Bringing Mindfulness to Work
Rasmus Hougaard, founder of the Potential Project, the leading international provider of Corporate-Based Mindfulness Training programs, says if we want to be effective at work, we need to bring mindfulness, not multitasking, to the office.
What do organizations like Carlsberg, General Electric, Google, Harvard University, Facebook, and Apple have in common? They all use mindfulness training as a tool to enhance focus, efficiency, and work-life balance for their leaders and employees. Mindfulness training involves mental activities designed to rewire the neural networks of the brain. Just like one goes to the gym to strengthen physical muscles, mindfulness training is like going to a "mental gym" to help strengthen mental capacity and capability. If it all sounds very scientific, it is. Researchers have demonstrated that mindfulness training can increase awareness and concentration, reduce stress and improve sleep quality, increase energy and strengthen the immune system, and enhance overall happiness and well-being.
But this is not really news. Mindfulness training activities have been developed and practiced by various cultures and religions for thousands of years. So what’s new? What’s "new" is that forward-thinking organizations—like those mentioned above—are recognizing the incredible power and impact of mindfulness programs that are specifically designed to address the realities of today’s work environments. Common work-related challenges like increasing workloads, higher expectations, and longer hours are resulting in increased levels of stress, absenteeism, and burnout. These issues require a focus on our state of mind, how we engage in work, and how we deal with work-related pressures.
So what does mindfulness training mean in the context of a business environment? For starters, we all have a much greater potential to be focused, clear-minded, and stress-free despite the high demands of today’s fast-paced dynamic, corporate life. Training the mind is the answer.
What does it really mean to train the mind? Mindfulness training is about learning to focus and control the mind. It is a rigorous and practical training in taking control of our thoughts and switching off the autopilot that makes us react habitually when we come under pressure. If we don’t manage our mind, our mind has a mind of its own and will start to manage us.
What does that mean in the context of the work environment? One of the most common ways people are trying to cope with the realities of our dynamic, increasingly complex work environments is by doing more than one thing at a time, that is, multitasking. When we come under pressure, our natural neurological tendency is to try to do more things at the same time. When we try to do more things at the same time, our brain simply can’t keep up. From a neurological point of view, our attention can only attend to one thing at a time. Multitasking is basically shifting from one thing to another at a rapid pace. And the brain does not thrive in that environment.
During recent years, many research projects have been conducted on the results of multitasking. In the McKinsey Quarterly article "Recovering from Information Overload," the scientific findings are summarized this way, "Multitasking is a terrible coping mechanism. A body of scientific evidence demonstrates fairly conclusively that multitasking makes human beings less productive, less creative, and less able to make good decisions. If we want to be effective, we need to stop." A study funded by Hewlett-Packard and conducted by the Institute of Psychiatry at the University of London, found that workers distracted by email and phone calls suffer a fall in IQ more than twice that found in marijuana smokers. Obviously, this is a serious threat to workplace productivity.
Over the past six years, we have developed Corporate Based Mindfulness Training (CBMT) programs in collaboration with business leaders, leading scientists, and masters of mind training. The objective of our training programs is to develop high degrees of focus and efficiency while reducing stress and increasing efficiency and work-life balance. CBMT programs are now offered worldwide to organizations and individual executives by local trainers who are certified by the Potential Project.
Various research institutions have been analyzing the outcomes of the program. The Neurobiological Research Unit in Copenhagen documented a decrease of 25% in stress for program participants. And the organizational health company Health Group found that after a CBMT program, 88% of the participants experienced a highly increased ability to stay focused on the task at hand; 76% experienced highly increased positive relations in their teams; 66% experienced highly enhanced efficiency and productivity; and 60% experienced better relations with family and friends. Currently researchers from Singapore Management University are conducting groundbreaking research on the program facilitated for a group of leaders in the largest Scandinavian Insurance company. Also the entire IT department of Carlsberg is undergoing the program and being monitored by the researchers.
It is time that workers be given access to corporate-based mindfulness programs, not only to help them better cope with the increased pressure but to thrive in a competitive working environment.