You may be wondering what on earth mindfulness has to do with business. It may even sound a bit ‘woo woo’ to you, but the fact is, mindfulness in business is a buzz phrase at the moment and with good reason. Incorporating mindfulness into our daily lives has been seen to have huge benefits to our mental health, physical health and wellbeing in general. People are starting to see that this practice can also benefit us when applied to business and the working environment.
What is mindfulness?
In life, we do a lot of things on autopilot without thinking about the process. If you have ever driven somewhere and had no recollection of the journey, you will understand what I mean about being on autopilot. In fact, research shows that for 47% of our lives, we are working on autopilot, not being present in the moment. This causes us to miss things such as the beauty of what surrounds us, what our bodies are telling us and causes us to live to get stuff done, rather than truly living.
With this in mind, mindfulness is really about being present. It’s about living in the moment, not the future or the past and paying full attention to the things that matter to us. Mindfulness practice is a way of teaching us to live with purpose, to be consciously awake and involved in what we are doing.
It’s easy to get caught up in thinking about worries about the future or to use the past to project how we are thinking, but mindfulness allows us to think of the now, to let go of the pressures of wanting things differently and wanting more. It helps us focus on what we have, what we are doing and how we feel in the present moment.
What is mindfulness practice?
Mindfulness can be thought of in several different ways. On the one hand, it is a simple form of meditation that involves focusing your attention on your breath, as you inhale and exhale. This practice allows you to observe your thoughts as they enter your mind and let them go so that you no longer need to focus on them. It allows you to realise that thoughts are just thoughts, they do not always require your attention and as a result, you are able to watch them drift in and out of your mind.
Mindfulness in this respect is about observation without criticism. When you are particularly stressed, it’s a way of watching your thoughts come and go like clouds in the sky and realising that you have the choice whether to respond to them or not.
If the idea of meditation isn’t for you, you can look at mindfulness as a more practical approach. We can use mindfulness techniques and apply them to everyday tasks. For example, you can eat mindfully by using all your senses to really experience the food, by smelling it, chewing it well so you really focus on the taste and texture and being aware of the way your body works as the food is swallowed. Anything can be done mindfully, including the things that we usually do on autopilot.
The Benefits of Mindfulness
The benefits of mindfulness have been well documented, and it has been shown to bring about long-term changes in mood, levels of happiness and general well-being. It has been shown to reduce stress and anxiety and even depression and insomnia. In fact, studies have shown that mindfulness not only prevents depression, but it does this by positively affecting brain patterns relating to fear and emotion. Other studies show an increase in memory, a decrease in illness and an increase in empathy for others. The biggest and best outcome is that mindfulness makes you happy. Studies into the effect of mindfulness show that the more mindful a person is, the happier they are.
Mindfulness & Business
So how does this apply to business?
Well, any practice that makes you less stressed, have improved memory and happier, in general, would be beneficial to any area of life, right? In fact, mindfulness is no longer just for the spiritual, it is being taught it schools, hospitals and workplaces the world over, as people are recognising its huge benefits. People are understanding the need to put wellbeing first and realising that we cannot pour from an empty cup.
Other than the benefits we have explored above, there are some that can be specifically applied to business.
Mindfulness has been shown to increase focus and efficiency. When you own a business, focusing on one thing and sticking with the task is not always easy. It’s not unusual for people wearing multiple business hats to flit between tasks and lose focus. With the intrusions from so many sources such as email, phone calls, social media to name a few, it’s easy to get distracted. Mindfulness can really help with this. Through practicing mindful meditation, it’s possible to learn to keep attention on what is important and ignore unwanted distractions by stopping the mind wondering. Mindfulness meditation trains us to see thoughts and to let them go if they are not worthy of our attention. The same practice can be used with business practices.
When we think we have forgotten something, very often we are just failing to retrieve it from our memory. With everything to remember when running a business, things are often forgotten. Mindfulness has been seen to help with this. Our memories are stored in our subconscious and rather than being lost forever, we are just unable to tap into them. Mindfulness meditation taps into the subconscious and provides us with the skills to do this when we need to.
Taking time out and away from what you’re doing gives you a better perspective on things. It allows you to look at everything with a fresh pair of eyes. Mindfulness allows you to take a few minutes a day to stop and take some peace and calm to allow your mind to decompress. This can allow you the brain space to come up with new ideas and to reflect on what is and isn’t working.
Reduced Stress Levels
Mindfulness has been seen to reduce the effects of stress as we identified above. We all know that running a business can be extremely stressful and so any efforts we can make to reduce the effects of stress can only be a good thing. This is the same story if you employ staff. Stress is a big cause of sickness from work.
For a study in 2013 by Roeser and colleagues, a group of 113 public school teachers were either given or not given an 8-week mindfulness intervention. In a 3 month follow up, the mindfulness group showed significantly greater reductions in stress and burnout. These teachers also showed a more focused attention and working memory capacity than the control group.
Being in the moment and seeing what you have and really living it can produce an enormous sense of gratitude. This, in turn, can do wonders for a business because we spend so much time looking at what we need to achieve. Being present allows us to celebrate our achievements and feel thankful for what we have. Gratitude and fear cannot coexist, so by feeling grateful, we open ourselves up to bigger possibilities.
Does It Work?
Whilst the effects of mindfulness have been widely studied, more research into mindfulness in the workplace is required to really gain an understanding of how wide the benefits reach. However, given what we know about mindfulness in general, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to infer that it has many positive benefits that can be expanded to the world of business. There are many businesses who are tapping into this and teaching mindfulness in the workplace with great success.
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