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Mindfulness has been getting a lot of attention in recent years. It is no longer confined to the religious practise of Buddhist monks, or something associated with the hippy movement. Mindfulness has found its way into everyday life from practise in schools to healthcare and in business.
A recent Telegraph report says that ‘mindfulness is the new jogging’, which says something about its newfound prevalence. It is safe to say that the Western world has fully embraced this formerly Eastern tradition. What’s more, according to the Harvard Business Review, “Mindfulness is now seen as a crucial [management] skill in business.”
Here I’ll be looking at what mindfulness is and why many successful leaders incorporate some form of it into their daily routine.
What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is an umbrella term for a wide range of meditative practises. It is really just another word for paying attention to how you are feeling. The most important aspect to know about mindfulness is that it is done without judgement. The idea is to let thoughts come and go without engaging with them (or judging them).
Mindfulness is a simple form of meditation. The most common practise involves focusing on the breath. Other practises or types of mindfulness include the body scan, observing thought meditation and loving-kindness meditation. The aim, whatever method you choose, is to learn to focus more on the present moment.
Mindfulness myths busted
There are a lot of myths around mindfulness. Here are some of the things mindfulness isn’t and you don’t have to do.
How mindfulness helps business leaders
Leading a business to success is fraught with difficulties. It takes a certain type to weather the ups and downs, and ebbs and flows of business growth. There are good leaders and there are bad leaders, but good leaders will generally have a better chance at sustainable business success because they have the clarity to make better business decisions and they generally have a team of valued employees.
So where does mindfulness come in? Many great leaders have espoused the virtues of mindfulness in their path to success. Mindfulness speaker and coach Matt Tenney, author of The Mindfulness Edge, argues that mindfulness practise enables leaders to cultivate high levels of self-awareness and bring the best aspects of self to daily life, including all aspects of leadership. It is, he says, an essential skill for leadership effectiveness. Mindfulness fosters curiosity and increases the capacity to see things without judgement.
The benefits of mindfulness meditation are said to include:
Most business leaders have the hard skills required to keep a business operational and achieve success. However, not all leaders demonstrate the soft skills needed to get the best out of people. Mindfulness appears to help leaders develop greater empathy, focus and patience. The upshot is better communication and relationships with staff and happier teams, which in turn leads to an increase in productivity.
How do we know if mindfulness really works?
Harvard neuroscientists have studied the effects of mindfulness on the body. They found that mindfulness has a positive physiological effect on the brain. “Brain regions associated with attention, interoception (a lesser-known sense that helps you understand and feel what's going on inside your body) and sensory processing were thicker in meditation participants than matched controls.”
The study found that in meditators, certain regions of the brain associated with healthy brain function became more substantial, while one area associated with unhealthy behaviours shrunk. So, it has been proven that mindfulness practise has a positive physiological affect on the body and that in turn impacts on how we deal with stress.
Meditation software developer, Headspace, says “Meditation enables us to move from higher frequency brain waves to lower frequency, which activates different [centres] in the brain. This means that you can access parts of the brain that help us think rationally, helps us not respond so quickly to bodily sensations and fears, and allows us to have more empathy and understand others.”
Another study found that meditation has a therapeutic benefit in chronic inflammatory conditions, with reported reductions in psychological distress and physical symptoms.
As with any other leadership hack, the proof is in the pudding, so why not give mindfulness a try!