The Mindfulness Initiative: Mindfulness in the Workplace

The Mindfulness Initiative is a policy group that developed following mindfulness training for British MPs, peers and staff and now works with politicians from around the world.  It helped UK politicians to establish a Mindfulness All-Party Parliamentary Group (MAPPG).

It is interesting to note that the primary patrons of the policy group are Emeritus Professor Jon Kabat-Zinn and Ruby Wax, comedian, who has completed a Masters in mindfulness-based, cognitive therapy at the Oxford University Mindfulness Centre.

The Mindful Initiative also assisted the MAPPG to undertake a parliamentary inquiry into mental health in a number of arenas, resulting in the production, after 8 parliamentary sittings, of the Mindful Nation UK report.

Shortly afterwards in 2016, The Mindfulness Initiative published a new document, developed by the Private Sector Working Party, which was called, Building the Case for Mindfulness in the Workplace.   This document is the primary focus of my post.

The latter document focused on mindfulness in the workplace and provides an explanation of mindfulness, identifies the potential benefits for business and discusses workplace implementation issues and strategies.  The ideas advanced in Building the Case are strongly supported by reported research and shared experience captured in documented, organisational case studies.

It provides an excellent starting point for any organisation envisaging the development and implementation of a mindfulness program for their executives, managers and staff.  Besides individual mindfulness training, it also touches on organisational mindfulness as a cultural approach.

One significant point that Building the Case makes is that mindfulness is not the province of a particular religion, such as Buddhism.  The report contends, based on the work of Dane (2011) and Kabat-Zinn (2005), that:

mindfulness is best considered an inherent human capacity akin to language acquisition; a capacity that enables people to focus on what they experience in the moment, inside themselves as well as in their environment, with an attitude of openness, curiosity and care.

The problem of course is that with life in our fast-paced world, obsession with social media and concerted efforts by interested parties to disrupt our attention, we are fast losing the power to concentrate and focus – we increasingly experience “disrupted attention” and recent research confirms that our attention span is declining rapidly.  Additional research demonstrates that we spend almost 50% of our time thinking about the future or the past and not being present to our internal or external environment.

We also carry with us memories, emotions, prejudices and biases that distort our perception of reality.  This, in turn, results in workplace stress, mental illness and declining productivity.

The Building the Case report highlights the potential business benefits that accrue from the pursuit of mindfulness, focusing on:

  • enhanced well-being and resilience
  • improved relationships and collaboration
  • enhanced performance
  • improved leadership
  • better decision-making
  • growth in creativity and innovation.

To ensure that people approach the implementation of workplace mindfulness programs in a level-headed way, the report challenges a number of myths about mindfulness and addresses the issues involved.

Of particular note, is the emphasis on regular practice of meditation and organisational support mechanisms beyond the initial training to sustain mindfulness within the organisation.

It is clear from the research and case studies cited, that as people in the workplace grow in mindfulness and sustain their meditation practice, they experience real personal benefits that, in turn, flow onto the organisation, work teams and colleagues.

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Image source: courtesy of Free-Photos on Pixabay

Happiness through Mindfulness

It seems very apt to be writing about happiness on New Year’s Day in Venice after enjoying the fireworks over the Canal Grande at midnight, surrounded by hundreds of happy people welcoming in the new year.

The happiness I am talking about here, though, is not a state precipitated by an event, occasion or the sight of fireworks.

I am talking about a state of mind that is felt at a person’s core.  It is so deep that it is not unsettled by troubled waters that are stirred up by disappointments, loss or unrealised expectations.

It is resilient in the face of life’s challenges and rises above them.  It does not cease to exist when circumstances change – it is persistent and constant.

In contrast, happiness that is only occasioned by an event can be lost when the event is over and people are no longer surrounded by the company of conviviality.  This shallower kind of happiness is vulnerable to envy, depression and boredom from the banality of a routine life.

In the sobering moments of New Year’s Day, some people may realise that their life lacks real meaning or purpose. They will go through the routine of formulating resolutions to be broken, instead of developing new habits that will provide a deep sense of happiness and joy – habits such as daily mindful practice.

Goldie Hawn spoke of her abiding happiness and joy experienced through mindfulness and her desire to share this with educators and children. Her life is full of meaning and purpose.

To grow in mindfulness and achieve the attendant calm, clarity and abiding happiness requires practice and persistence – it does not come with an occasional mindful moment.

Regular mindful practice in a way that suits you and your lifestyle will increase your mindful moments and extend to other mindful practices, e.g .you might start with mindful breathing which could lead to mindful eating and/or walking.  One mindful practice can grow out of another – and the growth can be exponential if you persist.

One mindful practice that contributes a deep sense of happiness is developing a gratitude journal or regularly expressing gratitude for who you are, what you have in life, the talents you have or the opportunities that you are given.  It extends to being grateful for your friends, family and positive colleagues and associates.

