Mindfulness is an increasingly popular notion in the workplace, with companies such as Apple, Yahoo, Starbucks, and Google using it to their benefit. Google, for example, offers employees a 19-hour course on the subject, which is so popular that thousands of Googlers take it each year.
So what exactly is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is a simple yet effective form of meditation that enables you to gain control of unruly thoughts and behaviors. People who practice mindfulness are more focused, even when they are not meditating. Mindfulness is an excellent technique to reduce stress because it stops you from feeling out of control, stops you from jumping from one thought to the next, and stops you from ruminating on negative thoughts. Overall, it's a great way to make it through your busy day in a calm and productive manner.
Ellen Langer, a Harvard University psychologist who studies mindfulness, described it this way: "Mindfulness is the process of actively noticing new things. When you do that, it puts you in the present. It makes you more sensitive to context and perspective. It's the essence of engagement. And it's energy-begetting, not energy consuming. The mistake most people make is to assume it's stressful and exhausting--all this thinking. But what's stressful is all the mindless negative evaluations we make and the worry that we'll find problems and not be able to solve them."
And why is mindfulness becoming so popular in the workplace?
While the benefits of mindfulness are many, perhaps the most important reason that companies such as Google are sold on it is its ability to directly improve performance. Langer has conducted a host of studies that show that practicing mindfulness improves your performance on all types of tasks.
Still, the mindfulness movement isn't all about performance; there are a number of other important reasons why companies are making mindfulness a priority. Five of these reasons follow, all great illustrations of why we should all be using mindfulness to our benefit.
1. Mindfulness is the ultimate stress-reliever. Stress is more than a performance killer; it's a people killer. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, roughly two-thirds of all hospital visits are for stress-related problems, and 75% of health-care expenses are stress related. Stress can cause high blood pressure, autoimmune diseases, cancer, heart disease, insomnia, depression, anxiety, and more. Mindfulness is a great stress reliever because it takes you out of fight-or-flight mode and brings you into a relaxed state of mental clarity and calm.
2. Mindfulness improves your ability to focus. Mindfulness improves your ability to focus on one thing at a time. This focus carries over into everything you do. Mindfulness teaches you to avoid distractions and bring a heightened level of concentration to your work. While you may have fallen prey to multi-tasking in the past, mindfulness will help you to kick this nasty, productivity-killing habit. A focused mind is a productive mind.
3. Mindfulness boosts your creativity. Creativity hinges on your mental state. Mindfulness helps you to get into a creative frame of mind by defeating the negative thoughts that stifle creative thinking and self-expression. The fact that mindfulness focuses on "the now" helps you to think freely and creatively.
4. Mindfulness improves your emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence (EQ) is the "something" in each of us that is a bit intangible. It affects how we manage behavior, navigate social complexities, and make personal decisions that achieve positive results. EQ is your ability to recognize and understand emotions in yourself and others and to use this awareness to manage your behavior and relationships.
Decades of research now point to EQ as the critical factor that sets star performers apart from the rest of the pack. It's a powerful way to focus your energy in one direction with tremendous results. TalentSmart tested EQ alongside 33 other important workplace skills and found that EQ is the strongest predictor of performance, explaining a full 58% of success in all types of jobs. Of all the people we've studied at work, we've found that 90% of top performers are also high in EQ.
The heightened awareness that exists in a mindful state allows you to more clearly feel, label, and understand your emotions. This turbocharges your emotional intelligence because it greatly increases your self-awareness, which is the foundation of a high EQ.
5. Mindfulness makes you a better person. A Harvard study found strong connections between mindfulness and prosocial behavior. Subjects who meditated showed compassion and kindness to others 50% more often than those who didn't. There's something about feeling present and calm that brings out the best in people.
Bringing It All Together
Mindfulness can improve your performance now as well as your capacity to perform in the future. Give it a try, and you'll be surprised where it takes you.
Have you ever tried mindfulness meditation? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below as I learn just as much from you as you do from me.