Guided Imagery & Mindfulness: Both Great for Success at Work, but in Different Ways
Oh, the Things that Drive Us Nuts at Work!
What drives us crazy at work and keeps us from being our brilliant, productive selves there?
The answers haven’t changed much over the years: sheer workload, killer deadlines, feeling undervalued, having to do dumb work, or other peoples’ work, or work that goes wasted.
And of course there’s the matter of having no control over our working day nor agency over the environment we work in, nor being denied influence over the direction and shape of the company and its mission.
Then there are the annoying people – peers not pulling their weight (and scamming the higher-ups); and all the colleagues that interrupt, don’t listen, or over-talk every comment; the drama queens, bullies, grand-standers, idea-stealers and whiners.
We can’t leave out the wishy-washy managers, the arbitrary ones, the managers who change their minds about everything, and those who rigidly adhere to doing things the way they’ve always done them.
Hey, these are the simple realities of working with humans – sometimes it’s great, sometimes it’s hellish, and at any given time, some of these factors are in play, interfering with our ability to do our jobs with the best we have to offer.
Delivering the Goods in Spite of It All
So in the face of these and other frustrations and road blocks – hey, I haven’t even mentioned personal insecurities, trouble at home, financial pressures, or health challenges – in the face of all of this, how do we focus on the job at hand, stay motivated, creative and productive, collaborate effectively with others, follow through, persevere, get the job done… and do so with any kind of consistency? It’s a tall order, right?
Right. But here’s the thing: with that much daily frustration and distraction swirling around us and within us, a critical way to manage it all and perform in spite of it, involves the skill of being able to compartmentalize... tune out the noise and stay focused on the task at hand.
Meditation and the Placement of Attention
It’s a skill of placement of attention, which sounds harder to learn than it is. It’s the ability to consciously ignore the distracting yada-yada, and attend to a very narrow band of things in our perceptual field.
That, by the way, is the uber-definition of meditation – the conscious placement of attention on a very limited thing or range of things.
If you can peel potatoes with your attention placed on the sights, smells, feel, sounds and emotional satisfaction of doing that earthy job, you are a meditator.
And if you can focus on a task or goal at work with similar, single-pointed attention, to the exclusion of all the annoyances, irritations, kerfuffles, disappointments, and frustrations impinging on you – because you have chosen to place your attention in just this way - you are meditating on the job. That makes you an enviably productive member of the team.
Ram Dass, in his oh so casually brilliant way, invoked it with “Be Here Now”.
Mindfulness is One Way
Mindfulness meditation trains us to fearlessly notice and acknowledge all the flotsam and jetsam floating around in our heads at the moment, and keep returning our attention to that single pointed thing. We keep clearing the mind-field (that’s a pun! I feel quite smug about it!) of debris, sweeping out internal and external ruckus.
Mindfulness is a highly generalizable skill that can be applied to any form of distress or suffering. It works brilliantly, but for most people it takes some practice and discipline.
Guided Imagery is Another
Guided imagery does something a little different and complementary. It seduces and distracts our attention away from distress by offering an alternative healing story in a hypnotic state, filled with immersive suggestions that target the goals and outcomes we seek. That could be better concentration, less procrastination, more confidence before a high-stakes presentation, greater cushioning from that hostile provocateur on the team… things like that.
Imagery is not as generalizable as mindful meditation, but it’s easier, takes no training, delivers immediate pay off, and can be highly goal oriented.
Between the two techniques, you have the perfect 1-2 punch for success.
It Doesn’t Take Much Time, Either
Twenty minutes of one or both, each morning or night, drives change. The halo effect seeps into the way we work, the way we listen to friends, the way we peel potatoes. Try it. Listen to some guided imagery or mindfulness meditation for 10-20 minutes a day for 2-3 weeks. See what happens.
For lasting change and creating a permanent new habit, we’re talking 9-10 weeks for most people. I challenge you to give it a serious try – surprise yourself!
Whether you do or don’t – either way I wish you well! :) (But I hope you do.)
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