By Laura Hansen, PCC
This is the second in a two part series on Mindfulness. For Part 1, see Mindfulness in the Workplace on this blogsite.
Encouraging employees to stop and focus on the present moment in the middle of the workplace may seem contrary to achieving organizational goals. However, as mindfulness is becoming more widely practiced in the workplace, research is finding that meditation and other mindfulness practices improve productivity in significant ways and offer other tangible benefits for the organization.
Meditation taps into one of the most precious resources in any organization: attention. If you can learn to harness and improve the quality of your own attention, you and your co-workers will benefit. And if you can create a work culture that values this resource, you’ll be in another league.
Just like you go to the gym to build your muscles, meditation builds the muscles of your attention. A recent study from the University of Washington said it like this, “Human attention is a trainable resource and mindfulness meditation constitutes a viable form of such training.”
Here are seven benefits of mindfulness practice that will improve your performance at work:
- Mindfulness Is Contagious
Mindfulness is the type of skill that can ripple out into the culture of your organization through your mere presence. Have you ever had the experience of running around like a mad person, pushing to get something finished, and then you meet someone who’s grounded, present, and calm? Those are powerful moments. Because, if you’re like me, they make you pause and reflect on your own manic pace. A little bit of that person’s calm demeanor rubs off. When I encounter someone who’s exuding mindful presence, I realize I’ll be more effective if I slow down and focus on one thing at a time.
Author Daniel Goleman writes, “Calm, centered, and mindful leadership helps to open your mind and that infuses the culture around you, especially if you are someone in a position of authority.”
- Having Better Focus and Attention Span
The study from the University of Washington found that, “People trained in meditation stayed on tasks longer and made fewer task switches.” They had a greater ability to focus fully on one task at a time and be more productive. In addition, “they showed improved memory for the tasks they performed.”
Mindfulness develops the part of the brain responsible for self-regulation. This enhanced capacity for self-regulation helps you focus on what you decide is most important and avoid multi-tasking and time and productivity bandits like email and web browsing.
- Being A Better Listener
Have you ever noticed that we’re not always great at listening to each other? Often when someone is talking, you have another dialogue going on in your head. At work, you can’t really afford that. Your success and effectiveness depends on attending to the moment and the flow of information, whether you’re on a sales call, in a marketing meeting, or discussing something with a co-worker.
Think of mindfulness as a filter for your mind. With mindfulness, you’re straining out the extraneous thoughts, which aren’t helping you in this moment, and doing only one thing at a time. When you’re listening to someone, mindfulness helps you meet that person fully and really absorb their meaning and intent. Maybe you’ll hear an important tone in someone’s voice, a cue for a response, or maybe their idea triggers the next breakthrough on your joint project. At the least, it will make an impression on your coworker, conscious or unconscious, and will likely deepen your relationship.
- Improving Your Relationship Skills
A recent study from Harvard Medical School shows that mindfulness meditation increases the grey matter in your hippocampus. This is the region of the brain associated with self-awareness, compassion, introspection, and emotional regulation.
We all need to be cultivating these qualities in ourselves for work and for life. They are foundational to building productive and generative relationships. Mindful presence is all about being attentive to the world around you—inner and outer. And if you are cultivating mindfulness as a regular habit, you’re going to be more tuned in, more perceptive, and better equipped to optimize your relationships with your team and other coworkers. And you’re probably going to be a kinder more compassionate person to be around.
- Being A Better Leader
According to the Harvard Business Review, mindfulness should no longer be considered a luxury for business leaders. It’s a “must-have”. Based on the latest neuroscience research exploring the impact of meditation on the brain, the authors had this to say, “Mindfulness is a way to keep our brains healthy, support self-regulation and resilience, enhance creativity and effective decision-making capabilities, and protect ourselves from toxic stress.” Mindfulness develops these key leadership competencies.
- Being Able to Let Go of Stress
Work is a primary source of stress for many of us. And here’s one thing we know—stress diminishes performance over time. Mindfulness not only stops the negative effects of stress on your body and brain, it can reverse them.
“There’s a sort of resilience that comes through mindfulness,” says Sharon Salzberg, a best-selling author and teacher of mindfulness meditation practices. “I find if I have a regular period of meditation each day … it changes the character of my day from being absent or frantic to being calm and clear headed. The purpose of meditation is not to stop thinking, but to have a different relationship to your thoughts.”
- Enhancing Creativity and Innovation
Studies conducted by neuroscientists at the Center for Healthy Minds found that mindfulness activities “improve cognitive flexibility, creativity and innovation.”
This makes all kinds of common sense. Mindfulness relaxes both the mind and the body and brings us into the present moment. There’s a reason people report having their best ideas while in the shower or on their morning run. Creativity and innovation require a relaxed, receptive and responsive mind that is capable of being fluid and seeing things in non-habitual ways.
So, make a practice of regular mindfulness breaks, take a few conscious breaths, allow your mind to untwist, and let your creativity take flight!
There are many ways that employers can create a more mindful workplace for employees. Here are a few examples:
- Set aside a room where employees can go to meditate or take a purposeful pause from the multitasking demands of the day.
- Encourage employees to take breaks for mindful activities (like walking or stretching) every 90 or 120 minutes.
- Incorporate mindfulness philosophies into leadership training, or employee stress-management programs.
- Routinely encourage employees to focus on one task at a time, and emphasize the health benefits of mindfulness in company newsletters and communications.
So what about you? Are you curious to explore mindfulness for yourself? I encourage you to start simple. Take a few 1-minute mindfulness breaks at your desk each day. Just stop, close your eyes, relax, and take a few deep breaths. That’s a great place to start and you can build from there. And you know what? You may see the effects sooner than you think.
For individual coaching around developing mindfulness at work or to explore mindfulness training for your organization, you can contact Laura Hansen here.