For the last few years, mindfulness has been getting a lot of attention and press.
According to Jon Kabat-Zinn, a leading thinker in the field, mindfulness is about “Paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.” It is about being more in the present and thereby being able to do everything with more discipline and focus.
The Case For Mindfulness
Large companies, such as Google, Aetna and General Mills, have been implementing large-scale mindfulness programs over the past few years. Thousands of employees have gone through their programs with data now showing that there is a definite impact on leadership skills by practicing mindfulness, such as:
• Increase in productivity
• Increase in decision-making
• Increase in listening
• Reduction in stress levels
But for leaders, the biggest benefit of mindfulness is its direct impact on the development of emotional intelligence. Daniel Goleman, a leading expert on emotional intelligence, recently made a direct connection between mindfulness and emotional intelligence, saying that:
• Emotional intelligence builds attention and focus.
• Attention and focus are cornerstones in enhancing self-awareness, as well as empathy.
• Self-awareness and empathy are critical skills to enhancing emotional awareness.
Google’s mindfulness program focuses directly on the link between mindfulness and emotional intelligence, and it’s had some significant traction with employees.
How Leaders Can Implement Mindfulness
Mindfulness tools include meditation, breathing, yoga, walking, music, nature — anything that allows you to come back to the present moment. Our minds are often thinking about regrets, incidents from the past and worries about the future. Any tool that brings the mind back to the present moment is a mindfulness tool.
As a mindfulness practitioner of meditation and breathing for the last 10 years, I have seen significant changes in myself in terms of the enhancement of emotional regulation, patience, discipline, focus and productivity, as well as a decrease in stress. While I used to use physical exercise, such as running marathons and doing triathlons, meditation has now become my tool of choice for reducing stress levels and being more productive.
So how can you as a leader get started? What tools can you use in your organization to bring yourself into the present moment?
1. Body Scan: Begin by sitting with your back straight and eyes closed. Take three deep breaths in and begin to notice your feet and legs, calves and thighs, groin and abdomen. Continue up the body and then take another three deep breaths. Continue for a total of three times. This is a great way to get in tune with your body and begin to notice any stress or strains. The breaths help you to relieve tension.
2. Alternate Nostril Breathing: Using your thumb and index finger, you can do an easy breathing exercise called alternate nostril breathing. With your right index finger, close your right nostril and take a breath in through the left nostril. Now, close the left nostril with your thumb. Open up your index finger and breathe out through the right nostril. Then breathe in the through the right nostril. Close the right nostril with the index finger. Open up the thumb and breathe out through the left nostril. Continue doing this eight-to-ten times. This helps to calm the system as well as harmonize the two hemispheres of the brain.
3. Breathing Meditation: Sit with your back straight and eyes closed. Begin to notice your breath. Notice your breath in and your breath out. Keep your focus on your breath. Whenever you notice your mind wandering off, bring it back to noticing the breath. Do this for three-to-five minutes. This is the start of a meditation practice. It is a simple and easy way to start training your mind to be more present.
While mindfulness can seem like a hard thing to do, as mindfulness expert Sharon Salzberg says, “Mindfulness isn’t difficult, we just need to remember to do it.” Begin a practice today.
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