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Do you love your work? Or are you feeling stressed and run down? These days it’s easy to feel the heavy burden of work more than the uplifting potential. But it is possible to find happiness at work, even if you don’t love your job all of the time. These five mindful strategies will help you feel less stressed and more productive.
First, a word about mindfulness and work:
Jon Kabat Zinn defines mindfulness as “paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.” When we’re mindful, we’re more aware of what’s happening around us and inside of us. We accept the present moment without worrying too much about what came before it, or is coming up next. We can make wiser choices when we’re not so wrapped up in our thoughts.
This isn’t to say that stress or difficult emotions will go away altogether. But mindfulness gives us some space to work with them rather than being ruled by them. It can help us to apply perspective to any given moment. That is why mindfulness can be helpful for stress management in general, and for enjoying our work more specifically. Finding happiness at work is more possible if we slow down and focus on the present moment, looking for opportunities to focus on the positive aspects of our professional life and identity.
Try these five strategies for being more mindful about your work, and see if you can lighten the burden:
Take a Breathing Break
Sometimes all we need is a few minutes to recenter ourselves. We spend most of the day breathing into our chest, which results in a shallow breath that doesn’t rejuvenate us. This can lead to a focus on negativity rather than happiness at work. It can also, in the long term, lead to negative physical impacts. Deep breathing, on the other hand – into our diaphragm and abdomen – activates the parasympathetic nervous system. This system calms the body, slows down your heart rate, and can even improve digestion.
Giving yourself this break to feel more relaxed can help you to handle stress more constructively or see it more realistically instead of letting it get carried away in the moment.
When you feel stress starting to build, pause for a moment to take a few deep breaths. Inhale for four seconds, hold for four seconds, and exhale for six seconds. Repeat this three times, and you’ll start to feel more relaxed. After breathing, say to yourself, “This is where I am. Nothing I can do about it now. But I can decide how I want to respond to it.”
BONUS: To go deeper into diaphragmatic breathing, try this 9 minute guided breathing meditation from Mindful Magazine.
Start a Gratitude Practice
Studies have shown that practicing gratitude can increase happiness, improve sleep, and reduce stress levels. In fact, according to the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkley, “more grateful people are happier, more satisfied with their lives, less materialistic, and less likely to suffer from burnout.” They note that keeping a gratitude journal or writing a grateful letter can increase happiness and your overall “positive mood.”
In short, a gratitude practice can help shift your focus from what’s wrong to what’s right. When we take the time to be grateful for what’s good in our lives, even if it’s something as small as a beautiful view out the window or someone bringing us coffee, we can start to see our work in a more positive light. This shift can help you enjoy your work more and feel less burdened.
Tomorrow morning when you sit down at your desk, list five things you’re grateful for about your work life. It could be something as simple as having a nice plant on your desk or recognizing a person who you like in your organization. Or, it could be something as complex as a certain aspect of a very particular project you are working on.
BONUS: Check out this list of Gratitude Journal Templates provided by Postive Psychology. Perhaps you will find one that you like that you can download and fill in!
Lean into Your Strengths
We all have strengths and weaknesses. But when we focus too much on our weaknesses, it can be easy to get down on ourselves. It can also lead us away from what we’re good at and make us unhappy in our work. According to Gallup (home of the StrengthsFinder assessment), people who use their strengths at work are “more engaged, more productive, and more satisfied with their jobs.”
In other words, when we focus on what we’re good at and enjoy doing, it can help us increase our happiness at work. Finding ways to use your strengths in your current job (or to explore new pathways that better align with them) can help you to feel more satisfied and fulfilled professionally.
It’s also worth noting that knowing your strengths can help you play to them in your job search or when negotiating a new position.
Take the StrengthsFinder assessment if you haven’t already done so (or use a similar free test like the High5Test). It will give you an idea of your top five strengths. Once you know what they are, start looking for ways to lean into them at work. If you’re not sure where to start, ask your boss or a colleague how they’ve seen you use your strengths in past projects or roles.
