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.
“Helping people strengthen their physical, mental and emotional fitness not only improves the quality of their personal health, happiness and relationships, but the quality of the contribution they make to the enterprise.” (The Neuroscience of Mindful Business Performance, 2016)
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.
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.
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.
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.
"Mindfulness is a flow state of moment-to-moment experience, that promotes intense attention regulation, emotional regulation, and body awareness.
The higher the mindfulness traits, the higher the score for flow in challenge, skill balance, goal clarity, sense of control, and loss of self-consciousness" (Chen, Tsai, Lin, 2018)
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:
Rather than hope that our people can cope with chronic stress, change and distraction - we can teach them to develop mental strength and resilience.
Rather than hope our people come to work in a good mood, we can teach them to intentionally create a positive and collaborative mindset.
Rather than hope that our leaders and co-workers are kind, empathetic and compassionate - we can teach them to develop these critical traits.
Rather than teaching our leaders “about” emotional intelligence - we can teach them to “become” emotionally intelligent.
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.
The Best Workforce Wins
In a global market that increasingly competes on disruption, the quality of our human capital is the only sustainable competitive advantage. But our current leadership and talent development systems remain focused on functional and technical skills, with little or no attention paid to the mental and emotional skills that actually drive them:
Why teach software development skills, but not the mental skills of focus, attention control and flow?
Why teach functional sales and customer service skills, but not the mental skills of empathy, intuition and rapport?
Why teach our leaders strategy, without the mental skills to create trust, rapport and influence to mobilize others?
The neural training process of mindfulness can be a powerful competitive lever for organizations that realize that mental practices are critical new competencies - and can be as disruptive as new technologies.