Mindfulness: Balancing Yourself in the Workplace and Beyond
November 30, 2016
From ancient Hindu temples to the boardrooms of Apple, Google and Target, mindfulness — the practice of quieting the mind and focusing attention on the present moment — has made major inroads in mainstream culture within the past decade.
No longer is it seen as a fringe practice confined to certain spiritual traditions. Athletes have discovered the benefits of clarity and increased focus. Busy executives and students alike are finding time to clear their minds to reduce stress and boost creativity. Steve Jobs himself claimed that his meditation practice was a factor in reimagining the design of Apple devices in intuitive, innovative ways that changed the world.
Now a growing body of scientific research has confirmed what the yogis knew for millennia: Mindful meditation has tangible benefits for the body, mind and spirit. And it’s a perfect fit for today’s rushed, stressed-out world.
“In today’s 24/7 information overloaded world, the ability to attend to what matters with discernment, clarity and skillfulness is the new superpower,” said Shannon Jordan, instructor for Mindfulness-Based Strategies in Business, a new online course offered by UCI Division of Continuing Education.
“We’ve all met people who live their lives in a hyper, reactive, distracted state, attention bouncing from one fire to the next. Meditation is a gateway for mindfulness because in a quiet, contemplative state we can more clearly pay attention to the nature of our thoughts, our emotions, our physical sensations.”
Our minds are set in a default mode to wander, she notes. About half the time we’re rehashing something that’s already happened, thinking ahead to what might happen, or jumping around to random, distracted thoughts. A tranquil state eases jumbled and overcrowded thinking, providing clarity while lowering stress levels and blood pressure in the process.
It can be an especially beneficial tool for complex business practices that require multitasking and creativity, Jordan said. No surprise that mindfulness training programs have become increasingly common among large corporations.
“In order to be effective in our business interactions, it helps to be attentive, centered and calm. We are taught many skills as young people: how to think critically, how to communicate effectively. But no one really tells us how to manage our own minds.”
Mindfulness-Based Strategies in Business — a two-unit course at the intersection of ancient wisdom and modern neuroscience — addresses the specific application of mindfulness for success in today’s corporate world, using guided meditation and breathing exercises as primary tools for sharpening clarity and focusing thoughts on the present moment.
Online discussion forums and live practice sessions are key elements of Jordan’s course, along with podcasts, videos and reflection activities such as journaling, “as opportunities to practice a different way of being present in your everyday work lives and personal interactions,” she said.
The idea is for busy professionals to declutter their minds for heightened awareness that can lead to superior performance on the job. And while it might seem mysterious to the uninitiated, the process is surprisingly straightforward.
“My goal is to take some of the mystery and misconceptions away from mindfulness,” said Jordan, a certified career counselor as well as a certified instructor from the science-based Search Inside Yourself, a mindfulness training program that originated at Google. “Mindfulness, in essence, means paying attention.”
Once the mind is focused and attentive, we experience the world with more clarity, withholding our usual self-judgment, assumptions, storytelling and narration that permeates everyday thinking. She compares the increased clarity to improving the resolution of a photo.
“I work a lot with technology employees and like to say mindfulness is ‘high resolution’ awareness into what’s happening in any given moment,” she said. “Just like if you were to dial in the resolution on a picture to get more vivid colors, texture, imaging and contrast, mindfulness gives you this same clarity, with more data and information about yourself and the world around you.”
But she’s quick to point out that it’s not necessarily a panacea — you actually have to do the work, or in this case, the practices.
A focused workplace
Mindfulness-Based Strategies in Business looks at a growing body of neuroscience research linking the practice to workplace benefits such as improved communication skills and decision-making, more innovative strategies and increased resilience.
Jordan points to a landmark Harvard study that suggests a correlation between mindfulness and positive changes in the brain. It found that frequent meditators had greater cortical thickness in areas of the brain related to attention and emotional awareness.
“The increased thickness of the ‘gray matter’ is a bit akin to increased muscle mass enabling that area of the brain to be more efficient and effective at responding and allocating resources,” she said. “There are so many interesting findings out there. In one study on negotiation, for example, participants who had gone through a brief meditation session walked away with a larger slice of the negotiation pie.”
Jordan has spread the gospel throughout the business world, combining mindfulness training with her skills as a career and leadership coach through her company, Career Ingenuity Group, working with numerous clients including Qualcomm, Ebay, Kaiser Permanente and others. She also provides training for clients of the Institute for Mindful Works.
Mindfulness has greatly enriched her own life. Once a hard-charging professional working two jobs while getting her graduate degree, Jordan changed course after her 10-year marriage broke up; she traveled the world for six months in 2000 and spent a month in Tibet, where she was introduced to meditation. It enlightened her in profound ways and opened up a new career path.
“My life up to that point had been singular in focus — full speed ahead. I had this insatiable quest for achievement,” she said. “In Tibet I observed people who were able to find peace of mind and joy in the most adverse of circumstances. The smiles, the kindness, the calm demeanors, were moving. My curiosity was piqued.”
Meditation provided a balance in her life that was missing. Jordan became dedicated to sharing the benefits of mindfulness so others can find the same clarity and balance, in the workplace and beyond.
“At the heart of mindfulness are simple and accessible mental practices that if employed intentionally and consistently can truly help us optimize our minds and be more effective in our jobs,” she said. “Imagine a workplace full of attentive, compassionate, patient, clear-headed, creative, optimized people. That’s a workplace I hope to help inspire!”
Mindfulness-Based Strategies in Business is part of the Business Administration Certificate Program