Are you Mindful or Mindless?

Have you ever found yourself somewhere with no recollection of how you got there? You know it took several behaviors and decisions to get there, but you don’t remember making the decisions and completing the sequence of tasks.

This even happens to people while driving a vehicle. They arrive at a particular destination, perhaps even the wrong place, but are not mindful of the series of choices made to get there. It’s as if the vehicle “drove itself,” an expression we use to acknowledge results of a routine set of behaviors.

This is when behavior becomes mindless.

People sometimes move through daily regimes with little thought, alertness, or creativity. The more mundane and commonplace the activity, the more likely a person will use an unconscious script to guide behavior with an accompanying lack of awareness.

This is mindless activity, and social psychologists warn us that in this state we are particularly susceptible to marketing and social influence tactics. In this condition we’re particularly influenced by sales pitches and authoritative directives. Plus, there is significant risk of injury when we are in this mindless state.

How many injuries occur because people were “just not thinking”? How often do we get into a set work routine in which a sequence of behaviors is performed unconsciously? We take our mind off the process and put ourselves in automatic mode. This is fine if all these habitual behaviors are safe, but what if an at-risk shortcut is interspersed in the behavioral sequence? What if an environmental event requires an immediate adjustment in our behavior, but our lack of awareness or mindlessness at the time prevents prompt reaction? Without even realizing it, our mindless work practice puts us at-risk for injury.

Becoming More Mindful
So it is to our advantage to become less mindless and more mindful of behavioral routines that could lead to injury, either to ourselves or to others. How can we do this? It is useful to write down the distinct steps of a job, and reflect on the possibilities of an at-risk behavior and injury at each step. Was this already accomplished in the job safety analysis (JSA) of your job? Perhaps it was, but that JSA could be long forgotten. A lot has happened since that initial JSA. And maybe you were not even involved in that systematic job analysis.

This is about your awareness of the critical safe and at-risk behaviors involved in your daily work practices. Optimal mindfulness of complex activities requires the interpersonal support of others. A group discussion of the safe and at-risk behaviors related to a particular job enables the synergistic development of a critical behavior checklist (CBC). It also spreads mindfulness across several individuals at once.

This not only makes people mindful of the varied safe steps of a certain job, it also increases awareness that maximum mindfulness and protection from injury occurs when people look out for each other. Imagine one co-worker approaching another who is hard at work and asking, “Is this a good time for a behavioural audit?
” Whether the answer is “yes” or “no,” some amount of safety mindfulness is raised. Now consider the impact of the actual observation process on job-specific awareness.

Volunteering to be observed, the worker is now mindful of every aspect of the work process. The employee is not only thinking about the specific items on the CBC, but is trying to be cognizant of every possible safety-related behavior of the task.

In the right context, the observed employee actually shows off individual ability to work safely. This is mindfulness at its best. It is initiated by an observation process that is up-front and behavioral, and only conducted with permission.

This helps to build the proper context — an atmosphere of interpersonal trust and mutual actively caring. The individual feedback portion of this behavioural coaching process is certainly important.

It serves to support the safe decisions a co-worker makes, and provides an opportunity to improve the safety of a job. It also makes both employees, the person observed and the observer, more mindful of the multiple environmental and behavioural facets of the work process that could cause personal injury.

It’s easy to fall into a mindless job routine, and become incapable of handling unexpected events in a safe and timely manner. Plus, some mindless behavior can put a person at immediate risk for personal injury. We need to understand that this can happen to anyone.

Therefore we need to make a concerted effort to increase people’s mindfulness on the job. A behavior-based observation and feedback process provides the mechanism for making this happen.

But to get the best from such a process, we need to be mindful of what it takes to develop and maintain an atmosphere of interpersonal trust and “actively caring.”

“The mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be kindled.” Plutarch

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