How To Improve Your Productivity With Mindfulness in the Workplace

Meditation Meditation by Moyan Brenn via CC BY 2.0

There has been rapid growth in workplace mindfulness programs, and there are some compelling reasons why this is a good thing!

“The enormous benefits of mindfulness at work are increasingly being recognized by employers as well as by employees. More mindfulness means more professional productivity and satisfaction, and less absenteeism, `presenteeism’ (where workers are physically present but unproductive), accidents, and workplace stress and the many psychological and physical problems that this causes. Mindfulness improves our work performance and enjoyment because it improves our decision-making ability, the quality of our working relationships, and our leadership.”
— Dr. Stephen McKenzie, author of Mindfulness at Work

What Is Mindfulness?

Mindfulness2

According to Jon Kabat-Zinn,”mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.”

You do not need to meditate to become mindful. Meditation is a tool to lead people to post-meditative mindfulness. However, as you’ll see, much of the research focuses on meditation.

How Does Mindfulness Work?

neuroplasticity

Mindfulness actually works by changing our brains! That’s what’s behind the impressive benefits of mindfulness!

Richard Davidson is the founder of the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. A major aspect of the center’s research is neuroplasticity—the ability of the adult brain to change its structure or function in an enduring way. Specifically, 1) You can train your brain to change, 2) that change is measurable and 3) new ways of thinking can change it for the better.

If you’d like to learn more about neuroplasticity, see “What is Neuroplasticity?.

Benefits of Mindfulness in the Workplace

“The implications [of mindfulness in the workplace] are enormous. When you are mindful, you end up healthier, you end up happier. So, with an increase in mindfulness in the workplace, there is lower absenteeism, fewer healthcare costs and there is a reduction in accidents.”
— Ellen Langer, “The Huge Value Of Mindfulness At Work: An Interview With Ellen Langer

Health

Meditation has some substantial health benefits, including reducing blood pressure, pain response, stress hormone levels and even affecting cellular health. For a look at what it actually does to the body, see this Huffington Post infographic.

Emotional Resilience

Richard J. Davidson and Sara Begley co-authored The Emotional Life of Your Brain: How Its Unique Patterns Affect the Way You Think, Feel, and Live–and How You Can Change Them.

In her article “Rewiring Your Emotions“, Sara Begley discusses the idea of harnessing neuroplasticity to change how you respond emotionally to the ups and downs of life. She writes:

“I don’t know about you, but if I’m feeling miserable and someone tells me to just cheer up on the spot, I want to slug them.

Fortunately, the brain’s emotional circuits are actually connected to its thinking circuits, which are much more accessible to our conscious volition. That has been one of Davidson’s most important discoveries: the “cognitive brain” is also the “emotional brain.” As a result, activity in certain cognitive regions sends signals to the emotion-generating regions. So while you can’t just order yourself to have a particular feeling, you can sort of sneak up on your emotions via your thoughts.”

Begley continues with this example: “If the amygdalae is generating negative emotions, the left PFC sends inhibitory signals to the amygdalae, basically telling them to quiet down. As a result, the negative feelings generated by the amygdalae peter out, and you’re not mired in unhappiness or resentment.”

So emotional resilience depends on high activity in the PFC and a strong connection between it and the amygdalae. Begley prescribes mindfulness meditation as one way to strengthen the circuitry that supports emotional resilience.

Davidson_BodyMind

Happiness

Daniel Goleman, in his article “Want a Happier Brain? Try Mindfulness, presents solid evidence to back up that title.

Goleman’s discussion begins with some research done by neuroscientist Richard Davidson, whose work focuses on the emotional dynamics of the brain. Davidson discovered a correlation between left-to-right brain activity and emotional states:

“When we’re in a down mood — irritable, anxious and grouchy — our brain has high activity in the right prefrontal area, just behind the forehead. But when we’re in an upbeat mood — energized, enthusiastic, optimistic — there’s lots of activity on the left side of the prefrontal area.

Each of us has a typical ratio of left-to-right activity when we’re just at rest. And this ratio predicts fairly well our typical, day-to-day mood range.

There’s a bell curve for this ratio, like the one for IQ: most of us are in the middle, with some good days and some bad days. Those who are tipped to the far right are likely to have clinical levels of depression or anxiety. And those whose setpoint tips far to the left are able to bounce back quickly from upsets.”

