Great leadership is more than just managing your employees. In fact, it is arguably first and foremost, more about how you manage yourself. And one sure-fire way to manage yourself better – and indirectly your employees – is by being more mindful. But what is mindfulness you might ask?
The answer can be both simple and profound at the same time.
What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is a powerful mental workout that enhances your brain and increases your capacity to cope with daily stressors and emotional upheavals.
When you practice mindfulness meditation, you focus on being aware of the present moment rather than on dwelling on the past or worrying about the future.
Mindfulness helps you see the events of your life without bias or judgment. It allows you to simply experience your emotions as well as your mistakes, this includes the emotions and mistakes of others. You learn to accept them without associating any negative feelings with them.
It also liberates you from small-mindedness and stimulates you to cultivate a loving attitude towards yourself and the people around you. Mindfulness should be practiced regularly (best daily) to fully enjoy its benefits.
Chinese symbol for mindfulness and its interpretation
Allow me to digress a little and take a look at what mindfulness means in the Chinese language. I think it will help us to understand some of the elements we will look at going forward, but also the bigger picture of what mindfulness is.
Interestingly, the Chinese character for mindfulness (below) consists of two different symbols. The upper symbol represents “now”, and the lower symbol represents the “heart”.
The literal translation of the Chinese symbol is “bring your heart to now”.
For me, I interpret the character a little differently. When I look closely at the upper symbol it looks like a roof, shelter, or protection. While for me the lower symbol, the heart, symbolizes our emotions. So, I translate the Chinese mindfulness symbol as the “protection of our emotions”.
I feel, whether you use the literal or my own interpretation, it really helps us to visualize what mindfulness represents. Being present in the now while also being aware of ourselves and our emotions.
Mindfulness in detail
Now let’s delve into a bit more detail. I will explain each of the elements of mindfulness and explain to you what it means for your personal and business life.
Mindfulness enhances your brain and increases your capacity to cope with stress
How many times have you overreacted to a stressful situation at work or at home? Or how many times has your family paid the price for a stressful day at the office? Before I discovered mindfulness, it happened to me many times.
Every time you are confronted with a stressor, your capacity to bear adversity is tested. If the pressure or the negative events are very intense and/or your capacity to cope with the discomfort is low, then the result is an overreaction. That’s why we tend to lose our nerve just before leaving the office or at home when we are physically and mentally exhausted and our ability to cope with stress is at its lowest.
It has been scientifically proven that by practicing mindfulness exercises you can modify your brain. Helping to improve the way you respond to upsetting situations, be it in your professional or private life. Mindfulness makes you mentally stronger.
Practicing mindfulness helps you focus on being aware of the present moment
Let’s face it, we are all basically addicted to entertainment. Social Media has made it even more prevalent. We easily become bored and fall into the trap of continuously checking – even during business meetings – our mobile phones. We’re always seeking new stimuli, looking for something new, something better.
I suppose it’s fair to assume some business meetings might be boring, but it seems more likely that our restlessness is instead directly related to our inability to concentrate. Even if it is just for a couple of minutes at a time.
But where do our thoughts go when we have trouble remaining in the present moment? Well, it’s one of two places really, either the past or the future. When our mind wanders, we tend to dwell on things that have already happened, or something that we think might happen in the future. Maybe it was something you regrettably said at a big business meeting or something you want to say at an upcoming event.
Moving on from dwelling and worrying
Both dwelling and worrying are negative emotions. It seems obvious then that we are hardwired for negativity. Surprisingly, or maybe not, it has to do with our own evolution. To survive in the wilderness our ancestors had to quickly understand the potential danger coming from predators or other dangers. If they were not able to properly recognize upcoming threats, they would perish. Dwelling and worrying became part of our ancestor’s survival instincts.
Those who were overly sensitive to environmental signals had the greatest chance of survival.
That’s why, we, the direct descendants of these human beings, are characterized by negativity bias. But what worked well in the jungle is not necessarily the best strategy in the office.
Does this sound familiar to you? Think about the last time you received feedback from your boss. Let’s assume your boss was predominantly happy with your performance, except for one negative comment. It was this negative comment you likely came to dwell on, maybe it even kept you awake at night for a few days.
Mindfulness changes our tendency to dwell on the negative. It switches off the most primitive part of our brain that is responsible for our fight or flight response. It calms our nervous system and stimulates our self-awareness and attention. After mindfulness exercises, you will never look at your mobile during a meeting. You might not even take it to the meeting at all!
Mindfulness helps you see life’s events without bias or judgment
Thinking is a great human trait. Our company and shareholders expect us to do it, don’t they?
But thinking is a double-edged sword. Inherently our thinking and decision-making processes are entrenched in, whether it be conscious or subconscious, stereotypes and biases. It is part of our thought process to overgeneralize.
Obviously, every leader should make decisions based on facts and not on subjective opinions. But in reality, in business, this is not always the case.
By practicing mindfulness, you can overcome this problem. Mindfulness teaches you to focus on “now” and leaves no room for stereotypes and biases.
Without bias and prejudice, the next time you listen to a presentation you will be able to focus on its content and not on the presenter.
Mindfulness stimulates you to cultivate a loving attitude towards yourself and the people around you
It’s a well-known fact that nobody is perfect. That means everybody you work with has imperfections, you, your boss, your colleagues and your employees are all far from perfection.
Instead of focusing on our imperfections though, a good leader will focus on the strengths of their co-workers.
In a similar vein, you should also avoid comparing yourself to other people. To do so has a harmful effect on your self-esteem and self-confidence. You need to see yourself and other people around you in a friendly, loving way. This will not only improve the atmosphere in your team but also its productivity.
Another thing that can lower self-esteem is anxiety. Mindfulness actually helps to fight anxiety. Anxiety in the workplace can be difficult to manage. It is a negative emotion that increases worry and fear. Being anxious can make you unhappy and lead you to see yourself and the world through a negative lens. By fighting anxiety, mindfulness stimulates a more loving and supportive state of mind.
Mindfulness is a love-creating machine.
Mindfulness leads to better business decisions
What is mindfulness then? Mindfulness is a simple and profound shift in the way we approach life. Rather than living on autopilot, judging, and reacting to our environment. We slow down, become aware and release judgment. We enable ourselves to respond to the present moment in a way that corresponds with our values.
In this state, we are more capable of achieving our business goals, making logical decisions and delivering productive results.
Wonderful article. I have myself been trying to be more mindful and I find that a lot of the times, I can’t be because I am too stressed out. The ironic thing is that I know it will reduce stress if I get through it and make it a habit. I agree completely about acting according to your own moral values. For me, I am very traditional so my husband and kids come first. I do struggle at times being a working mom, however. It would seem they kind of have a conflict there. Any advice for me?