Harnessing the power of mindfulness brings productivity and leadership gains to an organisation.
It’s obvious today that eating well and exercising is key to maintaining a healthy body. So much so it’s hard to imagine a time when this wasn’t an accepted norm. But what about our mind? How many of us think it’s important to give the most complex organ in our body the equivalent of a morning run and a nutritious lunch? And actually, the brain loves that - but more can be done.
For Charlotte Thaarup-Owen, founder of The Mindfulness Clinic, it’s, pardon the pun, a no-brainer. “Training the brain is where mindfulness starts,” says Thaarup-Owen, “It’s the very tip of the iceberg because mindfulness offers so much more. At its most basic, mindfulness training reduces stress and anxiety. And that opens up a different way of seeing the world. In terms of quality of life, the potential is huge. In terms of output, it’s enormous.”
While mindfulness has its genesis in the ancient Buddhist practice, recent developments in neuroscience have shown how a reduction in stress is directly linked to our everyday functioning in both our work and everyday lives. For example, stress increases the levels of cortisol and adrenaline in our bodies. Not only does this affect the body, but it also changes the way our brain functions and especially the operation of the prefrontal cortex – the region of the brain that orchestrates our thoughts and actions.
The two most important things you can do in order to reduce your stress are:
- Moving your body, which in turn lowers the level of the stress hormone cortisol and releases endorphins; and
- Engage in Mindfulness training which uses the mind to change the brain.
For Thaarup-Owen, mindfulness is mind-training with attitude. “It is the process of intentionally using our mind to change our brain,” she says, “Mindfulness is also about paying careful attention to reality, to what we are experiencing through our senses, our body, our emotions and our thoughts.”
In the workplace and positions of leadership, mindfulness has a range of high-level outcomes, as a root construct for change. Combining this with James Kouzes and Barry Posner’s, The Leadership Challenge, Mercer’s “Core Mindfulness” course develops “clearer thinking, the ability to make calm considered decisions and freedom from feeling overwhelmed by a seemingly never-ending workload.” It also gives clear direction when it comes to excellence in leadership.
Mindfulness starts by training the brain to increase the ability to focus and to manage one’s attention. “An ability to manage your attention is the most powerful predictor of a successful life,” says Thaarup-Owen, “much more important than your school or the education or income of your parents.” Attention training is essential for becoming present, from here we develop the ability to deal with distractions, to not multitask and to not be preoccupied with the next item on the ‘to-do-list’. The mindfulness course also covers training the brain for emotional regulation, kindness, mental agility and integration. “An ‘integrated brain’ is now considered a ‘healthy brain’,” says Thaarup-Owen, “and is the opposite of a rigid or chaotic mental experience.”
For the workplace mindfulness has any number of practical outcomes. “We talk about managing your email, your time and not being reactive,” says Thaarup-Owen, “developing different interpersonal skills, resilience and how you build it up, how you can calm down in the midst of chaos and to work towards a responsive healthy, clear and inclusive way of being rather than a reactive one.”
Yet mindfulness training is not all about being prescriptive – it’s about giving people the tools to be more resilient in whatever area of life they’re most burdened by. Thaarup-Owen likens mindfulness training to changing the soil in a garden rather than ripping out old plants and plugging in new ones. “Because we start with the practice of mindfulness, the root construct, it’s then up to people to use it how they want to,” she says. “For example, the interesting thing is you don’t even need to talk about conflict resolution to have a reduction in conflict after mindfulness training. Meeting times are also reduced because people stay focussed and productivity goes up because you’re not fluffing around.”
While mindfulness has benefits for both work and private life, introducing it to the workplace is beneficial not only for the organisational outcomes it produces, but because of the ability to structure it into the workday.
“Once those that make decisions can see the benefits of mindfulness,” says Thaarup-Owen, “they start to set aside time in the workplace. One company has been offering it for ten minutes, twice a day for two years. And while most people don’t do every session, many who start by wanting to mute the pain realise it soon becomes more joyful. And so those that inevitably fall off soon realise the benefits and come back.”
Mercer offers four Mindfulness Courses:
- Core Mindfulness which takes the ancient wisdom behind mindfulness, the latest research on neuroplasticity, the latest thinking from leaders in the business world, and applies them to the corporate environment.
- The Mindfulness at Work program, is part of the Resilient and Thriving People stream. Mindfulness at work has proven to be outstanding in improving the effectiveness, health and efficiency of employees and increasing the productivity of an organisation.
- The Leading from the Middle program, part of the Resilient and Thriving Teams stream. This is focused mindfulness to increase interpersonal skills and create accountability while strengthening participants’ ability to deal with conflict.
- The Mindful Leadership program, part of the Resilient and Thriving Organisations stream. It focuses on supporting managers and leaders to use their power and influence in the most strategic and judicious ways possible.
How can Mindfulness help?
Research in neuroscience demonstrates conclusively that Mindfulness:
- Increases focus and attention
- Improves quality of sleep
- Reduces stress significantly
- Reduces cellular aging
- Keeps the brain ‘agile’
- Reduces blood pressure
- Improves memory
- Promotes emotional regulation
- Increases our experience of joy
Is it time to introduce mindfulness into your workforce?