Our careers help to define who we are. We lead with "so what do you do?" and everyone just magically knows what this means, and answers accordingly. Often, we go to school for years and pay inordinate amounts of money to ensure that our answer to this question of "what do you do" sounds the way we want it to, pays what we need it to, and delivers the adequate amount of career satisfaction that we believe our time and effort affords us.
What happens when reality hits? What happens when the career we have worked so hard for, prepared so long for, isn't all that it's cut out to be?
We all happily hop on the complain train. We begin to imagine things would be different, everything would be better, "if only..."
If only I liked my boss.
If only they treated me with more respect.
If only I got paid more.
If only they would listen to my ideas.
If only they followed through.
'If only' thinking keeps us in a box. It makes us the victim. 'If only' thinking puts the power outside of ourselves and hands it to situations, to other people, and to things out of our control.
Mindfulness is a word being thrown around quite often these days. Depending on your level of research into it, you might see it as a tool to calm down, a tool to clear your mind or a tool to induce a feeling of peace.
I challenge that narrow definition of mindfulness. Let's harness the power created through mindfulness and use it to enhance our happiness at work. Let's use it to propel us forward and increase our motivation and productivity.
Practicing mindfulness increases your self awareness, your accountability and your empathy towards yourself and towards others. These three benefits can re-train our brains to stop standing in our own way on the path to happiness and success.
Self Awareness: The first step in being able to harness our personal power and quiet "if only" thinking is to raise our self awareness. Self awareness is this valuable window to our own behavior. If we are lacking that window, how can we view ourselves as others view us? How can we know our own strengths and weaknesses? How can we know our own power, what we are truly capable of and in which direction we want to point that power?
At home: Each morning, build in 15 extra minutes to practice raising your self awareness. Find a comfortable place in your home, and create your space. Sit comfortably for 15 minutes and just notice. Notice the thoughts that are ruminating in your head. Label them as just a planning thought, or an anxiety thought, perhaps an angry thought. Then imagine letting the thought go, in whatever way feels right to you. This practice begins to raise your personal awareness of what is happening in your brain. It allows you to see your thoughts as separate from yourself. You are not required to participate in every thought you have. Freedom!
At work: Pause throughout the day, and just notice if you feel any tension in your body. Notice the thoughts in your head, and label them, letting them go one by one. Remember to breathe, fully exhaling, during each pause throughout your day. Use your pause to craft a response to triggers, instead of the old stand-by reaction.
Accountability: Now let's use the window we have created to raise our personal accountability. For example, if you notice during your sitting practice that you have an awful lot of anxiety thoughts or anger thoughts. What behavior can you be accountable for related to these thoughts? If my thoughts are centered around anxiety, you can bet I have bitten someone's head off, or responded in a less than helpful, smart-ass way to a coworker. Use accountability to create the environment you want.
At home: At the end of your morning self-awareness practice, build in 5 minutes to cultivate gratitude. Begin to bring into your awareness all that you have to be grateful for in your life. Be accountable for your place in that gratitude. What good are your responsible for bringing into your world? Sit in that place and breathe through your heart, enhancing the good feelings of positive accountability. You are powerful, you are worthy and you are enough.
At work: Instead of "if only" thinking, change it to, what can I be accountable for? Some situations are truly out of our control, however, sometimes we miss how our behavior affects the outcome. Be accountable for less than forward thinking, missing the big picture, black and white thinking, or riding the complain train. Be accountable for the energy you bring with you each morning. You set the tone for your day, no one else -- just you.
Empathy: Don't be so hard on yourself! When we raise our self awareness, and accountability, it's easy to beat ourselves up for what we see. Don't waste your time in this unhealthy cycle. Our mind's natural tendency is to attach to the negative. Know this, and fight it with compassion.
At home: In your morning practice, don't beat yourself up for ruminating thoughts, or feelings of inadequacy. Simply let them go, and try again, with the understanding that this is hard. We are re-training our brains and it isn't easy, show yourself the compassion you would show a friend who is struggling.
At work: When you catch yourself engaging in the complain train, or caught up in "if only" thinking, instead of beating yourself up, remind yourself of how easy it is to ride that train, and decide to choose a path of response instead of reaction. Use the empathy you have cultivated for yourself, and extend it to others. This sets them at ease and creates a path of understanding for you to work together, not against each other. Empathy creates an environment of teamwork.
What I am suggesting, isn't easy, I know this.
I'm suggesting you take your happiness back.
I'm suggesting you take your time back.
I'm suggesting you take your mind back.
I'm suggesting you take your power back.
The real questions here are: Have you had enough? Are you at your limit? Are you ready to move forward?
This post is part of an editorial series produced by The Huffington Post as part of our monthlong "Work Well" initiative, which focuses on thriving in the workplace. The goal of the series -- which will feature blogs, reported features, videos, and more -- is to present creative solutions you can use to take care of yourself as you take care of business. The effort is also part of The Huffington Post's "What's Working" solutions-oriented journalism initiative. To see all the content in the "Work Well" series, visit here.