Originally known as a Buddhist meditation technique, mindfulness has become a popular method for de-stressing and finding mental and emotional clarity in a chaotic world. As a meditative technique, mindfulness has been proven to be effective in enhancing one's cognitive abilities, increasing the neuroplasticity of the brain, and improving the ways we human beings interact with one another.
In the workplace, mindfulness meditation has been known to improve one's abilities to absorb, process and recall information, and to make us more likable as human beings, in general. As an employer, here are six reasons why teaching your employees how to meditate can be highly beneficial not only to agent happiness but also to your organization's welfare.
#1 Mindfulness meditation minimizes the effects of stress and anxiety on the human body.
Life can be stressful, and so is going to school or finishing one's degree. But, work is even more so.
Many employees suffer from the negative health effects of stress and anxiety on their bodies. Persistent and chronic negative stress eventually weakens the immune system, and this may trigger flare-ups or new developments of autoimmune diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis and psoriasis.
So far, mindfulness-based therapy has been effective in reducing symptoms of anxiety and distress among sufferers of generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). Research also showed that mindfulness-based stress reduction techniques have been effective in helping mature adults aged 65 years and older. Participants have shown improvements in worry severity, mindfulness, and memory.
#2 Mindfulness meditation expands one's capacity for empathy and compassion, and reduces biases, too.
Studies have found there's a strong connection between the practice of mindfulness meditation and an increase in empathy and compassion towards other people. In fact, a controlled study on medical and premedical students in 1998 found that participants who followed Jon Kabat-Zinn's Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program for eight weeks showed:
(1) reduced self-reported state and trait anxiety,
(2) reduced reports of overall psychological distress including depression,
(3) increased scores on overall empathy levels, and
(4) increased scores on a measure of spiritual experiences assessed at the end of the study.
Another study that was published in the International Journal of Stress Management in 2005 concluded that MBSR training led to increased levels of self-compassion among health care professionals. The researchers also studied the impact of mindfulness training on counseling psychology students. Both studies showed that mindfulness meditation significantly increased self-compassion, which led to declines in stress and negative emotion and increases in positive emotion.
Aside from these studies, researchers also conducted a study on the effects of mindfulness on implicit age and race bias, which can be measured through implicit association tests (IATs). Participants who meditated while listening to a mindfulness audio showed an increase in awareness of their thoughts and emotions, and a decrease in implicit age and race bias.
In a follow-up study, participants were instructed to look at photos of people of various races and gauge whether they can be trusted to help them win money or to steal from them. Those who went through mindfulness training assigned equal levels of trust on different races. Meanwhile, those in the control group trusted whites more than black people.
#3 Mindfulness meditation improves the way our brains and bodies work.
It's not just one's behavior and way of thinking that improves because of mindfulness training. It can also affect people physically. One study took MRI scans of participants to an eight-week mindfulness course. The scans showed that the amygdala, the primal region of the brain associated with fear and emotion, appeared to have shrunk.
This part of the brain triggers the body's "fight or flight" response to stress. If the amygdala seemed to have shrunk, then the body's response to distress or heightened anxiety would be reduced.
While the person with a shrinking amygdala has a mellower reaction to stress, his or her pre-frontal cortex seemed to be growing thicker, which meant that neural connections in areas associated with higher order brain functions such as awareness, concentration and decision-making became stronger.
In effect, people who meditate are less reactive and emotionally volatile, and are more likely to have improved cognitive functions that contribute to better performance in their jobs.
An even more surprising effect is the change in perception of any pain experienced by people who meditate. Those areas in their nervous systems associated with pain were slightly more active than those who don't meditate. But, the former reported reduced pain compared to the latter group.
Max Planck researchers discovered that mindfulness meditation practitioners showed significant decreases in activity in regions of the brain involved in appraising stimuli, emotion and memory. And that two regions that are normally functionally connected, the anterior cingulate cortex (associated with the unpleasantness of pain) and parts of the prefrontal cortex, appear to have become "uncoupled" in those who meditate.
#4 Mindfulness strengthens one's ability to focus and learn.
One of the top work skills in the future is the ability to learn on the fly. People who have boundless curiosity will have an edge over those who have none -- no matter their age, gender and race. A surefire way of making learning easy for you and your employees is to practice mindfulness meditation. It has been proven to stimulate the release of hormones that enhance the structural growth of synapses in the brain.
#5 Mindfulness meditation increases one's ability to stay in the "flow" while working.
The flow is a state-of-mind that a person achieves when he or she concentrates fully on the task at hand. That person is so deeply engaged with the task that he or she loses awareness of time and his or her surroundings. This is what happens when you start working excitedly on a project, and by the time you're finished with it, you realized night has fallen and you haven't eaten lunch and dinner. You lose all sense of time, and you won't even feel the pangs of hunger because of the depth of mental focus you had.
#6 People who practice mindfulness meditation are not wont to ruminating and entertaining self-doubt and other negative thoughts.
Rumination in psychology is a bad thing. When people ruminate, they repeatedly entertain negative thoughts about "what-ifs" and "if-onlys" in their lives. This leads to feelings of inadequacy, helplessness, and even depression. Doing this every day can be stressful on a person, and he or she usually responds by binge-eating or drinking too much alcohol.
When you or someone you know starts ruminating, stop the negative thoughts from taking hold through mindfulness meditation. Rather than focusing one's mind on what happened in the past or the bad things that are happening in the present, direct that attention to the sensations experienced by the body and willfully studying the kinds of thoughts that are passing through one's mind.
You're basically training your mind not to dwell on the negatives in your life, and to adopt a positive outlook that translates to a cheerier disposition. Employees who meditate are likely to have greater job satisfaction and self-confidence in their ability to do their job well. Mindfulness meditation will also help outsourcing staff deal with the ups and downs of the job. And so, they're less anxiety-driven and more motivated to excel.
Other knowledge sources about mindfulness meditation you may find useful in your workplace: