Some see it as a fad or just the latest ‘woo-woo’ thinking, but there’s nothing ‘woo-woo” about strengthening your focus and more effectively leveraging your cognitive and emotional resources in the present moment on a specific goal or objective. This with several studies over the last 40 years, showing that mindfulness can also improve your health and ultimately increase your lifespan, suggests that it could be a potential game changer worth further consideration. So what is mindfulness, what does the science suggest and how could you be more mindful?
What is mindfulness?
Professor Ellen J. Langer, a scientist in the field for the last 40 years, suggested that to be mindful “regardless of how we get there, either through meditation or more directly by paying attention to novelty and questioning assumptions, ……is to be in the present, noticing all the wonders that we didn’t realize were right in front of us” and Professor Jon Kabat-Zinn, states that “mindfulness is awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgementally” and for more detail on his perspective watch this clip https://youtu.be/gWaK2mI_rZw. Put simply, mindfulness is the opposite of mindlessness, it’s when the lights are on and someone is actually at home.
Mindfulness and meditation myths
Before moving on, I think it’s important to touch on some of the myths around meditation as they seem to be a major reason why people dismiss mindfulness as spiritual “woo-woo”. Meditation does come in many valuable forms that include religious and spiritual belief systems that date back for centuries, but there are other alternatives that don’t require any spiritual or religious affiliation. You don’t need the perfect environment, nor hours of free time each day, nor will you need to be trained by a monk or guru to be able to get the many benefits associated with it. Mindful meditation can be quite simply, a form of brain training or mental workout, that you can do pretty much anywhere (even walking), anytime that fits your agenda and for as long as your agenda permits (as little as three minutes). Like all worthy endeavours, no matter which form of meditation you choose, the more you put in, the more you get out, so practice and commitment are required, but not nearly as much as you would think.
What the science suggests
There are some extraordinary benefits that have been reported in studies in relation to mindfulness and I’ll try to cover some of them. They include reductions in chronic stress levels, hypertension and chronic pain (Reiner et al, 2012), increases in happiness, meaning and control (Kabat-Zinn et al, 2003) and improved memory, mental stamina, creativity, reduced reaction times and improved immune system function (Black et al, 2016). Ellen Langer in her ground breaking research (Counterclockwise) found that the elderly saw improved health, stress regulation, immunity, increases in lifespan, strength, vision, hearing and appearance. Mindfulness has also been shown to improve success levels in relationships with a correlation between mindfulness and communication between partners (Barnes et al, 2007). Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) techniques have been seen to reduce chronic pain and stress related disorders (Lange et al, 2012, Reiner et al, 2012). Another well known technique Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) has been shown to reduce the recurrence rate in those who have suffered three or more previous episodes of major depression as effectively as antidepressant medication and better than placebo (Zindel et al, 2013) with a review of 47 studies by Madhav Goya in 2014 showing similar results. It has also been shown to improve workplace performance (Reb et al, 2013), well being levels, resilience, engagement and reduced burnout and perceived stress (Alkens et al, 2014). It can lead to improved relationships at work (Good et al, 2015) and better overall leadership performance and in the words of Ellen Langer “At the very highest levels of any field—Fortune 50 CEOs, the most impressive artists and musicians, the top athletes, the best teachers and mechanics—you’ll find mindful people, because that’s the only way to get there”. The science suggests that the benefits could be significant, so how do we become more mindful?
Being more mindful
Here are some tips for increasing your level of mindfulness:
- Meditate – one size does not fit all, so use an approach that suits your own circumstances.
- Be curious – internally about your thoughts, emotions and feelings and externally about the tastes, smells, textures, colours, sounds, and movements around you.
- Question – sacred cows really do make the best burgers, so don’t assume anything.
- Be present – in the only moment that you have any real control over, this one.
- Listen – to both what is and isn’t being said, throughout the day.
- S. T. O. P. – throughout the day Stop, Take a breath, Observe what’s going on internally and externally and then Play-on mindfully.
Author: Simeon Boseley
Simeon Boseley is a highly experienced Coach & Retail Consultant that provides coaching & leadership development for individuals, teams and organisations via a unique blend of practical leadership experience, coaching expertise and the very latest credentials from the worlds of behavioural psychology and neuroscience.