Mindfulness has gained a lot of popularity over the past number of years and, for many, the term conjures up images of sitting in silence, dressed in robes on a mountain top with eyes closed and chanting a mantra. While this is one expression of Mindfulness, there is another version that many more people, especially busy leaders, can relate to that has very practical benefits in the frantic pace in which we live our daily lives.
In simple terms, Mindfulness is our ability to be fully aware of what we are experiencing in each moment of our lives. It is our ability to be fully tuned into what is happening for us in this very moment and not to be caught up with what happened yesterday or an hour ago or even in our interaction with our team or family members one minute ago. By focusing on the present moment, it also prevents us from worrying about and being consumed about fears of what might happen tomorrow or even later today.
So, what benefits do regular practitioners of Mindfulness experience?
- Less Stress and greater ability to be able to deal with whatever life throws at them. Regrets about the past and / or worries about the future can be significant sources of stress in our lives. By having the discipline of staying in this present moment, these sources of stress can be significantly reduced. Many advanced practitioners of Mindfulness also tell us that not only has personal stress being reduced but in its place, they experience increased personal happiness and joy.
- A second benefit of regular Mindfulness is the ability to calm the mind on demand. Our mind can be a wonderful servant for us in today’s fast changing world but it’s when our mind takes control of our life that we can experience increased anxiety and emotional pain. Mindfulness helps us to calm the mind and restore a sense of balance, perspective and an inner sense of calm and peace. The ability to calm the mind on demand also has profound implications for leadership. Imagine you’re in a meeting room with your team members in a middle of a crises. Everyone is frazzled, but you alone can calm your mind and think straight. This is a key aspect of high performance leadership – the ability to think effectively under pressure. Another example might be to imagine that you are coming off the phone from a very angry customer and you’re about to interview a candidate for a very senior position in a couple of minutes time. Mindfulness helps us to completely recover from the angry customer’s call and to enable us to give 100% of our calm attention to our next assignment – the important interview.
- A third advantage of regular Mindfulness practice is increased innovation and creativity. While our ability to think logically and to problem solve comes from the left logical side of our brains, increased innovation and creativity is associated with the right side of the brain. The challenge that we sometimes face is that the logical thinking side of the brain is so active that it distracts us from hearing the creative and innovative solutions that can only emerge from the Right-Side of our brains. Mindfulness calms the thinking mind to such an extent that we can more clearly tune into our creative and innovative solutions to our everyday challenges. Have you ever experienced the situation where you have been working on a particularly challenging problem at work and after many hours of struggling to see the way forward, you decide to go home and forget all about it until tomorrow? Later that evening, while out for a walk and not consciously thinking about your work-related problem, suddenly, in a moment of insight the solution ‘just pops’ into your head. This is the creative Right-Side of the brain at work. Mindfulness is a practice of consciously cultivating our human creativity.