The Tech Professional's Guide to Mindfulness

The very word “mindfulness” seems at odds with sitting and reading a blog on a screen. Most things we even lump into the mindfulness category are antithetical to being digitally connected. And yet, here we are.

I’ve been a part of a new wellness community locally here for a few weeks in an effort to do some of the hard work. A lot of the traditional mental health mitigations as I outlined in my threat model for depression weren’t cutting it for me and I found a place that took more of a “throw the kitchen sink” at it approach. I’ll talk more about that another time but one of the concepts that has come up and resonated with me was when I was challenged to build a daily mindfulness practice.

I don’t know about you, but for me my mental health has always been tied to my physical activity. It’s hard to tell which is the chicken and which is the egg here, as on days I’m feeling better it’s easier to get up and move but on days I get up and move I feel better. Vicious.

But one thing I realized when I was challenged to practice mindfulness is that on days I’m feeling good I go lift weights, I hike, I run, I ruck, but I don’t do anything for my mind and just my mind. That’s not to say lifting weights isn’t good for your mind, quite the opposite. Evidence shows it is an extremely powerful anti-depressant. However, it is definitely an extrinsicly initiated and executed activity.

When I was given this challenge I had to do the noob thing and ask “Well what is a mindfulness practice?” - I of course had tried meditating before, or used apps like Calm or Headspace. I’m not the biggest fan of doing those sorts of things by myself, though I love guided meditation sessions and sound baths can really get me into a deep inner state. But let’s answer my original question:

What is Mindfulness?

At its core, mindfulness is about being fully present in the moment. It’s a term that gets thrown around often, usually surrounded by a halo of calm and tranquility. But for us in the tech industry, bombarded with constant notifications and faced with the need to stay on top of all of it all of the time, this tranquility can feel worlds away.

Mindfulness, however, does not have to be an exotic retreat from our daily grind; it can be something fundamentally human. It’s about being aware of where we are, what we’re doing, and not getting overly reactive or overwhelmed by the whirlwind of activities around us. describes it as an innate quality - not something we have to create, but something we learn to access.

The power of mindfulness isn’t just anecdotal and woo-woo. I know I’ve had to leave my engineer brain cynicism at the door a few times to walk this path. Research, as outlined by the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley, has shown that mindfulness practice increases the density of gray matter in our brains, particularly in areas associated with memory, learning, and emotional regulation.

This is a significant revelation for those like me who thrive on data and evidence. Practicing mindfulness can actually change the structure of our brain, enhancing our capacity to learn and manage emotions - critical skills in the often high-pressure environment of tech. In other studies, mindfulness has been shown to improve focus, reduce stress, and even foster compassion and better decision-making.

Great, Matt, so how does this fit into my life in tech, where if I unplug, it is a career death sentence?

Yeah, I get it - in our world, deadlines loom, and the pressure to innovate is constant; mindfulness offers a way to stay grounded and focused.

It’s not about sitting cross-legged for hours chanting in a drum circle; it’s about integrating simple practices into our daily routines.

Whether it’s taking a moment to focus on our breath between meetings, being fully engaged during a brainstorming session, or simply noticing the sensory details of our environment as we work, these practices can help us tune out distractions and approach our tasks with a clear, calm mind.

As we Tazmanian Devil our way through the wildness of our industry, mindfulness can be our anchor, helping us maintain clarity, boost our creativity, and manage the inevitable stress of being at the cutting edge of technology.

Starting a Mindfulness Practice

Excellent, we understand a bit about what mindfulness is and isn’t. Where do we start?

For me some things that hit home were around routines that you already have. This should be easy since you don’t have to actually change any behaviors, right?

Take my morning coffee for example. If you suggest that leaves my schedule you’ll have to pry it from my cold dead hands.

Instead of pouring the cup of Joe and slugging it back in shift from one thing to the next pause for a second. Think about what you’re doing and what it took to get to the point of drinking this.

Even more present example, I’m drinking a cup of tea while writing this. I took a minute before I started drinking it to think:

  • Thank you to the people who grew this tea
  • I appreciate what it took to dry these tea leaves
  • Thinking about the plant and people involved in getting the tea from the Earth into my kitchen cabinet
  • Feeling the warmth of the tea against my hands. Holding the mug to my chest and breathing in the steam a bit. Notice the smell. What does it remind me of?
  • I took a few big deep breaths and a sense of gratefulness for everything that got me to this. exact. moment.

There ya go, that was my mindful moment for this evening. It might not be my last but it was nice to do that and tell you about it.

What other everyday ideas can you think of to take a moment and be present?

Setting Up More Practice:

Alright, are you sold a bit? You must be if you’re still reading. Let’s find other ways that might be net new behaviors and not just amendments to your existing day.

How about a quick daily meditation? Just a body check-in. Drop in and ground to your hectic day.

To start, find a calm, quiet place to sit where you won’t be disturbed. This could be a chair in your office or a quiet corner at home. The goal is to have a comfortable posture that promotes good posture – it’s not necessary to sit in any specific position like the lotus pose; sit comfortably.

