It is hard to escape the mindfulness revolution.
It has been featured on the cover of Time magazine, included as a part of Harvard Business School’s leadership programmes, companies like Google, Apple and General Mills have developed their own in house Mindfulness programmes and it was announced recently that it is now being introduced as part of the Junior Cert curriculum.
Common challenges that are faced in modern working life are pressured work environments, distracted work surroundings, information overload and a blurring of boundaries between work and home life with the ability to work virtually anywhere at any time of the day or night. This can lead to increased stress, less time to relax and rejuvenate and can result in a reduction in effectiveness and efficiency. Mindfulness is a tool that can help employees to best manage in these circumstances.
So what is mindfulness?
The definition is “mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, and non judgmentally” (Jon Kabat-Zinn).
We spend much of our working lives on autopilot, rushing from one task to the next, with our minds often either going over what has already happened or worrying what is going to happen. Research in the US has shown that our minds wander on average of 47% of the time.
Mindfulness develops our capacity to be more aware in the present moment. When we are not aware our thoughts tend to run out of control and we can spiral often into patterns of negative thinking. Being mindful allows us to challenge these thoughts and creates a space which allows us to skilfully respond rather than react automatically.
For example if you need to be at a meeting at 9am and you hit an unexpected traffic jam, you may find yourself getting really frustrated, beeping your horn and imagining that your boss will think you incompetent because you are late. By the time you do arrive at the meeting you are frazzled. If you are practicing mindfulness you would acknowledge that the traffic jam is frustrating but then use the time to take some deep breaths and arrive at the meeting calm and grounded.
Like going to the gym for our body, practicing mindfulness is a way of training our mind to be more focused and aware.
Mindfulness is practiced in two ways. Formal practice is cultivated through mindful meditation. This is where you sit quietly focusing on your breath and each time you notice your mind wandering off you bring the focus of your attention back to the breath. Research has shown that just 10 minutes each day of meditation is enough to see noticeable results. Informally mindfulness is practiced by integrating it into daily activities. For example picking a daily task that you normally do on autopilot and chose to pay mindful attention to it, an example would be the walk from the car park into the office each day. Notice the sights, sounds and smells around you. Noticing your feet on the ground as you walk. Bringing present moment awareness to the task.
Mindfulness has it’s roots in ancient Easter wisdom and philosophy dating back 2500 years. It’s secular format was introduced in the West in 1979 by Jon Kabat-Zinn who originally developed a Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction programme in UMass Medical School in Boston. It proved phenomenally successful in helping people to manage chronic pain. Since then it has been rolled out around the world. It has also been combined with Cognitive Behavioural Therapy in a Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy programme which has been proven to be as effective as antidepressants in treating recurrent depression.
So how do we know that mindfulness works? Thousands of scientific studies have been performed on the effects of mindfulness. Some of the proven benefits are as follows:
- Enhances mental and physical wellbeing.
- Improves working memory, creativity, attention span and reaction speeds.
- Improves emotional intelligence.
- Enhances brain function.
Neuroscientists, through brain imaging, have shown that regular meditation actually changes our brain functioning by decreasing activation of the amygdala which is responsible for the stress (flight or fight) response and increasing the density of the pre frontal cortex which is responsible for rational thinking, problem solving, attuned communication and emotional balance.
Just 10 minutes of mindfulness practice each day can have a significant positive impact in the work environment through happier employees and increased productivity.
Photo by Kyle Pearce