Balance is a hard act if you’re trying to survive and thrive in the corporate world. But balance is key to getting through your busy day – and out the other side.
Work impacts on the lives of corporate citizens more than ever before, making it difficult to find time to achieve balance.
But don’t feel bad. Corporate types need to accept that work/life balance is a myth. Instead, they should focus on finding a way to balance the constant imbalance that exists in their life, advises CEO and founder of Wellineux, Amanda McMillan. Wellineux runs corporate retreats and other programs in Australia.
Take a Minute for Yourself
“The reality is that we work in a 24/7 society now, given the proliferation of technology, so it’s about finding ways to slow down that internal busy-ness so you’re not always in that stressful feeling of flight or fight mode. This is a feeling that can eventually make us feel exhausted and worn down, meaning we’re not performing at our best or thinking clearly,” McMillan says.
The truth is that it can just take a minute or two to think about the little things that can have a positive impact on your day. Considering what could make you feel 5 per cent happier during your day is a powerful exercise, McMillan says.
“Calling someone you love on your lunch break to say hello or stopping and pausing for a few minutes during a stressful part of the day can actually contribute to making you far more effective during your work day,” she says.
Rise of Mindfulness
Given the constant corporate pressures on us all, the practice of mindfulness is starting to creep into the corporate vernacular, according to Gillian Coutts, Australian partner for organisational effectiveness program based on mindfulness, The Potential Project, and co-author of One Second Ahead.
Mindfulness is not for tree huggers or yoga practitioners, but for leading edge professionals who understand our neurological limitations and see value in the skilful introduction of mindfulness into their organisation’s culture, she says.
“While technology has been a boon in many respects, it has also meant the boundaries between the space and time of work and home have become much more blurred. Learning to cultivate balance when there are no clear boundaries is a challenge for anyone’s wellbeing, productivity and creativity.”
According to science, our mind wanders for almost half of our waking hours, which can make it difficult to get that all-important downtime in our life, she adds.
“From an evolutionary perspective, the ability to think about things that are not happening right now was a significant advantage. But in today’s complex, fast-paced, demanding work environments, it just makes us less productive and more likely to make mistakes,” Coutts says.
If you’re unsure if this is true, set a timer for one minute, pick a thought and try and think of nothing else until the time ends. If you find this difficult, you are completely normal in that you have a wandering mind, she says.
Mindfulness training has proven to help us with impulse control, and can help us clear a cluttered mind that has become filled with our long ‘to do’ list, and pause in a moment of busyness and make a choice about what is most important to do now, Coutts explains.
“Balance is determined by our state of mind. It’s not always easy, but learning to be mindful and present to whatever is here, now, and being able to let go of thoughts about the past or the future is a challenge for anyone’s wellbeing, productivity, and creativity.
“A growing body of scientific studies demonstrate that the mind can be trained to enhance focus. This mind is like a muscle. If you want it to be fit, fast and high-performing, we need to train it. And specifically, mindfulness training has been shown to enhance focus, so we’re better able to manage our attention.”
Remember that our brains are habitual, which makes it easy to get caught up in negative work patterns, making it difficult for organisations to change, Coutts says.
The Best-Laid Plans
To test this out for yourself, close your eyes and visualise hearing news that the leader of your organisation will be announcing major changes tomorrow. Take a moment to reflect on how this makes you feel. Are you excited to hear what’s in store, or dreading what your brain has already decided will be bad?
“Most of us spend the majority of our time thinking and behaving in habitual ways. Even if we recognise benefits of changing how we operate, our brain’s natural response is to resist. It prefers things to be done like they were done before, which can be limiting in modern-day work environments,” Coutts says.
While planning time for mindfulness is key, the best laid plans go belly-up when a client has a crisis or there’s another drama at work.
“The imbalance we experience is really determined by our state of mind. It’s not always easy, but for me, learning to be mindful and present to whatever is here now, and being able to let go of thoughts about the past or the future when necessary has been vital.”