For those coming to mindfulness for the first time, there is often a sense of uncertainty. For tangible results – calm, productivity, resilience – we want tangible tools. Something as simple as being aware of our breath for three or four minutes doesn’t (seemingly) hold much promise.
Beginner or not, I believe it’s important to continuously challenge this assumption. We can’t fully bring something into our lives without trusting its efficacy. So how do we build this trust?
I think we need to create an environment that encourages practice. Even if it’s only for a short time, even if we’re initially only going on faith, this will allow us to see the benefits. But doing so can be difficult. Especially at work, where we often don’t control our space.
In this post, I want to suggest that beneficially changing our surroundings is simple. I believe that computers can be potent tools for prompting us towards awareness. After all, most of our day is usually spent sat in front of one.
1. One Thing At A Time
Multi-tasking is one of our most nonsensical habits. I say “nonsensical” because it’s rooted in a misplaced idea – that we’ll get more done. Research suggests that attempting to focus on several tasks at once can increase the time taken to complete them by 50%.
How many tabs have you got open in your browser? How many could you close? As I’m writing this I’ve got nine. I’ve just closed six without any detriment whatsoever.
The internet provides us with an unusual opportunity to spread our attention across multiple activities. We’ll be reading an article (or two) whilst checking our emails whilst listening to music whilst chatting on Facebook whilst searching for something on Google whilst filling in a spreadsheet…. It’s endless.
Our productivity, and by extension our happiness, is dependent on our being able to focus on one thing. When we’re not strung out over a dozen different tasks we can “be” with what we’re doing. Which leads me on to point two…
2. Mindful Reminders
I’m a big advocate of micro-meditations. The idea is that we drop little moments of mindfulness into our day. You might simply “come back” and immediately return to your work or you might use the prompt to do a little mindfulness-based exercise for a minute or two.
One way of doing this is to associate certain mundane tasks with mindfulness. With time, the response of returning to awareness whenever we do them will become habitual. As far as your computer in concerned this is where things get fun. There are so many potential triggers:
1. When you switch between a tab in your browser.
2. When you start a new paragraph.
3. When you switch between documents.
4. When you check your emails.
We can also, of course, use technology to set ourselves mindfulness reminders. There are many apps and browser extensions that will sound a bell at pre-set intervals. Plum Village, where Thich Nhat Hanh is the abbot, has developed a range of “mindfulness software.” I use the Chrome extension.
These are great ways of cultivating mindfulness in the course of your day, not just when your bum is on a meditation cushion. For more details read Bodhipaksa’s article on developing mindfulness triggers.
3. Mindful Email
Micro-meditations can also help us deal with situations more skilfully, in a way that brings compassion and perspective to them. We can develop, for instance, the habit of re-energizing with our breathing when we’re bored or becoming mindful of our emotions and intentions when having a difficult conversation.
By training ourselves to be present whenever we’re reading or writing an email we’re better able to empathise with the recipient. We can ask, “How will this tone or these words make them feel?” An otherwise mundane activity can become an opportunity to craft something meaningful.
Sharon Salzberg (writer of Real Happiness at Work) recommends sending a copy to yourself first. You’ll be surprised.