioning your goal to focus your energy toward achieving it.

5. Journaling

Journaling, while it requires some amount of thinking, can be a very cathartic mindfulness tool because it allows you the space to write down your thoughts and emotions. Not only does the act of getting it down on paper force you to get introspective, it can help you be kinder to yourself. You might want to explore this using mindful journaling prompts, or starting with a few things you’re grateful for.

6. Sensory exercises

This informal practice of mindfulness brings focus and attention to whatever you’re doing in the present moment. Often, it works best with repetitive tasks like folding laundry or washing the dishes, allowing your mind to focus on this task—smelling the lavender dish detergent and feeling the warm water as it washes away crumbs and dried-up sauce.

Sensory exercises can include chewing slowly to savor every flavor and texture. If you work in an office, your lunchtime can become a practice in mindfulness if you go for a short walk to a park to enjoy every bite of your crunchy salad. Sitting or laying down to listen to an entire album from your favorite artist can be a very mindful practice.

Practice mindfulness today

Start practicing mindfulness today with help from Rice University’s specialization Mindfulness and Well-Being. Explore the theory and methods of mindfulness that can increase your present-moment awareness to benefit your daily life and career. 

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Article sources

1

Coacharya. “Moving from Mindfulness to Mindlessness,  https://coacharya.com/blog/moving-from-mindfulness-to-mindlessness/." Accessed November 11, 2022.

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