Mindfulness is the latest buzzword in the corporate wellness lexicon, but there is still a lot of confusion around what it actually means to practice mindfulness and how it can have business impact on employee performance. Mindfulness is now becoming a ‘brand’ or a ‘product’, and a misunderstood one at that. In this post and my upcoming webinar, I’m going to demystify mindfulness and help illustrate why companies from Aetna to Goldman Sachs are embracing its benefits.
First, many people are unclear what mindfulness really means and how meditation fits in, so it’s helpful to start with clear definitions and examples of each. In short, meditation comes in many forms and mindfulness is one of them. Jon Kabat-Zinn, PhD, one of the leaders credited with introducing mindfulness into the Western World, says practicing mindfulness is actually a form of meditation.
You can find many descriptions for both mindfulness and meditation, these are my favorites:
- Meditation: Meditation is a practice of concentrated focus upon a sound, object, visualization, the breath, movement, or attention itself in order to increase awareness of the self and the present moment, reduce stress, promote relaxation, and enhance personal and spiritual growth.
- Mindfulness: "Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, and without judgement." – Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn
Meditation is intentionally setting aside time to do something that’s good for you. There are all kind of meditations, such as transcendental meditation, in which you intentionally set out to repeat a mantra in order to bring about a feeling of confidence (this is especially popular in Silicon Valley!). Other forms of meditation are: visualizations, yoga meditations, qi gong (movement meditation), kundalini, sound or music meditation, and even exercise can be a meditation (running and swimming are great examples of connecting mind, body and breath).
Visualization is a powerful tool that is heavily linked to imagination, and used by many business leaders before they start a project or before they innovate. While visualization techniques have been used in sports and sports performance for years, there is a new surge in the business world to employ this meditation tool to tap into their creativity.
Silent meditation is heavily linked to Mindfulness and offers business leaders & executives the opportunity to purge their thoughts. Through practice, it is possible to slow the thoughts and to create moments of clarity, when ideas, solutions and creativity surface. I call it your inner wisdom or inner voice.
Guided meditations are a great way to start the meditation journey as you have the option to come back to the breath or the voice when your mind starts to wander.
Mindfulness is paying attention, on purpose, in the moment and without judgement.
Dr. Kabat-Zinn, who has studied mindfulness for more than 35 year, has said, “Mindfulness is simply awareness, something you don't have to practice for 20 minutes at a time. You can be mindful anywhere, anytime and with anyone you like.”
The goal is to learn to be present, and to observe your thoughts and experiences without judgement. For example, you could choose to take time out of your day for lunch and be mindful of your eating to reduce calories consumed. Or you could consciously recognize your thoughts are drifting in a meeting and gently bring yourself back to the present.
Once learning that mindfulness is about being fully present, many business owners and HR leaders will understandably wonder whether this is really for them. After all, accurate or not, the term mindfulness may conjure an image of tea-drinking yogis in a free-love commune. What’s the modern employer’s stake in this new practice and how can it impact the bottom line?
The cost of presenteeism – the phenomenon where employees show up for work but don’t perform at full capacity – to businesses is 10 times higher than the cost of absenteeism. The recent report, which included nearly 2,000 employees and validated against the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Workplace Health and Productivity Questionnaire (HPQ), also found that, on average, employees cost businesses the equivalent of three months per year in lost productivity.
This research suggests that rather than focusing on how to keep employees from taking sick time, business leaders would be better served targeting productivity while employees are already at work. Here is where the benefits of a corporate mindfulness program become clear.
Being in the present helps employees direct their focus to the most imperative task at hand. Mindful decision makers take the time to consider all of their options, and don’t rush to judgement. When conflicts arise, they are more likely to be skillfully acknowledged, held, and responded to by the group. Managers who model and promote mindful practices with their teams create a culture of engagement.
The science and practice of mindfulness has become popular in businesses, classrooms, workshops, and research labs around the world. Billionaires, top athletes, and the military all use mindfulness to boost performance and team efficiency. There’s a reason why: Practicing mindfulness is proven to actually physically alter the human brain.
Take the first step towards more mindful communication and watch this free 5 minute video or watch the webinar recording, where I get more into the neuroscience behind mindfulness, and share three simple things you can do to start a mindfulness practice for yourself, your team and your company.