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Mindfulness in Business: The Science & Benefits

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Mindfulness is non-judgemental present moment awareness. That means you’re not thinking about the past, you’re not thinking about the future, you’re 100% here-and-now. And rather than judging your experience as either good or bad you’re simply accepting it with curiosity.

WHAT DOES MINDFULNESS DO FOR OUR BRAINS?

Evolution has designed us to be miserable. Our ancestors survived to breed because they saw every potential threat as real; by running away from every rustle in the bushes they avoided being killed. Their brains evolved to cling to bad memories, anticipate worse in the future, and fear change and strangers. As a result our amygdalas, almond-sized parts of the brain, react more to negative than positive events, causing a “negativity bias“. Although many of us now live comparatively safe lives our brains still respond to everyday situations as though they mean life or death, noticing negative stimuli around five times more than positive and often interpreting neutral events as negative.

 

Mindfulness reduces the overreaction of the amygdala

The good news is through mindfulness we can rewire our brains, including reducing the amygdala’s overreactions. While once it was believed our brains were hard-wired by the time we reached adulthood, science has shown we continue to generate new brain cells throughout our lives. We can also modify the pathways signals follow within our brains and hence change our habitual ways of thinking.

There’s a saying  “cells that fire together wire together. Simplistically put, when particular messages often travel through our brains those connections become stronger, like pathways worn into a grassy meadow, meaning we’re more likely to think that way in the future. This is how a repeated action like driving eventually becomes automatic. It also means we can either accidentally or deliberately embed patterns of thoughts and hence emotions and behaviour. Given evolution has programmed us to feel disproportionate fear and focus on negative memories we’re naturally set up to feel anxious about the future and sad or angry about the past. However on the upside we can consciously choose to use our brains differently, in particular by practicing mindfulness, creating more constructive habitual thought patterns and emotions.

Meditation, one of the most common ways to practice mindfulness, has been demonstrated to increase activation of the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC). Activation of the ACC has a number of positive effects, including improving self-regulation and learning from past experience. In addition MRI scans of novices who undertook mindfulness meditation practices for 30 minutes a day over eight weeks showed “increased cortical density and thickness of the grey matter in the prefrontal cortex, the areas associated with empathy and compassion; and in the hippocampus, the brain area associated with learning and memory“. The increase in density is visible evidence these areas have become more active and effective.

Anterior Cingulate Cortex (ACC)

The Anterior Cingulate Cortex becomes more effective with mindfulness training

WHAT ARE SOME OF THE BUSINESS BENEFITS OF MINDFULNESS?

Better decision-making and strategic flexibility

Our evolution-imposed fear response encourages us to inappropriate knee-jerk responses. It narrows our perspective so we misinterpret situations and often miss the bigger picture. Meditation has been shown to promote improved problem-solving, with people more often choosing correct answers, learning from past experience, able to switch strategies when appropriate, and making less biased decisions.

Increased productivity through improved focus, memory and concentration

How much more effective could you be if you were able to maintain focus and concentration for longer periods of time? Heightened activity of the ACC helps you to resist distraction and keep you on-task, and undergoing mindfulness training only 4 times for 20 minutes per session has been shown to significantly improve memory and executive functioning.

Improved relationships

Meditation practices make it easier to add an all-important pause between stimulus and response. During that pause meditators are more often able to choose a constructive way to react to a situation. In addition practices such as loving-kindness meditation have been shown to provide many other benefits, including enhanced empathy and decreased bias towards others. All of these will help you to build stronger relationships with your stakeholders, better understanding and caring about their needs.

Less stress and more resilience

In today’s rapidly-changing business world our ability to thrive amidst the chaos is crucial. Mindfulness based stress reduction programs have been shown to  reduce burnout and improve well-being.

Reduced absenteeism and presenteeism

In her latest book “Future Brain – The 12 Keys to Create Your High-Performance Brain“, Dr Jenny Brockis refers to studies on presenteeism, the loss of productivity when an employee is present but at reduced capacity due to illness, stress or other distractions. Mindfulness practice reduces both absenteeism and presenteeism, improving mental and physical health through lower levels of stress, better sleep patterns, and a heightened sense of happiness. As a result you are able to be at work more often, happily and productively. You’re also likely to live longer!

Greater creativity

Some business problems can best, or sometimes only, be solved by a shift in perspective which allows the problem to be seen in a novel way; these are known as “Insight” problems. Insight problem solving is enhanced by increased mindfulness, and Guided Reflection is designed to bring about these valuable perspective shifts.

HOW TO PRACTICE MINDFULNESS

The busyness of business encourages us to feel we don’t have time to think, never mind minutes to spare for practicing mindfulness. We rush from meeting to meeting then home to juggle commitments with family and friends. If we’re lucky we may occasionally squeeze in an hour of exercise or a full night’s sleep. All of this contributes to high levels of stress and burnout and reduced levels of work performance.

