How Mindfulness Can Help a Researcher: A Simple Breathing Exercise to Improve Focus Before Interview

As researchers, we are used to hectic schedules and back-to-back interviews on the agenda. With this intensity, it’s easy to feel stressed or distracted. I’ve often experienced that the way I spend the minutes right before beginning a qualitative interview session can greatly influence how focused I am during the session which can impact the quality of the interview. 

For example, if I spend the minutes right before beginning a research session with continued prepping or memorizing questions, I might become more concerned with what I am going to say next than with really listening to the interviewee’s answers to my questions. Yet, if I’m doing something unrelated to the interview, such as reading emails, I might feel distracted when the interview begins as my mind is elsewhere. If I’m rushing right before a session, I might come across as nervous and worried when the interview begins. When a researcher feels stressed, the interviewee might sense this and might perceive the researcher as unprofessional or insecure. None of the above-mentioned scenarios are ideal. 

It can be extremely beneficial to give yourself a few minutes to get focused and relaxed before an interview begins. This can allow you to be fully present with your research participant during the session. When a researcher feels calm, focused, and present while facilitating a research session, they might come across as more professional and confident. The researcher might also be better able to ask thoughtful follow-up questions, which can lead to valuable insights. Moreover, experiencing that they are really listened to can make the research participant feel seen and appreciated which may give the participant a better overall experience. These factors can enable high-quality research sessions. 

One way we can calm our nerves before interviews is through mindful breathing. Mindfulness is about being aware of the present moment without judgement. Mindful breathing is such an amazing technique as the breath is always with us; therefore, it is always accessible. Here’s one simple way to get focused, calm, and centered through just a few minutes of mindful breathing. 

A Simple Mindful Breathing Exercise 

Find a comfortable stand with a soft bend in the knees or take a comfy seat in a chair with a long spine and relaxed shoulders. Hands can rest on your knees or thighs or hang at the sides of your body. Take a moment to settle in by calming your body. Maybe you can relax your neck and shoulders and soften your jaw, the muscles of your face, and your gaze. You have the option to close your eyes if that feels comfortable. Notice your breath by observing where you feel the breath sensations without any judgement. For example, note if you feel sensations in your belly, throat, nostrils, or maybe in a different spot. Take a moment to rest your attention where you feel the breath sensations.

When you feel ready, take a nice, deep breath in through the nose for a count of four. As you breathe in, allow the air to flow all the way down to your belly so that your belly expands like a balloon. Hold the air in your lungs for a count of two. Then, slowly breath out through the mouth for a count of six. Hold it for a count of two before you repeat the breathing technique. When you have taken at least three to five deep belly breaths and you feel ready for your session, allow the breath to return to its natural rhythm and gently open your eyes if you kept them closed. It can feel nice to take a stretch or even get up from your chair and give your body a little shake before you sit down and begin your research session.

This simple breathing exercise can be practiced anywhere, for example at your desk before logging in to a remote interview. If the interview is in-person and it doesn’t feel appropriate to practice mindful breathing in the meeting room, you can excuse yourself to the bathroom and take a few moments to yourself to breathe. If you’re conducting home-based interviews, you might take a moment to get focused by taking a few deep breaths before you approach you participant’s address.

If you don’t have enough time to go through the entire technique described above, you can do a mini-version of it: lengthen your spine, relax your shoulders, and empty your lungs, then take one nice, deep belly breath through the nose, hold it at the top, and slowly breath out through the mouth. Even one mindful breath has the potential to make you feel calmer and more focused, which can have a beneficial effect on the quality of your research session. And as you consistently practice mindful breathing, you might even begin to experience beneficial effects on other aspects of your professional and personal life as well!

Written by Generation Focus’ Research Scientist Cecilie Løvestam who also is a certified yoga and meditation teacher.

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