Goleman goes on to describe a study led by Richard Davidson and mindfulness expert Jon Kabat-Zinn. This study concluded with good news — we can nudge our setpoint to the left!

“Jonny [Kabat-Zinn] taught mindfulness to a group of the biotech workers and had them practice about half an hour a day for eight weeks. Richie [Davidson] measured their brains before and after. The result: at first their emotional setpoint was tilted toward the right — they were, after all, on a hectic, 24/7 schedule. But after eight weeks, the mindfulness group on average showed a greater tilt toward the left.

What’s more, they spontaneously said that now they were in touch again with what they loved about their jobs, with why they had gotten into the field in the first place.”

Thus, the ability to “nudge our setpoint to the left” can make us happier with our work.

Focus

Meditation can be “an antidote for workplace ADD.” One of the biggest problems in the workplace today is what some have called “continuous partial attention.” Attention deficit can harm people’s ability to interact competently, impeding understanding and rapport. Lack of attention also negatively impacts individual job performance. A person’s ability to do his job is directly related to how well he can concentrate and focus.

Mindfulness meditation techniques can overcome workplace ADD by training our minds to focus on what matters in the moment and to resist distractions.

Decision Making

One aspect of good decision-making is the ability to avoid “sunk-cost bias”—our tendency to continue down a path because we’re already so far along. For example, you realize that your job is not right for you. But you don’t look for another job or go back to school, because your current position has consumed so much of your time and effort. In her Greater Good article, Hooria Jazaier, explains research conducted by Andrew Hafenbrack and colleagues. The research abstract states, “In the research reported here, we investigated the debiasing effect of mindfulness meditation on the sunk-cost bias. We conducted four studies (one correlational and three experimental); the results suggest that increased mindfulness reduces the tendency to allow unrecoverable prior costs to influence current decisions.”

In fact, “Close analysis of the latest mindfulness research, with Jochen Reb, Associate Professor of Organisational Behaviour at Singapore Management University, for the upcoming book Mindfulness in Organisations, suggests that mindfulness techniques can have a positive effect on all our widely recognised stages of the decision-making process.” In her article, “How Mindfulness Improves Decision-Making“, Natalia Karelaia lists the four stages of the decision-making process as:

  1. Framing the decision
  2. Gathering information
  3. Coming to a conclusion
  4. Learning from feedback

For each of these four stages, Karelaia explains how mindfulness can have a positive effect on that stage.

Leadership

Mindfulness is the essence of effective leadership.

The essence of effective leadership is mindfulness, which is also the essence of charisma. When you are mindful, you are present. When you are present, people notice it. When people experience you as mindful, they then see you as authentic and trustworthy.
— Ellen Langer, “The Huge Value Of Mindfulness At Work: An Interview With Ellen Langer

When we are mindful, we are fully connected to ourselves and to other people, and this connection allows us to lead ourselves and others from and to shared certainty, rather than individual confusion.

“Being mindful more of the time and mindless less of the time helps us be great leaders because it helps unite [us] in common goals and ways of achieving them, and frees us of our separate ideas about what needs to be done and how. When we experience mindful connectedness with the people we work with, we will be great leaders, whether we’re leading a sporting team or a hamburger shop or a multinational corporation. We are not great leaders regardless of the people we lead, we are great leaders because of them.
— Dr. Stephen McKenzie, author of Mindfulness at Work

Creativity and Caring

Mindfulness practice has been shown to draw out creativity and caring. In an interesting piece, “It’s Not McMindfulness,” Barry Boyce says, “[mindfulness practice] naturally leads to inquisitiveness about our own minds and examination of how we’re connected to other people, of the causes and effects of our actions. … Leaders touched by mindfulness may find innovations to solve real problems and help make a better life.”

The Greater Good

What matters in the workplace is what matters in our lives—using every moment to learn from experience so that we grow in insight, wisdom, and compassion.
Mirabai Bush, “Mindfulness at Work: An Interview with Mirabai Bush

I’ve saved the best for last! Expanding on the “caring” benefit, let’s talk about “the greater good.”

In a superb interview on mindful.org, Elisha Goldstein talks to Mirabai Bush about how mindfulness can make our work life more meaningful. Goldstein introduces Bush as “the author of Working with Mindfulness (MP3), a key contributor to Google’s Search Inside Yourself Program, Cofounder of The Center for Contemplative Mind and Society and so much more.”

