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Reflections on a one-year road test of mindfulness meditation

Murrumbidgee river, NSW, Australia.

The cynical marketing of mindfulness as a panacea for a world of corporate ills have made many of us sceptical about its proclaimed benefits. Mindfulness as a tool for overworked executives. Mindfulness as a relief valve for gig-economy workers. And recently there’s been the news of Amazon’s provision of mindfulness booths in its dystopian warehouses (Kelly, J., 2021). No, mindfulness is certainly not a solution to the problems of poor pay and bad working conditions; however, if we can cut through the hype and dig through to the roots of mindfulness and specifically the practice of mindfulness, we may find that it does offer some really important and scientifically accepted benefits. These benefits are particularly significant for those of us working in the world of UX and service design.

This more rational and practical version of mindfulness is offered by Associate Professor Craig Hassed and clinical psychologist Dr Richard Chambers in their Monash University course, Mindfulness for Wellbeing and Peak Performance.

“Mindfulness meditation can help us to cultivate the cognitive skills to manage stress, learn and perform better.”
(Monash University, 2021)

The course introduces the big four cognitive practices of mindfulness: perception, letting go or non-attachment, acceptance and presence of mind. These four cognitive practices can help us manage stress and can provide pathways towards the adoption of a more mindful approach to work, study and creativity. Another hugely useful skill which the course promotes is effective attention switching. This, as Craig Hassed explains, is not multitasking, but is instead uni-tasking. Rather than trying to do too many things at the same time, and not being efficient at any of them, it is much better to focus on one thing at a time and work through a set of prioritized tasks in a logical fashion.

“The importance of efficient attention switching, as opposed to multitasking, is a vital skill for us to live more mindfully in this modern world.”
(Hassed, C., 2021)

Hassed and Chambers also offer useful advice on managing the ‘white noise’ of modern digital technology and its constant distractions. Those working in the field of UX and digital service design may find this particularly interesting, as Chambers discusses the idea that we are literally becoming addicted to our devices, by design. The constant distractions of social media and other digital services can lead to a major degradation in our ability to focus. We can hardly give one hundred per cent attention to our work if we are continually being bombarded with notifications. We need to literally switch off.

The negative effects that digital devices can have on our own ability to concentrate should give designers cause for concern; what are the ethical considerations of designing and promoting digital services which may have harmful consequences? As designers we need to think through the effects of any notification blizzard we are proposing.

Since completing the Monash course in May 2020, I have been applying mindfulness principles to my everyday work in human-centred design. Reflecting on my work over the past year, I have found mindfulness practice to be practical and useful. Useful in that these techniques provide extra tools to manage some of the stresses that we meet in the often fast-paced world of UX and service design, and specifically in the area of user research. Simple breathing and meditation practices can help with self-care and with the decompression needed when research covers difficult or sensitive areas. These techniques can also help with mental preparation before workshops and presentations.

Perhaps more importantly, I believe that being mindful has helped me to keep a sharper focus on some of the difficult user-centred design issues that I have tackled as part of a wider team. And it has certainly helped me deal with the problem of being un-mindful, of being prey to digital distraction and diversion and to negative thinking. I now have at least one digital-free day at the weekend, when I stay away from all digital devices and spend time outdoors.

After more than a year, the key learning for me has been the importance of the word ‘practice’. It’s not enough to talk about it; we need to do it, we need to practice to be more mindful. A simple ten-minute mindfulness meditation every day, can have profound and far-reaching effects.

“Practically speaking, only through regular training to develop the ‘muscle’ of mindfulness could we possibly hope that our calmness and awareness would be strong enough and reliable enough to assist us in responding in more balanced and imaginative ways when we find ourselves in stressful situations.”
(Kabat-Zinn, J., 2013. p.338)

Notes:

Kabat-Zinn, J., Full Catastrophe Living (Revised Edition), Bantam, 2013. p.338.

Kelly, J. (2021). Social Media Savaged Amazon’s New ‘Dystopian’ And ‘Black Mirror’ Wellness Zen Meditation Booths For Warehouse Workers. Retrieved 14 June 2021, from https://www.forbes.com/sites/jackkelly/2021/05/29/social-media-savaged-amazons-new-dystopianand-black-mirror—zen-booths/?sh=4d63443e4014

Hassed, C., in Mindfulness for Wellbeing and Peak Performance — Monash University. (2021). Retrieved 16 June 2021, from https://www.futurelearn.com/courses/mindfulness-wellbeing-performance/16/todo/64171

Monash University’s Mindfulness for Wellbeing and Peak Performance course is available free through Future Learning: https://www.futurelearn.com/courses/mindfulness-wellbeing-performance

Monash University, Mindfulness for Wellbeing and Peak Performance — Monash University. (2021). Retrieved 16 June 2021, from https://www.futurelearn.com/courses/mindfulness-wellbeing-performance/16/todo/64171

I first studied Mindfulness in the context of human-centred design while completing my Master of Design Futures degree at RMIT.

And many thanks to my wife Lida for introducing me to the works of John Kabat-Zinn.


Real design thinking: learning to be more mindful can benefit your practice was originally published in UX Collective on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.


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