In a recent blog post, I offered suggestions on how to bring mindfulness to your organization. In this post, let’s focus on why. In other words, what do organizations and senior leaders gain from practicing mindfulness?
The idea of needing to practice mindfulness in order to gain benefits is becoming more accepted. But from my scientist background, I want to see the evidence and data that supports these claims.
Just a few years ago, the prevailing wisdom said that you really didn’t have to spend a lot of time or effort on mindfulness. Leaders could simply pause for a breath or two here and there, and benefits realized. But Judson Brewer, a psychiatrist at the University of Massachusetts who conducted a prevailing study on mindfulness and mediation, tells the LA Times, “I think it’s safe to say [mindfulness practice] is brain-training at work. Anything you train to do, you do better.”
And Richard Davidson, a neuroscientist at the University of Wisconsin, said at a Mindful Leadership Summit, “In 20-30 years, ‘mental exercise’ will be talked about in the same way as physical exercise is today.”
So what do you gain from practicing and developing mindfulness? Research shows that people who practice mindfulness show these differences compared to those who do not practice mindfulness:
Improved Cognitive Ability
In a simulated stressful, multi-tasking work environment, those trained in mindfulness were more focused, had a better memory for details of the task, and reported less fatigue and a better mood after task completion. Separate research showed that experienced mindfulness practitioners were better able to disengage from upsetting images and focus on a cognitive task. In a stressful work environment, this translates to an ability to remain calm and problem solve. In addition, a two-week mindfulness-training course improved participant GRE scores by 16 percent.
Practicing mindfulness allows us to develop self-observation, and this is at the heart of many models of leadership and organizational development. In The Fifth Discipline, Peter Senge talks about identifying our “mental models,” building on Harvard Business School professor Chris Argyris’s work that noted “you have to reflect on the way you think.” Self-awareness is also one of the central attributes of emotional intelligence, which in turn has been correlated with improved leadership effectiveness and business results.
More Tolerance for Discomfort
When we practice mindfulness, we stay with our present experience as-is. This can be challenging when our situation is unpleasant. However, the power of remaining open to our experience was demonstrated by a study in which experienced mindfulness practitioners were able to handle higher degrees of pain than non-practitioners. So when we are willing to stay open to the present situation, even if it is uncomfortable, we actually increase our ability to handle discomfort. No doubt, this is a highly relevant attribute in stressful work environments.
Better Mental and Physical Health
A meta-analysis at Johns Hopkins concluded that mindfulness decreases anxiety and depression, and mindfulness reduces cortisol levels, which is a hormone related to stress. Meanwhile, a summary from the University of Massachusetts shows that diabetics who practice mindfulness have significantly lower blood glucose levels, and mindfulness training in standard cardiac rehabilitation has been shown to reduce mortality, weight, and blood pressure. If we want to perform at a high level at work, it begins with tending to our mental and physical well-being.
Bottom line: The research shows that there are many valuable benefits that result from practicing mindfulness. Determine which resonate most with your organization, and cite the research to shore up support for a mindfulness program at your organization.
For more on this topic, join us for our new TalentNext event in November!