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Soft Skills

Mindfulness—A Helpful Tool for an Introvert

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My career in the exploration and production (E&P) industry began on a beautiful sunny morning, with me being late for the introductory session at the office. Not an ideal way to start your career, indeed! After having a quick word with my HR representative, I hurried off to the meeting room, huffing and puffing to literally dash open into the room inviting the audience to turn around to watch me in stupefaction. I gathered myself somehow to introduce myself with a blank expression on my face, but the fact that I was late that day drove a wedge into my conscience as well as my confidence while I struggled to go through each interaction that day.

The scenario might be familiar to many of you (if not the same; it is a bad idea to be late for meetings after all). However, apart from the importance of punctuality, a key idea that emerges from the example is how you carry yourself through these events. Being an introvert throughout, a single piece of criticism, or an awkward glance used to perturb me enough to totally collapse my confidence and I have struggled with it for a long time. According to a survey, introverts comprise 25 to 40% of the population and there is absolutely no reason why they cannot rise to levels of success despite not being so gregarious.

Eventually, I discovered a solution.

Mindfulness is an act of being fully present at this moment—present not just physically but mentally as well. Let’s do a quick check now. Step back and observe what you are thinking now as you read this article? Are the thoughts of your home, or the workplace trying to hijack your attention? Or, are you observant of each word—appreciating each of the curl, circle, and the line of each letter that make up each word of each sentence of each paragraph of the article. Mindfulness reveals many details of our minds that we often miss out. It helps us better understand ourselves. With better understanding, it is possible to improve ourselves as professionals. In my case, I observed it was the feeling of self-guilt that was triggered every time someone simply stared at me wide-eyed just like they did on my first day. Now, each time the emotion of self-guilt kicked in, I consciously acknowledged it and reassured myself: “That is absolutely fine. It is just their opinion.”

There are four key principles of mindfulness that are helpful:

Breathe. Breath is like the regulator of our mind. Most of us don’t realize this but next time you get angry with someone, try observing how your breathing pattern changes—it shortens and quickens. By taking a few deep breaths consciously, your parasympathetic nervous system (aka, the relaxing mechanism of your body) is activated and you tend to think more clearly. Even the most challenging situations to negotiate can be tackled eventually if we are able to think clearly.

Observe. Learn to observe your thoughts. It is because thoughts lead to emotions, emotions lead to actions, and actions repeated over time form habits and attitudes. Many “seemingly paranoid” responses can be traced back to a bad experience. That nervousness you feel when each time your manager asks you to deliver a presentation could be due to the soul-crushing embarrassment you felt when a thesis presentation went terribly wrong at your university. A bad appraisal could make you biased against yourself forever. It is important to identify such vicious thought cycles and question yourself logically. Does a single bad presentation mean that you are destined to be doomed at every subsequent occasion? Likely not.

Respond. Respond and do not react. When you respond, you are aware of every word you speak and every action you take. On the other hand, reaction is more spontaneous in nature. Reactions are frequently in line with your deeply ingrained behavior patterns (habits). If you are used to replying “no” nervously every time your team member requests your help on a new project, you will likely fail to realize that this is borne mostly from habit than a critically thought out response of whether or not you have the ability to assist. However, we do have the power to choose our responses. Reclaim that power and use it. Take a pause, think and then reply. It will be difficult but with more practice, this will soon become a new habit.

Engage. Many of us engage a lot with others to know about them. How about engaging with self to know a bit more about ourselves? As it was in my case, had I not spent time with myself, I would have never come to know what exactly was preventing me from having an open conversation with others at my workplace. Try to spend at least 10 minutes a day contemplating about the day’s events and your perception of them. These 10 minutes need not to be necessarily in a room but could be anywhere—during a random walk after lunch, during coffee breaks, or during those simple in-between moments when you otherwise scroll through endless social media feed!

Moving ahead in your career in a balanced manner is an art that you learn better with time. Just as a Japanese proverb says “Fall down seven times, get up eight times,” pick yourself up in every situation, everywhere, no matter who you are with. Mindfulness is a tool that helps you realize that you have always held choices of your life quietly and it is just a matter to exercise those choices in alignment with your life goals to get going.

Now, whenever people around me stare upon me, I smile back at them consciously.


Subrat Mohanty is a petroleum engineer at Cairn Oil and Gas, based in Barmer, India. His area of specialization is artificial lift, with experience in installation and troubleshooting of different kinds of rod pumps. He joined Cairn Oil and Gas in 2015 as a trainee and moved to a field-based role, driving artificial lift projects in the Rajasthan asset. Mohanty holds a bachelor’s degree in petroleum engineering from the University of Petroleum and Energy Studies in Dehradun, Uttarakhand, India. Apart from being an engineer, Mohanty is an author of two English poetry titles and loves writing as well as reading fiction.

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