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Work and Home - Leave it at the door?

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My daughter Annie recently returned to work as a dental hygienist. It is a job she enjoys, in an office she loves, with patients she cares about. What is different now is Annie is a working mom. Her sweet son, my grandson, is six weeks old. She returned to work with her heart and her mind in two places. I used to believe (even though I was a working mom myself for many years) that there was “work” and “home” and that the two should stay separate. And I still hear employers trotting out that unrealistic edict.

After years as a business consultant and coach, I now realize that it is a fantasy to believe that we can mandate that humans leave emotional attachment to the issues of home and community outside the workplace door. This unrealistic expectation results in errors, conflict, absence, turnover, plus lost time and money.

The kindest thing employers can do is provide a simple solution that increases time on task, reduces drama, improves accuracy, enhances innovation, initiative, and collaboration and ultimately supports employee health and wellness!

And the cost of this solution? Minimal.

What’s the solution? Increasing mindfulness.

Before you stop reading, let’s see if you really understand mindfulness!

What is mindfulness? There are scads of definitions available, but to get clarity on the practice of mindfulness, let’s consider my daughter’s situation.

Annie gets to work excited to see her colleagues and patients (and frankly eager for a full 8 hours without a diaper change or a spit up), but her heart is a little heavy leaving her son for the first of many times.

She starts working on her first patient, Mr. Jones*, and thoughts of her son creep in. She begins to wonder how he is doing. Is Grandma able to comfort him? Is he feeding well? Is it warm enough in the house (they live in Boston, brrr)? Maybe she begins to feel a little guilty returning to work.

Now comes the fun part. Her mind, if she is like most of us, decides to go on a little journey. Thoughts, fueled by fear, decide to future trip. What if her son suffers separation anxiety, that he carries within him for years and develops into deep seated resentment and then he grows up to blah, blah, blah… all because she went back to work?

Quickly, Annie’s anxiety has escalated. The research shows us that trauma doesn’t have to actually be happening in the moment to impact us on a physiological level – it can be manifested by our thoughts or imagination. (Or from watching a movie like The Revenant, but that is another topic for another time.)

As her mind takes this trip into the future, Annie is also likely to revisit the past. Perhaps if she had saved more money, or had learned a skill where she could work from home, she wouldn’t have to be at work today and her son would not be at risk for blah, blah, blah. In this scenario, which I’ve made up for the purposes of education, she may begin to label herself a bad mother/bad person. All the while, Mr. Jones is lying back in the dental chair, mouth wide open, having his teeth cleaned.

Right now, take a look around you, wherever you are. Look at each person in your vicinity and consider – are they fully present in this moment or are many of them rethinking the past or future tripping? Honestly?

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And what about you – are you fully in this moment?

It is not possible to ask mothers and fathers, adult children of aging parents, friends of people who struggle, people who care about the environment, people who love their ailing pets, people who fear war or terrorists, people who volunteer, the woman waiting for her mammogram results, the man who just had a skin biopsy or the person who just lost $1,000 at the casino to leave personal thoughts, fears, worries and concerns at the workplace door.

But it is possible, and easy, and cheap to provide them with the tools and awareness of mindfulness to help them to stay grounded, present and healthy.

So what is mindfulness?  Mindfulness simply means to maintain a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations and surrounding environment as a tool to accept what we are feeling, without judging those feelings as right or wrong. When we practice mindfulness, we tune into what we are sensing in the present moment rather than rehashing the past or future tripping to imagine what might occur.

Those who have taken my workshops, or are part of my consulting practice have heard me say, “That’s fascinating”, probably more times than they care to admit. This is my way of reminding myself that while I can create stories of what the future may bring, or wander into the realm of “what if” (What if I hadn’t said that? What if I had made a different choice in that moment?), I can practice mindfulness by simply being fascinated by my thoughts, rather than latching on to them and taking an unproductive ride.

So let’s go back to my daughter’s first day at work. (Sorry Annie, all my story telling for the purpose of education and the greater good!)  As Annie is cleaning Mr. Jones’s pearly whites, perhaps her mind wanders to her son. She starts to feel discomfort that she labels as sadness, regret, or fear due to being separated from him. In that moment she can choose to take a journey with those thoughts or she can choose to say, “That’s fascinating” and breathe. She can then return to the present moment – Mr. Jones is in the chair, her job is to clean his teeth, she likes her job, she is good at her job, and is surrounded by caring co-workers. She can even get very literal and turn her awareness to the seat supporting her, feeling the sun coming through the window on her face and notice the steadfastness of her hands as they do their work.

If Annie feels sadness, it is unproductive to try to avoid it or push it away. That is what we are doing when we succumb to rehashing the past (change the outcome), or future tripping (fearing what hasn’t even happened yet – and maybe never will).  These distractions take us further out of the present moment and are a painful, drama-filled way to attempt avoiding the feeling of sadness. Instead she can simply notice the feeling labeled as sadness and say, “Oh that’s fascinating” while returning her awareness to what is real in this moment.

When I started my business with barely any income and a mortgage payment, I would wake up sometimes full of anxiety. I would easily go into full future tripping mode. What if I didn’t get hired? What if I lost my house? What if I became homeless? And on and on...

And then I would take a deep breath and remind myself of all that is perfect and real in the moment – a warm bed, food in the refrigerator, enough money for several months, and my solid intrinsic skills. I would feel the comfort of the sheets and the pillow supporting my head, and in that moment I knew all was well and perfect.

The employer who truly wants their employees to be fully present at work isn’t asking people to leave their personal cares and concerns at the door. That request is unrealistic and ultimately generates more anxiety and distraction. Instead employers who are on the leading edge are including mindfulness training and awareness-building into their professional development offerings. Among the benefits of these tools are improved job performance, decreases in rework and errors, better attendance, and reduced turnover.

Equipping yourself or your employees with mindfulness strategies does not have to be a big undertaking. It starts with the awareness that such a practice is possible. And you, as an individual, don’t have to wait for your employer to begin. Mindfulness can happen easily and simply, with no one around you even being aware of what you are doing.

A mindfulness practice doesn’t have to be overwhelming or feel like a giant initiative, and if it does you are future tripping! To begin a journey into mindfulness, you can listen to my 10-minute heart-based relaxation or access the plethora of resources online. Or you could simply set aside 10 minutes per day with no cell phone, computer, radio or other distractions to just sit and be in the moment.

Mindfulness is a component of my six-week leadership series, Lead, Empower, Inspire. Participants will explore and practice how they can become leaders who model mindfulness.

In terms of my daughter, not only will Mr. Jones and his oral health benefit from her being in the present moment, but so will my grandson when she returns from work and is able to be fully present with him instead of feeling shame, regret or fear. Present moment mindfulness is a beautiful and easily accessible gift. It is also a continual practice, not a perfected destination! I spend a lot of time reminding myself to be present, and simply being fascinated when I’m not.

As you begin to shift and change, others will notice and ask what you are doing. Share openly when asked without trying to convert or convince. Let the desire to explore mindfulness catch fire through attraction and curiosity. As people notice you are more balanced, focused, happy and peaceful they will want that for themselves!

Ready to let go of the struggle of distraction, drama, errors and dissatisfaction in the workplace? Interested in reaping the benefits of mindfulness? Give me a call today and let’s get you and your team fascinated!  978-614-5405.

*Mr. Jones is not a real patient.