What is Mindfulness and How Can it Help Me in Leadership?

How many times do you think you check your phone during a typical day? According to Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers's annual Internet Trends report, Americans check their phone 150 times per day.  Our smart phones, tablets, computers, especially if we have them set to chirp with email, text and Facebook notifications, can be extremely distracting and pull us away from what matters most in our lives. Mindfulness can act as an intervention in bringing us back to the present moment, and release us from our habitual ways of being on auto-pilot throughout our daily lives. It can also improve and enrich our relational skills, conflict resolution, and leadership skills, both at work and in our personal lives.


With the aid of technology, our work lives are fast and furious and seem to come at us at a breakneck pace. A lot of times it feels like we’re on the proverbial treadmill that never slows down, and it’s hard to figure out how to step off, or at the very least, slow it down a couple notches. It’s very easy to see how we can become stuck on the auto pilot mode of living, in a chronic, low-grade state of anxiety.


If we stop to pay attention to where our minds are most of the time, we’re planning or projecting into the future or ruminating and replaying events from the past, not often are we fully in the present moment. Mind wandering has its benefits as human brains are uniquely and amazingly able to multi-task and be extremely efficient in our daily lives – think about how we can brush our teeth, eat, shower, read to our children, even drive our vehicle effortlessly, without having to focus on these seemingly mundane activities while our minds are on other situations and conversations. Mind wandering can also make us unhappy, and happens about 47% of the time. According to a Harvard study, we’re less happy when our mind is wandering, even if it’s on something pleasant.


So, what exactly is mindfulness?


Simply put, mindfulness is being clearly aware of what’s going on in your mind, at any given moment, without being carried away by it. It creates a space between the stress stimulus and how you can skillfully respond to difficult, stressful situations, versus habitually reacting to them based on past conditioning. You’re not doing anything to strive and change your experience.  You teach yourself to be ok with things as they are, not wishing things were different. You look at yourself and others without judgement and being so hard on yourself, not taking things so personally.  Refraining from listening (and believing) the constant internal narrative of that nagging, negative, judgmental, even cruel voice in your head.


The word mindfulness has become very much of a buzz word these days, especially in the business world. There has been an explosion of scientific research in the last 10 years that has proven profound health benefits for adults, including:

Companies like Google (Search Inside Yourself program), Twitter, Aetna, Proctor and Gamble, and General Mills have adopted these techniques.  Companies are adopting mindfulness programs into their employee wellness initiatives. They are acknowledging the fact that employees are human, dynamic, ever-changing individuals that require regular periods of rest and down time throughout their work day. They realize that multi-tasking is best for computers, not for people. It is not a skill to be honed because human beings that use their minds for work, both logically and creatively, are most productive when they are focused on one task or project at a time, without interruptions. 


Even elite athletes and coaches have discovered that mindfulness is at the heart of being in “the zone” and succeeding at the top of your game. Novac Djokovic, who won Wimbledon, Chicago Bulls coach, Phil Jackson, Kobe Bryant, the Seattle Seahawks….all utilize it. Mindfulness is also widespread in governmental entities, such as healthcare, prisons, schools, even our military uses it to produce more resilient troops. 


So what if we put our phone away at meetings and meals and were completely with the other attendees? Fully listening to what they have to say and being compassionate toward them, not just hearing them, simultaneously planning what witty nuance we’re going to say next? What if, before meetings, we had one minute of silence together to gather our thoughts, deliberately grounding ourselves in present moment awareness to punctuate the beginning of the meeting with openness and stability?


I believe mindfulness based programs are going to be the next major health related movement.  We have physical fitness down and why we should be more active, gain muscle strength and get enough cardio in. Now, more than ever, it’s time to focus on our mental muscle.


More about Allison


Allison Peet works in sales and marketing and lives in Des Moines with her husband and two children.  She is currently studying to teach mindfulness to children, kindergarten through high school, and also MBSR for adults (Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction) through the Center for Mindfulness at U Mass.  She plans to roll out mid-2016 with future plans to hold mindfulness workshops and retreats for businesses and individuals. For more information, visit her website: www.fromwithinwellness.com.