Get Started with Mindfulness
Also, read our article What is Mindfulness and learn more about it and how it will help you making your life better.
Although engineering requires skills from both the logical and creative parts of the brain, many tend to focus on the analytical components of this profession. For this reason, you may not have considered the benefits of mindfulness training for engineers. Developing mindfulness skills can have numerous advantages for people working in technical, analytical professions.
Mindfulness is the practice of building awareness around your thoughts, body, and surroundings in the present moment. The idea is that if you regularly practice mindfulness, you will learn to notice when your mind has strayed to the past, future, or anywhere outside of your current circumstances. When you notice, you can gently guide your mind back to the present in a nonjudgmental way.
This language may sound unfamiliar to the logical thinkers of the world, but skeptics can also benefit greatly from this practice. Companies like Google are even taking note of the benefits offered by mindfulness. They have begun to incorporate mindfulness training into their company culture, claiming that the emotional intelligence developed through mindfulness helps employees think, innovate, lead, and understand coworkers with more clarity. These benefits, along with improved patience and an increased sense of calm help workers across all departments show up refreshed and more mentally prepared for work.
The mental wellbeing of workers plays a huge role in their effectiveness, especially for a demanding job like engineering. To put it simply, when we are less stressed, we can be more effective.
Since the engineer’s process is in part a design process, developing mindfulness skills can help you reframe and come up with out-of-the-box solutions. Taking just one mindful breath can help you mentally reset, which could lead to new ideas, the desire to take greater risks, and arriving at more effective solutions.
Mindfulness can help engineers innovate more creatively. It has the ability to increase emotional intelligence, boost confidence, leadership, and communication skills, and give you the courage to take risks when searching for solutions. All of these, plus the added benefit of reduced stress levels, are reasons engineers should consider practicing mindfulness.
Below we will take a look at a few of the ways mindfulness can specifically help engineers, as well as tips for engineers wanting to get started with their mindfulness practice today.
Although most traditional engineering programs focus on the logical, analytical side of the field, engineering demands a strong creative and innovative capacity as well. In order to create complex systems, devices, or structures, engineers have to use linear thinking to go from problem to solution. They also employ a more “divergent thinking” approach that allows for considering numerous potential paths and obstacles for achieving the desired outcome. This style of thinking is done best with a relaxed and open mind.
Mindfulness exercises such as focusing on your breath help you train your mind to be still and hone in on the task at hand. Once developed, engineers can employ this skill to solve complex problems. The open and relaxed nature of the mindful brain allows you to lean into curiosity without judgment. By learning to befriend your mind, and not judge it for wandering, brainstorming is welcome, productive, and often yields more creative results.
Mindfulness also allows practitioners to discover the inner workings of their own emotions. This is known as emotional intelligence. Observing your emotions and learning to pause before reacting to negative situations can help people learn to navigate certain stressors in a more productive way.
With a hefty and complex workload, engineers can benefit from observing how they react to stress. Frustration and anger are natural to experience when working with a team on a highly complex project. Through mindfulness, you can build in a pause between the stressor and your old, counterproductive reactions.
Knowing your behaviors and tendencies not only helps you respond more productively, but it also helps you understand the emotions of your coworkers, and work around their behaviors to create a more cohesive team.
Have you ever heard of “beginner’s mind?” This is the idea that you bring a new, open perspective to projects regardless of your experience level, so you can stay curious about unique solutions. This sentiment is great to keep in mind when tackling new engineering projects. Mindfulness can help you show up this way regularly by helping you remove self-judgment as a barrier to problem-solving.
By directing your mind back to the present, you avoid fears of repeating past mistakes or failing in the future. This leaves room to show up confidently, take risks, and come up with solutions that are free of your self-imposed limitations.
For complicated engineering projects, removing limitations opens the door to consider ground-breaking solutions. With highly technical projects, there are already endless obstacles to consider, so removing the added limitation of self-criticism can provide much-needed relief and allow workers to focus on the task at hand.
