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Mindfulness – New science for the ‘Zen’ of better decisions, teamwork and leadership

If Mindfulness is still considerd to be a bit too "fluffy", then why is it used by the US Marines?

Whilst the idea of “mindfulness” is often associated with practices such as Zen, its current popularity in government, defence and business emanates from solid scientific understanding of human emotions, behavior and biases under pressure.

If mindfulness still sounds a bit “fluffy”, be aware that The United States Marines have made use of mindfulness training since 2009 to enhance coping with stress and anxiety and for quality of decision-making. So whilst its origins may indeed reside with Buddhism, these days it has credibility with emerging neuroscience and some pretty pragmatic users.

Mindfulness training has also taken hold within the British Parliament, House of Lords and the National Health Service. Oxford University now has a dedicated faculty exploring mindfulness and its implications for better policy, mental health and communities. See their website.

Expert in the field, Jon Kabat-Zinn emphasizes that “although mindfulness can be cultivated through formal meditation", that’s not the only way. “It’s not really about sitting in the full lotus, like pretending you’re a statue in a British museum, it’s about living your life as if it really mattered, moment by moment by moment by moment.”

Here are a few key components of practicing mindfulness that Kabat-Zinn and others identify:

Pay close attention to your breathing, especially when you’re feeling intense emotions.

Notice—really notice—what you’re sensing in a given moment, the sights, sounds, and smells that ordinarily slip by without reaching your conscious awareness.

Recognize that your thoughts and emotions are fleeting and do not define you, an insight that can free you from negative thought patterns.

Tune into your body’s physical sensations, from the water hitting your skin in the shower to the way your body rests in your office chair.

Australia too is going down the path of investigating how mindfulness can help formulate better strategies, policy and decisions backed by empirical data from the UK.

“Live in the now”, a phrase that may have previously been thought somewhat of a hippy maxim, now has greater credibility in the present tense (pardon the pun) of helping people to make more centered, and better quality decisions and policies. Shouldn't we all be happier that those making the most important decisions have a capability to be calm and centered when doing so?

“In this context mindfulness is defined as moment-by-moment awareness of thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment, characterized mainly by "acceptance" - attention to thoughts and feelings without judging whether they are right or wrong. Mindfulness focuses the human brain on what is being sensed at each moment, instead of on its normal rumination on the past or on the future. 1

Mindfulness helps individuals and teams arrive at better decisions by limiting the impact of past and future anxieties. Which is not to say that historical data and facts, are not considered, or that future implications are ignored, simply that the removal of unhealthy emotional barriers to good thinking can be a profound advantage.

A model and profiling tool such as the Belbin Model (used by Sabre to help develop better behavioural awareness and understanding for teams and leaders) can be of great practical use in identifying individual and collective biases that can impact decision-making. This understanding enables better strategies to manage weaknesses and leverage strengths when it matters most. Behavioural barriers that impede individual and collective mindfulness can thus be identified and better managed.

Thus the concept can be credibly introduced to team building and development approaches in the broader context of other initiatives, and used as an aid to leadership development and self awareness. Understanding the impacts of external factors from a behavioural perspective, thence to the emotional origins of such behaviour plays a role in the search for "mindfulness" amidst 21st century complexity.

With organisations such as the World Health Organisation raising awarenmess that mental health will be amongst the biggest health burdens on the planet, it is an issue that has some relevance to people and organisations everywhere. Increasing complexity and the arising stresses upon individuals, teams and leaders are certainly not unknown to successful businesses, and so why not give the concept a second look?

If you are seeking to deploy “mindfulness” as another aspect of your team building and leadership development approaches or off-sites, Sabre can help you to make use of tools such as Belbin, current neuroscience insights and targeted experiential approaches to bring it meaningfully to life.

1. "What Is Mindfulness?". The Greater Good Science Center. The Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkeley.

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