BONUS: Read Don Clifton’s Book Now Discover your Strengths: The revolutionary Gallup program that shows you how to develop your unique talents and stregths. Consider having a conversation with your work colleagues on stregnths-based professional leadership – what can you learn about and with each other? HINT: New copies of this book often include a code to access the Strengths Finder assessment for free with purchase!
Check out my workshop offerings to see a description for a
Strengths-Based Leadership workshop
that I can offer to you and your group!
Find your Element
Another way of honing in on your strengths is to focus on tasks and professional roles that have you feeling like you are “in your element.” Ken Robinson defines your “element” as “the place where you feel most alive, enthusiastic, and effective.” When we’re doing something that feels in line with our Element, we’re tapping into our strengths and passions simultaneously.
Much like focusing on your strengths, finding your element can help make work more enjoyable. It can also give you a sense of purpose and motivation to keep going when things get tough.
Take some time to think about the tasks or professional roles that have made you feel the best in past jobs or projects. What were you doing? How did it make you feel? Write these down somewhere (or even better- express them visually in a diagram or mindmap). This is a good starting point for figuring out what your element might be. From there, start looking for roles, responsibilities, and tasks that would allow you to be in your element more often.
BONUS: Pick up a copy of Sir Ken Robinson’s Book Finding your Element: How to Discover your Talents and Passions and Transform your Life. Read it during your lunch break or in the evenings and think about his ideas in relation to your professional life. What inspires you?
Sign up for Mindfulness Training or Coaching
If you’d like to go deeper into mindful practices at work, consider signing up for an in-depth Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Program. Official MBSR programs are an eight-week course that teach mindfulness meditation and other stress-relieving techniques. They’ve been shown to help people reduce stress, anxiety, and depression levels. In doing so, you can increase your happiness at work and feel more fulfilled.
If you’re not interested in a long-term program, or not ready to commit, I also offer a one-hour introduction to using mindfulness to take stress “in stride.” I can offer this one-on-one, or to a group.
If you’d like to work to consistently support your desire to bring a mindful appraoch to work, consider looking into mindfulness coaching instead. Coaching can be tailored to your specific needs and goals, and it can be a great way to get started with mindfulness practices if you find a coach that specialized in this area (hint, hint – this is something I offer in my coaching service).
If you decide to go the route of a mindfulness training or coaching program, do some research on which one might be best for you. There are many different types out there, so it’s important to find one that resonates with you. And always feel free to ask questions before signing on. I offer a free half-hour consultation with any potential client to see if we are a good match – many programs will offer something similar to perspective clients.
BONUS: Pick up a copy of Finding the Space to Lead by Janice Marturano. Dr. Marturano is the founder and Executive Director of the Institute for Mindful Leaderhsip. This book provides inspiration and practical advice for bringing mindfulness into your role as a leader, whether you are leader by title or participation.
Click here to read the list of Mindfulness workshops that I can offer to your personally or to a group. I have a frequently-requested workshop called “Stress at Work: Taking it in Stride” that might be a great entry point for brining mindfulness to your professional life.
When happiness at work feels impossible
As much as mindfulness can help us reframe our perspective and take things in stride, there may come a time when being happy in your job is impossible. I firmly believe that noone should have to work in a job that makes them miserable. I realize that this could sound like a privileged position – not everyone can afford to quit their job or have the job that makes them perfectly happy. That said, I believe that change is possible for almost anyone. Even a lateral move, from one entry level job to another, can bring new colleagues and a new work environment that better align with your values or strengths.
If you have come to this place, I highly recommend you find someone to talk with who can help you through this transition. A professional coach (like me) might be appropriate if you are ready to seek new professional paths. If work is making you so miserable that it is impacting your mental health, please seek out a professional counselor through a private or public practice.
You may also be able to seek out a trustworthy mentor with whom you can speak confidentially about your challenges; if your work environment is toxic, try to find someone from another circle. Perhaps this is a former teacher, or even a neighbor or friend who seems to have found fulfillment at work. Make sure to talk with them about the role you are asking them to play (mentor/guide/question-poser) rather than just venting to them about your challengers.
In the meantime, see if you can use mindfulness to focus on parts of your life that are more fulfilling or have the potential to elevate your happiness if you focus on them. These activites can be applied to those parts in your life, too!