Mindfulness has been the subject of research for the last decades. The business area is one of the fields that took advantage of the positive effects of mindfulness. Nowadays organizations face various challenges brought by technological changes, cultural differences and a constant need for efficacy and efficiency. Mindfulness can positively contribute to employee and organization well-being, promotes an approach to the present that is more authentic and provides the opportunity to “slow down” and evaluate our experiences as they truly are. Furthermore, this induces relaxation. Today, companies like Google, Apple, Harvard Business School and even the US Army have included mindfulness principles in their leadership and development programs.
What is mindfulness? Let us explore this concept in detail.
What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness, as it is practiced and taught nowadays in the Western culture, is closely related to traditional Buddist mind training methods. In Buddist practice, mindfulness is the act of seeing things as they truly are in the present moment.
If we were to define mindfulness, this concept could be defined by three main elements. Firstly, it is an approach to the present. Secondly, mindfulness involves paying close attention to both internal and external factors. These include internal stimuli, such as feelings, thoughts, bodily sensations, as well as external stimuli, including sights, sounds, events and smells.
Thirdly, mindfulness involves having an open attitude, without judgments to stimuli around us.
The most important benefits of mindfulness are stress reduction and mental health improvement. In addition, mindfulness methods have been associated with decreased anxiety and depression symptoms. Kuyken and colleagues (2008) showed that an 8-week mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) program, was more efficient in reducing depression compared to anti-depressant therapy. In nonclinical population, mindfulness methods have consistently been shown to improve mood and emotional health. In addition, mindfulness has a bigger effect on our attitude and behaviors. An interesting research study conducted by Farb and colleagues (2010) showed that individuals who participated in a mindfulness training program reacted differently to sadness provocation than the control group. Therefore, the mindfulness-trained group was not as negatively affected by negative-emotion-inducing stimuli as the control group. Other studies found that mindfulness programs improve social interactions, resilience and employee’s performance and memory.
Mindfulness activites at the workplace
Mindfulness is a complex approach so the following activities won’t be enough if you are looking for a deep understanding of mindfulness methods. They represent the first steps that could be easily included at the workplace.
1. The following exercise could be done in a 5-minute break.
• Begin by becoming silent and self-centered.
• Ask yourself direct questions about your thoughts, emotions or physical sensations:
• What thoughts are currently running through my mind?
• How are they affecting me?
• What emotions am I experiencing right now?
• What physical sensations am I recognizing in my body right now?
• Let them flow and experience the outcomes.
This short exercise may bring to attention some negative stimuli that may prove uncomfortable. The purpose of this exercise is to experience your real self in the moment in an inclusive and authentic way, accept reality with equanimity.
2. The next activity involves redirecting your full attention to breathing, noticing in particular the end point of each in-breath and the end point of each out-breath.
• Continue breathing up to 20 times.
• Expand your present awareness to include your whole body and your feeling
• Experience the feeling of reality and the renewed sense of calm that usually follows.
This exercise should provide an opportunity to step out of a repeating pattern or a difficult moment, such as before a meeting, a presentation or after a heated exchange with someone.
Breathing is a function we always carry with us, as such it can be the easiest and most accessible tool we can use to focus attention to the present moment.
3. We can practice mindfulness at any time of the day and night and even during meals.
• Prior to beginning eating, observe, smell and (if possible) touch your food
• Be curious about it, experience it as you have never done before, as if it is the first time you see it
• Begin eating slowly. Chew the food noticing its texture and consistency
• Every other bite will be somewhat different, experience these differences and fully enjoy your meal.
In a rapidly changing and moving world, mindfulness is the perfect approach that helps us give all our attention to the present moment. Its practical implications at the workplace contribute to improving employee’s well-being, stress reduction and mental health improvement. Employers could benefit from mindfullness advantages along with employees as improving work environment leads to increased productivity.
Farb, N. A., Anderson, A. K., Mayberg, H., Bean, J., McKeon, D., & Segal, Z. V. (2010). ” Minding one’s emotions: Mindfulness training alters the neural expression of sadness”: Correction to Farb et al (2010).
Hyland, P. K., Lee, R. A., & Mills, M. J. (2015). Mindfulness at work: A new approach to improving individual and organizational performance. Industrial and Organizational Psychology, 8(04), 576-602.
Kuyken, W., Byford, S., Taylor, R. S., Watkins, E., Holden, E., White, K., … & Teasdale, J. D. (2008). Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy to prevent relapse in recurrent depression. Journal of consulting and clinical psychology, 76(6), 966.
Passmore, J. (2009, May). Mindfulness at work and in coaching. In Danish Psychology Society Conference, Copenhagen, Denmark.