Mindfulness can bring many benefits to individuals – and hence business – as a result of improved self-awareness but the concern right now is that too many companies are using it as somewhat of a knee-jerk response to the workplace mental health agenda. This is a recipe for failure. Mindfulness has to form part of a purposeful approach: one that is clearly integrated with physical, emotional and career wellbeing.
Why self-awareness matters
The ability to step away from your emotions is not only essential to making effective judgments in a professional setting; research has repeatedly demonstrated that this self-awareness is a critical component of success in any walk of life. Most importantly of all, self-awareness also positively influences overall mental health.
Unfortunately, whilst there’s no quick fix to raising your self-awareness, it is something you can improve. Tools include working through your story (to understand what’s known as your narrative identity) mindfulness and asking others for their input to ensure you understand yourself from ‘the outside in’. Mindfulness in particular has gained huge momentum over the last decade as a go-to resource and is increasingly being introduced into organisations of all sizes.
How mindfulness works
There is a growing body of research showing the scientific benefits of mindfulness. For example, a paper in the journal Emotion found that long-term meditation (which includes mindfulness) changes how the brain responds to emotion, providing mental regulation and the ability to process information more effectively. This is because it makes you more aware of your body, your mind and your intentions. It helps to train your mind to observe your emotions rather than engage with them, giving you the space to pause and reflect – to become more self-aware.
However helpful mindfulness is, simply throwing it into a daily ‘to do’ list isn’t beneficial. Practising mindfulness without context doesn’t allow us to optimise its benefits. Rather like putting together an intricate jigsaw puzzle with no picture to follow. You may get a few pieces to match but it’s very difficult to make sense of.
If you take that same puzzle and have the picture as a guide you put the picture together far more successfully. In the same vein, before you set out to use mindfulness, it’s worth being clear on what the bigger picture is for you. Why are you using it? How will it help? How does it fit with your life more broadly?
Mindfulness in a workplace setting
As an employer the same applies. Mindfulness has been introduced successfully in many organisations such as Google, eBay, Twitter and Facebook. It has also been brought in as a quick-fix response to the ‘mental health agenda’ far less successfully in others. What’s the difference? Whether or not the schemes make sense to the individual and whether or not they are part of a larger initiative.
Giving the opportunity to use tools like mindfulness is fabulous but needs to be done within context. The whole story needs to be told, integrating mindfulness alongside other personal development approaches so that employees can make sense of its purpose to them as individuals as well as to the organisation as a whole.
Apps & services: what to watch out for
I would also urge any employer looking at mindfulness to ensure that you’re spending money on the right thing. For example, there are a lot of apps that look great but deliver little more than a relaxing 15-minute session. Whilst enjoyable in the moment they don’t create sustainable change by training people how to actually use mindfulness skills for self-awareness and regulation.
They are not based on evidence or developed by people who are skilled in mindfulness and meditation. The same unfortunately is true of many trainers and experts who sell mindfulness approaches into organisations. In short, it’s well worth checking the credentials of any tools you use and who you bring in to help.
Measuring progress & outcomes
Ultimately introducing mindfulness within organisations can help to improve mental health and performance if it’s done in the right way. As an individual, practicing mindfulness as regularly as you can with a clear intention of why is incredibly helpful.
When it comes to your own mindfulness practice it may be useful to track your progress as you would physical exercise. Note down whether you notice mindfulness having any impact on how you see yourself and how you react to the world around you. Which aspects work best for you and why? At what time of day is it most helpful for you to practice?
Be patient and persistent—you won’t see results after only one or two sessions but if you stick with it you really will see a difference. You will become more aware of who you are, how you are making sense of the world around you and how others see you helping you to achieve more personal success and better well-being.
This article includes extracts from Fiona Murden’s bookpublished by Nicholas Brealey April 2018
18/06/2019 | This article’s view is based on the law, practices and conditions as at the day of publication. While we have made every effort to ensure they are accurate, we accept no responsibility for our interpretation or any future changes. | VH O 0127