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karen allen

Mindfulness at Work: Tips for a Calmer and More Successful Day

Updated: Oct 20, 2023




One of the ideas I talk about in Stop & Shift is ikigai—finding your life’s true purpose, which sits at the intersection of what you love, what you’re good at, what you get paid to do, and what the world needs.


I loooove that framework for pursuing meaningful work.


But in order to really live out our purpose, we have to be committed to nurturing our own inner peace. Because here’s something I have seen (and, hey, even experienced!) again and again:


Work is the area of our lives where we tend to sacrifice ourselves most.

We slip into go-mode and can spend our whole day bombarded by our own to-do lists and the things other people need from us.


Especially when we really love what we do and are passionate about our work, we can lose ourselves in the cycle. But only you can live out your life’s mission, and you can only do that fully if you are the healthiest version of yourself.


When I talk about building moments of peace and mindfulness into your work hours, I know that can seem counterproductive. I mean, you’re supposed to be working, right? How are you going to get everything done if you’re stepping away from your desk for moments of mindfulness? How can you fully support your team if you’re not maximizing every minute of your day?


I’m here to tell you, mindfulness is the key to unlocking your most productive, focused, creative self and stepping up as the composed leader your team truly needs.


In fact, research shows that incorporating mindful breaks into your day is one of the most effective ways to cultivate the qualities that make a leader successful. Did you know that…



🌱 a regular mindfulness practice increases empathy and compassion, which makes us more successful in collaborating to accomplish goals?


🌱 Leaders who are able to be fully present foster teams who feel valued, heard, respected, and supported, which helps them feel more connected to the mission and more successful in their work?


We’re so wired to go go go, but the power of mindfulness is that it allows you to move at the pace of awareness.


You can meet challenges as they come rather than making hasty decisions or being reactive.


If your goal is to excel at work, you need to learn strategies for staying present. So here are three actionable steps to help you step back so that you can step up as the best version of yourself.


1. Start your day with a grounding practice that sets the tone for the rest of the day.

Your day is either going to start on your terms or on someone else’s.


No, really. If you start your day by scrolling through your emails or checking your calendar, the day will always get out ahead of you. Once it does, it’s hard to feel like you ever catch up.

Incorporating mindfulness into your routine starts at the very beginning—being mindful of how you come into your day and setting your own intentions for what’s to come.


Instead of rolling right into whatever to dos you have, create just a little bit of a space that’s just yours, before you do anything else.


Now, listen, I’m not telling you that you need to get up at 5:00 a.m. to meditate for an hour before everyone else in your house gets up. Because, for real, that’s not me, so I can’t give you that advice. Haha!


But I can tell you that before I get out of bed and jump into everything I need to do, I take some time to think about the kind of day I want to have and set my intention for the day. That preps my brain to notice and receive all the good that’s waiting for me. And it’s SO simple.


Side note: That intention can change every day, because what you’ll notice will be different every day. Maybe you wake up feeling extra tired or you realize that your allergies are kicking your butt—it’s okay to set an intention to be gentle with yourself and to give yourself extra grace. Maybe you wake up feeling nervous about a tough conversation you need to have with a member of your team—that day your intention might be to embrace discomfort. It’s really about recognizing what’s happening inside of you so that you can think about what you need to navigate the day.


Maybe you already have a gratitude, visualization, or meditation practice that helps you find your center. This is a great time to draw on it! Just carving out a few minutes at the start of your day can create a positive shift that lasts throughout your day.


2. Take regular breaks to manage your energy and internal state.


Take a moment to think about how many times in the workday you fully step away, take a beat, and rest.


And hey, be honest with yourself. The point of this exercise isn’t to make you feel bad; it’s to help you recognize where you’ve got room to grow.


Those breaks are truly essential. Imagine a race car going at full tilt without ever making a pit stop. That would be absurd, right? They couldn’t keep going without taking time to refuel.

Our brains work the same way. Can I nerd out on brain science for just a minute? Because when you understand how your brain works, you can see how important that mental rest really is.


Your brain flows through cycles that last somewhere between 90 and 120 minutes. (Pssst, they’re called BRAC cycles, and you can learn more about them and how to work with them here!) In the first part of the cycle, your brain is firing on all cylinders, which allows you to be focused and productive.


But when you’re in flow, your brain is using up its reserve of sodium and potassium, both of which are necessary to send electrical signals between your brain cells. Eventually those reserves start to get low—you might start to feel distracted, spacey, irritable, tired, or just plain stuck.


