How Mindful Leaders Can Transform Chaotic Workplaces
The following is an excerpt from my book, Eye of the Storm: How Mindful Leaders Can Transform Chaotic Workplaces, available through Amazon and Barnes and Noble
Scientific Research on Mindfulness
More than 300 scientific studies have been completed on mindfulness, indicating its effectiveness and benefits. Here’s a sample of some of the most significant studies:
· Lasting emotional control. Mindfulness meditation may make us feel calmer while we’re doing it, but do these benefits spill over into everyday life? Gaelle Desbordes and colleagues published a study in the Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, in which they scanned the brains of people taking part in an 8-week meditation program, before and after the course. They found that meditation can help provide lasting emotional control, even when you are not meditating
· Cultivating compassion. In one study by Paul Condon and his colleagues, published in Psychological Science, participants who had been meditating were given an undercover test of their compassion. They sat in a staged waiting area with two actors when another actor entered on crutches, pretending to be in great pain. The two actors sat next to the participants both ignored the person who was in pain, sending the unconscious signal not to intervene. Those who had been meditating, though, were 50% more likely to help the person in pain
· Changes in brain structures. Mindfulness meditation is such a powerful technique that, after only 8 weeks, the brain’s structure changes. Research findings published in Psychiatry Research. Compared with a control group, grey matter density in the hippocampus — an area associated with learning and memory–was increased. The study’s lead author, Britta Hölzel, said: “It is fascinating to see the brain’s plasticity and that, by practicing meditation, we can play an active role in changing the brain and can increase our well-being and quality of life”
· Enhance cognitive functioning. How would you like your brain to work faster? Fadel Zeidan and colleagues found significant benefits for novice meditators from only 80 minutes of meditation over four days. Their study was published in Consciousness and Cognition. The authors concluded, “that four days of meditation training can enhance the ability to sustain attention; benefits that have previously been reported with long-term meditators.” Improvements seen in the measures ranged from 15% to more than 50%
· Sharpen concentration. At its heart, meditation is all about learning to concentrate, to have greater control over the spotlight of attention. An increasing body of studies now underlines the benefits of meditation for attention. For example, researchers Amishi Jha and colleagues conducted a study, published in Cognitive, Affective and Behavioral Sciences, in which they sent 17 people who had not practiced meditation before they went on an 8-week training course in mindfulness-based stress reduction, a type of meditation. These 17 participants were then compared with a further 17 from a control group on a series of attentional measures. The results showed that those who had received training were better at focusing their attention than the control group.
Other relevant research:
· Through the work of neuroscientist Richard Davidson and others, we’ve learned that people who practice mindful meditation regularly have higher levels of activity in the left prefrontal cortex of the brain, an area which is associated with personal growth and meaning. Davidson has shown that mindfulness meditation changes the brain including the development of greater cognitive flexibility and creativity, well-being, emotional regulation and empathy
· Researchers at the University of Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School and MIT reported from their studies that mindfulness practitioners were far more able to “turn down the volume” on distracting information and focus their attention better than non-mindfulness practitioners
· A study by Kirk Brown and Richard Ryan at the University of Rochester and published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that people high on a mindfulness scale were more aware of their unconscious processes and had more cognitive control and a greater ability to shape what they do and what they say, than people lower on the mindfulness scale. They also reported a mindfulness experience was positively associated with clarity of emotional states and mood, as well as higher levels of psychological well-being
What Are The Elements of Mindfulness?
Mindfulness, both in its formal meditative form and its informal activity-based form comprises several elements which interact together to produce powerful brain, heart and behavioral changes. Here’s a description of these elements:
- Being Present. This means focusing your attention on whatever you are doing in the present moment. This implies you are not thinking about events or emotions from the past or in the future
- Paying Attention: Focusing 100% of your attention on whatever you are doing. The biggest single problem that contributes to mindlessness and prevents mindfulness is being on autopilot, which entails both not being present, and not noticing what you are engaged in
- Openness. This involves both being open-minded in thought processes and openhearted in emotional activity. Practicing curiosity, “beginner’s mind,” and non-judgment are central to this element
- Non-reactivity. Our brains are built to have you react automatically, without thinking. Mindfulness encourages you to respond to your experience rather than react to your thoughts. Mindfulness is a deliberate and intentional choice
- Acceptance: This involves more than accepting other people the way they are, or accepting an event that has already happened. Its focus is on accepting and not practicing judgment or self-criticism about the thoughts, feelings, sensations, and beliefs that you have, and understanding that they are simply those things only
- Compassion. This element involves practicing compassion, empathy and kindness toward others and particularly toward yourself
- Non-attachment. This element emphasizes avoiding attaching meaning to thoughts and feelings or connecting a thought to a feeling. Instead, let a thought or feeling come in and pass without connecting it to anything, observing it exactly as they it is.
Are You Mindful? Take A Brief Self-Assessment
How many of the following things do you do?
Scoring: 5= I do this a lot; 4=I do this once and a while; 3=neutral; 2=I hardly even do this; 1=I never do this.
1. ___ You run on automatic without much awareness of what
you are doing.
2. ___ You rush through things without being attentive to them.
3. ___ You listen to someone with one ear, doing something else at the same time.
4. ___ You become preoccupied with the future or the past.
5. ___ You snack without being aware that you are eating.
6. ___ You get lost in your thoughts and feelings.
7. ___ Your mind wanders off and you are easily distracted.
8. ___ You drive on “automatic pilot” without paying attention to what you are doing.
9. ___ You daydream or think of other things when doing chores
such as cleaning or handy work
10. ___ You do several things at once rather than focusing on one thing at a time.
11. ___ You criticize yourself when you fall behind in your tasks or goals.
12. ___ You are more interested in the finished product than the process of getting there
13. ___ You don’t forgive yourself or practice self-compassion when you make a mistake.
14. ___ You believe you must do everything at 100%.
15. ___ You get impatient with other people or projects when they move “too slowly.”
16. ___ You are reactive to others’ criticism.
17. ___ You always physically move quickly or rush between appointments and meetings.
18. ___ You break or spill things frequently.
Score: 60–90=You are not very mindful; 40–59=You are occasionally mindful; 18–39=You are mindful most of the time.
You can read more in-depth of how the impact of mindful leaders calms and stabilizes organizations in my book.