Peaceful Mind, Peaceful Work
Work can be stressful. Whether you're facing a looming delivery deadline, suddenly caught out by a critical bug report, juggling multiple projects, or just struggling to make headway on a particular challenge, chances are you'll be feeling a little stressed out about it. It's part and parcel with every aspect of life, but has become almost routine within the tech industry.
Yes, working practices are evolving; Agile techniques have helped achieve clearer goals and more realistic product timeframes, whilst businesses in general are becoming more mindful of their own employees. But burnout is still a common problem within development environments, with over half of those surveyed at industry giants such as Microsoft, Uber, and Amazon reporting that they were under high levels of stress or directly experiencing burnout. High overtime rates, heavy workloads, and a historic culture centred on the Cult of Hustling or, as the Guardian recently put it, "performative workaholism", all combine to make tech jobs some of the most stressful in the world.
It's a truly pervasive world view. Whilst some leaders argue that working smart is far more beneficial, most of the modern vanguard of technologists are out-and-proud hustlers.
With industry leaders like Elon Musk claiming that you should "Work like hell... if other people are putting in 40 hour workweeks and you're putting in 100 hour[s], then even if you're doing the same thing, you know you will achieve in four months what takes them a year" the grind can feel physically draining!
Amidst all of that societal pressure, how do you keep your head above the waves? One incredibly successful technique rapidly gaining adoption across industries is meditation. Far from the "fad" it was once seen as, meditation is a widely studied technique with a broad range of benefits, not the least of which is a measurable and sustained positive impact on work related stress and fatigue.
Sound good? Well, you're in luck, as we happen to have our own expert here at Talent Point in the form of our own DevOps and mindfulness specialist, Jaspreet Manor (who says tech and well being don't go hand-in-hand?!). He's been kind enough to share with us his tips (originally published on his blog) on getting started with meditation, as well as how it's impacted him so far:
Do you often feel lost in your thoughts and emotions? Maybe you react to your emotions more than you would like? Suffer from mental fatigue, anxiety or depression? Do you wish for some mental peace? A few moments where you can drown out the background chatter of the mind? All of the above? You’re not alone! Hence why meditation is becoming more and more common.
At its most simple, meditation is about focusing on your breathing to allow you to be in the moment, to be present and aware of your thoughts and your body, allowing you some mental peace. At its most complex, however, it’s a step towards spiritual transformation, enlightenment and controlling your thoughts and emotions.
Despite the different reasons for why you should meditate, there is one thing all will agree on: meditation is key to allowing the mind to relax and giving you time with yourself to better understand your thoughts. It may seem obvious to us that to best get to know a stranger you would take time to listen and understand them. Which, thus, makes it very confusing why we do not take time for ourselves and to understand our own mind.
So, at its most simple, meditation is a very easy exercise that costs nothing, can be done anywhere and has many benefits. Given that, let’s look at why many people start only to give up.
‘I don’t know where to start’
The spectrum of opinion and information available about meditation really can make adopting it quite overwhelming, leading to confusion around what it is and why we do it. These thoughts then take over the mental space and defeat the whole purpose behind meditation which is to just calm the mind.
The main thing to take away is to realise you are not alone in feeling confused about the results of this new habit you’re forming. I too felt this way; I felt it wasn’t working, but I relied on the overall idea I was trying to calm my mind and kept going. I did not quit and now it is one of my favourite things to do! There are many reasons to meditate – all of them are correct! The fact you want to meditate is enough, so forget about why or what should be happening and focus on making sure you do.
‘I don’t know how to meditate’
This is understandable. Each video on meditation has a different take on the theory and process. It is a similar problem to the many takes on why you should meditate. Again, do not focus on whether you are doing things right or wrong.
Find a quiet area, sit in any comfortable position, breathe deeply so it is felt in your belly, and just focus on how your body feels. Thoughts, as I mentioned before, will come and go. The aim is to breathe past them, keeping your focus internally, and allowing these thoughts to come and go. Do not judge them, do not judge yourself, simply breathe. This is meditation at its most simple. This will become easier and easier the more frequently you do it.
Quick tip: find a guided meditation on YouTube or Spotify and commit to practising that every day for 6 months. The impact isn’t immediate – be patient!
‘I can’t control my thoughts’
This is the number one thing I hear! The first myth to debunk is the idea that you will have no thoughts; if you have no thoughts then you are enlightened and you needn’t worry about this blog!
Accept that thoughts will come into your mind – you cannot stop them. Critically, though – do not judge yourself based on these thoughts. We are constantly thinking, feeling emotions and reacting to them, as well as reacting to what's going on outside of us. This is unlikely to change overnight or over a year.
However, whilst sitting quietly and focusing internally on the body we allow the mind to slow down and gain a greater awareness of our thoughts. Let your thoughts come and go. Breathe past them; keep the focus on your breathing and your body.
‘It doesn’t work for me’
Which can be the case for many reasons.
Firstly, it implies you having expectations about what happens when you meditate, and about how quickly you should see benefits. You need to remember everyone’s mind is different; if you keep it simple and put no expectations on the experience you will get the best from it.
Putting an expectation on what you should get out of the experience will involve constant thought about whether you are getting those things or not, which instantly leads to judgement. Stop this and focus on just enjoying the silence and time by yourself. As you meditate more and understand your mind you will gravitate towards the meditation that best suits you. You may only see the benefits when one day you realise that something that used to frustrate you no longer provokes a reaction.
With meditation, frequency is much more key than length of time. Doing five minutes every morning and evening is much better than an hour group session a week. Frequent practice allows you to build habits and stay relaxed throughout the week. As with anything in life, frequent practice leads to mastery and getting the most out of meditation.
Another issue which can make it feel like it doesn't work is practising meditation in areas or situations where you are likely to be disturbed. This is your time, a time to be alone with your mind, so make sure no one can disturb it.
‘I don’t have the time’.
This one is pretty ironic! A very simple way to fix this is to change your vocabulary and tell yourself: mental health is a priority. Everyone, and I do mean everyone, has five minutes a day to meditate. Or, as the saying goes, "if you don’t have five minutes you need to make an hour". Meditation pays a return on investment like nothing else. As with any investment that feels uneasy, manage your risk by starting small. You do not need to commit to meditating 30 minutes a day every morning and night.
This is one mistake I made early on, approaching meditation with a mindset of ‘there’s no point only doing five minutes’. It was only after months of never making 30 minutes a day that I started with five. The benefits of doing so very quickly led me to wanting to commit more time daily, to the point now where I look forward to meditation and can sit for an hour and enjoy the practice.
I have seen the benefits of meditating daily, and the peace it has brought to my mind. I combated all these reasons whilst getting into a meditation routine so felt it was only fair to share my experience; if even one person takes up meditation as a result I will be happy!
If you have any further questions or blockers preventing you from achieving your meditation goals then Jas would love for you to get in touch! You can read more great tips on living better as well as getting involved in the conversation at BloggingMyBestLife.
Employee mental health should always be taken seriously, particularly where their job has become a key negative influence. Meditation is a fantastic discipline that can have a real impact on the productivity, efficiency, and – most importantly! – the happiness of your team, but it's far from the only way that companies can help their staff. We'll be sharing some great tips next week for managing stress and mental health through positive praising policies. After all, 'tis the season to spread the love ❤️*
* We're referring to Valentine's Day. Just in case that wasn't clear...
Original article: The Joys of a Peaceful Mind
Top illustration sourced and created with: Vecteezy