You can explicitly provide positive feedback to anyone who has provided a service to you or shown you kindness.  Developing an attitude of gratitude contributes to a state of happiness that is impervious to envy – the source of a lot of unhappiness in the world.

A deep sense of happiness is within reach as you grow in mindfulness through regular mindful practice, whatever form this takes.

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Image source: courtesy of jill111 on Pixabay

Mindful Leadership: Motivation

There are a number of ways to build our motivation and mindfulness as a leader and I will discuss four ways here.

1. Alignment with our values

When what we are doing is aligned with our values, we have more energy, focus and insight.  In an earlier post, I asked the question, “What are you doing this for?”  In that post, I explored the exercise involving the process of asking yourself three times “why?” i.e.  why are you doing the work/ activity that you are doing ?   This is one way to check your motivation and how aligned it is with your values.

2. Alignment with our core skills

Previously, I explored three elements that contribute to happiness- an intrinsic source of motivation.  One of the core elements was how well aligned your work or other activity was with your core skills.  Alignment with your core skills keeps boredom at bay, builds learning through challenge and maintains motivation.

3. Envisioning our future

The capacity to envision the future provides the opportunity to work towards some desired state or future condition – this clarity around an end goal helps to maintain motivation and guide action.  The Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute provides leaders with a way to discover an ideal future through a scenario and a series of questions:

If everything in my life starting today, meets my most optimistic expectations, what will my life be like in 5 years?

  • Who are you and what are you doing?
  • How do you feel?
  • What do people say about you?

Consciousness about what you are working towards is foundational to mindful leadership, because a core role of a leader is setting a future direction..  If you don’t know where you are heading, it is difficult for others to follow you.

4. Building resilience

Resilience is your capacity to bounce back from setbacks and disappointments in pursuit of a goal or end vision.  There are always things that create temporary barriers to goal achievement such as illness, loss of sponsorship or exhaustion.  Resilience enables us to overcome these impediments and persist in the pursuit of an end state. In an earlier post, I discussed how mindfulness develops resilience.  The mindful leader needs to be resilient if they are to persist in the face of difficulties and enable their followers to contribute to their vision.

As we grow in mindfulness, we develop the capacity to create a greater alignment with our values and core skills, gain clarity about our vision and build resilience in the face of obstacles.  Each of these elements contribute to our development and motivation as a mindful leader.

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Image source: courtesy of dweedon1 on Pixabay

 

Creating a Workplace Culture of Well-Being Through Mindfulness

In a recent McKinsey Quarterly article, the authors challenged what they call “neuromyths” – basically, misunderstandings arising from misguided interpretations of neuroscience findings.  They argued that many leadership development programs are based on these “neuromyths” and result in considerable waste of financial resources and employee time.

One of the myths that the authors challenge is the concept that the brain’s development is fixed at an early age and that little change in the brain’s structure can occur over a person’s lifetime.  However, recent neuroscience has shown that rather than being fixed in structure, the brain exhibits “plasticity” throughout our lives.  The research of this phenomenon has been described as follows:

Brain plasticity science is the study of a physical process. Gray matter can actually shrink or thicken; neural connections can be forged and refined or weakened and severed. Changes in the physical brain manifest as changes in our abilities.

Research into the power of Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction demonstrates, for example, that there is a real physical change in brain gray matter resulting in increased capacity in areas such as learning and memory processes and emotional self-regulation.

Health insurer, Aetna, has taken this research seriously and built their employee development programs around the ability of mindfulness practices to enhance mental capacity and reduce stress.  By 2015, more than twenty five percent of their 50,000 employees had participated in at least one form of mindfulness training.   Aetna’s aim was to reduce stress in the workplace and the associated loss of productivity and employee well-being, while simultaneously generating high performance.

As a result of realised benefits in the workplace, Aetna has increased their commitment to mindfulness training for employees.  In 2017, they created a Mindfulness Center with the explicit aim of “developing a workplace culture of well-being“.  The Center provides mindfulness activities a number of times each week and is designed to host future presentations and courses conducted by experts in the area of mindfulness.

Aetna has made this very substantial investment in mindfulness training because they have seen that their managers and staff, as they grow in mindfulness, reduce their stress, increase their resilience and develop high performance.

Aetna is certainly not alone in investing in mindfulness training for managers and employees – and in realising the associated benefits.  Google, for example, has trained more than 4,500 of their employees in mindfulness and emotional intelligence over the last 10 years.  The derivative program developed by the Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute (SIYLI) is providing mindfulness training to leaders in thousands of organisations in the public and private sector on an ongoing global basis.

