Mindfulness – The unexpected organizational revolution | Peter Bostelmann
High-performance organizations, such as Apple, Procter and Gamble, Unilever, Raytheon, Microsoft, SAP, Nortel Networks, Comcast, Yahoo, Google, eBay are offering employees classes in mindful meditation and senior executives such as Bill Ford Jr., Michael Stephen, Robert Shapiro and Michael Rennie practice regular mindful mediation as part of their leadership-enhancement routines.
According to Claire Griffin, a mindfulness meditation teacher, practising Mindfulness meditation on a regular basis enhances a person’s ability to be fully present. That present awareness then creates greater choice on how we respond to the changes, pressures and challenges that we encounter in life. It boosts our resilience and emotional intelligence, makes us feel happier, less stressed and has even been shown to create new neural pathways and change the shape of certain parts of the brain.
Why are many companies now encouraging employees to practice it in the workplace?
Of course a well and happy workforce leads to better talent engagement and less absenteeism. But there are other reasons that cultivating a Mindful culture may offer a competitive advantage:
Mindfulness meditation is a form of attention training. In a Harvard experiment to monitor the link between mind wandering and happiness, the findings were that on average our Minds are actually wandering 47% of the time. So training our minds to wander less and be fully present more is a smart and productive move.
Mindfulness leads to better decision making. Having a different relationship with our own thought patterns and their emotional content leads to better decision making. With Mindfulness we start to develop the ability to step out of our habitual thinking patterns and increase our capacity for creative and innovative thinking.
In fact a series of experiments conducted by INSEAD & The Wharton Business School showed that Mindfulness may well increase our resistance to the “sunk-cost bias” (the tendency we have to persist with a project once we’ve made an investment of money, time or effort) that only adds to stress build-up.
Turn down the volume
A Mindful Choice
Researchers at the University of Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School, reported from their study of mindfulness that mindfulness practitioners were far more able to “turn down the volume” on distracting information and re-focus their efforts.
A study published in the Archives of General Psychiatry reported that mindfulness meditation is as effective as antidepressant medication in treating depression.
According to a study published in the journal, Psychoneuroendocrinology, the positive effects of mindfulness begin at the cellular level, altering levels of telomerase immune cells.
A study by Kirk Brown at the University of Rochester found that people high on a mindfulness spactrum, have greater ability to shape what they do and what they say.
Daniel Goleman, an expert on emotional intelligence in leadership and organizations, contests in his book, Primal Leadership, that the first tasks of management has nothing to do with leading others, but rather dealing with the challenge of knowing and managing oneself.
If leaders do not allocate time for self-reflection and mindfulness, this knowing of oneself presents a serious challenge.
Richard Boyatzis, professor of organizational behavior at the Weatherhead School of Management at Case Western Reserve University, and author of Resonant Leadership, contests that good leaders are in-tune with those around them through self awareness and relationship management, guided by mindfulness.
Awaken your management skills
Buddhist trained HR executive, Michael Carroll, author of the Mindful Leader: Awakening Your Natural Management Skills Through Mindfulness Meditation applies the key principles of mindfulness and how they could apply to leaders of organisations.
He argues that mindfulness in leaders and their organizations can:
- Heal toxic workplace cultures where anxiety and stress inhibit creativity and performance;
- Cultivate confidence;
- Pursue organizational goals without promptness;
- Lead with wisdom, not only with ambition, relentless drive and power;
- Develop innate leadership strengths.
8 key aspects of mindfulness meditation
- Focusing 100% of your attention on tasks in hand
- Assuming the role of an impartial observer, and not judging whether things are good or bad.
- Our brains are built to have you react automatically, without thinking. Displaying patience, by accepting that things are happening in the moment just as they are supposed to, and cultivating the understanding that things must develop in their own time, is a key aspect;
- Being aware of how things are right now in the present moment, not as they were in the past, or your expectations in the future.
- Sharing the willingness to observe the world as if it was your first time doing so. This creates an openness that is essential to being mindful.
- Having trust in yourself, your intuition, and your talent.
- Being open-hearted, as to transcend a quality of kindness, compassion, warmth and friendliness to experience.
- Avoiding attaching meaning to thoughts and feelings. Instead, let a thought or feeling come in and pass without connecting it to anything.
Research contests that mindfulness-enhanced traits include the capacity to suspend judgments, to act in awareness of our moment-to-moment experience, to attain emotional equilibrium.
Jon Kabat-Zinn, founder of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, describes mindfulness as “paying attention in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgmentally.”
Other definitions are: “bringing one’s complete attention to the present experience on a moment-to-moment basis,” and “it includes a quality of compassion, acceptance and loving-kindness.”
The three fundamental elements of mindfulness are:
- openness, and
All together, create a threefold that enable the mind to become conscious of its mechanics and liberate it from its preoccupations of indecisiveness.
Mindfulness meditation helps regulate a vital brain wave called the alpha rhythm which suppresses information overload and improves memory, besides easing pain.
It involves focusing your mind on the present, which is known to improve mood, decrease stress and boost immune function.
The alpha rhythm is particularly active in the cells that process touch, sight and sound in the brain’s outmost layer, the cortex, where it helps to turn down distracting sensations and regulate the flow of sensory information among brain regions.
