Have you ever watched a Cheetah, readying for a kill? That is Mindfulness in action!
By Marut Bhardwaj*
Mindfulness, loosely meaning different things, is a buzzword today. While fundamentally, it’s been well defined as the ability to be completely present in the moment, in a gentle, non-judgmental way. Mindfulness refers to both a practice and a state of mind. The more you practice it, the more it becomes your state of mind.
Mindfulness is about becoming conscious of your thoughts, your feelings and your emotions; it is about increasing your self-awareness so it creates a greater mental effectiveness, so you can realize your full potential at both professional and personal levels. Effectiveness in this context is the ability to achieve your goals, objectives, and wishes in life.
In India, we have read about Mindfulness and its tools and techniques in a multitude of different scriptures for thousands of years. In our work with organizations around the world, we keep the practice and definition of mindfulness simple and close to its ancient roots: “Paying attention, in the present moment, with a calm, focused, and clear mind.”
At the core of the practice of mindfulness is the ability to manage one’s attention. When you learn how to manage your attention, you learn how to manage your thoughts. You learn to hold your focus on what you choose, whether it’s this page, an e-mail, a meeting, or the people you are with. In other words, you train yourself to be more present in the here and now.
Neuroscience and research have reiterated and strengthened the claims that meditation practitioners have been making for years. Mindfulness has a positive impact on our physiology, psychology, and work performance. At the physiological level, researchers have demonstrated that mindfulness training results in a stronger immune system, lower blood pressure, and a lower heart rate. In addition, people who practice mindfulness sleep better and feel less stressed.
Neuroscience has also conclusively proven that Mindfulness training increases the density of grey cells in our pre-frontal cortex, the part of the brain that thinks rationally and solves problems. Because of this increase, cognitive function improves, resulting in better memory, increased concentration, reduced cognitive rigidity, and faster reaction times.
With all these benefits, research has found people who practice mindfulness techniques report an overall increased quality of life.
The benefits of mindfulness also have been demonstrated in an organizational context. For example, Jochen Reb, a researcher from Singapore Management University, evaluated the effectiveness of some of the Potential Project’s Mindful leadership programs at Carlsberg Group and if P&C Insurance, a large Scandinavian insurance company. He found significant improvements in focus, awareness, memory, job performance, and overall job satisfaction after only nine weeks of training for 10 minutes each day. Attendees also reported reduced stress and improved perceptions of work-life balance. Other researchers have found similar benefits from mindfulness training in corporate contexts, including increased creativity and innovation, improved employer-employee relations, reduced absenteeism, and improved ethical decision making.
But mindfulness does something far more powerful than all of the above—it constructively alters our perception of reality. Through repeated practice, mindfulness triggers a shift in cognitive control to frontal brain regions. This enables us to perceive our world, our emotions, and other people without fight-or-flight and knee-jerk reactions, and to have better emotional resilience.
This change in neurological wiring helps us perceive situations and make decisions more from the conscious mind, avoiding some of the traps of our unconscious biases. Operating more from the prefrontal cortex also enhances our executive function, the control centre for our thoughts, words, and actions. A well-developed executive function allows us to better lead ourselves and others toward shared goals. With stronger prefrontal activity, we deactivate our tendency to be distracted and we become more present, focused, and attentive.
There are two key qualities of mindfulness—focus and awareness:
Focus is the ability to concentrate on a task at hand for an extended period of time with ease.
Awareness is the ability to make wise choices about where to focus your attention. Optimal effectiveness is achieved when you’re simultaneously focused and aware.
Focus and awareness are complementary. Focus enables more stable awareness, and awareness enables focus to return to what we’re doing. They work in tandem. The more focused we become, the more we also will be aware—and the other way around. In mindfulness practice, you enhance focus and awareness together.
Not coincidentally, mindfulness also makes us happier. The more present and attentive we are, regardless of what we do, the happier we become.
* Marut Bhardwaj, Country Director India, Potential Project