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Work-Life Balance: A Mindful Approach
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Work-Life Balance: A Mindful Approach - Executive Leadership Articles

Work-Life Balance: A Mindful Approach

Executive Leadership Articles

Work-Life Balance: A Mindful Approach

Most prescriptions in the ongoing search for work-life balance take mechanical approaches: do this with your daily tasks, do that with your downtime, do some other thing with your kids. Increasingly, however, the focus is less on what to do than on how to approach it. Endorsements for nap time at work, for example, or company-sponsored mid-day yoga sessions actually decrease the time we have for the multitude of voices calling for our attention, but they may improve our ability to experience them. Similarly, mindfulness is gaining traction for seeking work-life balance from the inside out.

Mindfulness is the practice of living in the moment, so that a task in the office is not merely a step toward completing a list, but something meaningful and valuable itself. Its roots are in Zen Buddhism, and many practitioners pursue it with a spiritual mindset, but like yoga and meditation, it is often removed from this context and applied in a practical, secular manner. So many proponents claim it improves mental and physical health that managed healthcare company Aetna officially promotes it for its members, dedicating a blog to providing encouragement and advice in taking steps toward a mindful life.

Aetna’s mindfulness blog begins with an inward look, suggesting we start with “being aware of our emotions and thoughts,” which can lead to less anxiety and more happiness right now. As we settle into this mindset, over time, the advice is applied to practical situations. “Try focusing on one task at a time,” it advises. “Fold laundry, and just think about that. Or turn on the TV without checking your texts … your mind will feel less busy and you’ll feel less frazzled.” This emphasis on non-distracted “uni-tasking” lets us do what we’re doing in ways that don’t lead to the stresses of incomplete, second-rate work and less rewarding experiences. Having lunch in front of the computer at work can often feel like not having lunch at all, decreasing the benefits of lunch in the first place, and contributing to an overall less pleasant workday. Experiencing each moment for all it has to offer lets us reap its rewards more completely.

Mindfulness is not a cure-all, however, and it certainly isn’t for everyone. Being “in the moment,” for instance, goes directly against many professional adaptive strategies for adults with Attention Deficit Disorder (or at least some of its descriptive symptoms). Many attention-challenged professionals have difficulty with uni-tasking because their brains are wired to notice multiple stimuli, which is compounded by challenges with filtering for the important stimuli and ignoring the less-important. Your ADHD officemate isn’t necessarily listening to music while he stares at a spreadsheet merely to block out your phone conversation in the next cubicle; he’s very likely letting part of his brain soak up the stimulus of music so that the rest of his brain can focus on the computer screen for more than a few seconds at a time. This is not to suggest that mindfulness and ADHD are incompatible, but it should serve as a caution against trying to undo what years of struggle have often accomplished for those who have made it work a different way.

Other caveats are out there, too, including from those who help others seek mindfulness. One such contributor to Harvard Business Review offers a couple of downsides, suggesting that mindfulness can lead to risk aversion—retreating to meditate, rather than confronting a difficult situation—and the dangers of groupthink. Some leaders embrace mindfulness so completely that they require their teams to participate daily, which can add stress (as opposed to decrease it) for team members who don’t feel comfortable with it.

Work-life balance might not be about adjusting schedules or squeezing productivity out of hidden minutes in our routines. Those may simply be the byproducts of a healthier approach to the experiences of our daily living, at home and at work. For those seeking inner adjustments for outer benefits, mindfulness might be worth exploring as it gains popularity in our office cultures.

Reference Links:
Aetna Mindfulness: http://aetna.tumblr.com/mindfulness
Harvard Business Review: https://hbr.org/2015/02/there-are-risks-to-mindfulness-at-work


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Work-Life Balance: A Mindful Approach - Executive Leadership Articles

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