Mindfulness: No longer for hippies, now for CEOs

Mindfulness is not woo woo.

If you’d walked into a corporation 10 years ago to discuss the benefits of mindfulness and meditation for cultural effectiveness, leadership and the bottom line, it’s quite possible security would have discreetly ushered you out of the building.

How would you have reacted if you saw your boss or colleague sitting at their desk with their eyes closed apparently doing nothing? Let’s be honest, you’d probably be at least a little skeptical and thinking they're either out to lunch, or playing hooky and avoiding work.

During my 20 year corporate career, I certainly couldn't have imagined flying on a float plane to a hunting lodge in Northern Quebec to lead a mindfulness retreat for some of Canada's top Founders and CEOs. But this is the type of work we're constantly engaged in and hired to do now.

Fast forward to 2017 and you’ll discover a different reality. 

In today’s 24/7 always-on work environment, many business leaders are dealing with increased levels of employee burn out, work-related stress, poor resiliency, shrinking attention spans and retention issues. And it’s not just employees who struggle. Being in a senior leadership role doesn’t give us a free pass or make us immune to this reality. 

Mindfulness is a potential antidote. 

At it’s core, mindfulness is a discipline that teaches us to retrain our attention and boost concentration power. This helps us focus on tasks requiring sustained attention and in stressful tasks performed under time constraints. The obvious benefit is increased productivity but this is only scratching the surface.

Intel Engineers Meditating | by IntelFreePress | Image Copyright: Flickr.com

Intel Engineers Meditating | by IntelFreePress | Image Copyright: Flickr.com

It’s not a new concept, it’s been around for thousands of years. It came to popularity in the West with Jon Kabat-Zinn, PhD, Professor of Medicine at UMASS in 1979. One of the most common definitions of mindfulness happens to be from Jon Kabat-Zinn and is: “awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally”.

Well known organizations, such as General Mills, Aetna, Intel and Google have long recognized the benefits of mindfulness meditation. Many have their own in-house meditation programs, and conduct in-house research to demonstrate it’s effectiveness. Google trains 2000 engineers each year in mindfulness and meditation, one of their most popular programs, 'Search Inside Yourself' has a wait list stretching 6 months. Intel started their 'Awake@Intel' mindfulness program in 2012 and at least 2000 employees have gone through training.

Now, it's not to say there still isn’t some perception and belief that mindfulness is a kind of mystical woo woo - but because of the incredible growth of published research literature in the last 30 years, that perception is changing. 

So what does practicing mindfulness mean? 

Mindfulness can be done anytime, anyplace.

First, you need to know that mindfulness can be done anytime and anyplace. It’s not about how much time we spend on a cushion, that’s just a part of it.  The beauty of mindfulness is we can do it in multiple ways like sitting, standing, lying down, walking or eating to name a few. It’s highly adaptable to workplace environments and can be implemented in short bursts throughout your day.

It's not about to-dos.

Next, it’s helpful to notice any resistance in your mind about it. For instance you might have recurring thoughts that practising mindfulness means adding yet another thing to your to-do list. A very normal reaction, but in fact, it’s not about to-dos. We can do a mindful practice as we’re walking to a meeting, or as we sit down to do some work at our desk. We can take a conscious breath during an intense discussion. 

it's an invitation to let go of goals and achieve more.

Then there’s the many paradoxes when it comes to mindfulness. For starters, when we take a few minutes or more to meditate or be present, we may experience a sense of spaciousness in our day, which can help us get more done on our to-do list. Another paradox? Mindfulness is an invitation to let go of any goals and lean into our moment-to-moment experiences. Over time our busy minds begin to settle, enabling us to be more present and see more clearly. So ultimately we’re more likely to achieve our goals. 

You want to begin with 1-2 minutes a day.

The #1 thing to know when it comes to practicing mindfulness is to just start - and begin by working with 1-2 minutes of practice a day. 

Want to give meditation a try?

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You will learn:

  • How to meditate in a busy work environment.

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Kate Kerr is Chief Attention Officer & Founder of Wake Up Kate Inc., a consultancy dedicated to delivering mindfulness-based skills to the corporate, education and healthcare sectors. If you want to leverage mindfulness on your leadership journey or within your organization, get in touch, sign up for our free monthly newsletter: www.wakeupkate.com/blog or follow Kate @wakeupkate_inc