Mindfulness Goes Mainstream
A slick conferencing telephone system, six shiny lap tops, a large screen television, six very smart phones and an iPad or two. This is what’s precisely required for a client conference call among agency multi-tasking superstars.
It plays out on a daily basis in conference rooms across the country something like this: as the call initiates and the Web-Ex presentation springs to life; the call is quickly answered, Skype is fired up and to-do lists are attacked. Soon folks are sending funny emoticons to each other as signs of encouragement, ordering lunch online, updating Facebook pages…and all the while, brilliantly unmuting the call to update project status and adding collective strategic insight followed by some friendly banter and the coordination of the next call. Phew.
The last twenty years have brought us the technology to become continually connected, information-overloaded, deeply engaged, hyper-involved and multi-attentive. In some crazy way, its like multi-tasking technology has somehow warped the time-space continuum and we are now able to achieve an 8-hour day in just a few hours.
But at what price? The ability to singly focus on something. On anything, actually.
General Mills has determined that price is too steep. The company has embarked on a journey of corporate mindfulness or the art of paying attention to just one thing at a time. Janice Marturano, a former General Mills vice president, started the Institute for Mindful Leadership that now has graduated over 500 executives. Marturano offers corporate retreats where leaders can practice things like meditation, mindful eating and even how to pause (it seems we’ve all forgotten). The end results are leaders with renewed ability to focus on and plan for what truly matters with the greatest possible clarity.
Sounds new age-y, right? It’s harder than you think. Try this: sit back. Uncross your arms and your legs. Focus on your breath. Breathe with a purpose. Feel the breath fill your lungs…thinking of absolutely nothing but that breath. (You can stop reading now.) Now sustain that practice for twenty minutes.
It’s okay if you failed. If you’re like me, it’s impossible with a mind so full of to-dos and unwritten emails. But that doesn’t mean it is not worth pursuing. The fact is the art of mindfulness yields huge dividends. In addition to clarity and focus, a mindfulness practice is the key to stress reduction and greater health.
Many of today’s mindfulness practices are based on the work of Jon Kabat-Zinn an MIT scientist who, in 1979, developed Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction to quiet loud minds through techniques including breathing exercises and meditation that are rooted in Buddhism. Today, many companies are paying attention to the employee benefits of mindfulness. In addition to General Mills, Google, Proctor & Gamble, Aetna and Apple (led by the late Steve Jobs and his well-known affinity for meditation) all provide mindfulness programs for their employees.
If you’re ready to unconnect, even for a few minutes, you can start today. The Institute for Mindful Leadership has partnered with the Huffington Post to create a Mindful At Work Challenge. It’s quite possible that the only way they could get us multi-tasking overachievers to pay attention is to position it as a challenge. Nonetheless, it is free and purposeful and really a wonderful start to a journey of mindfulness.