The interview begins with a discussion of “right livelihood.” Here’s an excerpt:

Elisha: When it comes to the workplace, you have found a fundamental flaw in our minds when we think of work, like “Love is for home and discipline is for work.” One of the foundations to bringing mindfulness into the workplace is through an approach called Right Livelihood. Can you tell us more about that and the benefits?

Mirabai: I first heard the words “right livelihood” while learning to meditate in a Buddhist monastery. Meditation teacher S.N. Goenka said, “If the intention is to play a useful role in society in order to support oneself and to help others, then the work one does is right livelihood.” Other teachers expanded on that: Do work that is ethical and helpful to your personal development. Do no harm though your work. Cause no suffering to yourself or others. Use work to nourish understanding and compassion. Remember that all life is interconnected. Be honest, be mindful of what you are doing.

Other topics discussed are:

  • Mindful Listening: “a way of hearing in which we are fully present with what is happening in the moment without trying to control it or judge it.”
  • Walking meditation: “the practice of paying close attention to the ordinary action of walking, a helpful practice for people at work, who usually walk at least sometimes during the day.”
  • A compassion practice known as “Just like me” (“Just like me, this person has known physical pain. Just like me, this person has done things she regrets. Just like me, this person wants to be happy….” and so on)

I encourage you to read the full interview.

Are you ready to try minfdfulness at your workplace?

Watch for the companion article “Introducing Mindfulness into the Workplace” on Friday! 

This is part one of a two-part series, Mindfulness in the Workplace, by Carol Preibis of Ahh The Simple Life. Don’t miss part two on Friday! If you’re a regular reader of the CCC blog, you’ll recognize Carol as a contributor. Thanks, Carol!

Carol Preibis

Carol is passionate about food, recipes and cooking.


Carol Preibis and her sister Michele value the Simple Life and want to help you shed the complicated nature of today’s world. They share insights on food, decorating, stress relief and living more simply, while actually enjoying day-in, day-out living. Looking for a scrumptious, healthy recipe? Trying to figure out how to have fun on a budget? Head to Ahh The Simple Life to start feeling better and getting more out of your life.

I Love It When A Team Comes Together

I finished watching the A-Team series again, and it never gets old. The dynamic cast. The action. The explosions. The good guys always winning. But what I love the most about the A-Team is how well they function together. They realize that the four of them accomplish more together than they would individually. This doesn’t happen automatically; you have to assemble the right parts to produce a winning team.

Maybe you can call The A-Team!

The A-Team: (L-R) Lt Templeton “Faceman” Peck, Capt H.M. “Howling Mad” Murdock, Sgt B.A. “Bad Attitude” Baracus & Col John “Hannibal” Smith
Photo courtesy of The A-Team Wiki


The wily leader
 Col John “Hannibal” Smith is the undisputed leader of the group, although he rules by respect, not fear. The other members of The A-Team trust him to lead them in the right direction. Hannibal isn’t afraid of jumping into the action either; he’s not a hands-off leader by any means. When he’s “on the jazz,” he’ll do just about anything. In addition to leadership, Col Smith is also an actor, so he’s a master of disguise. That talent comes in handy as The A-Team helps people in need while evading capture.

The charmer (who gets things done) Yes, he’s a con man, but Lt Templeton “Faceman” Peck always comes through. No matter what the group needs for its mission — wheels, weapons, a plane — he manages to deliver. Charm is an important, often overlooked, trait in today’s business world, as it helps gain the trust of your comrades and put them at ease. In addition to his schmoozing skills, Face serves as an adept second-in-command.

The skilled specialist (with a touch of craziness) Capt H.M. “Howling Mad” Murdock is an amazing pilot who flies anything from jets to homemade craft projects with propellers. So often, he takes off just in the nick of time to help The A-Team evade the bad guys. Sure, he’s crazy, but is that a bad thing? Craziness (as long as it’s somewhat reined in by the rest of the team) can be productive. Ask any entrepreneur; you have to be a bit crazy to take that leap. The same has been said about people willing to take the big shots or tackle the most complex projects.

The attitude (with skill) Sgt Bosco Albert (B.A.) “Bad Attitude” Baracus brought the muscle. He was the group’s enforcer and bodyguard, but he was also the mechanic — a critical position. So many times, B.A. stepped in to make a tank out of a mere van or use basic supplies to build exactly what the team needed to complete the mission. A broken down pick-up that hadn’t run in 10 years? No problem, B.A. could fix it. He was truly worth his weight in gold (which happened to be around his neck). As a bonus, he also served as the getaway driver and was the proud owner of the famous A-Team van.