We already discussed how improving your emotional intelligence through mindfulness can help you understand others better as well. Not only is this helpful for understanding the reasons behind your coworkers’ behaviors, but it also helps you communicate with them, and even lead them, with greater ease.
When you understand the emotional needs and behavioral reactions of the people around you, you can develop strategies for communicating, delegating tasks, and accomplishing projects in a way that is more tailored to the needs of the group, as well as each individual. When several highly technical minds are all focused on one goal, improved communication and leadership can help the whole process run more smoothly.
Meditation is a common practice for developing mindfulness. This practice usually involves focusing on your breath, a word or mantra, or a visualization in your head, and returning to it each time you notice your mind has strayed. Little by little, this effort strengthens your ability to focus, as if it were a muscle. Regular meditators notice that over time, they can focus, and mentally stay in the present, with greater ease.
Not only does the ability to focus help mindfulness practitioners generate a larger quantity of innovative ideas. It also helps them stay focused on mentally taxing projects for longer periods of time, with fewer distractions. More focus, less distraction, higher levels of creativity, and a more relaxed attitude all lend themselves to improved performance. Making small, mindful changes in your work process could make all the difference in the final outcome.
Many mindfulness trainings involve paying more attention to your body. This effort allows you to “get out” of your mind, even if only momentarily. Paying attention to physical sensations has been shown to decrease stress levels, and allow for the sensation of grounding down into the present moment. Neither creative nor logical thinking is possible when you are in a high state of stress. As this can be a particularly demanding profession, engineers can use mindfulness as a tool to lower their stress levels, so they are able to think clearly enough to solve problems.
When the human body is in a state of intense stress or anxiety, it is because something has triggered the stress response. This is a biological response we developed to prepare us to run for our lives and protect ourselves.
However, most modern-day stressors do not threaten our lives. For the most part, we no longer have to worry about running from hungry, carnivorous animals to stay alive. Therefore, the rush of adrenalin, increased heart rate, and racing mind associated with stress are usually unnecessary, and can actually get in the way of our lives if we let them.
Mindfulness skills allow us to observe stressors without the stress response kicking in. We can employ an opposing system, the relaxation response, to keep ourselves calm and stay in the optimal mindset for clear thinking and productivity. Learning this ability is good for anyone, and can be especially useful for engineers with big workloads and numerous complex problems to solve on a daily basis.
So now that you have an idea of why mindfulness may be useful for engineers, let’s take a look at steps you can take toward developing mindfulness today. When considering these options remember two of the key ingredients for mindfulness: stay curious, and avoid judgment.
Pay attention to your breath. Even, and especially, in times of stress, bringing attention to your breath can help you mentally refocus. One deep inhale and one slow, complete exhale can go a long way.
Set one mindful goal. Maybe you want to bring a bit more presence to your communication with coworkers today. Having a specific goal in mind can be a great anchor for staying present.
Notice mental habits. Do you focus a lot on mistakes of the past, or worries of the future? Maybe you are simply looking forward to the weekend. Whatever the case may be, focusing back to the present will help you get more joy, and productivity, out of your current circumstances.
Do a body scan. Take a one-minute break from your projects to make sure your muscles, hands, feet, and jaw are not tense. Straighten your spine and lower your shoulders. Focus on maintaining this relaxed physical state and try to retain it as you return to work. Create a physical anchor. If you have an endless workload on your plate, it might be challenging to remember mindful activities. Try placing a small post-it note, an object, or anything that will remind you to relax, somewhere around your workplace. When you see this item, take one deep breath.
Although many of the aforementioned benefits of mindfulness can be applied to any profession, they are especially useful for the analytical mind of an engineer. The nature of an engineer’s logical thinking style, heavy workload, and technical approach to new things may make them skeptical of something like mindfulness. However, using mindfulness as a tool can help engineers think, innovate, and collaborate in more productive, and often more enjoyable ways.
Published in MinfulDevMag issue #5 – Back to Issue TOC