Beat burnout with burnout coach Leanne Spencer

Mindfulness and Being Present

Mindfulness has become a buzz term recently, and there are many courses you can go on which teach you how to be mindful. Mindfulness isn’t just about being aware, it’s about being fully aware and in the moment. I often find myself ‘in self’ and thinking about something else when I’m in going through the motions of doing something else. It’s very easy to find my thoughts drifting back to the past or ahead to the future; being present and being mindful will require you to consciously live in the here and now. The following excerpt is taken from Arianna Huffington’s brilliant book, Thrive:

‘Mindfulness is not just about our minds but our whole beings. When we are all mind, things can get rigid. When we are all heart, things can get chaotic. Both lead to stress. But when they work together, the heart leading through empathy, the mind guiding us with focus and attention, we become a harmonious human being. Through mindfulness, I found a practice that helped bring me fully present and in the moment, even in the most hectic of circumstances.’

More and more companies are recognising the need to protect their employees from stress. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Google was one of the first companies to value their employee’s health in tangible ways; employees of all levels have been able to sign up for a mindfulness programme called Search Inside Yourself since 2007. Google also have walking meditations and mindful lunches which are available to all employees, not just senior executives. eBay and The Huffington Post have dedicated meditation rooms for all their employees, and the Bank of England experimented with ‘working life seminars’.

Andy Puddicombe is the co-founder of an app called Headspace, which is a smartphone app that offers its users a simple and easy-to-use meditation technique to help improve physical and mental wellbeing. He has been asked to work with firms such as Credit Suisse, KPMG and Deloitte. He says:

‘When we’re happier and healthier, we’re more productive. Collaboration and relationships are stronger. Creativity is boosted too, and every organisation relies on innovation. ‘

A UCL study, done in collaboration with one of the world’s largest tech companies and a pharmaceutical company, showed a reduction in stress in diastolic blood pressure with the daily use of the Headspace app.

I heard someone say recently that taking executive and employee wellbeing seriously will become a major differentiator for firms in the future. Arianna Huffington said in a blog post:

‘This is a tough economy. Stress reduction and mindfulness don’t just make us happier and healthier, they’re a proven competitive advantage for any business.’

More and more companies are now looking to recruit the top talent by restructuring their packages into lifestyle packages rather than concentrating solely on the financial rewards. A company that offers flexible working hours and locations, provides mindfulness programmes, includes opportunities to exercise during the working day and has a robust set of company policies that encourage a balanced working life will be able to differentiate itself from the competition.

Encouragingly the trend seems to be heading away from who can pay more and more towards the kind of lifestyle benefits on offer. The recruitment and workplace review website Glassdoor recently published research that says happiness tends to round off at a salary figure of £55k/annum; after that, more money just results in diminishing returns in terms of happiness. Increasingly it would seem people are evaluating the pros and cons of running their own business and many are deciding it’s worth the risks; statistics released by the Office of National Statistics (ONS) in August 2015 revealed that self-employment is now higher than it has been in the last forty years.

In America, companies offering meditation and other wellbeing programmes to their employees can in some instances enjoy lower healthcare bills. It seems that the clever thinking is now centred on creating a working environment for executives that is supportive and balanced. Offering meditation and mindfulness programmes and providing an environment which enables executives to stay healthy, will ensure that they can stay resilient, which is ultimately more important than the willingness to work long hours or sacrifice their health to drive forward results.

It’s not just corporates that are starting to wake up to the idea of mindfulness as being a part of success and optimal performance. A lot of athletes are also incorporating it into their training.

Novak Djokovic is (at the time of writing) the number one tennis player on the men’s circuit. He pays an incredible amount of attention to every single aspect of his training and preparation, not just his on-court training and gym work. He spends a lot of time thinking about his nutrition, (he is of the biggest advocates of the gluten-free diet), preparing his body with ice treatments, massage and physiotherapy, and following a highly disciplined regimen with regard to his sleep and hydration. After winning his second US Open title in September 2015, he said:

‘I have always valued the care for my body and my mind and had this holistic approach to life. I always thought this is of the utmost importance for my tennis.’

He also dedicates a lot of time to considering how to prepare himself mentally. Tennis matches are won and lost in the mind, as is the case with most sports, and indeed with a lot of things in life. Have you ever lost a pitch or not got a job that you know you can have delivered on? Sometimes we sabotage ourselves mentally, and lose out on opportunities we should be winning. To help prepare himself for success, Djokovic is a big proponent of mindfulness. In his book, Serve to Win, he writes:

‘I realised just how much negative energy I had coursing through my brain. Once I focused on taking a step back and looking at my thoughts objectively, I saw it plainly: a massive amount of negative emotion. Self-doubt. Anger. Worries about my life, my family. Fears about not being good enough. That my training is wrong. That my approach to a coming match is wrong. That I’m wasting time, wasting potential. And then there are the little battles: the imaginary arguments you have with people you won’t even see that day over subjects that will never come up.’

Djokovic isn’t the only person who is using meditation to differentiate himself:

‘Meditation more than anything in my life was the biggest ingredient of whatever success I’ve had.’ (Ray Dallo, billionaire founder of the world’s largest hedge fund Bridgewater Associates)

‘It’s almost like a reboot for your brain and your soul. It makes me so much calmer when I’m responding to emails later.’ (Padmasree Warrior, CTO at Cisco Systems)

‘I walked away feeling fuller than when I’d come in. Full of hope, full of contentment, and deep joy. Knowing for sure that even in the daily craziness that bombards us from every direction, there is – still – the constancy of stillness. Only from that space can you create your best work and your best life.’ (Oprah Winfrey, Chairwoman and CEO of Harpo Productions, Inc., after meditation in Iowa)

‘If you have a meditation practice, you can be much more effective in a meeting. Meditation helps develop your abilities to focus better and to accomplish your tasks.’ (Robert Stiller, CEO, Green Mountain Coffee Roasters Inc.)

Other well-known executives who are starting to wake up to the idea of mindfulness include Rupert Murdoch of News Corp, Marc Benioff of Salesforce.com and Bill Ford of the Ford Motor Company.

Professor Steve Peters is a renowned sports psychiatrist who has worked with snooker player Ronnie O’Sullivan, the senior men’s football team at Liverpool and cyclists Victoria Pendleton and Sir Chris Hoy, amongst others. He has written a brilliant book which I often recommend to clients called The Chimp Paradox. He uses similar techniques for working with athletes and getting the best out of their performances.

Leanne Spencer is an entrepreneur, TEDx speaker, author of the Amazon bestselling book Rise and Shine: Recover from burnout and get back to your best and Founder of the Rise Method® and Bodyshot Performance Limited. Connect with me @riseshinemethod or Facebook.

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