“Mindfulness meditation has been reported to enhance numerous mental abilities, including rapid memory recall,” says study co-author Catherine Kerr, paediatrician at the Harvard Medical School, reports the journal Brain Research Bulletin.
“This result may explain reports that mindfulness meditation decreases pain perception,” says Kerr.
“Enhanced ability to turn the alpha rhythm up or down could give practitioners’ greater ability to regulate pain sensation.”
Brain cells use particular frequencies or waves to regulate the flow of information in much the same way that radio stations broadcast at specific frequencies.
The study tested a group of healthy volunteers with no previous experience in meditation. Half completed the eight-week Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction Programme developed at the University of Massachusetts. The other half were asked not to engage in any type of meditation during the study period.
Using magnetoencephalography (MEG), an imaging technique that detects the location of brain activity with extreme precision, researchers measured participants’ alpha rhythms before, during and after the eight-week period.
The study led to the conclusion that meditation helps decrease stress and ease pain.
How mindfulness meditation changes decision-making process
Human decision-making is often conceptualized as a competition between cognitive and emotional processes in the brain.
Deviations from rational processes are believed to derive from inclusion of emotional factors in decision-making.
According to research, Buddhist meditators are better equipped to regulate emotional processes compared with controls during economic decision-making in the Ultimatum Game.
According to research by Ulrich Kirk, professor with the Human Neuroimaging Laboratory at Virginia Tech; Jonathan Downar, assistant professor with the Neuropsychiatry Clinic and the Centre for Addition and Mental Health at the University of Toronto; and Montague, in their paper: Frontiers in Decision Neuroscience, shows that Buddhist meditators use different areas of the brain than other people when confronted with unfair choices, enabling them to make decisions rationally rather than emotionally.
The meditators had trained their brains to function differently and make better choices in certain situations.
The research highlights the clinically and socially important possibility that sustained training in mindfulness meditation may impact distinct domains of human decision making.
Using computational and neuroimaging techniques, Montague studies the neurobiology of human social cognition and decision-making. He and his students recruited 26 Buddhist meditators and 40 control subjects for comparison and looked at their brain processes using functional MRI (fMRI) while the subjects played the “ultimatum game,” in which the first player propose how to divide a sum of money and the second can accept or reject the proposal.
The researchers hypothesized that “successful regulation of negative emotional reactions would lead to increased acceptance rates of unfair offers” by the meditators. The behavioral results confirmed the hypothesis.
But the neuroimaging results showed that Buddhist meditators engaged different parts of the brain than expected. Kirk, Downar, and Montague explained that the anterior insula has previously been linked to the emotion of disgust, and plays a key role in marking social norm violations, rejection, betrayal, and mistrust.
In previous studies, anterior insula activity was higher for unfair offers, and the strength of its activity predicted the likelihood of an offer being rejected.
In the present study, this was true for controls.
However, in meditators, the anterior insula showed no significant activation for unfair offers, and there was no significant relationship between anterior insula activity and offer rejection.
Hence, meditators were able to uncouple the negative emotional response to an unfair offer, presumably by attending to internal bodily states (interoception) reflected by activity in the posterior insula.
The researchers conclude.
Our results suggest that the lower-level interoceptive representation of the posterior insula is recruited based on individual trait levels in mindfulness. When assessing unfair offers, meditators seem to activate an almost entirely different network of brain areas than do normal controls. Controls draw upon areas involved in theory of mind, prospection, episodic memory, and fictive error.
In contrast, meditators instead draw upon areas involved in interoception and attention to the present moment.
This study suggests that the trick may lie not in rational calculation, but in steering away from what-if scenarios, and concentrating on the interoceptive qualities that accompany any reward, no matter how small.
We show that meditators accept unfair offers on more than half of the trials, whereas controls only accept unfair offers on one-quarter of the trials.
By applying fMRI we show that controls recruit the anterior insula during unfair offers. Such responses are powerful predictors of rejecting offers in social interaction.
By contrast, meditators display attenuated activity in high-level emotional representations of the anterior insula and increased activity in the low-level interoceptive representations of the posterior insula.
In addition we show that a subset of control participants who play rationally (i.e., accepts >85% unfair offers) recruits the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex presumably reflecting increased cognitive demands, whereas rational meditators by contrast display elevated activity in the somatosensory cortex and posterior superior temporal cortex.
In summary, when assessing unfairness in the Ultimatum Game, meditators activate a different network of brain areas compared with controls enabling them to uncouple negative emotional reactions from their behavior. These findings highlight the clinically and socially important possibility that sustained training in mindfulness meditation may impact distinct domains of human decision-making.
Tap into your Mindful Power
To become mindful leaders and tap into that power, leaders must:
- Embrace the notion of becoming mindful partners. This requires building an awareness of the facts that what we plan for today may not work tomorrow. To succeed in an unknown future, leaders must acknowledge mistakes quickly when things are not turning out as they expected;
- Be flexible in making changes quickly in an egoless manner. Become more open and accepting of the world and others, and their differing points of view;
- Enhance their skills of leading through intuitive reflection;
- Lean on their internal mindfulness reserves. Internal mindfulness is being aware of one’s body, emotions and thoughts and presupposes an attitude to monitor one’s inner reality.