Corporate devotees include Google, Honda, Aetna, Ikea and Apple. The Us Marines have embraced it. Even Harvard Business School is incorporating mindfulness principles into its leadership programmes. So what is mindfulness and how can you benefit from using it in the daily corporate scramble?
In its simplest form, mindfulness means awareness. Practising mindfulness offers us a way to pay attention to the present moment, without judgement. The origins of mindfulness sit firmly in Buddhism but it’s increasingly taught in a secular form.
Research demonstrates that mindfulness can help to reduce stress, anxiety and conflict, increasing resilience and emotional intelligence, whilst improving communication in the workplace.
Are you mindful?
Not sure? When trying to decide whether or not you’re mindful, consider the following questions. In the last week have you found yourself:
Unable to remember what others have said during meetings
With no recollection of your daily commute
Eating lunch at your desk and wondering where it went afterwards
Paying more attention to your laptop or device than to your colleagues
Caught up in a mental to do list, wondering how you’ll fit it all in
Dwelling on past events or dreading what the future holds at work
Stuck in a loop of work, home, sleep and feeling like a bit of a zombie
Are you skim reading this article?
If you answered yes, the chances are that you’re zoning out on a regular basis, spending at least some time on autopilot. Rest easy, there’s nothing wrong with you. It’s the way we’re wired, not to mention the way we live. Whilst being on autopilot means that you don’t have to think in infinitesimal detail about every single thing that you do during the day, it’s easy to get trapped in it. Once we’re trapped we’re bogged down in the factory farming of human doing instead of human being.
In the current economic climate, employees are being asked to do more with less, working long hours with increasingly heavy workloads. Leading mindfulness academic, Mark Williams, professor of clinical psychology at the University of Oxford, says working in a culture where stress is a badge of honour is counterproductive. “We can spend so much time rushing from one task to another. We may think we’re working more efficiently, but as far as the brain is concerned, we are working against the grain. No wonder we get exhausted.”
Mindfulness and neuroplasticity
The neurological benefits of mindfulness have been linked to an increase in emotional intelligence, specifically empathy and self regulation. It’s the development of these areas that contributes to our ability to manage conflict and communicate more effectively.
Workplace ‘amygdala hijack’ those moments when we lose it with others, freeze or feel like running away add to the feeling of being out of control. It’s the least intelligent area of the brain and not the part that we want to be in charge or making decisions. Mindfulness dampens down the activity in the amygdala enabling us to take a step back and consider alternative perspectives rather than constantly reacting to events. It helps us to flick the switch back to the smart parts of our brain, putting us back in control of our emotions, allowing us to choose a more appropriate response.
Mindfulness expert Mirabai Bush, famous for introducing meditation to Google’s Search Inside Yourself programme, says: “Introducing mindfulness into the workplace does not prevent conflict from arising or difficult issues from coming up. But when difficult issues do arise… they are more likely to be skillfully acknowledged, held, and responded to by the group. Over time with mindfulness, we learn to develop the inner resources that will help us navigate through difficult, trying, and stressful situations with more ease, comfort, and grace.
Becoming more aware of your own emotions as they arise gives you more choice in how to deal with them. Mindfulness helps you become more aware of an arising emotion by noticing the sensation in the body. Then you can follow these guidelines: stop what you are doing. Breathe deeply. Notice how you are experiencing the emotion in your body. Reflect on where the emotion is coming from in your mind (personal history, insecurity, etc). Respond in the most compassionate way.”
The neurons that fire together wire together
The benefits don’t stop at stress reduction and increased emotional intelligence. Researchers have discovered that the regular practice of mindfulness increases neuroplasticity, the brain’s ability to repair itself and grow new neural connections. The same use it or lose it principles of physical exercise also apply to your brain. Your cerebral mass is just like any other muscle in the body. Practise and repetition is critical. So the next time you sit down at your desk, before diving into a new day, try this. Pause and take three, long, deep breaths creating your own mini mindful workout before you enter the fray.
Gill Crossland-Thackray is a business psychologist, lecturer, trainer and coach. She is Director of Koru Development and Co-Director of Positive Change Guru (with her twin sister, Viv Thackray-Dutton). She is a contributing writer at Thrive Global and has written about the application of psychology for a number of global publications including The Guardian, HR Zone and Ultra Sport. She is also visiting professor at CHE University, Phnom Penh.
Through Koru and Positive Change Guru she works internationally with CEOs, senior executives, businesses and individuals to optimise leadership, performance and wellbeing. If you’ve enjoyed this post please consider clicking on the heart. You can contact Gill at [email protected] To find out more follow her at @KoruDevelopment and @PosChangeGuru
Originally published at www.theguardian.com on December 21, 2012.
Originally published at medium.com