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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

Benjamin Kwan, Co-Founder of TravelClef

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Making music to create a life for his family, Benjamin Kwan, started an online tuition portal and his music business grew from there.

What’s your story?
I am Benjamin and I’m the Co-Founder of TravelClef Group Pte Ltd, a travelling music school that conducts music classes in companies as well as team building with music programmes. We also run an online educational platform which matches private students to freelance music teachers. We also manufacture our own instruments. I started this company in 2011 when I was still a freshman at NUS, majoring in Mechanical Engineering.

I was born to a lower income family, my father drove a taxi and was the sole breadwinner to a family of 7. I have always dreamed of becoming rich so that I could lessen the burden placed on my father and give my family a good life.

After working really hard in my first semester at NUS, my results didn’t reflect the hard work and effort I put in. At the same time, I was left with just $42 in my bank account and it suddenly dawned on me that if I were to graduate with mediocre results, I would probably end up with a mediocre salary as well. I knew I had to do something to gain control of my future.

During that summer break, I read a book “Internet Riches” by Scott Fox and I knew that the only way I could ever start my own business with my last $42 would be to start an online business. That was how our online tuition portal started and after taking 4 days to learn Photoshop and website building on my own, I started the business.

What excites you most about your industry?
Music itself is a constant form of excitement to me as I have always been an avid lover of music. As one of the world’s first travelling music schools, we are always very eager and excited to find innovative ways to a very traditional business model of a music teaching.

What’s your connection to Asia?
I was born and raised in Singapore and I love the fact that despite our diversity in culture, there’s always a common language that we share, music.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Hands down, SINGAPORE! Although we are currently in talks to expand to other regions within Asia, Singapore is the best place for business. I have had friends asking me if they should consider venturing into entrepreneurship in Singapore, my answer is always a big fat YES! There’s a low barrier of entry, and most importantly, the government is very supportive of entrepreneurship.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
I have been blessed by many people and mentors who constantly give me great advice but right now, I would say the best piece of advice that I received would be from Dr Patrick Liew who said, “Work on the business, not in it.” This advice is constantly ringing in my head as I work towards scaling the business.

Who inspires you?
My dad. My dad has always been my inspiration in life, for the amount of sacrifices that he has made for the family and the love he has for us. He was the umbrella for all the storms that my family faced and we were always safe in his shelter. Although my dad passed away after a brief fight with colorectal cancer, the lessons that he imparted to me were very valuable as I build my own family and business.

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
You can not buy time, but you can spend money to save time! With this realisation, I was willing to allow myself to spend some money, in order to save more time. Like taking Grab/Uber to shuttle around instead of spending time travelling on public transport. While I spend more money on travelling, I save a lot more time! This doesn’t mean that I spend lavishly and extravagantly, I am still generally prudent with my money.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
I would have taken more time to spend with my family and especially my father. While it is important to focus our time to build our businesses, we should always try our best to allocate family time. Because as an entrepreneur, there is no such thing as “after I finish my work,” because our work is never finished. If our work finishes, the business is also finished. But our time with our family is always limited and no matter how much money and how many successes we achieve, we can never use it to trade back the time we have with our family.

How do you unwind?
I am a very simple man. I enjoy TV time with my wife and a simple dinner with my family and friends.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Batam, it’s close to Singapore and there’s really nothing much to do except for massages and a relaxing resort life. If I travel to other countries for shopping or sightseeing, I am constantly thinking of business and how I can possibly expand to the country I am visiting. But while relaxing at the beach or at a massage, I tend to allow myself to drift into emptiness and just clear my mind of any thoughts.

Everyone in business should read this book:
Work The System, by Sam Carpenter. This book teaches entrepreneurs the importance of creating systems and how to leverage on systems to improve productivity and create more time.

Shameless plug for your business:
If you are looking for a team building programme that your colleagues will enjoy and your bosses will be happy with, you have to consider our programmes at TravelClef! While our programmes are guaranteed fun and engaging, it is also equipped with many team building deliverables and organizational skills.

How can people connect with you?
My email is [email protected] and I am very active on Facebook as well!
https://www.facebook.com/benjamin.christian.kwan

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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Entrepreneurship

Before you enter a Startup or before you choose your founding team or new hires read, “Entering Startupland” by Jeff Bussgang

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Before you enter a Startup or before you choose your founding team or new hires read “Entering Startupland” by Jeff Bussgang.

Jeff knows how to spot and groom good culture, as the book session was held in Zestfinance a company he invested in and now, “The Best Workplaces for Women” and for “The Best Workplaces for Tech”, by Fortune.

