Mindfulness in the corporate world
We live in a societal world, work in organizations and have family, extended families and interests. We also tend to be, especially in the US, caught up in productivity and accomplishments. That’s not bad, of course.
But we tend to get overwhelmed with workloads, feel a lack of work/life balance and we have to confront the sheer enormity of tasks and information that compete for our attention. Perhaps it is the volume of information which, more than other factors, contributes to stress in our lives.
So what do we do about it?
In recent years, a practice known as mindfulness has gained significant exposure and traction as a way to reduce stress. Regular practice of mindfulness can also increase effectiveness at work.
At its essence, mindfulness is about being self-aware of what you are thinking and how you are feeling, as if you were an outside neutral observer. From this perspective, you can accept your emotions and thoughts while reducing or removing their ability to disrupt your sense of calm.
Specifically, becoming aware of your thoughts and feelings permits you to label them. For example, thoughts might include: I am not good enough; I am better than this. And anxiety, anger, and contentment are feelings that we can have.
Once you have labeled your thoughts and feelings, you have gained the ability to step away from the potentially damaging behaviors that can arise. For example, you may get triggered in a meeting when someone says something about which you strongly disagree. And there are times when your feelings “get the better of you” and you might say something in the meeting which is inappropriate from an organizational perspective. Becoming aware and labeling the thought removes its grip on you.
To quote a leading mindfulness practitioner, Jon Kabat-Zinn: …”at what point do we become prisoners of our thought processes? These thoughts can dominate and dictate our responses to life, as we respond with actions, further thoughts and emotions. These behaviors feel real, and they are, but are they the best thing for us to be doing?”
When practicing mindfulness, we seek to increase our awareness. Awareness is a mental space within us that includes our thoughts. This means that we do not take our thoughts personally, rather we are aware of them as just thoughts. This may sound difficult, weird or many other things, depending on who you are.
What about “contentment?”
Yes, I did include contentment in the paragraph above. When we talk about feelings, it’s important to remember that even the “good” feelings come and go. The more you recognize this, the more you have an overall experience that is not blown off course by the spikes of positive or negative feelings. You might say that it is lasting contentment.
Who else is doing this?
Many organizations are adopting some form of mindfulness training and exposure, including: Google, PIMCO, Apple, Bridgewater Associates, EBay and even Rupert Murdoch has given a favorable nod to the practice. The Harvard Business School has taken up mindfulness in an attempt to develop leaders who are “self-aware and compassionate.”
Does it work?
Using the tools of neuroscience, researchers are reporting measurable changes in the brains of people who regularly practice some form of mental awareness, including meditation as well as mindfulness.