Getting Engaged: How Being Mindful of the Present Can Transform Your Career

Over the first quarter of 2017, you may have picked up on the fact that working in a trust-deficient environment creates a certain social toxicity which places the amygdala on high alert. When this reptilian portion of our brain senses danger, it affects our prefrontal cortex— the part of the brain that pays the bills. We forfeit the ability to see clearly and start to believe things that aren’t so. We also begin to make assumptions, and we all know what happens when you assume! Thank goodness you now have the tools to build Trust in YOUR workplace.

My weekly exploration has also pointed to Trust as a revolutionary element of success. If you’ve been following along, you likely understand the impact. Since knowledge workers like you and me are paid for our brains, our value is weighed differently than folks in farming and agriculture or on factory lines. We become effective not by minimizing down-time, but by creating solutions. This demands clear thinking and the strategic protection of our mental energy, which is finite and in constant danger of depletion.

Cultivating Trust might be your company’s best defense against such threats, but it’s only part of the story. Another essential cornerstone allowing a collaborative workplace culture to prosper is Engagement. This is where employees can maximize their mental efforts and produce innovative, creative, timely work.

The Present Is The Place To Be

That prefrontal cortex, or Executive Brain, can’t entirely engage when we’re not fully present in our work. That’s tough news for those of us who are perpetually distracted by interruptions, email, and the social media abyss. Sound familiar? And to think that’s only one side of the problem. Consider these questions: Do you ever get lost in thinking about the past, replaying a conversation in your mind, wishing you’d said “this” or kicking yourself for having said “that”? Similarly, are you preoccupied with the future when it comes to your job, becoming anxious about potentially bad feedback, blowing an opportunity, or even running out of time for a project? Most of us would answer “yes” to these inquiries, which is unfortunate, since past and future issues are out of our control. The new question becomes, “Why should I let my abstract anxieties prevent me from engaging fully and creating value for my company?”

By living “in-trance” for most of our lives, we become the cause of much of our own headaches and heartaches. According to Steve Bradt of the Harvard Gazette, “People spend 46.9% of their waking hours thinking about something other than what they’re doing, and this mind-wandering typically makes them unhappy.” And when their thoughts are related to regret of the past and reservations about the future, it leads to disengagement from both work and life.

There Is Hope!

The good news is that we can realistically train our brains to become more focused on the good stuff by mitigating distractions through developing that prefrontal cortex “muscle”. DRIVEN has been effective in solving distraction challenges for our clients via Intentional Productivity workshops and coaching. But a full transformation requires a personal commitment to mindfulness. In a nutshell, when we’re mindful, we are in the present, and when we’re present, our prefrontal cortex becomes engaged. It is in this state that our Executive Brain thinks creatively, prompting us to show compassion, make good choices, and build relationships. When all of your colleagues have arrived at this stage with you, the road is paved to an even stronger corporate culture wherein staffers are productive, clients are satisfied, leadership is pleased, and the company runs like a spinning top!

Mindfulness isn’t only healthy for a workplace culture, it’s beneficial to individuals, too. You know how it feels when you’re “in the zone”: You’ve created a brilliant proposal, you’ve spent quality time on some long-term goals, or you’re really jibing with a client and coming up with some great solutions to their challenges. Are you familiar with that energized feeling? That’s your prefrontal cortex in action, doing what it loves the most…..keeping you mindfully present. The reward is that it feeds your energy further, inhibiting the hormones that yield worry, shame and regret.

So, what’s the trick to becoming mindful? Well, it’s more than just a trick. It will also be the focus of this series of articles going forward, starting with a favorite analogy by Norman Lear next week.