Personal Effectiveness and Responsibility
Is Mindfulness a Key Practice That Every Business Leader Should Appreciate and Use?
Mindfulness as a subject seems to have been everywhere in the media in recent times and not only as a subject which has been described as a key part of traditional Buddhist practice. Today mindfulness is described as being a much more general approach that we can all take in our busy lives as a way of living more successfully in the present and being healthier and happier in our lives in general. This even applies in our business experience and as a result mindfulness training courses and coaching has become commonplace in many companies of all stripes. But like so many approaches, is this just another passing “fad” or is it a key tool from which we can gain real and ongoing benefit in business and therefore something that every leader should practice and even encourage?
What is Mindfulness?
In its essence mindfulness is about paying attention to our thoughts and feelings as they are actually occurring without passing any judgment of them—without believing, for instance, that there’s a “right” or “wrong” way to think or feel in a given moment. When we practice mindfulness, our thoughts should therefore be completely in tune with what we’re sensing in the present moment rather than bringing up events in the past or imagining the future. Even more simply put, it is fully concentrating on the here and now.
One criticism of mindfulness is that it appears to be very much like practicing much greater attentiveness. However, mindfulness experts suggest that we can be attentive to the present without looking for the real truth, honesty and “moral center” of what is happening to ourselves or to the people around us. For example, a burglar is highly attentive when stealing from a house late at night but is far from being mindful in the way that it is meant here. Mindfulness therefore has to also include a sense of ethics, compassion, kindness and general optimism and friendliness—it is therefore much more about positive thinking in the present.
Although greater mindfulness is the result or outcome we are seeking, the means to get there is regular quiet time, more frequent reflection about the present and meditative practices. In practical terms this means that individuals wanting to become more mindful need to completely stop during the day and give attention to body, breathing, the task they are undertaking at the time (however mundane it may be) and to the present in general (and drive out thoughts of the past or daydreaming about what could be in the future). The goal of meditation in this context is therefore “waking up” to the truth about the ways things are not as you think they are. Thinking too much about the past (and reliving or re-hashing it constantly) or too much about the future is the antithesis of mindfulness and in neuro-scientific terms means that we are probably letting our serial processing and little picture detailed left brain dominate over our parallel processing and big picture right brain. Mindfulness experts call this being “stuck in your head” or “being trapped in ruminative thoughts”. Both of these can lead to a downward spiral into worry, anxiety and even depression in some cases. Greater meditation and more mindfulness can therefore help individuals to come back into the body in order to weaken the grip of harmful regrets and judgments and treat yourself with much greater kindness.
How is Mindfulness useful in Organizational life and to leaders in particular?
Although mindfulness with meditation as a method has been widely used in religious, spiritual and healthy living spheres, its use in the business sphere has increased considerably in recent times. This is because the benefits to individuals are many (as we’ll see) and therefore useful to leaders of people at all levels not only individually but because it helps to make for healthier teams. Many studies have shown that more mindful individuals gain a number of physical, psychological, and social benefits. Here are just ten of these from recent research studies:
- Is good for our physical body: helping to boost the immune system’s ability to fight off illness.
- Is good for our thinking or our minds: Several studies have found that mindfulness increases positive emotions while reducing negative emotions and stress (including lessening sadness and even feelings of depression)
- Gives people a more balanced view of life: This includes a more ethical/moral perspective
- Changes how our brain functions for the better: Research indicates that more mindfulness helps learning, memory, emotion regulation, and feelings of empathy toward others.
- Helps us to more effectively focus: Studies suggest that mindfulness helps us tune out distractions and improves our memory and overall attention skills.
- Fosters compassion and altruism: Making us not only increase the compassion we feel towards ourselves but the compassion we feel towards others
- Enhances relationships: Mindfulness tends to people feeling more relaxed towards others and brings about a greater sense of harmony with people
- Helps combat stress: Studies suggest that greater mindfulness reduces general anxiety and stress considerably
- Reduces conflict, anger, hostility and aggression: More mindfulness has been shown to lessen behavior problems in individuals and the conflict, aggression and hostility that can occur between people
- Assists people to live healthier lives: Mindfulness has been shown to encouraged people to be more balanced in their eating, drinking and exercise habits.
Any attempt to become more mindful would seem to bring many potential benefits but perhaps the greatest is that it helps all of us (especially as leaders) to evolve clearer seeing. Clear seeing is a big part of mindfulness—the consequences of how we live—we more effectively start to reveal the causes and effects of our actions. However, this requires considerable courage to go deeper and engage in more quiet introspection and reflection in order to gain these deeper (and sometimes uncomfortable) insights. This means we will increasingly challenge our own possibly manipulative practices, greed, hatred, delusion, unhealthy discrimination, and other exploitative practices (which are easily deployed when in a position of privilege and power) and instead seek out a more other-centered, gentler, kinder, more harmonious, fair and just approach. This change is an ambitious goal but clearly a worthy one to pursue.