How Mindfulness Helps Leaders Outside Their Organizations
Mindfulness is a topic that has been written about at great length lately, not just by me, but by countless others who recognize the connection between awareness and excellent leadership. A lot of what you will read positions mindfulness a simple tactic to add into your daily routine to establish more balance and freedom from stress. While there is nothing wrong with this idea, per se, it tends to pigeonhole mindfulness into a category that is far too small to contain it.
Yes, mindfulness is a practice that can definitely improve your professional fortunes as a leader. But it is much bigger and more powerful than that. When you see mindfulness as little more than just a “brain hack” to give you a leadership edge, you’re not looking at it properly — and you are unlikely to experience any of its benefits.
To me, mindfulness is a way of life. It informs how I lead and do business, but that is just one aspect of how it has been integrated successfully into my life. It has helped me establish and maintain healthier, more positive relationships. It has made me more “in tune” with myself and my personal values. And it has served as a guide on my path to my best-possible future.
For leaders who want to get the most out of mindfulness, I think it’s important to look at how it impacts every aspect of life — not just what happens in the office between 9:00 am and 5:00 pm.
The Benefits of Mindfulness Outside the Office
We all know that mindfulness can benefit a leader’s ability to manage people and decisions within an organization. But I think it’s important to establish the ways in which mindfulness adds value to other aspects of life. Why? Leadership development doesn’t just happen between business hours and within the walls of the office; it happens constantly in all aspects of our lives.
A leader’s life cannot be compartmentalized easily into different sections. What happens at home has a tremendous impact on what happens in the office, and vice-versa. The things leaders learn within their organizations impact life outside of work, and the lessons leaders learn from their personal lives should absolutely inform how they go about their business. Therefore, understanding the comprehensive benefits of mindfulness as a whole-life practice is very important.
So, what are some of the more crucial benefits of mindfulness outside the context of work, leadership and organizational success?
According to research, mindfulness reduces the act of rumination, which is defined as a repetitive processing of thoughts or problems without completion. Rumination is a problem because more often than not, it centers on negative thought patterns and emotions. It leads to and exacerbates feelings of depression and anxiety, and it makes it difficult for people to live life according to their values.
In one study, 20 new meditators were asked to participate in an intensive, ten-day mindfulness retreat. After the ten days had passed, the meditators self-reported significantly higher levels of mindful attention, while reporting significantly decreased levels of depressive symptoms and rumination. Additionally, participants experienced improved memory capacity and enhanced ability to sustain their attention during various tasks.
This is important for leaders because it demonstrates how mindfulness can keep them focused on the here and now instead of allowing their minds to wander into negative, unproductive territory.
Stress is something that impacts leaders in a huge way, and it is certainly not exclusive to those in leadership roles.
Countless studies have shown that a mindfulness practice can reduce stress. Stress reduction is one of the primary benefits of mindfulness and one of the quickest to reveal itself to those who are new to the practice.
A great deal of evidence exists that shows mindfulness correlating with a positive effect, decreased anxiety and a reduction in negative thinking, which can be highly stressful. In one study, participants were assigned to a mindfulness-based group focused on stress reduction. A group of counterparts (the control group) was not included in the mindfulness-based stress reduction. The results were clear: those who participated in the stress-reduction group had significantly less stress, anxiety and depression than those in the control group. They also displayed notably different and much less distressed responses to stimuli chosen by the researchers (sad films, in this case). The results of this study suggest that mindfulness has a way of shifting the ability to regulate emotions more effectively.
This is important for leaders because stress is one of the major foes every leader must face. By reducing stress, anxiety and the possibility of depression, leaders are better able to manage their organizations and people effectively.
Memory and Focus Improvements
Working memory, which is defined as the aspect of short-term memory that concerns immediate conscious linguistic and perceptual processing, is enhanced by participation in a regular mindfulness practice. This is the type of memory that allows people to be sharp and focused in conversation. It also benefits the ability to focus on the relevant aspects of problem solving.
Mindfulness has also been shown to improve focus by limiting the impact distractions have on practitioners. Meditators consistently score higher than others on tests of attention, function and cognitive flexibility.
This is important for leaders because of their constant need to be “on” and to process problems quickly. It is not unlike taking your brain to the gym to work out. It might be challenging, but it makes nearly every other aspect of life and work easier.
Emotional Stability and Relationship Satisfaction
Anyone who says their emotions or personal relationships have no impact on their work is not telling the whole truth. You and I know that emotions are mysterious and sometimes uncontrollable. There is simply no way to keep them from having an influence on our lives, and emotions are often activated by the characteristics of the relationships we have with others.
Thankfully, mindfulness tends to lead to decreases in emotional reactivity, which is defined as the uncontrollable reaction to a stimulus. Under normal circumstances, emotional reactivity can sometimes cause people to respond to events with emotions too intense to be appropriate. It takes people out of their comfort zones, and it can cause certain personalities to feel persecuted or victimized when that is not the case.
Mindfulness helps people disengage from negative, inappropriate emotions, allowing them to focus on the present moment and the aspects of life they can actually control or influence.
Emotional reactivity can deteriorate interactions between people, so it is important to note that mindfulness has been shown to enhance personal relationship satisfaction. Responding well to stress and demonstrating the ability to communicate emotions openly is a byproduct of mindfulness, which leads to healthier interactions and less conflict in all relationships.
This is important for leaders because reactions and relationships are what leadership is all about. When you are able to react in a more focused, reasonable manner, you are able to lead people more effectively. And when you can make your relationships more pleasant, you communicate much more easily and successfully. This is game-changing stuff for leaders!
Mindful People Make Mindful Leaders
Obviously, mindfulness brings many benefits to the table, whether you are a leader or not. For leaders, practicing mindfulness should be a 24/7 endeavor, not just something that happens at work. By spending time enhancing one’s ability to be mindful, a leader can begin living a better all-around life, which will spill into the office and improve all aspects of existence.
Stay tuned to this space for more advice, news and information regarding mindful leadership!