Mindfulness has been described as a process of “bringing one’s attention to the present experience on a moment-by-moment basis” and as “paying attention in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment and nonjudgmentally.” Mindfulness differs from a more conceptual mode of processing information, which is often the mind’s default way of perceiving and cognizing. In other words, paying attention is not the same thing as thinking, although we often equate the two.
A growing body of empirical scientific evidence supports the efficacy of mindfulness-based interventions. Clinical studies demonstrate that patients who participated in such programs saw improvement in many physical and psychological conditions and reported a decrease in mood disturbance from, and stress related to, these conditions. Similarly, numerous studies have documented how mindfulness training positively alters emotional experience by reducing negative mood as well as improving positive mood and well-being. Mindfulness training has also been shown to increase tolerance of unpleasant physical states, such as pain, produce brain changes consistent with more effective handling of emotions under stress, and increase immune functioning. Finally, many studies have shown that mindfulness training improves different aspects of attention, which is the ability to remain focused on task-relevant information while filtering out distracting or irrelevant information.
While this research draws from existing patient populations, its findings clearly have implications across a broad spectrum. These techniques have already been extended to war veterans with PTSD, and preliminary results from this work suggest a reduction in symptoms. In addition, mindfulness training could help optimize individual performance by cultivating competencies critical for the workplace, such as improved self-regulation, better attentional skills, and enhanced situational awareness. Pilot research also suggests that mindfulness based training is successful at bolstering mind fitness and building resilience against stressors one may expect to experience in the workplace environment.
Research identified individuals who spent more time engaging in mindfulness exercises (on average, 10 hours outside of class) before they participated in a workplace project saw an improvement in their cognitive performance compared to those who spent less time engaging in the exercises (on average, 2 hours outside of class) before they participated in the project. Specifically, despite the real increase in stressors during the life of the project, the individuals who engaged in more mind fitness training, maintained the same perceived stress level and preserved or even improved their working memory capacity over their initial baseline.
Research indicates that mindfulness may be protective: it may build resiliency and lead to faster recovery from cognitive depletion and psychological stress. It is proposed that mindfulness can be maintained even in high-demand and high-stress contexts by regularly engaging in certain mental exercises. These exercises engage and improve core mental processes, such as working memory capacity, which lead to a more mentally agile, emotionally regulated, attentive, and situationally aware mode of functioning.
As abundant research has demonstrated, mindfulness training can immunize against stress by buffering the cognitive degradation of stress inoculation training and by permitting more adaptive responses to, and interpretation of, stressors. Mindfulness training can also enhance individual performance by cultivating competencies critical for today’s workplace . For example mindfulness training can provide the individual with the mental focus needed for the pre-frontal cortex to remain ‘online’ and functioning and delay the takeover by the limbic system when experiencing a ‘flight or fight’ incident.
What are the benefits for organisations that encourage mindfulness?
Organisations are often set up to feed into a hyperkinetic environment and are likely to see the negative effects of this environment on their people. On the other hand, organisations which are training staff in mindfulness and expect their people to engage in self-care are more likely to see higher engagement levels of staff, less absenteeism, reduced compensation claims and increased levels of discretionary labour. We would also expect fewer mistakes. Finally, mindful staff are less likely to ruminate and catastrophize. Refraining from these types of behaviour will save valuable energy that can be redirected towards innovation and creativity adding greater value to the organisation.
Leaders who practice mindfulness can expect to:
- Feel less anxious.
- Have greater empathy.
- Experience higher levels of engagement.
- Make fewer mistakes.
- Be more authentic.
In today’s operational environment, being mindful entails having highly efficient capacities for mental agility, emotional regulation, attention, and situational awareness (of self, others, and the wider environment). These capacities that mindfulness facilitates can also be taught.
At the end of this session the learner will be able to:
- Explain what is meant by the term ‘mindfulness’
- Describe the origins and history of mindfulness
- Detail the benefits of engaging in mindfulness
- Describe how to engage in mindfulness practice