Part 1 in a 4 part series on what the Human Capital Community of Practice can learn from neuroscience
Are you fascinated by new research coming out about the brain? Do you wonder about how the new research could affect you personally, or the work that you do? The ASTD Human Capital Community of Practice is hosting a four-part blog series, “What the Human Capital CoP Can Learn From Neuroscience,” to serve up the latest interesting nuggets of neuroscience and show you how they relate to our work. Series guest blogger, Dr. Erika Tierney Garms, kicks off the series with the first installation, “Better Leaders Through ‘Brain Hygiene.’” Be sure to catch it! We encourage discussion about the topic each week, so please feel free to join in.
Broadly, the state of being mindful is achieved by regulating one’s attention—focusing attention on one’s thoughts and emotions in a curious, open, and accepting way. Dr. Dan Siegel refers to mindfulness practice as “good brain hygiene” that is as important as brushing our teeth. The actual practice of becoming mindful may look much like meditation to some. It could be something that is done in a quiet classroom or gym with a group of people and a facilitator; it could also be done at a desk or in an office when a few minutes can be carved out of a busy day. Some may begin to incorporate it into their lives using a cue, for example, at red traffic lights, just before each meal, or at certain times during the day. This use of cues can help the behavior to become an embedded habit over time.
Why is mindfulness gaining attention now? As we evolve our understanding of what it takes to be a good leader, we are finding that effective leadership requires self-knowledge, self-awareness, and centeredness. Additionally, the best leaders have some method to manage the constant onslaught of inputs and stimuli in order to maintain their presence of mind and good health.
What are the mental and cognitive benefits? They are many, and they are remarkable. Greater frequency of practice may yield greater benefits, but in even a handful of minutes each day of practice, we can:
Improve mental focus and reduce mind wandering.Advertisement
Extend our attention span.
Discourage black and white thinking.
Assist in staying organized, managing time, and setting priorities.
Lift us from a constant, low level of panic and guilt.
Lower wear and tear on our bodies.
Improve mood and emotional stability.
Build self-monitoring capacity.
Offer neuroprotective effects and reduce cognitive decline associated with aging.
How does this work? Neuroscientists have been able to show, through the use of magnetic resonance images (MRIs), that mindfulness is associated with changes in gray brain matter concentration in areas of the brain activated during learning and memory processes, emotional regulation, and perspective taking. Expect much more to come from neuroscience to explain how these changes occur.
Interested in the benefits of mindfulness for your organization’s leaders? Or for yourself? Remember that the “end in mind” is a continuous state of mindfulness. To begin to achieve that end, though, one might try mindfulness training exercises to help develop awareness of one’s mental and emotional pulses. Try associating cues with mindfulness training (such as the hourly chimes of clocks, crossing the threshold of doors). The practice itself could be nothing more than taking three deep and slow breaths while noticing one’s present state and accepting it non-judgmentally. As you develop new habits and see the effects, please share what you are discovering with this community of practice. CoP members who are interested in learning more so they can introduce these concepts to leaders, are also encouraged to let us know what you are seeing in practice.
If you don’t have time or energy to peruse the 3.5 million sources of information about mindfulness that Google can offer, you might try these to begin with:
The Institute for Mindful Leadership (www.instituteformindfulleadership.org), Wisdom at Work (www.wisdomatwork.com), Mindful (www.mindful.org), and if you have 3 minutes to spare, view Dan Siegel explaining mindfulness at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FXxrJEnIboM .