This is the fourth article in the Mindful Engineering series, written 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 well-being and create more resilient teams and leaders.
Read the previous articles in the series:
- An introduction to mindfulness, here.
- A summary of how to grow a mindfulness practice, here.
- The science of mindfulness, here.
I sat in a row of chairs in front of a small classroom with a crowd of eager, but slightly nervous, civil engineering university students staring wide-eyed back at me.
As a recent graduate, I’d joined a panel of young professionals to answer the students’ questions about work in the “real world.” It was hard to imagine that I had been in their shoes only a few years before, wondering what to expect from the day-to-day life of an engineer and how to best prepare for a job.
In the years since my graduation, my understanding of real-world engineering continued to expand, but the advice I share with students has remained the same:
Your professional experience will incorporate the technical knowledge acquired at university with those taught by your employer and the ever-elusive “soft skills,” which should really be labeled as “people skills.” Technical careers require effective communication among diverse team members and creative detail-oriented innovation.
University programs frequently incorporate “people skills” education into team projects and written submittals, but the nuances of interpersonal communication require self-awareness and specific training. Leadership courses and mentorship provide supplemental teaching with tools for active listening, bias reduction, technical writing, public speaking, and more; but, from my experience, applying these tools is always more challenging than it seems. It is not easy to change the way you communicate or your expectations or judgments of others.
As I began my engineering career, I attended leadership courses through my alumni association and ASCE. I volunteered as a leader wherever possible and quickly became a field lead and then project manager. I loved the increased trust and responsibility; I loved growing and learning; and I loved interacting with diverse teams.
Through these experiences and a journey of personal stress management starting a few years ago, I discovered mindfulness. I learned more about my own limitations and challenges, and how I could use this understanding to improve my interactions with others.
Mindfulness may conjure the image of a yogic guru sitting cross-legged on a mountain or maybe it just seems like a buzzword of 2020. But I’m here to tell you that mindfulness practices make you a better technical professional.
As a reminder, mindfulness can be broken into three basic tenets:
- Being present
- Suspending judgment
Mindfulness teaches us to slow down, listen, and accept, allowing us to tap into the neuroplasticity of our brains. We can rewire and change our thought patterns over time.
Beyond the well-known mental health benefits of mindfulness, these practices also:
- Improve memory and spatial orientation
- Increase empathy and patience
- Reduce bias
- Increase flexibility and resilience
Technical professionals benefit from growing their mindfulness practice throughout their career whether in design, project management, business development, or senior leadership. Successful leaders and teams use the tools of mindfulness practices to develop and expand their interpersonal skills to embody respect, active communication, unbiased decision making, and more.
You can take advantage of mindfulness by inviting meditations, gratitude, mindful eating, or mindful awareness into your daily routine or company culture and then time, space, and patience as mindfulness is learned and practiced.
Free Meditations for Engineers: Wednesdays Noon-12:15 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.