One lunch break at Mayden Academy last week, you might have found students and staff sitting silently in a room, not talking to or even looking at each other.
But there were no dramas. We were simply practicing mindfulness.
Arabella Tresilian, an independent trainer who specialises in workplace mental health, was teaching us how to apply mindfulness techniques to become better developers. We enjoyed the sessions so much that we asked if she would share some of her insights.
Responding not reacting
“The developer’s brain works hard. Billions of neurons hyperwire to enable the coder to think multidimensionally for hours, under often tight deadlines in an interdependent team setting. It can be stressful, and easy to get caught up in problem-solving tunnel vision.
Something that is really helpful for developers is learning how to move from reacting to stressors to responding to challenges. This means you can work in a balanced way that not only prevents burnout, but also enhances clear thinking. That ability to focus is vital when working with a complex coding problem.
Put simply, if you understand what keeps your mind fresh, you’ll have a more fulfilling and productive career.
Choose your weapon
For the students at Mayden Academy, I designed an interactive and practical course on how you can use mindfulness to be a better developer.
It gave an overview of the science behind mindfulness, a basic tool kit of methods they can use to keep their brain-state healthy, and practical experience in a range of techniques so that they can start to develop their own preferences.
We ran three sessions over five weeks, to give people time to absorb and practice their new mindfulness skills. There are many kinds of mindfulness techniques, and everyone will have their own preference.
What works for one might not be best for another, so it is sensible to try a range of methods. This might include focusing on breathing, paying attention to the body, or using a visualisation technique. I included six mindfulness practices in the course for this reason, giving the students the opportunity to experience a range of styles.
We also explored the different available mindfulness tools like Headspace and online videos, and looked at other methods of boosting our resilience like the Five Ways to Wellbeing developed by New Economics Foundation.
There are so many resources out there that can help you to develop your own mindfulness toolkit.
Everyone who came along threw themselves into the practice brilliantly, and we all learnt from each other’s insights.
In their feedback after the session, the students mentioned that they found the guided introduction to meditation helpful, as well as learning alongside others and participating in open discussions. They also enjoyed exploring the different tools and learning about the neuropsychology of stress and anxiety.
For me as a trainer and mediator with a passion for workplace wellbeing, it was exciting to work with such dynamic minds and innovative thinkers. Everyone involved was so ready to try new techniques and share their thoughts. It reflected the excellent learning environment that Mayden Academy fosters, where people feel confident to learn out loud and support each other within a team.
Furthermore, the whole Mayden ethos of workplace wellbeing shines through at the Academy, with notes and quotes encouraging people to take mindful mini-breaks on fridges, doors and in unexpected corners. Mayden is an organisation which really walks its talk on the theme of mental health.
They say that you can’t burn out if you haven’t been alight in the first place. Mindfulness for developers is about keeping the innate passion for coding burning bright, even through challenging times.”
For further information on Arabella’s ‘Mindfulness for Developers’ course (which we highly recommend) visit http://arabellatresilian.com/training/mindfulness-for-developers/