The Practice of Mindfulness
What is it?
Mindfulness is a 2,500-year old mental practice that quiets, calms and focuses the mind, and so strengthens our awareness and attention control. It is both a process of neural training, and a state of mind that reduces signals of pain, fear, and anxiety from the primitive brain, while strengthening mental clarity and executive capabilities in the neocortex.
Over three decades of intensive research, science has proven that mindfulness produces predictable and remarkably positive outcomes in health and wellbeing, cognitive performance and emotional intelligence. It is a science-proven, straightforward path to greater health, happiness, performance and productivity.
Why is it so Important?
We live in a volatile, uncertain, changing and ambiguous world, and we’re often adrift in a sea of distraction, anxiety and stress. Relentless change, overwhelming demands and our 24/7 connection to technology are producing burned-out leaders, toxic managers and exhausted workers.
Amid this tech-saturated, attention-deficit reality, mindfulness trains the brain to calm itself and concentrate. Over time, it alters neural regions associated with attention control, cognition and emotional intelligence - improving our abilities to plan, execute, and work effectively with others to achieve goals. It is a mental skillset for insight, creativity and deep work.
Secular, Science-based and Performance-focused
Our definition of Organizational Mindfulness starts with a bright line between the belief systems that have practiced various forms of meditation over the past thousands of years - and the science-proven outcomes of what we recognize now to be neural training.
It has never been appropriate to teach spiritual, religious or metaphysical beliefs at work. Whether we’re in a government agency, a healthcare institution, a small business or a Fortune 100 corporation - emotional attributes like empathy, compassion, kindness and forgiveness have been considered the province of family, social and religious training.
Yet, in a flat, networked knowledge economy - especially one awash in the toxicity of overload, overwhelm and chronic stress - these attributes are increasingly critical competencies for leaders and workers alike. And importantly, science has shown that they are not immutable traits, but are, in fact, trainable skills. This changes the game in some very important ways.
A Paradigm Shift for Performance
Science-based mindfulness is a neural exercise that not only modifies behaviors, it physically changes the structure and function of the brain. It creates networks and firing patterns that imprint positive mental habits and behaviors. Repetition strengthens these circuits, until the new behaviors become the new normal.
Mindfulness dampens the chronic stress of today’s workplace. It reduces the signals of information overload, digital distraction, decision fatigue, workplace ADD, unconscious bias, conflict and burnout. This sharpens our capabilities for directing and sustaining attention, and creates the conditions for increased motivation, greater engagement, and deeper concentration.
These mental settings are predicate to a “flow experience”, the state of peak human performance recognized by Dr. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi at the University of Chicago, in 1980s. As a result, mindfulness has been adopted into the daily training regimen of the world’s most elite organizations, including the U.S. Olympics Team, the U.S. Navy Seals, Delta Force, JSOC and other military special forces - and the world’s top professional sports organizations and athletes. For these adepts, mindfulness is training for the “mental game” - the super-heightened awareness, attention and emotional control that drive personal and team success.
An Inflection Point for Organizational Development
Mindfulness fundamentally improves our options for leadership, talent and organizational development. For the first time, we have access to science-validated methodologies that people can apply to improve mental clarity and awareness, focus and concentration, interest and engagement, empathy and compassion, self-awareness and emotional control, and more.
These outcomes are critical cognitive and emotional intelligence competencies that drive leadership effectiveness and workforce performance. The science has given us a roadmap for training social and emotional states into behavioral traits, which is a game-changing paradigm for human capital management:
New Tools for Talent Development
For the past decade, early-adopting companies have been experimenting with mindfulness as an intervention to drive down health care costs, reduce absenteeism, improve engagement and retention, and change cultures.
Like peeling an onion — organizations that initially adopted mindfulness as a health benefit, found that it produced more effective leaders — then a happier, more engaged, higher performing workforce — then a safer, more inclusive and more productive workplace.
Science has given us the tools to help our people develop mental and emotional skills that will make them healthier, happier, higher performing and more productive. Embracing this new paradigm unlocks a broad range of positive new outcomes.
Stress and Distraction
Instead of hoping that our people can cope with stress, uncertainty and change - we can teach them to develop mental strength and resilience.
Positive and Growth Mindset
Instead of hoping our people come to work in a good mood, we can teach them to intentionally create a positive and collaborative mindset.
Empathy and Compassion
Instead of hoping that our leaders and co-workers are kind, empathetic and compassionate - we can teach them to develop these critical traits.
Instead of teaching our leaders “about” emotional intelligence - we can teach them to develop emotionally intelligent traits and behaviors.
“Our ordinary waking state is severely limited and limiting, resembling in many respects an extended dream rather than wakefulness. Mindfulness wakes us from this sleep of automaticity and unconsciousness, thereby making it possible to live our lives with access to the full spectrum of our conscious and unconscious possibilities.”
Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn