Guest blog by Elizabeth O’Brien of Health Enhancement for Living Program

How often do you find that youʼre doing one thing but thinking about something completely different? You’re having a conversation or performing some task … but your mind has drifted off. Itʼs thinking about the next thing you have to do, or the meeting you just had, or itʼs remembering that great movie on Saturday…

Our lives can be so busy and full of competing demands. We get so busy in the past or future that we fail to deal with what’s happening in the present. And when that happens, there’s a real risk that we won’t respond appropriately to what’s happening right under our noses.

In the workplace, mental overload can negatively affect performance, reducing the ability to think clearly and perform effectively. It can result in poorer decision-making, strategy and planning skills, and less effective teamwork and people management skills.

A good way to improve this situation is to learn the art of mindfulness.

At its simplest, being mindful is about paying attention to something. It could be anything you choose to focus on – a piece of music you’re listening to, a person you’re speaking with, the taste of a strawberry, the traffic as you’re driving.

Learning mindfulness is about learning to tune in. (Mindfulness is not about tuning out via meditation – a common misconception.) Mindfulness helps you to focus your attention more easily, which results in better performance and results. It is a very effective way of reducing stress.

The best thing is that that skills of mindfulness can be acquired surprisingly easily and quickly.

One of my clients is a large public hospital where the medical and clinical staff are dealing with intense pressure and emotions. Participants in the course I run there have  reported lower stress levels are lower, clearer and calmer communication with patients and colleagues, and improved energy levels and sleep.

As part of a team of tutors at Monash Medical School we’ve been able to achieve some similar results with first-year medical students. As they learn about the mind–body connection and the effects of stress on mental and physical health. They also learn mindfulness and cognitive strategies that help them manage their own wellbeing and their heavy study workloads. They can then take these skills into their medical practice after graduating.

There are very few people who wouldn’t benefit from a learning to be mindful. It’s an inspiring subject to be involved in.