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How mindfulness can help - now more than ever

Dandelion with sun behind it
Tricia Van Vliet
By Tricia Van Vliet, Manager at Association of International Certified Professional Accountants Link to Tricia Van Vliet's LinkedIn profile

Tricia Van Vliet has over 25 years experience working in accounting and now focuses on accountants’ professional development and well-being. She explains how we can bring balance to these uncertain times and the recent transition from classroom to remote learning.

Over the years I’ve been fascinated with human behaviour. I’ve read and researched more than an accountant should probably admit!

I realised that there’s a link between psychology and accounting in practice. Everything comes back to the balance between technical knowledge, experience, and professional judgment.

But what I’ve also found is that, beyond equations, if we look inward there’s a useful space that already exists within all of us. When we engage with this space we can establish a true awareness and calm, through mindfulness.

When I started researching this subject, it wasn’t about ‘mindfulness’ per see, it was about being present and focused on the demands of my career and family. I was driven to be the best version of myself, to everyone, at the same time. I was not living, I was surviving.

After 17 years of professional success, my overall health and well-being were sacrificed. Longing for a physical and mental health “reboot”, I accidentally stumbled across habits before realising it had a name.

What is mindfulness?

With roots in ancient religious practices, mindfulness has evolved into a commonly accepted secular practice with vast bodies of research regarding its use in medicine, psychology, the military, education, etc.

You will find many definitions of mindfulness:

Paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally

Dr Jon Kabat-Zinn

Mindfulness is not like the cherished electronic devices in your bag or pocket. It cannot be misplaced or limited by a battery life. I discovered that it’s a gift, accessible to each of us. With you wherever you go.

There are numerous benefits and my own experience proves its ability to improve daily life. For example: increased sleep, compassion, strengthened immune system, overall productivity and flexibility. Not surprisingly, it also reduces negative internal chatter, anxiety and emotional reactions. The list goes on.

In daily life, now more than ever, you can only play all life’s roles for so long - mother/father, worker, student, friend, sibling, etc. As often as possible, you need to slow down and allow yourself the space to take care of yourself. This is where a mindfulness practice can help.

Specific benefits for accountants

From an accountancy student perspective, mindfulness can be a powerful practice when encountering tremendous change and ongoing distractions . You’re expected to focus and digest many concepts and complex theories, delivered in new formats. Your ability to fully engage with your learning is key to retaining critical knowledge.

Without being able to focus and be ‘present’ you are less likely to learn beyond ‘ticking a box’. The future for accountants will require the ability to adapt to rapid change; to learn, unlearn and relearn.

In this respect, mindfulness can aid the learning process. Developing mindfulness as a practice now will provide benefits far beyond current global events.

Not just from a learning and prioritization perspective but also with your well-being, it can help you manage the anxiety in relation to all of the unknowns right now.

Mindfulness lies within us all

We have this opportunity to improve our wellbeing right at our finger tips, wherever we are. We can start small, and it takes practise, but once you start to feel the benefits of it, it’s very powerful.

And who wouldn’t want all these benefits listed above?

I know getting into this is easier said than done. There are some mental hurdles and apprehensions many of us need to overcome to get there. The most important reminder is to practice with self-compassion and without self-judgment. There is no doubt that your mind will wander, so give yourself the grace to accept that and gently bring yourself back.

A brilliant mindfulness metaphor was quite literally found on a sign when I was driving through the desert between southern California and Nevada here in the United States. It read:

WARNING: Next 20 Miles Turn Off Air Conditioning Avoid Overheating.

As in the desert, where your car’s air conditioning system may work against the extreme heat to the point of disabling your vehicle, you can be mentally unwell when you continue to work hard when overwhelmed.

Developing an awareness of signs that you need a mindfulness break takes time. You will begin to recognize emotional or physical signs that you need space. In the meantime, create “caution signs” for yourself. You may find scheduled time in your calendar or a create a reminder on your phone to help you pause for a mindfulness exercise.

Some resources to get you started on your mindfulness journey:

With mindfulness, life’s in the moment - A fantastic article containing a mindfulness exercise by Liz Mineo, The Harvard Gazette, April 17, 2018.

Mindful Monday: Try the “Five Senses” Mindfulness Exercise - My personal favorite mindfulness exercises to engage the senses

Good luck

Life is a complex journey, personally and professionally. And right now we live within this tension of conflict and uncertainty. Our feelings cannot be analyzed and simplified in a spreadsheet. Trust me. I’ve tried…more than once!

Try to balance the technical with the mindful.

Tricia A. Van Vliet, CPA Tricia is a Manager on the Engagement & Learning Innovation team of the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants. She is passionate about complete care, critical to maintaining a healthy mind, body and soul.