In Buddhism, mindfulness is a facet of meditation in which an individual focuses their attention on the thoughts, feelings, or sensations happening in the moment. In psychology, studies suggests that mindfulness improves an individual’s quality of life, boosting memory and reducing stress and anxiety, among other benefits. In business, the adoption of these techniques has shown to improve productivity—so much so, that even Fortune 50 companies and the U.S. military are integrating mindfulness practices into the workday. Mindfulness expert Janet Nima Taylor—an American Buddhist nun, author, and co-founder of meditation resource organization Serenity Pause—gave directors attending the 2014 NACD Board Leadership Conference a crash course in effective techniques and how to integrate meditation into a company’s daily operations.
Meditation has been an integral part of wellness for millennia, but it’s a practice that is just now finding wide acceptance in corporate culture—and it’s also a proven means of improving business. According to Taylor, there’s plenty of research that attests to how meditation induces physiological and mental changes that influence how you interact with yourself and the world around you. The key to mindfulness, she said, is to create a gap between stimulus and response. Research says that 90 percent of our day involves responding in habitual ways, but creating this gap allows people to consider alternatives and discover new ways of resolving problems. During her session, Taylor offered three practices that directors can easily integrate into their everyday lives, even while they’re on the go. “If you’re breathing, you have time,” Taylor said.
1. Concentration. Mindfulness is not about stopping thinking, but rather shifts in how we interact with our thoughts. Momentarily forget those top-of-mind concerns and be completely still. Breathe in and count to four. Breathe out, count to six. Physiologically, this exercise lowers blood pressure. Conversely, when people are stressed, they tend to take shallow breaths and their bodies become oxygen deprived. Taking a moment to get the oxygen flowing can impact how you’re able to make decisions because doing so calms the body’s “fight or flight” response along with its associated stress hormones. Concentration also affords an individual heightened awareness of oneself, which allows them to be more present in the moment. By extension, when board meetings get contentious, directors should take a moment to breathe and write down the words that describe how they’re feeling. This exercise forces people to better articulate themselves and moves them away from the desire to be competitive toward wanting to be cooperative despite differences in perspective and opinion.
2. Natural Awareness. In our technology-centric culture, Taylor observed, people tend to live in their heads, making it easy to lose track of what is happening in one’s body below the neck. A person needs to permit himself or herself to do absolutely nothing for five minutes and use their senses to become completely aware of what is happening throughout their body in that given moment. Culturally, people are wired to be continuously active, but research shows that people who set aside time to momentarily do nothing are far more productive than those who are always engaged.
3. Positive Imagery. The human mind has a highly active imagination. This capacity for flights of fancy can be used to an effective end. If faced with a source of stress, create a positive spin on that disruptive force and focus on that self-generated positive imagery. That focus will help neutralize the negative situation.
A study published in the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology showed that employees who participated in a free 12-week mindfulness program showed a significant reduction in stress. Integrating these practices into a business environment starts with the tone at the top. From the boardroom down through the employee level, people can look to leaders’ involvement to signal that these practices are acceptable in the workplace.
“Using the power of your mind is a teachable skill,” Taylor said. For a business, these tools help people to become better empowered to work together. And with company leadership on board, the positive benefits of mindfulness can transcend the organization.