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How Mindfulness Can Help You Be a Better Leader

February 16, 2011

A couple of years ago, I began making some lame attempts at meditation, mostly in hopes that it would help calm the tangled frenzy of chatter constantly orbiting around my brain.

The exercise of quieting one’s thoughts for a few moments every day is generally helpful. Although it is extremely difficult for me to stop and do nothing when instead I could be working, or answering email, or eating a delicious cupcake.

But I have kept at it, and tried to discipline myself.

I always viewed meditation as a purely spiritual exercise, with no thought of any specific applications to my business or leadership life, other than how it might impress my colleagues if they knew I was practicing meditation.

But it turns out there is a slew of research that says meditation, or “mindfulness,” is scientifically proven to reduce stress, relieve depression, increase creativity, boost the immune system, and help us make better decisions. Psychologists are using it to help people conquer self-doubt.

Now tell me, what business professional couldn’t use a piece of that?

As leaders and working professionals, we spend all day in our heads, thinking: planning, solving, resolving, reacting.  But mindfulness is not about thinking. It is all about cultivating the stillness of awareness, of being grounded to a deeper part of our souls – to the true self that is buried beneath the hive of activity and anxiety. Mindfulness is more about leaving behind all the chatter of those critiques and judgments, and just sinking into being. It’s about remembering your body, your presence, the beautiful breath of God’s spirit in you.

Remember?

It is really very simple. You sit in a quiet place, close your eyes, and breathe. You then begin to simply focus on the present moment, observing your thoughts without judging them.  I often use a spiritually encouraging word from scripture to focus on.

Mindfulness involves a level of detachment from the emotional garbage that so often sabotages our performance, that little hamster up there with the running monologue telling you how everything is about to fall apart. “You’re not smart enough!” “You’re too fat!” “You’ll never figure this out!” “Oh, and btw, Bob thinks you’re an idiot.”

When faced with pressure or danting challenges, these negative thoughts prevent us from solving problems and instead put us on the vicious cycle of stress, anxiety, and more negative thoughts. The basic tenet of mindfulness says that you  simply observe these thoughts as if they were passing clouds, without personalizing and agonizing over them. This then allows you to open up to considering more options and solutions.

According to the Wall Street Journal, studies have shown that when people consider problems mindfully, they use additional brain circuits beyond those that simply involve problem-solving.

I was listening to author of “Full Catastrophe Living,” Jon Kabbat-Zinn, an expert on mindfulness who was recently interviewed on Public Radio’s On Being. He says that these spiritual technologies offer us “a chance to continually return to what’s deepest and best in ourselves. And it’s not something you have to get by going to Harvard or working in the vineyards for 20 years; you’ve already got it.”

That’s just it. You’ve already got the ability to handle the problem, deal with the challenge, perservere through the storm.

God’s presence is just waiting for you to show up.

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17 Comments leave one →
  1. February 16, 2011 6:57 am

    Brad, I like the way you describe meditation as “mindfulness.” Too many Christians dismiss meditation because they compare it to mindlessness — as a result, I think many of us (myself included) have missed out on God’s presence.

    I like this line — it’s about “cultivating the stillness of awareness.” It’s so easy to go through the day (or go through life) with no self awareness whatsoever.

    And so what if Bob thinks I’m an idiot. (That could be a compliment, coming from Bob –I’ll bet he doesn’t meditate.)

    • February 17, 2011 6:24 am

      Yes, the “so what” part is an essential outcome of the meditation and self-awareness, because of the detachment factor. As I like to think of it, the truest form of self-awareness is the realization that everything will be okay, no matter what. We have everything we need in who we are and with God’s presence and grace in our lives.

  2. February 16, 2011 8:14 am

    I went to a seminar just last week on DBT–a psychological treatment strategy that incorporates mindfulness. It has been effective with a very difficult population on my field that many psychologists find reprehensible to work with: the Borderline Personality. It is amazing to me what mindfulness unlocks. I think I have shared with you that I am part of a centering prayer group. This has really changed my life in so many good ways that I cannot even put them to words.

    Thanks for sharing this resource, Brad. I’ll have to check it out.

