Earlier this week, I had the pleasure of speaking at the 2015 International Concrete Sustainability Conference in Miami. While people far smarter than me shared the latest advances, research and technical knowledge related to sustainable concrete, my presentation focused on corporate mindfulness. Although my theme may seem off-topic, it is timely, as mindfulness, or Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), is a key topic in business circles today. In fact, writer Evgeny Morozov labeled “mindfulness” as “the new sustainability” in a recent issue of TIME and 2014 was coined the Year of Mindfulness.
Why the interest? Now more than ever before, business requires you to face a range of fast-paced and ever-changing challenges, as well as make decisions in a stressed and unstable environment. Feelings of uncertainty can undermine decisions, leading to costly mistakes that impact individuals, organizations, and potentially entire industries. Stress in the workplace often leads to inappropriate coping during leisure time.
Mindfulness is both a process and an outcome. Instead of mulling over the past (I should have never sent that email) or worry about the future (I know I won’t get that promotion), mindfulness involves stilling that chatter and focusing on the here and now. No overthinking or overanalyzing-or the opposite, banishing all thoughts. Unlike many forms of meditation, which involve totally clearing your mind, mindfulness means letting your thoughts come and go without rushing to figure out what they mean. With MBSR, you can allow your body to take a break from the prolonged fight-or-flight impulse by flexing your parasympathetic nervous system. What does that mean? Better control and keeping cool.
However, with this growth and acceptance of these “softer” business skills, a new category of backlash has emerged. Those not in favor of MBSR, claiming that mindfulness avoids critical thinking and may result in stress signals being ignored, have coined the mindfulness concept “pinkwashing.” While I concur that mindfulness practices need to be a self-chosen strategy and should not imposed, if approached correctly, they certainly can enhance our rational and ethical thinking processes. Further, people who practice everyday mindfulness can actually change the structure of their brains, beefing up the areas that control emotions and stress responses. Who doesn’t want to change their brain for the better?
Self-awareness, decision-making, innovation, compassion, courage, and resilience in the workforce are rapidly becoming essential competencies for the survival and sustainability of successful, ethical organizations. To that end, MBSR is showing up in the boardroom (Google offers its staff a program), the classroom (some school districts add it to teacher training), and even Congress. Countless studies validate the mental, physical and spiritual benefits of MBSR.
However, if corporate mindfulness still seems a bit vague or lacking in ability to improve your bottom-line, consider that the cost of stress in the workplace is estimated at $300 billion per year in the United States. Educating your team about how to better handle their stress response may very well result in healthier and happier employees, but also more productive ones. Give me a call if you want to explore this topic more and discuss the merits of MBSR. I love this stuff.