Begin with short periods, like 5 or 10 minutes, especially if you’re new to the practice. Then, focus on your breath – the sensation of air entering and leaving your nose or mouth, and your chest or belly rising and falling. This focus on breathing helps train your attention, a crucial skill in any high-demand tech role.

Use an app to help you do this - I’ve used Calm and Headspace and heard good things about Sam Harris’s Waking Up app. You can also just find some basic ones on YouTube with ease.

Managing the Wandering Mind:

It can’t be just me here. I’m a slave to my notifications, my buzzing watch, my email, Slack DMs, the list of crap I haven’t done today I’m supposed to that is bouncing around the back of my head.

It’s normal for your mind to wander during mindfulness practice. When you notice your thoughts drifting, gently bring your attention back to your breath.

This act of noticing and returning to the breath is a core aspect of mindfulness. Remember, the practice is not about stopping thoughts but recognizing them and returning to the present moment. Be kind to yourself when your mind wanders; it’s part of the process, and each return to the breath strengthens your mindfulness muscle.

Incorporating Mindfulness into the Workplace

My workplace these days is a few paces from my bedroom, which isn’t the best for cultivating a “turn it on. turn it off” separation for my brain. This makes it even more crucial to find some mindfulness in my day to day.

Here are specific techniques that can be seamlessly integrated into your busy workday:

1. Mindful Listening in Meetings:

Most of our calendars look stacked with Zoom links, Teams meetings, Google Hangouts, WebExs (still?), and the other ways we connect these days. Where meetings are frequent and often filled with complex information, dissenting opinions, and a flurry of voices, mindful listening becomes an invaluable skill. It involves fully concentrating on the speaker and absorbing the information without prematurely forming responses or judgments. This practice enhances your understanding and retention of the discussion and fosters a more respectful and collaborative meeting environment. To practice, focus on the speaker, notice when your mind wanders, and gently bring your attention back. This simple technique can transform meetings from routine information exchanges to opportunities for genuine connection and deeper understanding. This also involves keeping my phone out of view when others talk to me.

2. Mindful Breaks Between Tasks:

My calendar has me jumping from one task to another, which can be mentally taxing. Integrating mindful breaks between tasks can help reset and refresh your mind. These breaks should be brief; even a minute or two can be effective. Step away from your computer, focus on your breath, or observe your surroundings during this time. I like going outside and stretching while getting sun on my face. The key is to be fully present in the moment, allowing your mind a respite from the constant planning, analyzing, and problem-solving. This practice can increase productivity and give you a greater sense of calm throughout your workday.

3. Mindfulness During Work Routines:

Like my earlier coffee examples, you can also incorporate mindfulness into your regular work routines. How about while coding or working on a project, practice being fully engaged with the task at hand. This means observing your thoughts and feelings without getting caught up in them, maintaining focus on the work, and consciously bringing your attention back whenever it drifts. This approach can improve concentration and efficiency and make the job more enjoyable. Additionally, simple practices like mindful walking to a meeting or conscious breathing before responding to an email can integrate mindfulness into the most minor actions, leading to a more mindful way of working overall.

When practiced regularly, these techniques can help mitigate the stresses of the tech workplace, leading to improved mental clarity, better decision-making, and a more harmonious work environment. Remember, the key to mindfulness is consistency and a non-judgmental attitude toward your progress.

I’ve been at it for a few weeks, and the sense of calm in my nervous system is immediately valuable. Grounding myself to my tasks and the world around me.

Challenges and Tips for Consistency:

Maintaining a regular mindfulness practice, especially in our attention-demanding world, is …challenging. One common hurdle is finding the time. For busy professionals, carving out even a few minutes for mindfulness can seem daunting. The key is to integrate mindfulness into your existing routine rather than viewing it as an additional task. This could be as simple as practicing mindful breathing while waiting for Zoom to update, even though that only happens when you’re late for a meeting… or during your daily commute.

Another challenge is dealing with frustration or skepticism, particularly in the early stages when the benefits aren’t immediately apparent. It’s crucial to approach mindfulness with an open mind and patience. Understand that it’s a skill that develops over time, and consistency is more important than perfection. If you miss a session, don’t be hard on yourself. Just make a note to return to the practice at the next opportunity.

Finally, maintaining motivation can be tough. Setting small, achievable goals and tracking your progress can be incredibly motivating. Whether it’s noticing a slight improvement in your focus or a reduction in stress levels, acknowledging these small wins can encourage you to stick with the practice. Remember, the goal of mindfulness is not to reach some state of zen-like calm, but rather to become more aware and present in your daily life.

My challenge to you

Start a small daily mindfulness practice everyday for the next week. Write in a journal before bed. Breathe for a second when you light that candle on your desk. Water your plants and appreciate what is actually going on for it to grow. Touch grass.

Thanks for being here, and grounding with me for a minute. If this helped calm the noise in your head or you found it valuable I’d love if you sent it to a friend or signed up for my newsletter to get more stuff like this every week along with the latest cybersecurity news.

Appreciate you all. Let’s get vulnerable.

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The Tech Professional's Guide to Mindfulness
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An evidence based approach to starting a mindfulness practice while working in a hectic, digitally connected career

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An evidence based approach to starting a mindfulness practice while working in a hectic, digitally connected career

The Tech Professional's Guide to Mindfulness