However mindfulness practice can deliver benefits in as little as 10 minutes a day, an investment that pays for itself many times over. Meditation is the most common form of secular mindfulness practice, although other activities that keep returning the mind to the present moment can have similar effects. While practicing for longer will accelerate the benefits it’s the regularity that matters most. Practicing daily is ideal but it doesn’t matter if you miss a day occasionally.

Many people prefer to practice when they first get up in the morning, often rising early while the rest of the household is still asleep. This sets the tone for the day and you’re less likely to nod off than if you practice in the evening when you’re tired. Some like to practice twice, finding an evening session improves their sleep.

For your regular practice choose somewhere quiet and peaceful where you can be uninterrupted, ideally the same place every day, and set this place up with a comfortable place to sit. Your back should be upright but supported and relaxed, hands lightly rested in your lap, eyes either partially open but unfocused and looking downward or lightly closed.

There are many different guides to mindfulness practice; feel free to search the internet for one you like. This site describes five of the more common practices, plus there are many apps available to keep you on the mindfulness journey, some of which I’ve listed in this previous post.

 

In addition you can boost the benefits of your formal meditation sessions by seizing opportunities to meditate at other times, for example turning your attention to your breath while standing in a queue, waiting for an elevator or sitting at traffic lights. If you’re a complete beginner it can be very helpful to attend sessions led by an experienced guide, and even experienced meditators benefit from attending regular group meditation.

Want to be happier and more effective in your work?

Practice mindfulness and reap the benefits.

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About the Author

This article was written by Fiona of threefold consulting.

Callum Connects

Denise Mossis Kipnis, Founder & Principal of ChangeFlow Consulting

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Denise Mossis Kipnis’ curiosity in people and the world, lead her to set up ChangeFlow Consulting.

What’s your story?
I’m driven by curiosity. Having been the only one in a room who looks like me for most of my life, I developed a curiosity about who stays, who leaves and who thrives in minority/majority situations including when and how connection and collaboration happen. I was a systems thinker long before I knew what that was, always asking why and so what; and seeing the pieces, the whole, and the places in between. So helping people and organisations move through the complexity of transformation feels natural to me.

What excites you most about your industry?
I see change and inclusion as two sides of the same thing; I don’t practice one without the other. Some people see change as death, as loss, as exhausting. And it can be. But I see in the work I do as an opportunity for something new or hidden to emerge. When an organisation understands that it is first a group of people, who themselves represent and belong to groups of people, and it begins to tackle what it would mean to understand and learn from all that talent, all that diversity, to have them all working for and not against the organisation, to truly unleash all that their people have to offer; that’s magic.

What’s your connection to Asia?
Change and inclusion are personal values as well as professional strengths. For me, living and working outside of the States was a bold experiment to see whether any of the stuff I’d learned about change and inclusion would work outside of the US. My husband and I targeted Asia specifically: it would be the greatest contrast, culturally speaking, for me; and a unique career springboard for him.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Although I’ve practiced in other cities, I am biased towards Singapore. In some ways it’s what Los Angeles is to the rest of the United States, a microcosm of sorts. The regional/global nature of it means that so many different nationalities and cultures are represented. As a result of this mix, you never know what you might get. In some situations, cultural dynamics are obvious, sometimes subdued. The variability is compelling.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
“Never ask anyone to do anything you wouldn’t do yourself.” Michael Rouan.

Who inspires you?
Often it’s a “what” not a “who.” I can get inspiration from a passage in a book or a situation in a movie, as well as a turn of a phrase or watching people interact. I often make the biggest connections between the various threads I’m working on when I’m sitting in someone else’s event.

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
I’m honestly not blown away by much. Instead, I’m struck how circular things can be: ideas often come back around with a slightly different twist and I watch the way it shakes things loose for people. I recently sat through a workshop on Self as Instrument, and despite being thoroughly versed already, I learned something. In preparing for a panel on design thinking, I unearthed a new language to describe things.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
You’ve caught me at a good time. I’m sitting in appreciation and gratitude for all my experiences, because I wouldn’t be who I was today if all that has happened, didn’t. And yet one thing comes to mind: It wasn’t until I redesigned my website two years ago (shout out to Brew Creative!) that I realised I hadn’t made explicit agreements with my past clients as to what I could share publicly about our engagement, or whether I could use their logos in my promotional materials. In my business, confidentiality is so important, and yet I need to be able to talk about the work as reputation and experience leads to the next success, and so on. It turned out a lot of the contacts I had known had left the organisations where the work was done, so they couldn’t help at that point. So the practice I’m carrying forward is to get those agreements up front, and to make sure my relationships in client systems are broad as well as deep.

How do you unwind?
Science fiction, puzzles, wine.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Home. I don’t travel to relax, I travel to learn and explore.

Everyone in business should read this book:
Built to Change, by Ed Lawler and Chris Worley. To my knowledge, it’s the first pivot from advising organisations away from stability and toward dynamism, from strategic planning to strategizing as an action verb; to blow up the traditions and rigidity that impede organisations from developing change capability.

