Debunking 5 Misconceptions About Workplace Mindfulness

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By the Mindful Leader Team

The workplace is a common stressor in modern life. Being mindful of the thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations experienced throughout the workday can help you navigate the constant pressures and requirements associated with employment. 

Many companies and employees are seeking out remedies for toxic workplace culture. Some workplaces have turned to a potential solution over the last several years: mindfulness, specifically Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR). 

MBSR is the most scientifically researched mindfulness meditation course available, and is recommended for those who are interested in bringing mindfulness into the workplace. Originally developed to help patients deal with chronic pain by Jon Kabat-Zinn, Ph.D. at the University of Massachusetts in 1979, MBSR incorporates formal and informal mindfulness meditation practices. These practices are geared towards giving an individual choice and the freedom to explore their own experience (rather than told what they should be experiencing); they are also religiously inclusive and trauma-sensitive, and there is a specific and standardized curriculum 

In this article we’ll discuss common misconceptions about mindfulness meditation and what this may mean in a workplace setting.

1. Mindfulness meditation practice is about getting calm or relaxed.

A common misconception is that people who practice mindful meditation are relaxed and calm. It's possible to feel these sensations during a meditation practice, but it’s also possible to be mindful when you’re angry or stressed. 

Mindfulness is an innate human capacity that is present in everyone, at any time, in any state they find themselves in. A potential result of continued mindfulness practice is a more calm and relaxed state; nevertheless, mindfulness is a practice of welcoming and acknowledging whatever arises. In the workplace, this could mean:

  • noticing you look forward to catching up with your work friends each day
  • acknowledging you have a difficult time taking constructive criticism
  • being aware that asking for help from colleagues makes you feel uncomfortable

2. Mindfulness meditation is a way to eliminate difficult emotions such as anger, fear, or sadness.

Mindfulness is an awareness practice, and this means that it’s possible to experience the full array of human emotions, including difficult ones like we mentioned above, and to still be mindful.

To take this one step further, the goal of mindfulness isn’t to get rid of these “negative” emotions - an impossible feat - but to become aware of these emotions non-judgmentally. In the workplace this could mean: 

  • being aware that you’re angry that someone ate your homemade lunch and letting yourself feel angry - you were looking forward to those leftovers all morning!
  • acknowledging the fear you have about your job security and sitting with those emotions until your yearly evaluation with your boss next week
  • noticing the excitement/dread/exhaustion you have going into work each morning and leaving each night and being curious about why you’re feeling that way
  • understanding your body’s cues and respecting your own boundaries

3. Mindfulness meditation is a technique to stop thoughts or thinking.

A “silencing” of thoughts can be a by-product of continued mindfulness meditation practice; however, this is not the end goal. Our brains are designed to think and that’s not going to change. Some thoughts will also be louder than others, and that’s okay.

Mindfulness is about noticing what is happening right now with kindness, no matter what it is. In the workplace this could mean: 

  • noticing the feeling of gratitude you have when you’re able to focus long enough to get through all of your emails
  • being aware that you keep thinking about that stressful meeting coming up (you might even observe the emotions - stress, anxiety, dread - that are associated with these thoughts too) 
  • observing that you’ve been really distracted at work lately and not trying to change the number of thoughts you’re having
  • recognizing that your thoughts are just thoughts; you do not need to act on them or listen to them

4. Mindfulness meditation is about passively letting go of everything that happens.

It’s not an elimination of any kind. People can get the idea that they need to keep letting things go in order to be mindful, so they never take a stand or may even be taken advantage of. This isn’t the goal of a mindfulness meditation practice. In fact, mindfulness can be quite fierce, and give you important insight that something may be wrong.

Being aware of injustices or wrongs can actually be a very powerful tool to help you navigate day-to-day operations. In the workplace this could look like:

  • standing up for a company policy that you disagree with
  • saying something to a colleague about inappropriate comments that make you feel uncomfortable 
  • bringing up your proposal to your boss (again) because you believe in the idea

5. Mindfulness meditation will solve all stress-related problems.

We wish it would! While mindfulness meditation is not a cure-all, having a regular practice does come with health benefits.

For example, MBSR has been scientifically shown to reduce stress (go figure, it’s in the name), high blood pressure, depression, chronic anxiety, and more. In fact, mindfulness meditation has been shown to change the brain on a cellular level, strengthening the attention, resilience, connection, and “meta-awareness” systems. In the workplace, this could be:

  • acknowledging you’re stressed out and having a hard time concentrating, so you take a walk outside to regroup 
  • noticing that your heart rate climbs when talking to your boss, so you make it a point to practice box breathing for before your next meeting with them
  • being aware that you manage your responsibilities better when you eat lunch outside, so you make it a point to pack your lunch more often to do so

Moving forward

As the workplace dynamic continues to change, mindfulness meditation is likely to play a key role in creating more positive workplace cultures. We believe MBSR specifically is the best mindfulness meditation practice to bring to the workplace due to its religious inclusivity, trauma sensitivity, standardized and evidence-based curriculum. It’s important to be aware of the common myths and misconceptions about mindfulness meditation, and how this practice can be used in a workplace setting practically. 

What misconceptions have you experienced? Please add any comments or suggestions below, we’d love to hear from you!

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