Workplace Wisdom: Mind full or Mindful?
By Nehal R. Solanki Patel Correspondence: NehalS@mail.med.upenn.edu
Are you stressed at work? Is workplace politics bothering you? Boss thinks of you as a data-generating robot and can’t handle the pressure anymore? Workplace can be filled with stress, drama-queens, egos, and negative emotions that challenge a productive and happy work atmosphere. Both employees and employers have recently adopted mindfulness to help in transformation of work environment to help with stress that effect us in unimaginable ways.
I cannot emphasize enough how important it is for our work environment to be positive and a happy place. The overwhelming sense of urgency to publish so we can progress our career in a timely manner–causes undue stress, and manifests itself in unproductive and unhealthy work environment. I am not saying squander away the vacation time as more often it will be a temporary fix. To add more to the pressure, it is very easy for us to be surrounded competitive fellow postdocs, who may or may not want you to succeed. Apparently, it is not just the lack of funding that drives postdocs away from academia; their expectation being that the cut-throat, competitive, and sometimes petty nature of academic labs may never resurface in an industrial setting. Although, one can say that grass is always greener on the other side, this seems to be the most common assumption in the academic community. Whatever the decision— endure, tolerate, or escape — the situation will probably become a life turning point or you may end up with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) by the time you land your dream job. But wait; there may be a solution.
Steeped in ancient eastern philosophies, the practice of meditation–involves focusing our attention on our thoughts, emotions, breathing, or sensations around us for a few minutes in a day. Fortune 500 companies like Amazon, Google, and Procter and Gamble (P&G) have instituted meditation breaks for employees to explore the practice of silence, composure, and mindfulness. Further, internal research has shown an increased productivity and enhanced positive work place environment. Unfortunately, this practice is not common in scientific institutions; however, more recently, there is an upsurge in research and publications confirming the benefits of meditation in personal and professional lives. After an intense graduate-school training and starting ambitious postdoctoral fellowships, we are often burnt-out and we forget to pause and breathe. Especially for postdocs who work long hours without any breaks, mindfulness and meditation can be a blessing in disguise. To our benefit, this practice is made even easier with apps such as headspace, simple habits, etc.; plug-in your headphones and transfer to a quiet space for a few minutes, while developing your western blot, perhaps?
For the benefits of meditation for postdocs working in a highly competitive environment, meditation can help in developing self-awareness, drop-fixed mindsets, help pick up social cues that you may miss when confronted with a difficult co-worker. Meditation teaches to step back from complex situations and address when you have had time to re-think with a calm mind. In my own personal experience– I am able to pause before responding in tense situations, and I am able to humor it, which helps in moving past the issue relatively quickly. Being “purposefully aware” of the current moment means you can notice what you are doing, thinking or feeling. In short, being more present consciously and being in the moment. This practice over-time helps reduce stress, especially, when mind begins to drift to thoughts of what needs to done tomorrow or may even reduce the anxiety associated with “publish or perish” philosophy our scientific community is based on.
Here are a few tips that may help:
- When commuting to or from work, be present. Resist the urge to create to-do lists on the train or with Siri’s assistance while driving. Find a quiet place for 5 minutes before you start work, and simply breathe. When your mind starts thinking about the zillion items on your to-do list, stop that thought and focus on breathing.
- Start off the right way: Make a to-do list, but keep it simple. I have the tendency to create long to-do lists that makes me more anxious than necessary. After your list has made its way to the paper, focus on one task at a time.
- Throughout the workday: Avoid distractions and especially do not loose focus. Be present. Don’t worry about the next thing on your list. Resist the urge to write personal emails or chat. Especially avoid gossip and politely divert your colleagues looking to gossip with you by saying “Sorry, the task at hand needs focus, and I am afraid I will make mistakes—can we perhaps discuss this at a later time”. I particularly advice against gossip at work: it is not only counter-productive, but also creates negative emotions at workplace.
- Ending the workday: When it is time to go home, don’t panic too much about the one item left on your to-do list. Leave work at work. This way you can focus on what to cook for dinner, or the immediate needs of your family.
Feel free to email me if you want a list of retreat centers around Philadelphia area.