Shameless plug for your business:
We’re taught that there are two kinds of people: those who see forests, and those who see trees. There is a third type, my type, and we see the ecosystem. Worms, climate, birds, the spaces in between. This is the perspective organisations need to be successful in solving complex problems and thriving in change.
ChangeFlow uniquely blends four disciplines (two of which are multi-disciplinary in themselves): organisation development, culture and inclusion, change management and project management.

How can people connect with you?
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ChangeFlowConsulting/
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/dmorriskipnis/
LinkedIn Company page: https://www.linkedin.com/company/4862954/
Email: [email protected]
Website: http://www.changeflowconsulting.com

Twitter handle?
@ChangeFlow

This interview is part of the ‘Callum Connect’ series of more than 500 interviews

Callum Laing is an entrepreneur and investor based in Singapore. He has previously started, built and sold half a dozen businesses and is now a Partner at Unity-Group Private Equity and Co-Founder of The Marketing Group PLC. He is the author two best selling books ‘Progressive Partnerships’ and ‘Agglomerate’.

Connect with Callum here:
twitter.com/laingcallum
linkedin.com/in/callumlaing
Download free copies of his books here: www.callumlaing.com

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Callum Connects

Agnes Yee, Legal & Compliance Recruiter of Space Executive

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Agnes Yee started Space Executive in Singapore, which is a hub for businesses in some of the world’s fastest growing economies.

What’s your story?
After graduation, I joined a design media company as a Business Development Executive, during the era when ‘reading a magazine online’ was unheard of. I believe that laid the foundation for being unfazed by rejections.

I fell into recruitment pre-GFC and rode the highs and lows in the early years. A decade later, I decided to set up my own recruitment company, partly because I could. I’m acutely aware of the face that being an Asian female in Singapore is sometimes a privilege, and that many women in the world are living a very different existence.
Thereafter, we joined Space Executive as part of a merger. I am currently the Partner of Space Executive, a recruitment company focused specialist disciplines, including Legal, Finance, Digital, Sales and Marketing and Change. We also run Space Ventures, a venture capital business, which invests in seed and pre-series A businesses.

What excites you most about your industry?
On a daily basis, we’re influencing how one spends a third of their day. It is interesting how the Internet has transformed the industry, and I’m excited to see how we can harness technology to bring us to the next phase of this business.

The VC is an extension of applying our skills and experience in reading people. We very much invest in the people as much as the idea. Being a native Singaporean, it’s been exhilarating watching Southeast Asia becoming a hotbed of ideas; and young entrepreneurs simply daring to dream.

What’s your connection to Asia?
I’m a born and bred Singaporean. I love that I speak both English and Mandarin, grew up playing with Indian friends and eating Malay food.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Singapore for the low barriers of entry to set up a business, but has to be China (and Hong Kong) for their hunger and constant innovation.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
青春不要留白 which translates to ‘Don’t waste your youth.’

Who inspires you?
Anyone who has gone against the grain.

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
It wasn’t recent but reading the article on https://waitbutwhy.com/2015/12/the-tail-end.html never fails to blow my mind how little time we have left. Charting our lives in weeks, and realising I only have enough time left to enjoy 60 Christmas turkeys, read 300 books (all if I’m lucky); and mostly, I’m left with the last 5% of the time that I spend in-person with my parents.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
I’m cognisant that every decision I made in life has brought me to where I am today, and I wouldn’t change one thing. But I’d really like to have had more time to travel.

How do you unwind?
Exercise and wine.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Trekking any mountain in Asia. It brings us back to the most basic. To overcome elements of nature and our own mind.

Everyone in business should read this book:
Start with Why, Simon Sinek

Shameless plug for your business:
Space Executive started in Singapore, a hub for businesses in some of the world’s fastest growing economies. We assist organisations in accessing a targeted and specialised, and often times transient talent pool.

Out of Singapore, we have recruited across 14 countries; and have embarked on our global expansion plans with offices in Hong Kong and London this year, and US, Japan and Europe in the following years.

Space Ventures provides funding, management and financial guidance to young businesses with original ideas. We have invested in peer to peer lending platforms, credit scoring, social media education, and other start-ups spanning diverse industries. We are always interested in hearing more about new ideas.

How can people connect with you?
https://www.linkedin.com/in/agnesyee/

This interview is part of the ‘Callum Connect’ series of more than 500 interviews

Callum Laing is an entrepreneur and investor based in Singapore. He has previously started, built and sold half a dozen businesses and is now a Partner at Unity-Group Private Equity and Co-Founder of The Marketing Group PLC. He is the author two best selling books ‘Progressive Partnerships’ and ‘Agglomerate’.

Connect with Callum here:
twitter.com/laingcallum
linkedin.com/in/callumlaing
Download free copies of his books here: www.callumlaing.com

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