Mind how you go
John Stokdyk shares some ideas on mindfulness from a moment of calm insight at the recent Accountex event.
Amid the hubbub of the recent Accountex exhibition in London, 40 accountants sat quietly in a lecture room breathing deeply, contemplating the potential for mindful attention to improve their working practices.
The meditative interlude came at the end of my talk on Zen and the art of practice development and was designed to give participants a glimpse into the Buddhist concept of mindfulness by focusing on the simple act of breathing in and out.
Mindfulness is about being alert to the present moment, observing and experiencing everything as it is then rather than allowing thoughts to distract you. Mindfulness is a superb way to reduce stress and practising the technique in the longer term will help you identify and let go of habits that may have grown up around the way you react to external stimulii.
Coach Carol’s tips
1. Sit in front of a clock and watch the passing of one minute. Focus your entire attention on your breathing, and nothing else, for the full minute. Practise daily to build your mindful muscles.
2. Discover flow, the mental state in which you are fully immersed in what you are doing, and energised by that focus.
3. Deal with similar tasks in fixed slots of time.
4. Set yourself clear objectives and timescales (say 30-60 minutes) that stretch but do not strain your capabilities; employ a high degree of mindful concentration and limit your field of attention.
5. Interruption is flow’s greatest foe - switch off electronic devices so they don’t disrupt your concentration on other tasks.
6. ‘I‘m all yours’ - when dealing with other people, give them your full attention. Whether at home or work, you will be rewarded.
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Source: Carol McLachlan, Your attention please!
You can practice mindfulness when preparing a meal, taking a walk or doing a tax return, and as you become more fully aware of your actions, it should help you pay more attention to everything you do.
As Carol McLachlan explained it when setting out her prescription for mindfulness in the workplace, “Multi-tasking is so last century; improve your game by nurturing intelligent, focused attention rather than task switching.” See the box on the right for more of her tips.
Trainer Mark Walsh also included mindfulness as one of his top anti-stress techniques and advocating using it during tax season in the way that some people take cigarette breaks. His instructions show how simple it is to apply, even in three minute bursts within the workplace:
“To experience mindfulness and reduce your stress, simply bring your attention to your senses. Notice your breathing. Whatever it's doing is fine: watch it go in and out. Feel the sensations of your body - yourself on your chair, the feeling of your clothes, your feet on the floor. If your mind wanders (this is what minds do) simply come back to the present moment. Repeat for three minutes.”
Other ideas to extend your mindfulness practice include:
Centring - Sit in an upright yet relaxed position with your feet flat on the floor. Expand your awareness above and below, left and right, and front and back, balancing your posture. Put your hand on your stomach just below your belly button and breathe slowly and deeply so your hand moves out as you breathe in. Breathe in through the nose and out through the mouth. Put your concentration in the point just below your navel as you breathe. Repeat.
Tense and relax - Tense your stomach muscles, shoulders, fists, eyes, jaw, and all the other muscles of your body while holding your breath. Release and relax.
As you get more adept at being in the moment, you can then apply the principles of mindfulness to your daily work activities. Walsh advocates cutting out interruptions wherever possible - for example by only checking your email twice a day - and argues that learning to do one thing at a time with complete focus make you more efficient.
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AccountingWEB’s Head of Insight has been with the site since 1999 and likes to spend his time studying accountants’ technology habits. When not nerding out, you can find him exploring obscure indie music and searching for the perfect organic sourdough loaf from his base in Brighton, UK.