These are the questions during the Book Launch.

How to know if a hire including the founder is Startup material?
Jeff says to watch for these qualities.

First, do the hires think like an owner?
Second, do the hires test the limits, to see how things can it be done better?
Are they problem solvers and are biased toward action?
Do they like managing uncertainty and being comfortable with uncertainty? And comfortable with rapid decision-making?
Are they comfortable with flexible enough to take in a series of undefined roles and task?

How do we know if we are simply too corporate to be startup?

Corporate mindsets more interested in going deep into a particular functional area? These corporate beings are more comfortable with clear and distinct lines of responsibility, control, and communication? They are more hesitant or unable to put in the extra effort because “it’s not my job”.

If you do still want to enter a startup despite the very small gains at the onset, Jeff offers a few key considerations on how to pick a right one.

He suggests you pick a city as each city has a different ecosystems stakeholders and funding sources and market strengths. You have to invest in the ecosystem and this is your due diligence. Understand it so you can find the best match when it arises.
Next, to pick a domain, research and solidify your understanding with every informational interview and discussion you begin. Then, pick a stage you are willing to enter at. They are usually 1)in the Jungle, 2) the Dirt Road or 3) the Highway. The Jungle has 1-50 staff and no clear path with distractions everywhere and very tough conditions. The Dirt Road gets clearer but is definitely bumpy and windy. Well the Highway speaks for itself, doesn’t it?

Finally Please – Pick a winner!

Ask people on the inside – the Venture Capitalists, the lawyers, the recruiters and evaluate the team quality like any venture capitalists would. Would you want to work for the team again and again? And is the startup working in a massive market? Is there a clear recurring business model?

After you have picked a winning team and product, how would you get in through the door?

You need to know that warm introductions have to be done. That’s the way to get their attention. Startups value relationships and people as they need social capital to grow. If you have little experience or seemingly irrelevant experience, go bearing a gift. Jeff shared a story of a young ambitious and bright candidate with no tech experience who went and did a thorough customer survey of the users of the startup she intended to work with. She came with point-of-view and presented her findings, and they found in her, what they needed at that stage. She became their Director of Growth. Go in with the philosophy of adding value-add you can get any job you want.

And as any true advisor would do, Jeff did not mince his words, when he reminded the audience that, “If you can’t get introduced you may not be resourceful enough to be in startup.”

Startupland is not a Traditional Career or Learning Cycles

Remember to see your career stage as a runs of 5 years, 8 or 10 – it is not a life long career. In Startup land consider each startup as a single career for you.

Douglas Merrill, founder of Zestfinance added from his hard-earned experience that retention is a challenge. Startup Leaders to keep your people, do help them with the quick learning cycles. Essentially from Jungle to Dirt road, the transition can be rapid and so each communication model that starts and exists, gets changed quickly. Every twelve months, the communication model will have no choice but to break down and you have to reinvent the communication model. Be ready as a founder and be ready as a member of the startup.

Another suggestion was to have no titles for first two years. So that everyone was hands-on and also able to move as one entity.

Effective Startupland Leaders paint a Vision of the Future yet unseen.

What I really enjoyed and resonated with as a coach and psychologist was how Douglas at the 10th hire thought very carefully what he was promising each of his new team member. He was reminded that startups die at their 10th and their 100th hires. He took some mindful down time and reflected. He then wrote a story for each person in his own team and literally wrote out what the company would look like and their individual part in it. In He writing each of the team members’ stories into his vision and giving each person this story, it was a powerful communication piece. He definitely increased the touch points and communication here is the effective startup’s leverage.

Douglas and Jeff both suggested transparency from the onset.

If you think like an owner and if you think of your founding team as problem solvers. Then getting transparent about financials with your team is probably a good idea. As a member of a startup, you should insist on knowing these things
Such skills and domain knowledge will be valuable. There is now historical evidence of people leaving startups and being a successful founder themselves because they were in the financial trenches in their initial startup. Think Paypal and Facebook Mafia.

What drives people to enter a startup?

The whole nature of work is changing. Many are ready to pay to learn. Daniel Pink’s book Drive showed how people are motivated by certain qualities like Mastery, Autonomy and Where your work fits into big picture. Startups do that naturally. There is a huge amount of passion and the quality of team today and as it grows then the quality of company changes.

The Progress principle is in place, why people love their startup jobs is not money rather are my contributions being valued? Do I see a path of progress and do I have autonomy over work and am I treated well?

Find out more about StartupLand on Amazon

And learn from Zestfinance

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