A recent Mindful Leaders Forum in Sydney was an extension of a forum that is contributing to the global development of mindfulness in the corporate world:

In three years, 1500 executives from more than 350 companies have come together to explore a new style of leadership.  It’s all about helping individuals, teams and organisations to thrive in the digital age.  It’s part of a global movement that’s sweeping across the corporate world where innovative companies such as Google, LinkedIn and the Harvard Business School are using evidence-based tools to unleash creativity, productivity and purpose-driven performance.

The Sydney-based forum included presentations by Marque Lawyers, Westpac Bank, e-Bay, Australian Army and Medibank.

Organisations world-wide are investing in the development of mindful leaders who can build a workplace well-being culture that generates the dual goals of employee wellness and high performance.

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Image source: Courtesy of WolfBlur on Pixabay

 

Looking For Inspiration

Inspiration is everywhere if we just look out for it.  However, as mentioned in the previous post, we tend to become focused on negative news, rather than positive stories.  Inspiration leads to health and well-being, while negative-oriented news creates distraction and emotional disturbance – especially where events are sensationalised to create the maximum emotional impact.

One of the very helpful sources of inspirational stories is TED Talks – an endless source of video presentations on every conceivable topic by numerous people from different corners of the world who have achieved much to improve the human condition.

One such talk was given by Dr. Lucy Kalanithi – What Makes Life Worth Living in the Face of Death?  In this outstanding presentation, Lucy discusses how she and her husband Paul, a neuroscientist, coped with the knowledge that at the age of 37 he was dying from Stage IV lung cancer.

In her optimistic -and sometimes humourous – talk, Lucy makes some key points:

  • the critical importance to keep talking to each other, with no topic off limits
  • realising that the person who is dying must work to reshape their identity
  • making conscious choices together about ongoing health care
  • learning to accept the pain of your dying partner
  • finding beauty and purpose amidst the sadness
  • learning that resilience, in this situation, means bouncing back to real living without denying the reality of impending death.

The video of the presentation by Dr. Lucy Kalanithi is given below:

Besides building bonfires on the beach and watching the sunset with her friends, Lucy found that “exercise and mindfulness meditation helped a lot” after Paul’s death.

Both Paul and Lucy were noted for their compassion towards others. As they were able to grow in mindfulness through this compassion and their intense living-in-the moment, they were better able to cope with the reality of Paul’s terminal illness.

 

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Image source: Courtesy of martythelewis on Pixabay

The Winds of Change

One day I was observing some trees in the adjacent yard move in response to wind gusts that swirled around the yard.

It was like a choreographed performance.  Some branches danced rhythmically, others moved chaotically and one tree had branches that swayed together slowly in time as if synchronised.

As I became aware of these movements in response to the winds of change, I was inspired to write the following poem:

Wind-blown trees

Dancing rhythmically

Chaotic movement

Swaying in unison

Different trees, different responses.

 

I was reminded of the different responses we have to change and the significant events that affect our lives, e.g.  job changes or job losses.

Sometimes, we move with the change in our lives and take it in our stride while at other times the change creates chaos for us.  If we have strong emotional support, we may be able to move with the change rather than resist its pressures.

When we have built up resilience through mindful practice, we are better able to withstand the impact of major changes in our lives.  We are able to more readily bounce back from changes that unsettle us and upset our equilibrium.

The movement of trees in the face of wind symbolises how we can respond to change in our lives.  We can welcome the change, be overcome by the chaos it can create or respond flexibly to its pressures.  As we grow in mindfulness and experience the winds of change in our lives, we are better able to develop an appropriate response.

When we are buffeted by the winds of change, mindfulness helps us to respond constructuvely rather than destructively.  It enables us to stay centred.

Build Resilience Through Mindfulness

Linda Graham, in her book, Bouncing Back: Rewiring Your Brain for Maximum Resilience and Well-Being, defines resilience as:

the capacity to respond to pressures and tragedies quickly, adaptively and effectively.

Shawn Anchor and Michelle Gielan in a HBR article suggest that resilience is about “how you recharge, not how you endure”. They argue that the misconception about resilience and endurance has led to the exponential rise in the “workaholic” with devastating effects on health, productivity and family relationships.

I have worked in many organisations where management has stated that staff needs to become “more resilient” when the staff were not coping with excessive workloads and unrealistic time pressures.  This perspective incorrectly equates resilience with endurance and potentially leads to burnout.

As Linda Graham notes, resilience is more about our capacity to “bounce back” from setbacks and this requires us to recharge our batteries on an ongoing basis. It also requires re-wiring our brains so that we overcome negative self perceptions and fear-inducing perceptions of daily occurences.

Neuroscience research has demonstrated that when we grow mindfulness and develop the capacity to be fully in the present moment, we can alter our brains and reshape our perecptions.  In the process, we can build our resilience.

Image Source: courtesy of makamukio on Pixabay