How Mindful Are You?
When change leaders lead strategic change in organisations they themselves are often confronted with a need for managing themselves to ensure they have what it takes to lead the change. Leading change can be exhausting and change leaders need to manage their own reserves and energy levels. I recently developed the Road to Personal Mastery model depicted in the graphical model below to map out the practical steps in managing personal change.
In this blog, we will be considering the first step in the process, namely Mindfulness. In future blogs, more elements of this model will be addressed.
Figure 6.1 The Road to Ego Mastery
The Road to Personal Mastery starts with an ongoing practice of mindfulness as the road towards personal mastery continues. Mindfulness is a pre-requisite for the five steps on the road to follow successfully.
Although there is no one universally accepted definition of mindfulness (Van Dam et al., 2017) mindfulness has been defined as a state of mind where one focusses one’s attention on the present situation or experience – be it an awareness of one’s surroundings, emotions or breathing. It can be developed through the practice of meditation or other forms of training.
(Kabat-Zinn, 2013; Stetka, 2017). Siegel defines mindfulness as “paying attention in the present moment on purpose without grasping onto judgments” (Siegel, 2007). The concept has been around in the Buddhist philosophy for over two thousand years and is currently in vogue in popular literature and business after MIT professor Jon Kabat-Zinn popularized the concept and made it relevant to the world of work. Kabat Zinn adds to the definition that mindfulness is “paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.” Daniel Siegel believes mindfulness is “the ability to pause before we act” and Tang et al. (2015) defines mindfulness as the non-judgmental attention to experiences in the present moment.
I suggest dedicating time for a mindfulness practice at least ten minutes per day. During mindfulness practice it is a good idea to sit in a quiet place where nothing will disturb you. Chopra (2012) suggests closing the eyes and going inward to give the brain a chance to reset itself. Chopra further encourages the process of checking in on ourselves (Chopra, 2012, p. 251). This allow us the opportunity to check in on our moods, emotions, physical sensations and all the things that fill the mind. Mindfulness is a way of checking how self-aware one is. Kabat- Zinn (1994) states one has to allow the body to pause long enough to let the present moment sink in – without judging. One should notice the thoughts but do not get attached to the thoughts. It is useful to anchor one’s thought on a sound or one’s breath and focus on the anchor for the duration of the mindfulness session. When thoughts start wandering, it should be noted, but not judged. The attention should then compassionately be brought back to the anchor – again without any judgment. Being mindful is self-monitoring without judgment. It is also of great benefit if one can become aware of the signals coming from inside you. This is called interoception. Yoga, breathing deeply and consciously and practicing meditation can increase one’s interoceptive awareness. Research has shown that people who meditate have greater interoceptive awareness. Also see the benefits of mindfulness in the “Insights into neuroscience of ego mastery” below.
Mindfulness is different from concentration. The difference is that concentration involves keeping the mind focused on a single object, while mindfulness requires noticing whatever mental states occupy the focus of one’s consciousness.
How to Practice Mindfulness
Learning to tune into our bodies also have beneficial consequences. Here the mindfulness practice of body scanning helps to become aware of where we are experiencing stress in our bodies and then practice stress release techniques to deal with these strains on the body. In a body scan practice, become still in a place where we will not be disturbed. We use deep breaths to relax and then start with the top of the skull and systematically work our way down the body, focusing on each part of the body and tune into where our sources of stress might originate from. For some it might be in the shoulders, for others the gut and for others in the lower back. Whenever we become aware of the stress center, we can visualise the stress being released and being replaced by a soft, gentle area of light.
In our everyday rush to get things done we often direct our attention outward and we rarely really experience life. Research suggests that our greatest moments of pleasure are times we spend fully involved and engaged in a situation: be it a physical activity, a sensory experience, or intimacy with another person. When we are distracted, we are depriving ourselves of some of the greatest sources of happiness. Learning to focus on the current moment, we become more effective in the moment and more aware of the nuances we might be missing when not aware. We also begin the journey towards leading a more aware life.
Cellphone apps are useful methods of getting started with the mindfulness process. These apps allow users to set reminders and set time limits. As a starting tool, these guided sessions found on the apps, are very useful in entrenching the habit. It has been said mindfulness is a simple process but that it is not easy and that it takes practice and discipline to be consistently mindful (Van Hecke et al., 2010, p.94).
Benefits of Mindfulness
The practise of mindfulness is highly beneficial if one wants to grow one’s own EQ. When confronted with an emotionally charged situation a few deep breaths could clear the mind to give you just the time needed to respond appropriately. Farb et al.’s (2007) research suggest that we have an inbuilt ability to calm ourselves down.
Despite criticism from the scientific community that many mindfulness studies had been poorly designed (Van Dam, 2017) numerous benefits of mindfulness have been reported including stress reduction, lowered blood pressure, improved outcomes for heart disease, better quality sleep, and improved pain management and gastrointestinal health (Hölzel et al, 2011). Organisations such as Aetna, Google, Apple, Goldman Sachs Group, Nike and General Mills have now started offering mindfulness leadership training and are offering relaxation rooms for meditation (Kim, 2018; Levin, 2017; Schaufenbuel, 2015).
Nataraja (2012) lists the following positive benefits of mindfulness meditation:
- Reduced risk of relapse in depression
- Improved anxiety and depression in bipolar disorder
- Improved sleep time and efficiency in chronic insomnia
- Improved decision making in substance abuse
- Improved well-being
- Quality of life
- Improved coping strategies in cancer patients
- Reduced anxiety and stress in schizophrenia