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Created on 05.03.2020

Self-management – switching off autopilot

Self-management is an art form that is becoming increasingly important in the working day. Mindfulness is one way to achieve this.

Your next appointment is beckoning, you’re hurrying to get there, and that really tough Skype meeting you just had is still on your mind. On the way to the meeting you remember that you promised a colleague some documents that you absolutely need to deliver afterwards, and you quickly skim through an e-mail. The meeting begins. An important decision is looming.  

For Gabriela von Arx, who teaches mindfulness techniques, this is a typical situation in which it can really help to just pause for a moment, reflect on how you are feeling at that precise moment and be present physically and mentally. “If, for example, I am distracted or stressed, the decisions I make don’t help the situation at hand very much,” she explains, “so I first need to be aware of the fact that I am distracted and stressed. Only then can I manage the situation and make a decision on how to tackle it.” 

Make every decision a conscious one

By just pausing for a moment, you give yourself options. If you are stressed, it helps to ask these sorts of questions: “Have I made myself feel stressed, or has something else?”, “Do I put up with the stress or try to eliminate it?”, “What impulse do I perceive?”, “Should I act straight away, or am I better off sitting back for a second?” This way, mindfulness helps you make conscious decisions on how to deal with whatever situation you find yourself in, instead of you being controlled. Von Arx explains: “We’re often set to autopilot, and just approach things the way we always do. Mindfulness helps us recognize this whenever it happens, and it helps us to make more conscious decisions about what we actually want to do.” In this respect, mindfulness also helps to ensure we don’t just put up with everything or set ourselves boundaries.

Mindfulness helps you make conscious decisions on how to deal with whatever situation you find yourself in, instead of you being controlled.
Gabriela von Arx

Three tips to get you through your working day in a mindful way

Tip 1: start off your working day by just sitting back and being mindful for a few seconds: once you reach your desk, just pause for a second and breathe in and out a few times. Make a note (but don’t pass any judgement) of the quality of your breathing: is it fast or slow, deep or shallow? As you breathe, feel what effect this moment of mindfulness has had on you, and then, once the breathing exercise is over, look at what it has changed in you.


Tip 2: carry out routine activities mindfully from time to time, e.g. when you want to get a piece of paper. Firstly, ask yourself why you are doing this, then take a deep breath and consciously carry out this action. How does this motion feel, and how exactly do you perceive it? What motions do you need to make it possible? Treat this as a brief moment of meditation in an otherwise hectic daily life.


Tip 3: watch out for your first personal signs of stress. If, for instance, your heart is beating faster or you are starting to sweat, or you are perhaps confused, embarrassed or annoyed, you should try to just pause for a minute. This can help you recognize irrational, force-of-habit actions sooner without you even knowing it and help you take more considered actions instead.

Mindfulness takes practice

It takes practice to truly internalize mindfulness. Ultimately it’s all about perceiving your body as an early warning sensor. In workshops and seminars, Gabriela von Arx teaches techniques on how to be at one with yourself again, even in stressful situations, and to get a feel for what is going on at a given moment. “Once these sorts of exercises have become second nature, brief exercises can also begin to be effective,” she says. This could be taking a deep breath in order to feel truly present, or perhaps an exercise to relax the shoulders just to gain a bit of clarity. 

A part of your inner attitude

These exercises are, however, just a means to an end. “Your inner attitude is a part of being mindful, where you are open, attentive, and curious in day-to-day life, and you treat everyone and everything around you with kindness and respect,” she explains. The goal of mindfulness training is to cultivate this attitude, an attitude that, as von Arx firmly believes, will help you at work as well as at the end of the day. “It has been proven that mindfulness improves your effectiveness. It is, as it were, a positive side effect of mindfulness training.”

About Gabriela von Arx

The link will open in a new window Gabriela von Arx is the Managing Director of Gabriela von Arx GmbH, the Institute for Identity and Self-Awareness. She provides workshops and seminars on mindfulness, both for individuals and companies. Gabriela von Arx is also a pioneer herself: she was the first female head of the MBSR (mindfulness-based stress reduction) Association between 2011 and 2015, which was still in its infancy at the time. Today she is a lecturer in MBSR teacher training at the IAS Institute for Mindfulness. 

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