  3. February 16, 2011 8:42 am

    Thanks, Bradley, for this timely post! Mindfullness is something to be mindful of WHENEVER the world changes speed (at least, that’s what I’ve found)! On a lighter note… the test of mymindfulness, has been with my pup, who’s no longer an infant – he’s 15months old now – but still has much to learn, as much as I need, it seems, too. To get his full attention, I’ve been creating a mindful atmosphere for the two of us, and it seems to be working, but “work” is the key word. Just as I need to be mindful in my daily activities, I’ve got to stay with it for him, as well!

    And the Reward, will be when he actually Listens to my command and Does what I wish for; namely, coming to me when I call him to come inside, without the promise of a cookie!!! When that happens, I’ll be sure to let you know!!!

  4. February 16, 2011 10:17 am

    I never really connected “mindfulness” with “meditation.” that’s most interesting to me. I always thought mindfulness was just paying attention — that full alert of making sure all the details were taken care of. But I see now that mindfulness could also imply a mind that’s ready, willing and waiting.

  5. February 16, 2011 10:35 am

    You know BJM,

    I was more captivated with the picture. I looked at those frozen branches, saw the sun in the background, and wondered; wouldn’t those branches love to be unthawed by the heat and freely move around again in the wind?

    Kind of like how all the frenzied chatter orbiting our minds can have the tendency to freeze us up on the inside and render us immovable (giving in to the anxiety and negativity).

    In this light, we can see things as on and off. If the branches are frozen (we are off). If the branches are unfrozen, moving freely in the wind, we are on.

    People and society have the ability to freeze us; harden us – turn us into a frozen sculpture. Unless we can flip things in our head graphically and change the off to on our negative emotions may well get the better of us and our energy drains and seeps away.

    If your mind is the sun Bradley, you will not become frozen in meditation.

    Have you considered letting your mind be the sun?

    • Anna permalink
      February 16, 2011 12:44 pm

      Sorry, I can’t help but picture an irrationally accelerating vehicle crashing into those frozen branches. Meditation over. 🙂

  6. February 16, 2011 11:33 am

    It’s interesting that the last couple of employers I’ve worked for have “Take 5” rooms. Actually, at my last job, it was a “Take 15” room. A comfy rocker-recliner, a mood light, a picture on the wall, a miniature babbling rock and water garden. And management sincerely encouraged its use.

    I never used it, and rarely did anyone else. It was in the same area where we worked, and trying to calm my mind only made me “mindful” that my coworkers were working on the other side of that door, and they were always mindful of who was hiding in the closet.

    However, I frequently walked “out” of the office area to breathe and clear my head. Sometimes it’s to a conference room in another part of the building. Sometimes it’s outside. So I’m all for the mindfulness you speak of. 🙂

  7. February 16, 2011 12:07 pm

    a meeting
    worth
    showing up
    for

  8. Phil permalink
    February 16, 2011 12:21 pm

    This may be why I love fishing so much. Aside from the chance to enjoy God’s handiwork in nature all around me, I only need to be ever-so-slightly smarter than the fish I’m pursuing. Easy to be mindfulness at these times.

  9. February 16, 2011 3:19 pm

    I loved that interview on NPR’s “Being.” I listened to it last year, lying on the carpet in the sunroom (the show was still called “Speaking of Faith” back then). Then I went to the library and got some meditation CDs. I listened to them for a week. And then I quit. But I think about seriously starting meditation a lot — maybe this is just the prompt I need to begin again?

  10. February 17, 2011 9:09 pm

    My mind feels like it’s always full. Does that count? 🙂

  11. February 18, 2011 6:19 pm

    I sort of get in this zone a bit when I run . I don’t use an ipod or anything and I have come to really value the seemingly jumbled yet “worked out” thoughts.

  12. February 20, 2011 12:26 am

    I often wonder how much we miss out on in our Christian walk through our Westernization of Christianity. The Bible is filled with mentions, suggestions, commands of meditation; however, when most people hear the word they think of some Eastern or New Age religion.

    God often shows up in the quiet times throughout the Bible. He’s the whisper in the night, the faint voice in the wind, and the burning bush atop a desolate mountain. The Bible tells us to Be still, and know that I am God.

    Thanks for the needed reminder to follow through with this, Bradley.

  13. February 20, 2011 3:11 pm

    Nice post Bradley. Like you, it’s really hard to quiet the chatter but once I do, the benefits are great. A couple of years ago, I worked with a group who did contemplative prayer and found that “sitting in the lap of God” became easier for me.

  14. February 21, 2011 9:27 pm

    Today I was able to mediate and God’s presence was strong. It amazes me every time. What a gift he has given us.

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