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What a bustling fish market can teach you about mindfulness at work

4 min read

“Catch!” a fishmonger yells as an unsuspecting customer turns just in time to grab hold of a slippery raw fish. 

Spend any time at Seattle’s Pike Place Fish Market and you’ll immediately become immersed in a mindful environment. Employees and customers alike are visibly excited and happy to be there. In a world where it’s commonplace to hear “work before play,” the fishmongers take work and make it play. 

Intrigued by what he saw after spending time there, documentary filmmaker and ChartHouse Learning owner, John Christensen wondered what lessons could be taken from the market and applied to other work environments. He identified four key practices the fishmongers were using. And with that, The FISH! Philosophy® was born.

So, what does throwing and catching fish have to do with mindfulness at work?  

Focus on one activity at a time.

Juggling multiple tasks simultaneously doesn’t lead to better productivity. According to Psychology Today, “Most of our time is spent in the past or the future, rather than the present moment. What we end up doing is passing through the moment on the way to somewhere else and, in doing so, we miss the moment.”  If you have low patience, you might be driven to move fast, and that can mean jumping between tasks. To be more mindful at work, accomplish one task at a time and move down your “to-do” list instead of bouncing between activities. And if you’re a leader, promoting focus over frenzy will help empower your employees to do their best work.

Play—don’t just work.

There’s an assumption that work and play are two separate things. But that’s not the case. “The supreme accomplishment is to blur the line between work and play,” wrote British economic historian, Arnold Toynbee. EJ Langer and Brian Fox researched this perception and explored this work and play mindset. They found the more mindful an employee was while working, the more engaged they were. Repetitive work can be demotivating, but gamifying tasks can make accomplishing them more enjoyable. Keeping your mind on the task at hand will increase your productivity—and your happiness.  

Make their day.

Companies that retain employees build environments where people want to come to work. Take a look at the 2019 Best Places to Work Employees’ Choice award winners. A common theme emerges: Employees value a positive workplace culture. Greeting someone by their name and acknowledging a task well done goes a long way. As it’s so often said, people may not remember what you say, but they’ll remember how you made them feel.  To cultivate this type of environment, each individual has to view what they do as impacting the greater good without looking for or expecting something in return. For managers and executives, leading by example in this area can go a long way toward building a world-class culture.

Choose your attitude.

A positive mindset brings positive results. You have to love and believe in what you’re doing. It’s far more motivating to come to work when you’re surrounded by coworkers who are equally as excited to be there. 

Work can be stressful at times but a positive attitude can help. Choosing to look at the bright side and think positively equips you to be able to deal with whatever might come your way. And when that positivity is combined with a passion for your work, the result is magic.

Above all, remember you can find inspiration in unexpected places.

There are lots of work and leadership disciplines out there you can learn from. Like John Christensen, you just have to be curious and keep your mind open. Integrating a mindset like The FISH! Philosophy® into your daily practice takes time just like any other new skill or change, but it can have a tremendous impact on your mindfulness at work. 

So, start small! You don’t have to master each value overnight. Pick one that resonates best with you and go from there. Before you know it, you’ll be mindfully swimming with the current to success. 

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