61076975 - Mindfulness Optimism Relax Harmony Concept

The practice of mindfulness meditation is gaining popularity in the business world. It’s gained interest because it changes the wiring and makeup of our brains; allowing us to better manage stress and anxiety.

A few years a go I experienced severe periods of anxiety that I just couldn’t shake. There was a lot of change happening in my life and it created lots of stress—I had moved out of the city, built a new home that was loaded with delays and problems and experienced numerous problems and messy complications with our contractor, which made me angry and anxious. My usual happy, in control self disappeared. I was angry and depressed most of the time; unable to get back in control.

One day, a new friend told me about “Mindfulness.” She and her husband had discovered it when their son was very young, when their child was showing signs of a severe behavioural disorder and they were struggling to manage it. In desperation, they took a Mindfulness program to help them cope. It was so effective, that her husband, a physician, decided to get training to teach this program himself. After hearing about Mindfulness, I decided to join their 8-week, Integrated Stress Management Program. Because it is so beneficial, it is something that I highly recommend.

And I’m not the only one. In an article in Forbes magazine, by Jeena Cho, who teaches Mindfulness, she says, “There is a growing number of law schools, law firms and other professionals, especially in the tech world, that are also using this ancient practice to improve leadership skills and collaboration, and to decrease healthcare costs. Some of the companies that are offering mindfulness training include: Google, Salesforce, Aetna, Goldman Sachs Group, Blackrock and Bank of America.”

What is Mindfulness?

Mindfulness is a very simple form of meditation that was little known in the West until recently. It focuses on becoming aware of one’s incoming thoughts and feelings and accepting them, but not attaching or reacting to them. While, it sounds simple, it’s easier said than done. It’s something we learn to master by doing it regularly. This is because we must learn how to remove eight obstacles that come from our attitudes to be able to “be mindful.”

Mindfulness programs like the one I attended were originally developed at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center in the 1970’s by Professor Jon Kabat-Zinn. It uses a combination of mindfulness meditation, body awareness, and yoga to help people become more mindful. While it has its roots in spiritual teachings, the program itself is secular.

The Eight Qualities of Mindfulness

  1. Kindness—Fully accepting and caring for yourself.
  2. Non-Judgement—Cultivating a stance of being a witness to your own experience rather than being judgmental.  Common judgments that people experience when they do this work initially are, for example, “this is boring,” “this isn’t working,” “what are so and so talking about?”, etc.  When these thoughts/feelings come up, it’s important to recognize them as judgmental thoughts without holding on to them or pushing them away. Rather, just seeing them for what they are.
  3. Patience—Patience is a form of wisdom.  It demonstrates that we understand and accept the fact that sometimes things must unfold in their own time. We must learn to adopt this attitude of patience towards ourselves when doing this kind of work. The idea is to open and give ourselves room and permission to experience things in the “moment.”
  4. Beginner’s Mind—Beginner’s mind means adopting a posture and attitude of curiosity and experimentation.  Very often, we let our thinking and our beliefs about what we “know” prevent us from seeing things and experiencing things exactly as they are.  By adopting “beginner’s mind” we open ourselves to new possibilities and new ways of responding, behaving and relating to what life is presenting to us.
  5. Trust—Trust, with respect to meditation, involves developing a basic trust in yourself and in the wisdom of your body and mind.
  6. Non-Striving—Almost everything we do is for a purpose, especially in Western culture. But in meditation, this attitude can be an obstacle, because meditation is different from all other human activities. Although it takes a lot of work and energy of a certain kind, ultimately meditation is non-doing. It requires us to still our thinking and stop ourselves from striving for outcomes.  Instead, start focusing carefully on seeing and accepting things as they are with patience and non-judgmental attention.
  7. Acceptance—Acceptance means seeing things as they really are, and letting them be for the present moment.  It is important to note that acceptance is not the same as resignation.  Acceptance is about opening exactly to what life is presenting without adding an additional layer of our wants and needs on top of that.  When we accept what life is presenting in the present moment, we can usually act and respond with more wisdom and clarity, and with more self-acceptance.
  8. Letting Go—In cultivating mindfulness, we want to develop an attitude of letting go or non-attachment to the usual ways of thinking and relating to our bodies and minds, and to the world around us. This is because, so often, we tend to hold on to certain boxed-in feelings and situations that repeat themselves over-and-over again. In meditation practice, we intentionally put aside the tendency to elevate or focus on some aspects of our experience and reject others. Instead, we just let our experience be what it is and practice observing it from moment to moment—the pleasant as well as the unpleasant. To clarify, letting go is different from pushing things away. Letting go means not holding on as tightly anymore; easing the grasp even slightly, on whatever you’re clinging to. It’s a gradual process. It’s only by not fighting yourself on your experience, that you can let things unfold smoothly and effortlessly, making room for change to take place, guided by your inner wisdom.

Benefits of Mindfulness

The long term benefits of mindfulness have been proven over the past decade in numerous clinical studies:

  • Improves mood and levels of happiness and well-being[1]
  • Reduces day-to-day anxiety and prevents and treats depression[2]
  • Improves working memory and executive function by developing deeper cognitive processing skills.[3]
  • Reduces automatic bias towards race and age[4]

An article published in the Consciousness and Cognition Journal sums it up well. In it, researchers concluded, “Our findings suggest that four days of mindfulness meditation training can enhance the ability to sustain attention; benefits that have previously been reported with long-term meditators.”

Conclusion

Practicing mindfulness meditation helps you think differently, and in a more productive, and efficient way.  It cultivates the ability to be more present, as well as less judgmental, more patient, more open and curious and able to see things from a new perspective. You’ll learn to be more trusting of yourself and the wisdom of your body and mind. You’ll be able to achieve more with less striving, more accepting of yourself and everything around you, and more able to let go of things which are keeping you stuck—if you wish to.

Footnotes:

[1] Mindfulness and Mood Disorders in the Brain

[2] Randomized Controlled Trial of Mindfulness Meditation for Generalized Anxiety Disorder: Effects of Anxiety and Stress Reactivity

[3] The Effects of Mindfulness Meditation on Cognitive Processes and Effect in Patients with Past Depression

[4] Mindfulness Meditation Reduces Implicit Age and Race Bias: The Role of Reduced Automaticity of Responding

Sally Stanleigh

Sally Stanleigh is a senior partner in Business Improvement Architects and the Chief Operating Officer. Sally manages the operation and develops and implements communications, marketing and promotion programs. She is also responsible for spearheading and managing the company's corporate research projects. Sally has a background in marketing and communications and previously worked as a senior product manager with multi-national corporations such as Colgate-Palmolive and Phillip Morris before founding Business Improvement Architects with her husband and partner, Michael Stanleigh. On occasion, Sally is asked by clients for help with business planning. She facilitates the planning process as a consultant and helps clients with the development of their marketing plans and programs. She has also presented to professional groups on such topics as: customer feedback systems, employee motivation, development of incentive programs and trends. You may contact her at sstanleigh@bia.ca.