From the moment we get out of bed, we are bombarded with many distractions. Distractions include emails, notifications, messages, social media updates and many more have largely defined how we start the day. Within moments, our attention span gets shortened. Given the fast paced and busy schedules that most of us adhere to on a daily basis, how then do we slow down and focus in order to make correct and informed decisions? The answer is Mindfulness.
Each of us has 100 billion neuro connections in our brains. Yet, according to a study by Heart Math Institute, only about 15% of them are activated. This is because we focus so heavily on the outer world. Mindfulness is the practice of self observation without judgement, with a focus on inner world. Some mindful practices include daily meditations, blogging or jogging alone. In a fast paced world that we live in, mindfulness helps to clear our mind of distractions, retain focus on important priorities and be more creative. Dr Andrew Newberg, a Neurologist and Director of Research at Philadelphia’s Myrna Byrd Centre of Integrative Medicine, did a study on the brains of spiritual leaders during their meditation and prayers. He concluded that the more an individual does a “practice like” meditation, the bigger the brain gets and the better the brain functions.
Harvard University’s research showed that 2 months of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) is the first study to prove that it produced physiological changes. MBSR has heightened cortical thickness in the hippocampus, which controls memory and the prefrontal cortex which affects planning, sight and emotions. The study also showed a decrease in brain cell volume in the amygdale, which triggers stress, anxiety and fear.
Therefore, a diligent approach to mindfulness can help that split second of a mental space between an event/stimulus and the response to it. A split second is all it takes to be the difference between making a rushed decision that potentially leads to failure and an informed decision that leads to performance enhancement. This is also the difference between reacting in anger and being patient and calm. No matter what happens externally, we always have a choice to find the meaning that we create internally.
At this point, some of us may start to wonder whether mindfulness training helps to develop people. The answer is Yes and No.
Yes, because studies have shown that mindfulness training improves three aspects of us at work: resilience, collaboration and ability to lead in challenging situations.
No, because mindfulness development depends on the level and amount of practice that is done on a regular basis. Without any or even minimal practice, mindfulness cannot be well developed.
According to Bill George, Senior Fellow at Harvard Business School, he shared that one of the reasons for Google’s success is that mindfulness is practiced to improve the health and decision making of its leaders. This is also the key factor for their innovative and harmonious culture. Research done by Mr Richard Davidson of Wisconsin demonstrated direct correlation between mindfulness and changes in the brain: move away from anger and anxiety and move towards a sense of calm and well-being. University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA)’s Mindful Awareness Research Centre discovered that mindful meditation increased attention span and decreased distraction better than medication in most cases.
One way to boost willpower and focus is to manage distractions instead of letting them manage us. The key to effective leadership is the ability to integrate our Head (IQ) with our Heart (EQ). Once we are able to successfully integrate them, leadership qualities such as passion, compassion, courage from the heart along with awareness, thought processes and informed decision making from the head can be exhibited.
Our minds and thoughts can be trained and results will show through regular practice. Here are some ways in which we can become more mindful:
- Practice at least 15 minutes of mindfulness training each day. Meditation or Yoga is a good start or just having more quiet time to connect with one’s inner world will allow for heighted suggestibility and improved performance.
- Remove all distractions such as phones, people, emails etc and focus solely on one’s breath, with the whole body relaxed throughout the session
- Avoid reading emails or looking at the phone/laptop screens first thing in the morning. This may increase the stress levels and distract the mind from its highest potential. Our minds are generally most focused, creative and expansive in the morning. Instead, look at them after practicing mindful training.
- Avoid multitasking. Multitasking allows the brain to shift from tasks to tasks, sometimes consciously or sub-consciously. Mentally shut down all incoming tasks entering our thoughts and maintain focus on the task on hand.
- Control one’s breathing: recommended to follow the Yoga’s Pranayama Breathing exercises for instance and feel the lightness in the body, all focus on self.
- Keep practicing daily and results will eventually show through the work output and the enhanced quality of life
Mindfulness training is not a magic that would give instant cures and remedies. But when this is practiced correctly and consistently, it will help us to select our responses more actively and make informed choices rather than succumb to reactionary decisions.
Written by Mugan TAYALAN (Facilitator)
on 3rd April 2017