There is an increasing integration and application of mindfulness and empathy based courses within a whole range of organisations including but not limited to Google, Disney, Deutsch Bank and Twitter.
These programmes are expanding in number because they foster engagement, focus, empathy and create a more adaptive, purpose based culture – all related to increases in performance, enhanced collective intelligence, shared decision making and ultimately for fostering effective and dynamic organisations.
The timing is fortuitous as according to Gallup a new 142 country study shows that only “about one in eight workers … are psychologically committed to their jobs and likely to be making positive contributions to their organizations [i].” Can this situation endure with ever increasing customer demands, increasing innovation and product cycles, competitive market places and the emergence of more and more disruptive technologies?
A summary of mindfulness benefits include
- Increased focus and less susceptibility to distraction
- More effective decision making, problem solving and communication abilities
- More effective ability to cope with and facilitate change
- More ability to effectively multi-task
- Emotional stability, resilience, health and happiness
In summary it leads to a cool head and a warm heart.
- more effective multi-tasking
- more effective decision making
- increased focus
- Increased performance through regulated stress and reduced allostatic load
- Emotional Stability and resilience
- Increased happiness, optimism
- healthy body
- Collaborating with others
Mindfulness training has been shown to facilitate a more mindful approach to multi-tasking, providing increased focus and decreased stress during the multi-tasking demands of the modern workplace[ii] Multi-tasking is a fact of our modern, connected life. However multi-taskers experience a drop of 40% in productivity across the board, take 50% longer to accomplish a single task and make 50% more errors[iii]. Our attention splinters and degrades as we move quickly across tasks. Task switching (which is actually what multi-tasking is) also increases the stress response in the body and increases tension in the part of the brain related to executive function (responsible for decision making, prioritisation and communication).
Mindfulness training has been shown to improve moral reasoning and ethical decision making[iv] and to reduce our usual tendency to persist with lost causes because of previous investment [v]. Emotion, more so than intellectual ability, drives a leader’s thinking in decision-making and in interpersonal relationships [vi]. Meditation strengthens the part of the brain that specifically deals with its ability to regulate and transform destructive emotions. The driving force of many poor decisions is based on a lack of clear projection related to long term consequences and limited perspective taking in terms of consequential impact on others.
Meditation is also connected with high levels of gamma wave activation which is related to cognitive functions of learning, problem solving, consciousness, perception and increased clarity[vii][viii]. It has also been shown to decrease attentional blink (missing information), increase task performance, perceptual sensitivity, vigilance and the ability to allocate attention in a more balanced way[ix]. The average person checks their phone 150 times per day[x], is interrupted on average every 1 min 15 seconds[xi] and takes more than 25 minutes to subsequently continue on this task. In mindfulness the mind rests more and more easily on a chosen object which breaks the cycle of attention being dragged away by multiple distractions present within the modern workplace.
Meditators show less activation and gray matter density in the amygdala[xii](the fear and anxiety part of the brain) which also corresponds to reductions in self reported perceived stress. It is also correlated to increased grey matter in brain regions critical for learning, memory and emotion regulation[xiii] and altered levels of gene-regulating machinery and reduced levels of pro-inflammatory genes and cortisol which in turn is correlated with faster physical recovery from stressful situations[xiv]. Allostatic load is the ongoing wear and tear on our brains and bodies from continuous overwork and simmering demands that overextend our resources. This leads to accelerated brain cell loss particularly in areas related to memory and decision making, planning and communication[xv]. Conversely the fear and anxiety part of the brain [xvi] becomes more active and grows– so a simmering work environment wires the brain for stress and rapidly ages the body.
Mindfulness meditation provides an effective measure in cultivating resilience. It boosts activation of the the ‘wellbeing side’ of the brain, which causes fewer signals to reach the amygdala (the fear and anxiety part of the brain) and also reduces activity in the emotionally negative side of the brain triggered by anxiety over continuing change and uncertainty in the workplace. It has also been shown to increase measures related to ‘purpose in life’ and ‘perceived control’ and decrease in neurotiscism[xvii]. Resilience is how slowly or quickly we recover from adversity, stressful change, setbacks or emotional challenges. Healthy, resilient people exhibit a higher left to right ratio of an area above our eyes.
