Mindfulness: 5 exercises for IT leaders

These simple mindfulness exercises can help you and your team focus, stay balanced, and manage the challenges of the new workplace normal
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emotional intelligence

Mindfulness is a valuable skill that helps increase your awareness of the present moment. When practiced with consistency, it can keep you more present and focused throughout the day.

The practice of mindfulness is not limited to those who meditate; anyone who seeks to lessen stress or distractions in their life can benefit from it. As the coronavirus pandemic continues to upend our lives, practicing mindfulness and meditation can significantly ease the stress many people are feeling.

[ For more advice on crisis leadership, read Emotional intelligence during the pandemic: 5 tips for leaders. ]

Even prior to COVID-19, many tech companies, including Google, Twitter, Facebook, and others, had already started integrating mindfulness, meditation, and other contemplative practices into their corporate environments. But in today’s newly remote work environment, people can practice mindfulness and meditation in their own space, and many report that it actually increases their ability to focus.

People can practice mindfulness and meditation in their own space, and many report that it actually increases their ability to focus.

5 mindfulness exercises

Consider sharing the following mindful meditation exercises with your team members to help them manage disruption and uncertainty, sharpen their focus and concentration, and work more productively at home.

1. Breath counting

This simple breathing exercise can immediately lower stress in the body. Your team members can do this throughout the day, even setting a timer to take breathing breaks. Here’s how to do it:

  • On the inhalation, count 1-2-3-4-1
  • On the exhalation, count 1-2-3-4-2
  • On the inhalation, count 1-2-3-4-3
  • On the exhalation, count 1-2-3-4-4

2. Mantra meditation

This is similar to mindful meditation in that you focus on something that stops your mind from wandering. But instead of focusing on your breath, you repeat and concentrate on a specific word or phrase. 

  • Sit someplace quiet.
  • Close your eyes.
  • Take a few deep breaths in and out.
  • Pick your mantra. It could be a single word like “quiet,” “relax,” or “peace,” or a phrase like “I am peaceful” or “I feel relaxed.” 
  • Begin repeating your mantra to yourself silently over and over, as many times as you wish. If your mind begins to wander and thoughts pop up, simply observe them and continue repeating your mantra.
  • When you are done, gently open your eyes.

3. Mindful eating

This means eating your food without being rushed and with total awareness. Since people are working from home and aren’t “on the clock” for lunch, they can turn a meal or a snack into a mindful meditation session. This can reduce stress and strengthen focus and concentration.

Here’s how to practice mindful eating at home:

  • Mindfully prepare your breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Put your focus and attention on the food – feel its texture and smell the herbs and condiments.
  • Take a few deep breaths in and out before you begin eating.
  • Take in your environment: Notice who is around you and any sounds you hear. It might be the voices of those you live with, pets, or noises from outside. Simply note what you observe.
  • Take a moment to feel gratitude for the food you are about to eat.
  • Take your first bite slowly, and don’t rush. Chew with a conscious awareness that you are not hurrying.
  • Taste the flavors, feel the temperature, and notice the texture of your food.
  • When you are done, mindfully clean up.

4. Mindful walking

A yard or other outdoor space is ideal for this exercise, but you can also do it indoors, even in a small space. Mindful walking can take less than ten minutes and can serve as a welcome break in the workday.

This exercise is best done in silence. If you like, count your steps as you walk. With each step, pay attention to the lift and fall of your foot. If your mind wanders or you are distracted by something around you, simply bring your focus and awareness back to the sensation of walking. When you are done, take a moment to stand still before returning to work.

5. Desk body scan meditation

This meditation can be done seated at a desk or workspace.

  • Remove your shoes.
  • Bring your focus and awareness to your breath.
  • Take a few deep breaths in and out.
  • Direct your attention to the soles of your feet. Observe the surface your feet are resting on. Is it cold? Warm? Do your feet feel cool or warm?
  • Wiggle your toes and rotate your ankles counterclockwise, then clockwise.
  • Move your attention to the tops of your feet, ankles, lower legs, knees, and upward.
  • Scan each part of your body as you focus your attention moving upward. Notice any discomfort, tightness, or other sensations.

To lengthen this meditation, work backward, starting from the upper part of your body back down to the soles of your feet.

You can turn almost anything into a mindful meditation – breathing, walking, eating, sitting, talking, and even showering: Simply strive to be present and put your full focus and attention on everything you do.

During this time of isolation, it’s important to remind ourselves that we do not need to rush. This is a perfect time to slow things down, and practicing mindfulness will help you and your team do that. Even a simple breathing exercise like the one described above can reduce stress and increase mental alertness.

The physical and mental benefits of practicing mindfulness are tremendous. IT leaders who encourage their teams to embrace it during these stressful times will see the benefits in productivity, outlook, and general well-being.

[ Are you leading through change? Get the free eBook, Organize for Innovation. ]

Ora Nadrich is founder and president of the Institute for Transformational Thinking and author of Live True: A Mindfulness Guide to Authenticity.