Many of us are no stranger to the word “mindfulness” and we might have a vague idea of its associations with peace and tranquillity. But what exactly does it mean to be mindful? And how can practising mindfulness help you perform better at work, and be a more effective leader?
The term mindfulness first gained public attention in the late 1970s, when Jon Kabat-Zinn, a professor at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, created Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) – an intensive therapeutic training program that combined body awareness, yoga, meditation and psychological and behavioral exercises to help people manage stress, pain and anxiety.
Outside of healthcare, mindfulness refers to a mental state of heightened awareness and acceptance that anyone can adopt to improve their lives, work and relationships. Mindfulness is about attending fully to the present moment in a non-judgemental way. When we are mindful, we are self-aware, more sensitive, and more compassionate towards ourselves and the people around us. When we are mindful, we aren’t rushing around aimlessly, fighting reality or struggling to fix unfixable things. When we are mindful, we intuitively know how and when to pause, how to engage completely with whatever we are doing and whoever we are with, and how to allow solutions to gently reveal themselves.
Over the last two decades, as technology touches more and more aspects of our lives, it’s no surprise that the practice of mindfulness has become increasingly popular, and necessary. Overuse of digital devices and multitasking has led to poorer attention control, and many of us would agree that we are more easily distracted now than we were in the past. The inability to concentrate deeply often leads to decreased productivity and creativity, as well and more interpersonal conflict and miscommunication at the workplace due to rash actions and speech.
By making a conscious effort to approach your job more mindfully, you can make bigger and more meaningful contributions and also create a more harmonious and dynamic work environment.
One of the biggest problems that come with living in our fast-paced digital age, is that many of us feel as if we do not have enough hours in the day, or enough mental space to slow down and appreciate life. Yet, it is only when we move slower and really tune in to ourselves and our surroundings that we can think, speak and make decisions with clarity, conviction and purpose. Practising mindfulness can teach you how to slow down and create the precious mental space needed for optimal performance at work and in life.
Mindfulness is especially important for leaders. Not only does it enhance mental acuity and confidence, it also cultivates kindness and selflessness – qualities that are essential in gaining the trust and respect of those you lead. Mindfulness can also help you to develop presence – a personal attribute that compels people to pay attention to your words and actions. In Mindful.org, Janice Marturano writes, “Leadership presence is not only critical for us as individuals but also has a ripple effect on those around us: the community we live in, and potentially the world… The work of developing leadership presence through mindfulness begins by recognizing how much time we spend in a mental state that has come to be called continuous partial attention.”
When you give your co-workers not fifty-percent, but a hundred percent of your attention, you establish presence, and your communication becomes more impactful, inspiring those around you to take positive actions. As a mindful leader, you are no longer operating on autopilot, so you can handle stress with composure, and make good decisions with a clear and focused mind. By making mindfulness a way of life, you’ll be able to better connect with those you lead, and initiate and facilitate change for the benefit of your entire organization.