The benefits of mindfulness are caused by four interrelated factors
In our last post I shared with you some of the common myths and misconceptions about mindfulness. I will now share some background on mindfulness and why this is an important leadership skills.
Mindfulness has its roots in Buddhism. However, Buddhism is no more a religion than yoga. You can improve your body and your mental state through yoga without becoming a Hindu. Likewise, you can improve your brain and mental state through mindful meditation without becoming a Buddhist. Think of mindful meditation as a secular methodology for improving your mental muscles and cognitive acuity.
In recent years, mindfulness has been the subject of extensive research, with many studies confirming that the practice provides significant physical and mental health benefits, particularly for those exposed to continued elevated levels of stress and workplace pressure (i.e. the state in which most leaders operate a great deal of the time).
Many of the exact mechanisms of how mindfulness positively improves physical and mental health remain unknown. However, several scientists and scientific studies hypothesize that the benefits of mindfulness for leades are caused by four interrelated factors: attention regulation, body awareness, purposefully altering self-perception, and emotion regulation. Each of these areas directly impacts leadership behavior and actions.
Here’s an overview of these four key factors:
Attention regulation is the ability to maintain almost complete awareness on an object or thought during meditation, such as one’s breathing pattern, a mantra, or a self-selected thought. Proficiency in this area comes from gently and repeatedly bringing one’s own attention back to the object of meditation when distracted. Training in such situational attention assists in developing positive emotions and increasing the ability to focus and concentrate during non-meditative moments.
Body awareness is simply increasing one’s ability to monitor the many sensations and signals of the body. This helps to foster increased emotional awareness and regulation. It also prompts increased empathetic responses to the feelings and emotions of others without feeling overwhelmed. Many meditative practitioners employ a concept known as “body scan” during meditation sessions to enhance body awareness capabilities.
Altering self-perception is the ability to see one’s self as impermanent and changing. This comes from the Buddhist belief that believing the self to be permanent and unchanging is the core cause of psychological stress. Being adaptable is a core component of dealing with change. It is also an essential mindset to have, since life is a series of perpetual change.
Emotion regulation is the ability to check, adjust, and control one’s emotional responses through an assortment of techniques and strategies. Emotions and their related bodily responses are to be accepted, which facilitates emotional wellbeing and the rising and passing of emotions. In other words, you are entitled to your own emotions and feelings, and trying to bottle these up, hide them, or deny them causes problems. It is best to accept one’s emotions, knowing that they are impermanent and will pass in time. At the same time, regulating how emotions are expressed prevents regrettable actions and words and leads to better thinking and outcomes.
While you definitely should not believe everything you read or hear about mindfulness (there are many over-jealous proponents out there spreading unsubstantiated claims), there is no doubt that mindfulness and meditation practices provide significant payoffs for leaders who inculcate mindfulness methods into their daily habits.
Mindfulness is not a panacea for everything a leader faces, but it does help improve many aspects of life and health. And it costs nothing, except for a little dedicated time and self-monitoring.
However, what makes mindfulness especially appealing is that a combination of a few quiet reflective moments, some deep breaths, and a greater awareness (and appreciation) of the present moment can (and will) create a sense of internal calmness that no pharmaceutically produced pill can match.
Now wouldn’t that be a better way to be a leader?
This article is partially excerpted from my recent book Better Decisions Better Thinking Better Outcomes: How to go from Mind Full to Mindful Leadership, available on Amazon in both paperback ($18.88) and Kindle ($7.88) formats.