Definition of mindfulness in the workplaceEverybody seems to be talking about mindfulness these days. There are documentaries about it on TV, articles in magazines and newspapers, and blogs on the internet. Mindfulness has gained so much popularity that it’s impossible to ignore all the information published about it.

In the face of so much information, you might be wondering what mindfulness is really about. In a nutshell, mindfulness is both a practice to train the mind, and a state of mind, characterised by increased awareness, curiosity and openness.

Mindfulness is a method of training the mind

  • It helps us to develop an ability to stay focused on task without our minds drifting away with thoughts about the past or the future. This is called ‘staying in the present moment’.
  • It teaches us how to pay attention to those details of life that would often go unnoticed and helps us realise that our (working) lives are often much richer and more interesting than we thought.
  • It gives us the ability to find calm in the midst of stressful or emotionally challenging situations.
  • It enables us to treat ourselves more fairly, especially if we have a tendency to judge ourselves or be overly self-critical.

Mindfulness for business quote

Mindfulness is a state of openness and curiosity with a non-judgemental attitude

  • It is the result of repeated application of mindfulness techniques.
  • It is based on the positive changes that occur in the brain when practising mindfulness.
  • It can be experience by anybody, regardless of their age or social background.
  • It helps us to respond to stressful stimuli with composure and creativity.

Put simply, mindfulness enables people to be more aware. While being unaware has often negative consequences as we behave in ways that aren’t beneficial for ourselves or those around us, by developing awareness and seeing our lives with more clarity, we become more emotionally intelligent, more skillful in communication and our internal balance is restored.

An example from daily life

Workplace stress

It’s Monday morning. Peter wakes up and realises that he overslept. His first thoughts are ‘I will be late for the presentation at 9AM. This is bad – I have no time to finish my preparation!’. His heart starts pounding and his throat tightens as he pictures himself standing in front of his colleagues and his manager, stumbling over his words and blushing. ‘Why can’t I get a grip on things?’ he angrily says to himself, as he leaps out of bed.

Millions of people start their weeks in a similar way, with adrenaline rushing through their bodies. Although a certain amount of stress is unavoidable (and can even be a source of positive motivation), the constant exposure to external stressors such as deadlines, challenging telephone calls or appraisals, combined with internal stressors such as self-critical thoughts and doubts, can lead to psychological and physical exhaustion.

We are not, however, locked into this predicament. We actually have a choice to respond to familiar situations in a new way. Peter could, for example, bring his attention to his breath as it moves in and out of his body in order to steady his mind. As his thought start to settle, his will emotions gradually become less overwhelming and a new perspective will arise: ‘Well, it’s happened to me before and it wasn’t such a terrible disaster. Maybe I’m overreacting’.

Who uses mindfulness?

Over the last 20 years, mindfulness programmes have been brought to a variety of groups such as lawyers, judges, educators, corporate employees and executives, and professional athletes. Corporations including Transport for London, Lloyds Banking Group, Yahoo, Google, Comcast, Apple, Unilever, Raytheon, Proctor & Gamble, eBay, PricewaterhouseCoopers, Deutsche Bank, Apple Computers, Pacific Bell, NASA, Yahoo, AOL, and Astra Zeneca all offer courses in mindfulness meditation to their employees. Mindfulness training is also offered in other workplaces including hospitals, health centres, student health services, prisons, and private sector businesses all over the world.

An increasing number of innovative businesses see mindfulness as a key management competency for fostering more effective management and more effective teams. Progressive organisations apply mindfulness to focus on ‘resonant leadership’ – a term used to describe the way in which great leaders attune to their people to draw out and amplify their best qualities. The same can be said of teams. A resonant team is one whose members are attuned to each other, cooperative and mutually supportive.

Origins of mindfulness

Jon Kabat-ZinnMindfulness as a practice of working with the mind is several thousand years old. People all over the world have tried to still their minds in order to see thoughts as thoughts and gain freedom from their own limited beliefs. While many people connect mindfulness with Buddhism and Asian countries, some form of mindfulness mediation can be found in most religions and cultures.

Mindfulness made its way to the west through the pioneering work of Jon Kabat-Zinn, a professor of medicine at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center, who designed the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction programme in the mid 1970s. Since then mindfulness has been successfully applied in the healthcare settings, sport, education and in the workplace.