Why Mindfulness?

A simple answer is: "Because it improves well-being".  A full answer is a bit more complex, so apologies in advance that this page is "wordy" 

There are many definitions of mindfulness.  Consider the following from two of the most experienced mindfulness teachers in the West:

"The deliberate paying attention to your experience, as it arises, without judgement"

Jon Kabat-Zinn

"A way of paying attention so that our perception of what's happening in the moment, is not so distorted by our normal biases"

Sharon Salzberg

The first thing to notice is that both definitions refer to current experience - the present, the here and now.  Second, it involves paying attention and third, it's about perceiving things without bias or judgment.
 

Autopilot

Scientific research shows that, as humans, we have a powerful ability to react very rapidly to whatever we experience.  This has given us a survival advantage.  We develop this ability through experience, personal beliefs and axioms, building unconscious processes around them that rapidly compare the current situation with these unconscious references.  We then react automatically, informed by our unconscious.  This is like operating on "autopilot" and is our default mode of behaviour.

Our autopilot can be very limiting however, as it can only react according to the options available sub-consciously.  These may not be particularly close to the current reality, resulting in a less than optimal or inappropriate response.  We over-react to something trivial, under-react to something important, catastrophise or become overly defensive, worried or aggressive in any given situation, or simply ignore or push away uncomfortable thoughts or feelings.

This autopilot also incessantly prompts us to think and worry about the past and future, distracting our focus from what is happening in the present.  Thus we miss out on a lot of what happens in our lives - good and bad, and therefore fail to respond to the present as well as we might.

Add to that, the fact that our minds don't particularly like not knowing, and will often fabricate a narrative to explain an experience.  It seems that, as long as we feel the narrative is coherent, it will be acceptable to us.  We then happily behave as if our invented narrative is the reality!

Not Reliable

This is all going on, all the time, whether we're aware of it or not.  So, while we tend to regard whatever arises in our minds as reliable,  clearly, it may not be!

"We do not see things as they are.  We see them as we are"

Anais Nin

So, why Mindfulness?

Being mindful means being aware of this.  While we have little control over what thoughts and feelings our autopilot serves up for us in our minds, we can change our relationship to them.  Mindfulness seeks to do just that, to be more aware of whatever thoughts and feelings arise, and to create a little distance from them. Then we can observe them for what they are - just thoughts and feelings, not necessarily reality - without automatic bias or judgment.  Thus we can behave with much more flexibility, understanding and usefulness.  We can deal with present reality rather than our self-constructed pasts or futures.  We can cope with unpleasant or difficult feelings with a sense of proportion, understanding and flexibility rather than hiding from or suppressing them.

It can be said then, that mindfulness is an attitude we can take to our minds - one of awareness, detachment and non-judgment. An attitude of simply observing and letting things be exactly as they are, with tolerance and kindness. This attitude is very difficult to develop just by thinking about it.  We need ways to practice this skill - exercises for the mind, so that we can learn to be simply aware of our autopilot, rather than being led and directed by it.  This is what regular mindfulness practice is designed to do.

Practice

Mindfulness practice is based on meditative exercises used over thousands of years in most religious and philosophical traditions, notably Buddhism.  The term "meditation" can be a bit loaded in western culture, with a slight whiff of incense, tinkling of little bells or crystals on remote mountaintops etc.  Even though the practice has been completely secularised, some prefer to use the terms "practice" and "exercise" instead of meditation.  Regardless of terminology, while it is perfectly possible to be mindful without these practices, for many of us, they can be very helpful.

There are several types of mindfulness practice, and they are mostly quite simple - although not necessarily easy, as they may require some discipline.  They can involve focusing on a specific aspect of your present experience (e.g. your breath), or sometimes, awareness of the full variety of experiences available to you in the present moment.  You do this usually by being still and focusing as required for a short time, and, whenever distracted, by thoughts or otherwise, gently re-focusing without being hard on yourself for drifting.  There are mindfulness exercises for walking, running and other activities, and for specific contemplations.

However, mindfulness is not limited to specific practice periods.  You can also do everyday activities (showering, eating, brushing teeth, walking, commuting etc.) mindfully.  That is, paying full attention to what you are doing, in the present moment, rather than doing it automatically and being distracted by thoughts about the past or future.  It is a good idea to take whatever opportunities you can during your day to take a mindful minute or even just a mindful moment of practice.  It helps to focus on the present, and not on whatever difficulties or attractions are being presented by the mind.  This is particularly useful in, or just before or after, busy and stressful situations and encounters

Transport for London reported the following outcomes from participants in a 6 week course including Mindfulness given to 600 employees:

71% reduction in absence related to stress, anxiety or depression
50% reduction in absence related to ALL causes
80% participants reported improvements in their relationships
79% reported improvement in ability to relax
64% reported improvements in sleep patterns
53% reported improved happiness at work

Changes

Once you have an established practice, you may begin to notice changes.  Sometimes your colleagues or those closest to you notice first (children are often the most perceptive!).  You might find that you are becoming more even-tempered, a little less troubled by the "slings and arrows", or by difficult people, and can manage your days more satisfactorily, effectively and productively.  That can't be bad.  It's the start of your mindfulness journey - becoming less reactive, more responsive.  As you continue to practice mindfulness, even more benefits emerge.

 

At Work/Leadership

It's easy to see how these traits can make a significant contribution to the workplace - for both the individual and the organisation.  By providing a mindfulness course for employees, an organisation is contributing to employee welfare, addressing issues like stress and attention skills, and is likely to  benefit from improved engagement and performance. 

Leaders gain significant benefits from mindfulness practice.  Many leaders have earned their leadership position through historic performance and a specific set of skills, not necessarily through their Emotional Intelligence.  Studies show that excellence in leadership requires strength in several "soft" qualities including self-awareness, focus, the ability to hold ambiguity, stress management and empathy - all of which are enhanced with regular mindfulness practice. Training in mindfulness for leaders will have a significant organisational impact and would seem a worthwhile investment. 

Rewarding

Mindfulness is a very rich, deep and rewarding field.  The information here, while scientifically valid, is introductory and omits many aspects.  The only way to benefit from mindfulness is to practice it, and even then, it can take a little time.  There are thousands of books available, and many apps and websites offering mindfulness instruction - some promising amazing (and frankly, incredible) results.  While many of these are helpful, a structured training course, involving well informed teaching, practice and feedback, is the best way to begin, and is the most reliable platform for long-term development. 

Why not make contact, with no obligation, to discuss a course?