Mindfulness Meets Business

“Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, and non judgmentally.” —Jon Kabat-Zinn

Mindfulness has gone mainstream.  Once only practiced by new age gurus and yogis, it is sweeping the nation, moving into gyms, homes and healthcare organizations at a rapid pace. Now it’s making the leap into corporate America, with Silicon Valley leading the charge (no surprise). Resources abound. If you’re as intrigued as I am, fire up your favorite search engine and query “mindfulness” or check out this handy list as a starting point.

Perhaps the seminal work on mindfulness is Full Catastrophe Living by Jon Kabat-Zinn. It has been recently revised and updated 25 years after first release. Kabat-Zinn also developed the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reductions program (MBSR), which has trained over 20,000 people in his techniques.

By Tiffany Vaché and Jason Sullivan

By Tiffany Vaché and Jason Sullivan

The Mind Full, or Mindful? wiki includes PowerPoint presentations, videos, websites, books and journals to facilitate a deep, varied dive into the subject.

10% Happier by Dan Harris hit #1 on the NYT Bestseller list earlier this year. The author, a noted television journalist, recounts his journey toward meditation and mindfulness following an on-air panic attack.

Colleges are getting on board. NYU’s New Mindfulness in Business Initiative is exploring how mindfulness can transform the next generation of leaders and innovators.  One student describes her initial foray into meditation.

Time-Mindfulness-020314Mindful magazine has a circulation of more than 85,000, with steep growth projected. Also in the periodical space, The Mindful Revolution was the cover story in a February 2014 issue of Time.

Otto Schamer, in Davos: Mindfulness, Hotspots, and Sleepwalkers, notes the rapid rise of mindfulness at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland this past spring. The drivers of this trend are described as new tech, new challenges and new science.

Dr. Richard J. Davidson at the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds is one leading scientific authority who is documenting the positive effects of mediation on the brain (here at UW Madison). A powerful documentary, Free the Mind, features his work with military veterans and school children.

Mindfulness and Happiness at Work

Photo by Mark Baker

Photo by Mark Baker

Meditation, enlightenment and the pursuit of happiness were once considered the purview of New Age gurus, yogis and hippies—those folks who were “out there.” Now, these concepts, often encompassed under the banner of “mindfulness,” are moving into the mainstream and are being embraced in the business world. Let’s take a look at who’s leading the charge and what they are saying.

“Mindfulness is a process of actively noticing new things.”—Ellen Langer

  • Mindfulness in the Age of Complexity. This Harvard Business Review article features an Interview with Ellen Langer, professor of psychology at Harvard. Her research on mindfulness has revealed that, “… by paying attention to what’s going on around us, instead of operating on auto-pilot, we can reduce stress, unlock creativity, and boost performance.” Langer links mindfulness to business practices and leadership at multiple points. Additional resources include her books Mindfulness and Counterclockwise: Mindful Health and the Power of Possibility.
  • Another excellent article from Harvard Business Review is Manage Your Work, Manage Your Life, by Harvard professors Boris Groysberg and Robin Abrahams. Here, the authors debunk some of the myths about work/life balance, but also show deliberate choices can help reconcile conflicts between the various roles and responsibilities we all have. They look at five major themes: “defining success for yourself, managing technology, building support networks at work and at home, traveling or relocating selectively, and collaborating with your partner.”

Here’s a simple tenet for balance and happiness that I keep in mind: know what you love and love what you do. Living to work is not a privilege that comes easy. What routines do you have that allow you to be clear about who you are and what you enjoy? For example, I enjoy the sensory aspects of cycling…the focus on breathing, cycling technique and being engulfed by the surrounding sights and smells. It helps me reduce the daily noise of work and focus on the important longer-term items necessary for success.