Mindfulness training is related to increases in activity in the left prefrontal cortex, the site of activity related to happiness, which swamps activity in the right pre-frontal cortex (associated with negative moods and rumination)[xviii], an area just above the right eye. Many studies show how subjective wellbeing or happiness is directly related to workplace performance. For instance, doctors put in a positive mood before making a diagnosis show almost three times more intelligence and creativity than doctors in a neutral state, and they make accurate diagnoses 19% faster[xix]. Optimistic salespeople outsell their pessimistic counterparts by 56%[xx]. Happy workers have higher levels of productivity, perform better in leadership positions, and receive higher performance ratings and higher pay. They also enjoy more job security and are less likely to take sick days, to quit, or to become burned out[xxi].
Mindfulness meditation has been correlated to increases in amount of antibodies in response to vaccine shots and general marked increased in immunity function, altered levels of gene-regulating machinery and reduced levels of pro-inflammatory genes, which in turn is correlated with faster physical recovery from a stressful situation[xxiii]. Meditation has also been shown to protect the brain’s cortex from the effects of ageing and can boost the production of telomerase, an enzyme that plays a crucial role in protecting cells from premature ageing and has been linked to longevity[xxiv]. It also increases the biological markers related to physical relaxation.
Meditation deactivates the medial prefrontal cortex, related to more self oriented thinking, thereby increasing a sense of connection with others through (a selfless state)[xxv]. The medial pre-frontal cortex is particularly activated when the mind wanders through distraction and people are thinking primarily about themselves. Through meditation the brain regions that deal with what is self becomes quieter and our focus shifts to include other people[xxvi].
[iii] brain rules, by john medina (2008)
[vi] (Goleman, Boyatzis and McKee, 1995; Goleman, 1995; Boyatzis and McKee, 2005; Goleman, 2006).
[vii] The mind’s own physician: A scientific dialogue with the Dalai Lama loc 1106 Kindle edition
[viii] Quoted in Begley, S., Train Your Mind, Change Your Brain (Ballantine Books, 2007) 242 [ix] The mind’s own physician: A scientific dialogue with the Dalai Lama loc 3923 Kindle edition [x] t-mobile (2012)
[xi] Dr Gloria Mark (research, 2013) *information professionals
[xii] B.K. Holzel, J. Carmody, M. Vangal, et al., “Stress reduction correlates with structural changes in the amygdala” Social cognitive and affective neuroscience 5, no. 1 (2010): 11-17[xiii] B.K. Holzel, J. Carmody, M. Vangal, et al., “Mindfulness Practise leads to increases in regional brain gray matter density”, Psychiatry Research 191, no.1 (2011): 36-43
[xiv] http://www.news.wisc.edu/22370[xv] Hippocampus and the Prefontal Cortex
[xvi] Amygdala[xvii] Fraser, Andy (2013-07-02). The Healing Power of Meditation: Leading Experts on Buddhism, Psychology, and Medicine Explore the Health Benefits of Contemplative Practice (Kindle Locations 264-273). Shambhala Publications. Kindle Edition.
[xviii] Begley, S., ‘How the Brain Rewires itself’, TIME Magazine (19 January 2007), article at http:// www.time.com/ time/ magazine/ article/ 0,9171,1580438,00. html
[xvix] Estrada, Isen & Young, 1997).[xviii] Begley, S., ‘How the Brain Rewires itself’, TIME Magazine (19 January 2007), article at http:// www.time.com/ time/ magazine/ article/ 0,9171,1580438,00. html
[xx] Seligman, 1991
[xxi] Lyubomirsky, et al., 2005
[xxiv] Fraser, Andy (2013-07-02). The Healing Power of Meditation: Leading Experts on Buddhism, Psychology, and Medicine Explore the Health Benefits of Contemplative Practice (Kindle Locations 264-273). Shambhala Publications. Kindle Edition.
[xxv] The mind’s own physician: A scientific dialogue with the Dalai Lama loc 1128 Kindle edition
[xxvi] Cooper, Maureen (2013-09-19). The Compassionate Mind Approach to Reducing Stress (Compassionate Mind Series) (Kindle Locations 4221-4222). Constable Robinson. Kindle Edition.