Is your mind like Grand Central Station, with so many work thoughts coming and going that you don’t have a chance to pause and catch your breath? Do you frantically work on projects, focused on the next item on the agenda without regard to what it’s doing to you mentally and physically? Are you worried about whether the boss will like the finished product or thinking about what you’ll be doing this weekend? These out-of-the-moment episodes create loads of job stress and disconnect you from yourself and your surroundings. Before you know it, you’re mired in your own stress soup.
We all zone out once in a while. Your mind could be wandering right now. You could be thinking about what you ate for lunch and what you “should” have eaten. You could be worried about unpaid bills or about an unfinished project, wondering how you’ll meet the deadline. Or you might be replaying in your head an argument you had with your spouse. When your mind wanders too much, it stresses you out and causes you to make more errors on the job. Excessive mind wandering and mistakes at work carry large personal and business costs that harm job engagement, productivity and the company’s bottom line.
Keeping Your Mind On Task
Harvard researchers found that the human mind wanders 47% of the time, and that when you stray, you pay. When your mind wanders, you’re more stressed out and unhappy than when you stay in the here and now. The researchers found that people were happier—no matter what they were doing, even working overtime, vacuuming the house, or sitting in traffic—if they were focused on the activity instead of thinking about something else. A later University of Cincinnati study in 2021 supported the Harvard findings that mindfulness meditation—focusing your attention on the present moment—indeed abates mind wandering and keeps you on task. Regular mindfulness practices help us to automatically notice distracting thoughts like we might notice a blemish on the hand, set them aside and refocus on the task at hand.
Reducing Your Errors At Work
It’s easy to get so caught up in the stress of the workday that you’re not totally aware of what you’re doing. Your thoughts go floating off into the wild blue yonder and you lose track and make more mistakes that take valuable time to go back and correct. Now there’s a preventive solution to reduce errors in the workplace: meditation.
Research at Michigan State University found that meditation can help you make fewer mistakes. In fact, the study showed that just one session of a guided meditation with a novice mediator produced changes in brain activity. The scientists recruited 200 participants to meditate for 20 minutes while monitored by an electroencephalogram (EEG), followed by a computerized distraction test. They discovered that meditation altered the participants’ brain activity in a way that suggested increased error recognition. “These findings are a strong demonstration of what just 20 minutes of meditation can do to enhance the brain’s ability to detect and pay attention to mistakes,” according to Jason Moser, one of the authors of the study. “It makes us feel more confident in what mindfulness meditation might really be capable of for performance and daily functioning right there in the moment.”
Taking Time To Practice
Take time right now to notice your thoughts. In a relaxed position, put yourself fully into the present moment. Try watching the thoughts stream through your mind with a nonjudgmental attitude. You don’t have to do anything but observe them like you would pay attention to a blemish on your hand. Don’t try to change or fix them. Just be aware of them. Are the thoughts centered on the future or the past or focused in the present? Are they calm and serene or worried and anxious? You’ll probably notice that they’re preparing you to react to situations with more stress than necessary. Or they might be replaying a negative situation that you could have handled differently. This type of paying attention to your mind is an example of mindful awareness.
Working mindfully is meditation in motion. You keep your attention on the stream of the process, instead of just focusing on completion of the task. You’re able to bring curious, nonjudgmental attention to your work and notice moment-to-moment body sensations, mental processes and feelings that arise while you’re working or thinking about your job during the best of times and the worst of times. In addition, you master schedules, difficult work relationships and new technologies instead of becoming slaves to them. Instead of beating yourself up when things fall apart, you’re able to use self-compassion to ease through work stress, business failures, job loss or worry and anxiety about career goals.
A Final Word
As more research continues to show that meditation keeps wandering minds on track, it’s amazing that more businesses haven’t offered the practice to their workforce. Employers and employees who are not on board with meditation should consider institutionalizing the practices through workshops or “meditation breaks” with quiet places workers can meditate. When you can stay focused, calmer and clearer and make fewer mistakes, your work health improves as do both productivity and company profit.