Over the last few months, I’ve been working to improve myself, both in my working environment and at home. Recently I found an article online around how applying Buddhist principles to your work can help achieve positive results. Intrigued, I read the article and followed it up with some research on Buddhism itself and whether it could help me on my journey.
Apart from opening my mind to different ways of thinking, and being fascinated by the religion itself, I discovered several techniques and perspectives that have already helped me bring balance and focus to my work.
So how can Buddhism help you at work? Buddhism is an ancient and complex religion, and there are many elements which I believe can enhance you and your work very easily. For the purpose of this, I’m going to keep it simple. Here are my top tips:
We’re all guilty of allowing our emotions and preconceptions guide us when presented with a new situation. In Buddhism we are encouraged to view these with the “Right View”. When I first read this, I presumed it meant “looking at things in the right way”, whatever “right” is morally. However, and ironically for me, it’s about looking with your eyes and applying no filters or preconceptions at all. We need to pay attention to what we are looking at, understand what it is before we act and not allow our feelings to affect our actions. For example, the email you have just received from your most demanding client may be easily resolved and not cause any stress if you can remove your emotion when dealing with it.
Knowing what you want to achieve, and the exact steps you need to take will focus the mind and allow you to reach your goal more effectively. The more precise you are, and the more aware of the steps you need to take increases this focus. It’s important to know that one step leads to the next and if you are unsure of this, take time to know where you are and whether you need to go back a step!
Everything you do, actively or passively, will affect everything around you. When you are actively working towards a goal, knowing that a telephone call you make, for example, will lead you on to your next step is important. It helps with focus and ultimately achieving the goal. Understanding that the same call will also affect the person on the other end of the line can help shape the language you use and your relationship with them. Are you assertive? Polite? Apologetic? How will the other person react to this? This is a very basic example of how the ripple effect should always be considered when actively pursuing goals.
Being mindful that your mood, or the way you work, will ripple out from you affecting those around you is equally important. You do not have to interact directly with someone to provoke a reaction, positive or negative. Approaching your work with positivity and energy will influence others. You shouldn’t need to draw attention to it either – simply working with focus and direction will help others do the same.
Likewise, if you are constantly complaining, or huffing and puffing your way through your work, then this can contaminate others with negativity. This is irrespective of whether you are doing a good job or not. A former colleague of mine used to say “it’s going to be one of those days” after their first call almost every day which lead to newer members of the team believing this was the norm and would mean their approach to the day would be similarly negative.
Modern society marvels at people, very often career-driven, able to manage many different aspects of their lives at once. Most of the time this is an illusion. The high-powered CEO jumping from meeting to meeting is wholly reliant on the team around them to direct their attention to where it should be. The parent juggling the school run with the telephone jammed between their shoulder and their ear – are they honestly able to concentrate on everything they are doing and not make mistakes? Simply put, they cannot. All jobs require time to complete, so why make it more complicated by doing two or more at once. It may feel more efficient whilst you are doing it, but essentially you are not focusing on more than one task, rather than giving one your full attention.
Buddhism isn’t the only religion that recognises the benefit of this. By accepting that sometimes you can’t change something, you can focus your energies on what else can be done. Just as simply, if you recognise that something can be changed, understanding how and why you need to change it will help you with the first steps towards your goal. The most difficult part is learning to recognise what can be changed and whether it is necessary. This is usually gained through experience and practice or simply asking for help. The more you understand the situation, the more you will recognise what can be changed.
Everything is constantly changing. Accepting that things change (and not always in a good way) will help to re-focus you. If you think of the Right View, approaching a situation and knowing it won’t be the same will help you understand it and will help you take the right steps towards your goal.
A big part of Buddhism is to understand that attachment causes suffering, and to end attachment will end suffering. This attachment can be anything, from something physical to an idea or process. Have you ever heard “that is the way we’ve always done it” and thought that it doesn’t seem right? This is an example of how an organisation can become attached to an idea and, despite changes to the world around them, continues to use the same processes. Would this ever be considered best practice?
Mindfulness is essential throughout Buddhism. It is also the most misunderstood term in modern society, often used to sell products. A quick Google Search will bring up websites dedicated to “mindful” products. Being Mindful is about the here and now, but perhaps more importantly, it is about paying attention. It is not necessarily about calmness, or meditation. For example, when you become stressed, take a moment to examine how you are reacting – your pulse and breathing may have sped up, you may be more alert. This is your body preparing itself for the task you are about to perform. By listening to your body and taking your time, you can grasp better what is happening and focus. Your body is prepared, and you can be mentally prepared too!
Mindfulness requires practice. It is important to find an exercise which you can easily repeat and use this to improve your mindfulness. As mentioned above, it isn’t about meditation, though there are similarities, but about improving how you look, listen and understand.
A lot of the above isn’t ground-breaking, and it shouldn’t be – Buddhism is an ancient religion and its influence is huge. However, I have found myself to be more productive, less stressed and, I believe, a better person through following these tips. It might not work for everyone, but I firmly believe that being mindful of your actions and being open-minded to everything put in front of you will help you in many positive ways. It’s also a small leap to be able to apply this to your life out of work too.
Please get in touch if you would like to find out anything more.