“Mindfulness” has become a bit of a buzzword in recent years, often in the form of shallow New Age recipe for feeling good. But it’s worth re-visiting here because science and research are now backing up the physical, psychological and emotional benefits of the practice; benefits which are so extensive as to seem far-fetched.
Once Google jumps on the bandwagon of a cause, everyone’s ears prick up. But it’s not just Google. Plenty of companies around the globe are starting up mindfulness programs . Its growth rate in terms of people and companies (and prisons and schools and hospitals) is increasing exponentially. If mindfulness had a business model for growth, I think it would be one to emulate.
Scientific understanding of mindfulness is evolving fast. In the last two decades a growing number of peer-reviewed papers have studied its benefits and demonstrated incalculable positive impact on mental health and well-being. But the results are also interesting for businesses because it seems that the potential benefits go way beyond individual impact.
Let’s look at these benefits to individuals. If you are a manager these days your stress levels are probably high, right? You likely work in an environment with relentless distractions, constant overscheduling and pressure to multitask all day. So finding a quiet moment to concentrate in-depth on a single task, reflect on a decision or calmly prioritize your work productively is nigh impossible.
This is where mindfulness comes in. It is often defined in terms of present-focused awareness. This idea comes from meditation practice that trains the mind to focus attention on the moment without wandering off. It is often associated with Buddhism but can be found in many spiritual traditions including Christianity: for instance, in the early monks or the classical mystical authors.
But mindfulness also teaches you to understand and identify automatic emotional reactions – fear and anxiety for instance – which in evolutionary terms helped us to survive. But we need to be able to recognize these emotions and turn them off, or they can be unproductive and have a negative influence on our decision-making and well-being as well as our productivity.
This “brain training” results not only in reduced levels of perceived stress, but huge benefits to productivity from an enhanced ability to concentrate and focus. Long-term meditation training is even associated with differences in brain structure and improvements to working memory and cognitive flexibility. And one effect of this is that mindful people are able to handle unexpected turns of events more effectively.
Improvements to emotional intelligence have also been observed, and these lead to higher levels of empathy and self-awareness. For managers this translates into reduced levels of conflict or the ability to better handle conflict when it arises; this helps to avert knee-jerk reactions in favor of dispassionate, considered decision-making.
Applied to business, the results are better managers who are significantly more content in their work. Content employees are more dedicated to the company they work for, and make for a better workplace atmosphere in general.
So, reduced stress, increased productivity and a happier workplace – it’s no wonder that more and more companies are running mindfulness programs these days. Being mindful, it seems, is good for business.