This is the second article in a new series called Mindful Engineering by Elyssa Dixon, P.E., M.ASCE, founder of fleeceandforests LLC. Elyssa is that rare ASCE multi-hyphenate: a registered professional engineer slash mindfulness and meditation teacher. The incoming president-elect for the Seattle Section and incoming chair of ASCE’s Committee on Younger Members, Elyssa worked as a civil engineer in consulting for almost eight years and realized that her passion lies in helping others succeed. So she trained as a meditation and mindfulness teacher and brings her unique background and skillset to teach others how to use mindfulness practices to improve their personal wellbeing and create more resilient teams and leaders.
Find the first article, an introduction to mindfulness here.
We will explore the science of mindfulness and its direct benefits to engineering, leadership, and team skills over the coming weeks. To start, it’s important to understand the practice of mindfulness.
Just like learning any new skill, mindfulness takes practice.
You wouldn't play a new sport without learning the rules of the game, understanding and acquiring the gear or equipment needed, and taking the time to practice by finding what works best for you. You also wouldn’t expect to be a pro the first time you tried, or your skills to improve linearly.
Engineering too requires learning technically and practically. Each project presents new challenges, and engineers must adapt and expand their skills through practice over time.
Growing your mindfulness practice is a similar process.
A few different ways to practice mindfulness are detailed below, but this list is by no means the limit. The best way to start is to find something that feels most appropriate to you and begin your journey through experimentation.
If you’re not sure where to start, a seated meditation is a great way to begin. This will introduce you to mindfulness practices with fewer potential distractions and best teach you what it feels like to be present, release judgment, and grow your awareness.
Meditations involve finding a focal point and simply noticing. We practice noticing and releasing when our minds wander without judgment. That focal point can be our breath, sensations in our body or in the world around us, or an open awareness to passing thoughts and feelings.
There are many kinds of meditations including breathing meditations, walking meditations, eating meditations, body scans, loving-kindness meditations, and mindful meditations. We can meditate by staying still sitting, lying down, or by moving during walks or exercise.
A gratitude practice helps reframe our thoughts to notice the positive. The best way to start is to set aside a few minutes for reflection on a regular basis. Writing down your gratitude will solidify and reinforce your practice. Two easy questions to ask yourself: What are you grateful for today? What would make today great? The more specific you can be in your answers, the better! Try to think of this as a space to set intentions for your day rather than building a to-do list. You can also practice meditations focused on gratitude.
Mindfulness in daily activities
Another great way to grow a mindfulness practice is to invite being present into your normal daily activities such as brushing your teeth, washing your dishes, walking your dog, or eating meals. In this practice, all you have to do is notice the sensations of your chosen activity exactly as they are. You can start by walking through your five senses: what can you see, feel, smell, hear, or taste? The key to these observations is just that – to observe the sensations as facts, noticing how they may stay the same or change over the course of your activity. If your mind wanders to your to do list or judgments, all you have to do is notice that your mind has wandered, release the thought, and invite your awareness back to the sensations in the moment.
Mindfulness at work
You can also introduce a mindfulness practice into your workday by pausing at transitions (when you start and end your day, finish a meeting, start and end a break/lunch, etc.) to recenter through stopping to breathe or notice sensations. Mindfulness can also be built into your interactions through active listening and incorporating an open awareness without judgment during communications and conflicts.
The key to growing a mindfulness practice is patience. Remember that you are learning something new and every time may not feel the same. With regular practice, you will begin to see the benefits to your mental health, relationships with friends, family, and coworkers as a team members or leader, and your engineering designs through increased creativity, focus, and collaboration.
Resources to help you grow
Free Meditations for Engineers: Wednesdays 12:00-12:15 pm EST
Meditation Exploration for Engineers: Tuesdays in November, 8:30-9 pm EST
If you’re interested in learning more about mindfulness and how these skills can help you with your own stress management or leadership, check out the events linked above, corporate services, or contact Elyssa at [email protected]. Resources for engineers at www.fleeceandforests.com/engineers.