Maybe it was the last time you listened to a podcast, skimmed recent headlines, or caught up with friends, but chances are, it hasn’t been long since you heard a reference to “mindfulness.”
No matter what your personal experience with it, you’ll probably agree that mindfulness is having a moment in American life. There are books on mindfulness for athletes, mindfulness for weight loss, mindfulness for kids, and, of course, Mindfulness for Dummies.
But what may seem like a recent cultural phenomenon is much more than a passing trend: since 1979, when MIT-trained molecular biologist Jon Kabat-Zinn decided to integrate ancient Eastern practices into modern Western medicine, increasing data, countless studies, and thousands of peer-reviewed articles have confirmed the physiological and psychological benefits from practicing mindfulness meditation.
We’re not talking about your fringe-hippie-uncle’s mystic chanting and gong-ringing. While Kabat-Zinn’s original focus was using mindfulness to treat chronic health issues, iterations of his original Mindfulness-Based-Stress-Reduction (MBSR) have been used successfully in medicine, mental health, and social institutions like schools, prisons, and the military.
Despite--or maybe because of--its ubiquity, there’s plenty of confusion and/or misunderstanding over mindfulness. Certainly, the practice of being aware of our thoughts has been around as long as humans have realized we have thoughts to be aware of, so it’s important to note that your understanding of mindfulness may be different than your neighbor’s.
For the purpose of this article, “mindfulness” is the intentional practice of bringing your awareness to the present moment.
It sounds simple, right? So simple that you may think to yourself, I don’t need that. But if you’re one of the increasing number of Americans who has attempted to sit still and watch your own thoughts lately, without getting totally swept up in them within seconds, you know that being aware of the present moment isn’t as easy as it sounds.
Before we jump to the benefits mindfulness offers engineers, developers, and programmers, it may be helpful to note a few things that mindfulness isn’t:
Great coding requires a few things from a developer outside of technical ability: mental stability and focus, patience, and open-mindedness. Practicing mindfulness offers the following:
Remember, this is a practice! Just like any new practice, you’ll need to build endurance before you can tackle the biggest hurdles. Starting small--with 2-minute sessions--will increase the likelihood that you’ll stick with it over time.
Chances are good your mind will want to wander while you’re breathing. That’s okay! Let it wander, making an attempt to notice the thoughts that pop in, let them go, and gently redirect your mind to those inhales and exhales.
Maybe you’ve heard: sitting is the new smoking. Americans are sedentary for an average of 9-10 hours a day, with major health risks related to those who sit with frequent uninterrupted bouts of 30 minutes or more. Take note of when you’re having trouble getting into a state of flow with work or, perhaps, when you’re coming out of a state of flow. These are great opportunities for some mindful movement. If you’ve got the space, unroll a yoga mat and for some quiet stretching, take a walk through the hall, or just stand in place and move your arms. While you move, begin the breathing and thought-watching practice described above. Start with 2-minute breaks and soon you’ll find that you want to add some time!
Maybe it was a productive day, maybe it wasn’t. Either way, it’s time to let go and leave the work for your future-self. Your present-self is moving on with the rest of your day. It’s time to sit or move again in a mindful way: set your timer (this timer is a key part of the ritual!), begin with a thoughtful inhalation, and simply breathe and watch. What will you notice? A regular habit of closing your work this way will allow you to let it go, ready for you to pick up with intention next time, but only when it’s time.
Do you have a mindfulness practice? How has it affected your work? Leave some thoughts or tips in the comments below!