“We don’t talk about mindfulness that much, but that’s how we operate. We focus on what’s right in front of us,” explains Pete Caroll, Seattle Seahawks Head Coach. “We don’t care about the other team or the environment we’re playing in. We just take every game as if it’s the most important in the world and focus right on that. That takes great mindfulness.”
Mindfulness—referred to by some as “fitness for the mind”— is not only being used by top sports teams. Businesses are also taking advantage of mindfulness to gain a professional edge. Improved attention and awareness help employees perform better by focusing on the present and reducing the negative effects of stress.
While today's corporate culture encourages fast-paced work and goal attainment—the complete opposite of slowing down to focus on the present—leaders are beginning to understand the importance of recharging as a way to improve productivity. In fact, mindfulness research is helping many managers see that investing in reflection, openness and thoughtfulness has a positive effect on employees—and on the bottom line.
As a leadership strategy, mindfulness is beneficial in helping employees make informed decisions, stay on task and build an engaged work environment.
A competitive advantage for professionals
According to Whil, a leader in digital well-being training, mindfulness creates a competitive advantage for professionals. The company's eBook, The Competitive Advantage of Mindfulness, explains that mindfulness training has captured the attention of top executives due to its proven ability to improve performance, productivity, focus, memory, relationships, cardiovascular health, immune system function, healing, self-control and creativity. At the same time, it reduces absenteeism, stress, anxiety, depression, blood pressure, addiction, insomnia, PTSD and pain.
So what’s behind these benefits?
Mindfulness can be traced to neuroplasticity—the ability of the brain to change in response to experience and training—as well as the connection between the prefrontal cortex (thinking brain) and the amygdala (emotional brain). When these two parts work together, the result is calmness, thoughtfulness, reasonableness and happiness.
And the research is quite impressive:
- Mindfulness leads to better concentration, staying on task and multitasking.
- Mindfulness improves working memory and reduces distracting thoughts.
- Mindfulness helps create space for innovation and unlock big ideas.
- Mindfulness leads to improved attention.
- Mindfulness reduces fatigue and anxiety, and improves decision-making skills.
- Mindfulness leads to greater job satisfaction and reduced emotional exhaustion.
Mindfulness in the Workplace
Whil estimates that in 2017, about 45 percent of companies will offer some form of mindfulness training. And many well-known and respected organizations are already doing this.
For example, Google offers numerous mindfulness courses. The company’s most popular mindfulness course, “Search Inside Yourself,” has been offered since 2007 and boasts thousands of alumni. In fact, Google believes that mindfulness programs teach emotional intelligence, as well as help to improve mental focus, defuse emotions and increase resilience to stress.
In 2012, Aetna developed the Mindfulness at Work (mindfulness meditation) and Viniyoga Stress Reduction (therapeutic Viniyoga) programs as part of the Mind-Body Stress Reduction in the Workplace clinical trial. Participants in these groups showed significant improvements in managing stress, as well as improvements in heart rate measurements. And these study results were published in the online version of the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology.
General Mills also embraces mindfulness. The company has offered mindfulness programs to all General Mills employees (in its Minneapolis headquarters) since 2006. The courses are designed to improve employee focus, clarity and creativity.
Bringing mindfulness to the workplace can improve focus, clarity, creativity, listening and decision-making skills—all skills that can help professionals thrive.
Simply put, mindfulness is the essence of engagement. “It puts you in the present,” explains Ellen Langer, Ph.D., a social psychologist and psychology professor at Harvard University. “And this means that if you make the moment matter, notice new things and make it meaningful—you will prosper.”