There’s a popular image of Mindfulness, that it’s about retreating inside yourself, quietening down and generally being rather feeble.
But I disagree.
So do the US Marines – their Mindfulness-based Mental Fitness Training programmes achieve excellent results.
Many organisations disagree too. Google, eBay, EY, HSBC, the UK Parliament, the UK National Health Service, Unilever, KPMG, Microsoft, Bupa, Intel, Procter & Gamble etc etc don’t train their leaders and staff in Mindfulness in order to make them weak. Quite the reverse: they realise that Mindfulness helps their employees to develop the strength needed to face the biggest challenges of the 21st Century workplace.
So how does Mindfulness make you stronger?
There’s an impressive body of evidence:
Physically, Mindfulness boosts your immune system, lowers your blood pressure, and improves your sleep. So you’re less likely to take time off work, and you’re fitter and healthier when you’re there.
Emotionally, it makes you less likely to suffer from stress, anxiety or depression. It makes you more resilient, better able to handle the inevitable difficulties that arise. It also helps with the good things in life – you notice more of them, you’re more present for them, and they give you more enjoyment and satisfaction. (And that’s not an indulgent luxury – the evidence is that greater happiness makes people more successful.)
Socially, Mindfulness helps improve communication and develop stronger relationships. In the heat of the moment, it helps you know whether it’s better to keep your mouth shut or speak out about what really matters.
Cognitively, Mindfulness improves concentration, helping you focus more clearly, and sustain focus for longer. It makes it easier to let go of all the other things on your mind and become effectively and enjoyably absorbed in what you’re doing.
Under pressure, your performance improves. Your memory functions better, you can “think outside the box” and solve complex problems more easily, and your decision making becomes more accurate.
Facing change, you’re more confident, flexible and effective. You’re less disrupted by the uncertainty of impending change, and adapt more quickly to the change once it happens.
As a leader or manager, you have a better effect on those you lead: they become more satisfied, perform better, and are more aligned with the aims and culture of your organisation.
How does this work?
The key to all these benefits is that mindfulness isn’t “zoning out” into some kind of strange, relaxing trance. It’s about “zoning in” to what’s actually going on, right here, right now. It’s about greater presence of mind and clarity of purpose. Mindfulness builds your capacity to respond more effectively to whatever’s thrown your way, however challenging it is.
But isn’t mindfulness about stopping, closing your eyes and focusing on your breathing?
Good question – that’s how mindfulness is often taught. But that’s just the training ground – think of it as being like going to the gym. Each time you notice that your mind has wandered, and you gently bring it back to sensations of breathing, you’re building your ‘muscles’ of focus and resilience. And the point of building those muscles is to put them into practice.
So if it’s making you weaker, it’s not Mindfulness. Mindfulness really does make you stronger.