Over the last 20 years research has shown that mindfulness practice can bring significant benefits to professional performance and personal well-being. It has been shown to be an effective tool for stress management, to improve focus, and to help people maintain mental and emotional balance.
“Employees who practiced mindfulness reported greater resilience, well-being, immune response, and job satisfaction compared to those who did not practice mindfulness.”
Hulsheger et al., 2012; Davidson et al., 2003
At the same time there are still many misconceptions. Mindfulness has become a buzzword to sell self-improvement methods that fix everything from your weight to your relationship to your achievement level. To address some of these misconceptions, I would like explain briefly what mindfulness is and the benefits that it can bring in the workplace.
Mindfulness is a form of mental training. Practicing it helps us train our capacity for attention. We cultivate more awareness of our physical, emotional and mental experience. This increased self-awareness helps us develop a new set of inner strength that allow us to better handle the complexities and demands of the modern world.
In a nutshell being mindful simply means being present. Why is this important? Recent research shows that most people are distracted almost 50% of the time. How can we be effective when we are not aware of what is happening half of the time?
“The main business case for meditation is that if you are fully present on the job, you become more effective as a leader, you will make better decisions and you will work better with other people.”
Bill George – Harvard Business School Professor, former CEO of Medtronic
Some people have the idea that the goal of mindfulness is to create a completely quiet and peaceful workplace. And they are concerned that employees would be looking for satisfaction in an inner experience of calm and peace and be less achievement oriented.
The opposite is true. If introduced correctly, mindfulness will help employees align their personal values with those of their company. They will discover a deeper sense of purpose in their work and life. And they will be more motivated to achieve and contribute to the success of their company.
The goal of introducing mindfulness is not to create a stress-free workplace, but to help employees manage stress and maintain sustainable professional peak performance. Stress is not inherently a bad thing. Only when it becomes chronic it brings detrimental effects. For example, stress is not conducive to clear decisions, creativity, and open-minded listening. (Please also see my article on Understanding Stress Management)
The mindfulness practiced in the workplace needs to be a “dynamic mindfulness” that can be applied to manage challenging situation and prevent the build-up of chronic stress. In our mindfulness training we train people how to take mini breaks of even just a minute or two to regenerate themselves. We teach simple practices that help them to not react impulsively when triggered in intense challenging situations. And we help people develop their capacity for calm presence in the midst of intensity which will allow them to make clearer decisions and to handle conflict skillfully.
In their 2017 book “Altered Traits: Science Reveals How Meditation Changes Your Mind, Brain, and Body” Daniel Goleman and Richard Davidson show that beyond pleasant states, the real payoffs of mindfulness training are lasting personality traits. Mindfulness and Emotional Intelligence training are effective tools not just for sustaining personal well-being, but to develop professional excellence and outstanding leadership.
The benefits correspond to the amount of practice we do. Small amounts can already bring excellent improvements in how people function professionally. The highest level of lasting positive change requires a dedicated daily practice.
Whether people practice in short daily doses or have a dedicated daily practice, to get the most benefit they need smart practice. This requires feedback and guidance from a qualified teacher. Unfortunately this is missing in most widespread versions of mind training.
To sum up, mindfulness training helps us develop our capacity to be present and aware. As we become more aware we see ourselves and the world around us more clearly. This allows us to be more effective at work and in our life.
With a good Mindfulness practice as a basis, Emotional intelligence can take our personal and professional development to the next level, because it helps us to use the increased awareness and clarity that come from mindfulness practice to develop competencies that enable us to have a more fulfilled and successful life.