From its Buddhist roots, mindfulness has become a worldwide practice and can positively impact our technologically-overwhelmed modern lifestyle.
What is mindfulness? According to Berkeley's Greater Good, mindfulness is “maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations and surrounding environment.” It is a conscious approach to intent and acceptance, where we pay attention to ourselves without judging, or weighing what is right or wrong. Mindfulness is tuning to the richness of the present without the fear of the future, or the regret of the past.
The Buddhists were first known to use it in their meditation. But in the 1970s, the west started embracing this philosophy, thanks to the work of Jon Kabat-Zinn's Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR). Many medical experts followed suit. In 2002, students from Cambridge and Toronto have developed Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy, aimed specifically for people undergoing depression. According to clinical studies, the therapy was as effective as antidepressants and could even reduce the rate of recurrence by 50% at most.
More than ever, mindfulness brings a refreshing outlook to the present-day overwhelmed lifestyle. Thanks to technology, our senses are often bombarded by many stimulations – phones ringing, tweets, emails, and other distractions that prevents us from revelling in our own sense of space. This sort of hyper-stimulation leads to higher cases of anxiety, lack of focus, sleeping problems, depression, and even immunity disorders.
When we practice focusing our thoughts into mindfulness, parts of the brain, such as the amygdala, pre-frontal cortex certain midline structures, respond in a way that helps us feel less reactive, compassionate, patient and less stressed.
Harvard University has even concluded that mindfulness may even change the structure of the brain, in a positive light. Neuroscientist Sara Lazar, during her PhD in molecular biology, started doing this research. Comparing brain scans with people who performed mindfulness, she discovered that meditators had more grey matter in their frontal cortex, which influences memory and decision making. Human cortex shrinks as they get older – but in this case, even 50-year-old have the same amount of grey matter as 25-year-olds when they practice mindfulness.
How this could affect the workplace
Fortune 500 companies, including the technology giants Google and Apple, had adopted what is now called Mindfulness Training in order to bring a sense of health and focus in the workplace. According to IBISWorld, mindfulness training makes up more than 7% of the $15 billion alternative care industry in the US, and the numbers are projected to grow in the coming years.
Towers Watson analysed the ROI of various companies and came back with surprising results: businesses with effective health and wellness programs were proven to have a financial advantage. According to the report, companies paying attention to mindfulness has 11% higher revenue per employee, 1.8 fewer absent days and 28% higher shareholder returns.
In his book Mindful Work, David Gelles shares how mindfulness also cuts down healthcare costs, specifically with the insurance giant Aetna. According to Gelles, companies spend an additional $2,000 on healthcare on a stressed employee. In Aetna, where health care costs total more than $90 million annually, mindfulness programs reduced the cost by 7%. According to the Aetna's calculations, their productivity gains were about $3,000 per employee. This equals to 11:1 ROI.
A healthy employee is a productive employee. Companies are now investing in their employee's wellness which unlocks greater leverage for the business. For one, meditative employees have a higher resilience to stress. It also increases cognitive flexibility and therefore results to better creativity. Conscientious awareness decreases the risks of stress, burnout and physical pain while increasing skills in leadership, memory and self-esteem. People who are mindful have a greater chance of becoming good leaders.
Practicing mindfulness at work
Just like any other skill, mindfulness requires time and effort to develop. Much better, if it is encouraged at work. Training groups such as WorkplaceMT and MindWork offer mindfulness workshops to organizations who seek to improve their employees’ behavioural wellness. Some also offers facilities for gym, meditation and sleep. Even the small things, such as establishing a sense of gratitude in the workplace, can make a drastic change in one’s mindfulness.
Since the office can be full of distractions, here are some tips which can help you practice this meditative consciousness:
Do not multi-task. One stand-out trait of being mindful is calmness. Instead of trying to juggle many things at the same time, concentrate on one task before moving on to the next. This encourages patience and focus. How to do that? Disable notifications from your devices to avoid the distractions that take your attention away.
Practice proper breathing. By being aware of your body – how it feels, and how it moves – you bring back a sense of peace into your core. You recognize your space, the number of your breaths and how you take it. When overcome with anxiety or stress, sit still, and breathe deep. Use this method to ‘reset’ yourself before you start the task anew.
Download a meditative app. Insight Timer, home to more than 4 million meditators, is a free app that helps you reconnect with your inner-awareness with access to guided meditations.
Pause in between actions. Urgent things like a ringing phone or a honking car trigger an instant jolt which stimulates stress. However, for things that can take time – such as walks to the office or even opening a door – relishing in between mini-pauses can clear your mind and give you a boost for the task that lies ahead.
Listen to your brain and take time to observe. Are there negative thoughts? Self-depreciating thoughts? Fearful thoughts? Remember that you are not those. Resist the temptation of being taken adrift by these feelings. Accept what has been done and move forward.
Does your company promote mindful training? If not, how do you think they should implement it?