Mindfulness and Business
Let’s start with a seeming contradiction. There’s really just mindfulness, not mindfulness and business. Mindfulness is the ability to notice what’s going on in as many moments as possible. So naturally this applies as much in the world of business as in the world of home, leisure, or any other waking time of your day.
So when people talk about mindfulness in business what they’re referring to is what we can do as and when we are mindful. In other words it’s about changing our behaviour and thoughts as a result of continually being mindful.
An everyday workplace example can help to clarify this point. You are in a meeting. It starts well but begins to go on too long and you get tired, irritated, and bored all at the same time. If you are mindful at this time you will notice that you are tired, that you’re irritated, and that you’re bored. Normally we don’t notice how we feel; we just feel it. The moods are produced by your mind automatically, without your consent, and commonly without us really being aware that our mood has changed.
So our practice or skill of mindfulness has pointed something important out to us. Our frame of mind is not a healthy, useful or productive one when in a meeting.
What can we do about this? That’s where the results of our being mindful can now be created. Having noticed your inappropriate set of moods, you can do one of two things: let them fade away naturally by not feeding them any more tiredness, irritation, or boredom; or bringing your attention to something that clears the mind so you can focus again. Your own breathing is a classic tool for this purpose. The in-breath is fresh and clear, the out-breath quiet and peaceful. Both sensations are a nice antidote to tiredness, irritation and boredom.
Note the result. You are a better attendee to the meeting than you would have been had you remained in a negative state of mind. Now extrapolate that to every thought, feeling, reaction, decision you make every day at work. What a difference this would make to your attitude, communications, respect for others, and productivity.
Then extrapolate it to everyone in your organisation. What a difference it would make, solely by noticing what’s actually going on, clearly and consciously.
Another core aspect of business life is of course communication. The way we normally communicate is through automatic pilot. Our mind conjures up something to say and, excepting for things we know are not acceptable, we simply let them out into the world, whether that’s directly face to face with someone, or on the phone or via the internet. This is the human being in default communication mode.
Logically, to accept the first thing that comes into your head as your response to a situation, is highly unlikely to be the best possible response you can create. Even when we think we’re considering options as to how to communicate something, what’s actually happening involves two distinct blinkers. The first is that our mind can only usually create something from the previous material and experiences it has absorbed through past moments. Secondly, our mind, unless trained otherwise, will usually suggest thoughts which are most well-known to it; in other words habitual ways of seeing things.
I remember a story about Gandhi being asked once why his public speaking was slow and hesitant. His reply was, and I paraphrase, “I have to stop and check if what I’m about to say is correct and useful” or something like that.
Mindfulness helps us see our thoughts as they arise, and develops inside us the skill of hesitating to check whether what we are about to say is the best it can be. Hesitating allows other thoughts options and ideas to emerge for our consideration.
The evidence of the benefits of mindfulness come primarily from neuroscientists, psychologist and medical doctors. The institutes who have carried out the research include world leaders, like Harvard Business School and the University of Oxford. In a nutshell it shows that regularly practicing being mindful nurtures and hones four qualities: clarity of thought, concentration or focus, calmness, and kindness or compassion. Isn’t that a lovely set of the finest human qualities?
Now consider this as the prevailing culture of your organisation. Everyone is thinking better because their minds are clearer, they’re remaining clam despite the inevitable ups and downs and issues that all work creates, they’re focussed on what needs done, and they have an outlook of care and consideration for all their colleagues, their suppliers, their customers, and society as a whole. Who does not want this for their business – or for themselves? ▢
"Mindfulness helps us see our thoughts as they arise, and develops inside us the skill of hesitating to check whether what we are about to say is the best it can be. Hesitating allows other thoughts options and ideas to emerge for our consideration."
Martin Stepek is a member of the JONAA team in Scotland. A Scot with Polish heritage, a Mindfulness teacher, poet, published author, columnist on Mindfulness in the Sunday Herald and Chief Executive of the Scottish Family Business Association.