There is a growing, compelling body of evidence to suggest that one of the most valuable strategies individuals can pursue to improve their effectiveness in organizations is mindfulness. The most commonly known practice for mindfulness is meditation, but yoga, certain breathing exercises, and other exercises that create focus on the here and now also support mindfulness.
Although the research has been building for over a decade, recent brain imaging studies show that meditation practice actually physically changes the brain by deemphasizing the activity of our more primitive cerebral structures related to impulsivity and fight or flight responses and increases the activity of areas of the brain connected to higher order thinking and analysis. And, not only that, the MMRI images show that, “The ‘functional connectivity’ between these regions – i.e. how often they are activated together – also changes. The connection between the amygdala and the rest of the brain gets weaker, while the connections between areas associated with attention and concentration get stronger.”
Adrienne Taren, a researcher studying mindfulness at the University of Pittsburgh explains that, “The picture we have is that mindfulness practice increases one’s ability to recruit higher order, pre-frontal cortex regions in order to down-regulate lower-order brain activity,”
Meditation also positively affects blood pressure, heart and respiratory rates, and decreases stress, anxiety, and even physical pain. Blood tests of those who practice meditation daily show lower levels of stress by-products such as cortisol, C-reactive proteins, and other stress markers.
So, how does this manifest in the workplace? A recent article in the Harvard Business Review (one of over 18 articles on mediation and mindfulness in the HBR in just the last two years), suggests that daily mindfulness practice, “…can be the difference between making a rushed decision that leads to failure and reaching a thoughtful conclusion that leads to increased performance.” As contemporary operating environments become more complex and stressful, traditional coping methods and operational strategies for employees and leaders are not only becoming less effective, in many cases they are counter productive. One of the great benefits of mindfulness suggested by research is that it improves decision-making and analysis, while decreasing stress, facilitating better results regardless of whatever other organizational strategies are in play.
The effects of meditation and mindfulness are so positive in the workplace that most top corporations now directly support such practice for their managers and employees. Apple, Nike, Google, Yahoo, Proctor and Gamble, HBO, Deutsche Bank, Prentice Hall, and hundreds of other diverse, world-class companies have built mindfulness practice into their daily operations.
The good news is that meditation is accessible to anyone and that you don’t have to be a Buddhist monk to enjoy the benefits. Even if your organization does not support mindfulness training, you can train yourself with apps available for any smart phone.
It is striking that in the midst of a mind numbing number of strategies for improving the effectiveness and success of organizational leaders that 10 minutes of mindfulness practice a day may be the most important and simple strategy you can adopt!