If you have a problem, if no one else can help, and if you can find them, maybe you can hire the A-Team.

The next time you’re assembling a team, take a look at great teams throughout history and study what made them tick. A team is more than a group of individuals; members’ strengths and talents must fit together to move the team forward toward a common goal. If you accomplish that, you can steal a line from the famous cigar-smoking Colonel of the A-Team.

“I love it when a plan comes together.” –Col John “Hannibal” Smith


Let’s Discuss

Who was your favorite member of The A-Team?

What team throughout history has impressed you?

What’s your advice for assembling a great team?

 

CCC’s fearless leader, Face(woman), pilot & muscle,
Jaime

Connect with CCC. We’ll make a great team!
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“What’s the most amazing way to do it?”

Great thought from Sir Richard Branson…

What's the most amazing way to do it?

How do you make what you do amazing?  As always, I’d love to hear from you.

Photo courtesy of Richard Branson’s blog

Enjoy the weekend!
Jaime

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From the Bedroom to the Boardroom: Why You Should Listen to the Introverts in Your Life

I recently finished a book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, by Susan Cain. Have you ever read a book that was written for you? Now I have.

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking

I’ve long known that I’m an introvert, and for just as long, thought it was a weakness, something that I needed to work on. Why? I figured out early on in life that those who made the most noise generally got what they wanted.

Our culture made a virtue of living only as extroverts. We discouraged the inner journey, the quest for a center. So we lost our center and have to find it again.
                                                         -Anais Nin

The book discusses how introverts struggle to be heard in a country that heavily promotes the Extrovert Ideal, which directly affects how we educate our children, position our workplaces and gauge success. There’s pros and cons to both personality types, so it makes sense to have a mix in your workplace and social circle. Why?


Bill Gates named “The Power of Introverts” as one of his all-time favorite TED Talks.

First, based upon studies, one third to one half of Americans are introverts, whether you realize it or not. “If you’re not an introvert yourself, you are surely raising, managing, married to, or coupled with one,” says Susan Cain. So it’s helpful to understand this personality type to have more harmonious relationships, manage employees more effectively and tap into the positives of an introvert’s personality to apply to your own life.

Second, research has shown that introverts and extroverts can make a great team. In fact, introverted leaders are generally a better match for proactive employees while extroverted leaders are better coupled with more passive workers. Depending on your industry, you can gauge how your workforce leans and what type of managers would be more effective. Remember that you likely have both introverts and extroverts represented, so it’s a good idea to seek feedback from all types of employees.

Buzz is JFK’s Camelot,  but it’s also the Kennedy Curse.

-Susan Cain

Interestingly enough, research has shown that effective CEOs, not necessarily the most well known, often have little or no charisma and have little use for it. While charismatic leaders may be effective, their charm may also be hiding the fact they’re not performing.

Face it: where would we be without some of these introverts?

  • Rosa Parks
  • Craig Newmark, founder of Craigslist
  • Albert Einstein
  • Bill Gates
  • Theodor Geisel, aka Dr. Seuss
Theodor Geisel aka Dr. Seuss

Theodor Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss, was an introvert despite his catchy rhymes and delightful writing.

As some of the aforementioned successful people know, you can stretch yourself to fit a certain situation, but only so far. For example, an introverted college professor can handle (and appear quite fluent) at delivering lively, enthusiastic lectures on a subject close to his heart. However, if he spends his entire day lecturing, socializing and networking, he won’t have any down time to recharge his batteries and will eventually burn out.

The secret to life is to put yourself in the right lighting. For some, it’s a Broadway spotlight; for others, a lamplit desk.

-Susan Cain

That’s why it’s so important to figure out what you love and do it as much as possible. You’ll be happy and ideally situated in the comfort of your personality. Yes, sometimes it’s necessary (and exciting) to step out of your comfort zone, but there’s a reason it’s your comfort zone. If you live outside of it, you can burn out quickly and affect those around you.

We all write our life stories as if we were novelists, with beginnings, conflicts, turning points and endings.

-Dan McAdams

Understand who you are, so you can write the best life story for you.

Are you an introvert or an extrovert? Does your life fit your personality or are you constantly stretching to be someone else? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Image credits: Quiet book cover, Theodor Geisel

An introvert (who’s finally comfortable in her own shoes),
Jaime

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