There’s nothing wrong with your brain! It’s doing exactly what it needs to do—it’s trying to slow down to rebuild those chemical reserves.


Trying to force your brain to push through is like asking your car to keep going when there’s no gas left in the tank. The only way to move forward is to refuel, and your brain refuels through rest.


So take breaks, and make sure they’re mindful.


Taking your lunch break doesn’t count if you’re checking emails on your phone as you eat. Going for a walk won’t allow you to refuel if you’re taking work calls while you stroll. Taking five minutes to sit in the sunshine is great, but if you’re also scrolling on your socials, your brain isn’t really getting the full benefit of your time away from your desk.


You know yourself best, so think about what kinds of short breaks will help you replenish or destress. Maybe you take time every hour to stretch, take a walk, step away from your desk to make a cup of tea, doodle, listen to music, or just stare out the window.


And when it’s time to take a break, don’t just pick a default activity; really ask yourself what you need in the moment. Sometimes you need to do something to pour into yourself, and sometimes you need to do something to just let go.


The more you practice taking mindful breaks, the better you’ll get at knowing what you need and what kind of rest will help you get there. (I love this list of 51 suggestions because they break it down into categories so you can find something to meet your needs in the moment.)


3. Disconnect from work and reconnect to yourself and your family.

If you’re really passionate about your job and truly love what you do, it can be especially hard to step away and disconnect from work. In fact, you can get so used to having your work at the center of your thoughts that you don’t even notice it.


Here are a few warning signs that you’re not fully unplugging:


🌱 When you’re driving home, are you still taking calls?

🌱 When you’re spending time with your family at the end of the day, is work still on your mind?

🌱 Is checking your email the last thing you do at night before you go to bed?


Hey, listen, GUILTY! On every single one!


All of those literally come out of my own playbook. I can tell when I’m really deep into work when those habits start creeping into my life. When I start to feel really stressed, I step back and look at my patterns, and I know these are some of the habits that throw my mental state out of balance.


The beauty of this journey is that as you become more mindful, you get to know yourself better. You’ll be more in touch with your personal mental patterns, so you’ll be able to recognize the unhealthy habits you tend to fall back into when you’re not prioritizing your own wellness.


But you’ll also know what you need to do to reinstate and maintain those boundaries. Maybe for you, just putting your phone up on a shelf when you get home is enough to keep you from engaging with work on your off hours. Or when you’re in your car, maybe you just need put your phone in your glove compartment so that you’re not answering calls on your commute.


But I’ve also had clients who delete their email or work messaging app off their phone when they leave for the weekend and redownload it every Monday morning—they know themselves well enough to know that they needed to create those hard boundaries.


If you’re truly passionate about your job, if you truly want to excel as a leader, those boundaries are what will allow you to succeed. Turning work off to rest and reenergize is what gives you the energy to flow.

When you’re in your head, the whole goal is to be able to pull yourself into the present.

When you’re not buried in your inbox or running through your to-do list, you might just notice the incredible sunset that you’ve been missing every single day during your drive home.


When you step away from your desk for lunch and just focus on your meal, you might just realize that sliced nectarine you packed this morning tastes pretty amazing.


When you start your day by committing to being patient, you might just notice that your team has some incredible ideas when they don’t feel pressured to respond immediately to meet your expectations.


Because, my friends, being mindful isn’t about all the things you shouldn’t do. Mindfulness allows you to connect with all the beautiful things in this world that have just been waiting for you to notice them.


There’s joy and peace available in each moment. We just need to be ready to embrace it.


all in love,

Karen

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If you still love a good read, welcome to my blog. My hope is that every article will give you at least one tid-bit to help you shape your life in the most beautiful way possible. 😊 WELCOME!

Hi, I'm Karen! 

Hi, I'm Karen.

I've made it my life's work to teach as many people as possible about synergistic trifecta of human potential and transformation: mindfulness, positive psychology, and neuroplasticity.

 

This fusion creates a holistic approach to personal growth, well-being, and resilience, empowering you to thrive, navigate life's complexities with grace, and tap into your fullest potential.


​​I've worked with companies such as Nissan, Golf Channel, Google, Universal Orlando Parks & Resorts, LG and many more. 

Whether I'm teaching from stage, in a conference room, or via Zoom, my #1 mission is to help as many people as possible tap into the power of their mindset and start living more fully. Because when you become better, you make the people around you better, and that's how you make the world a little better, too. 🌱 #BetterTogether

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