Now mindfulness is everywhere – searching on Google produces more than 5 million results and Amazon has more than 6,000 titles. And Goldie Hawn spoke to the world’s political and economic leaders about mindfulness in Davos last week. So what is all the excitement about? Actually I think there is quite a lot to get excited about. In the same way that I was blown away when I first experienced proper supervision nearly 30 years ago – which was hugely motivating, gave me a sense of purpose, helped me through difficult times and improved the quality of my work enormously – I now find myself having a similar response to mindfulness. What a huge difference it could make.
Mindfulness is about paying attention in the present moment without evaluation or judgement. It is about noticing what is going on in the here and now – both inside ourselves and with others. Mindfulness asks us to pay attention, not only to what we are thinking, but also to what is going on in our bodies and what we are feeling. It invites us to get out of our heads, where we can spend oodles of time worrying about events already past and anxiously fretting about events yet to come – leaving little space to notice what is actually happening in the present moment. The ‘in our heads’ approach is likely to lead to the same old patterns repeating – continuing to believe that when something goes wrong it is either ‘all my fault’ or ‘all their fault’ – and so the blame culture lives on.
Mindfulness provides more possibilities; an open-hearted curiosity can help us approach rather than avoid new, difficult or painful situations. By noticing what is going on for us we can access more data. The knot in our stomach can tell us that we are feeling threatened; if we notice that, we can consider the reality of the threat and make better decisions about what to do. If the stomach knot appears when we need to have a difficult conversation it might prompt us to rehearse the conversation beforehand, or wonder whether the other person also feels threatened, or make sure we have someone to talk to afterwards.
One of the things I love about mindfulness is its counter-intuitive nature. People often say they don’t have time for mindfulness; however, mindfulness practice can speed things up, or perhaps more accurately it can help us to use time more wisely. An operations manager told me how he used mindfulness to transform their team meetings. He now begins each meeting reminding colleagues of the purpose of the meeting, inviting people to do short breathing exercises and to focus fully on the purpose of the meeting and the people present. The meetings now run on time, people attend, decisions are made and there is a sense of satisfaction within the team.
For those that like the hard stuff, neuroscientists are developing a compelling and fascinating evidence base for the effectiveness of mindfulness practice. It has been shown to develop emotional intelligence, increase resilience, improve decision-making, enhance creativity and innovation and reduce stress. But mindfulness does require practice – like many things, the more you do it the better you get, and it is the repeated practice that makes changes in our neural pathways.
And for those drawn to ancient wisdom, mindfulness is not new. Mindfulness practices have been applied for thousands of years, in all the major religions and in secular life across all continents.
So there is a lot to get excited about. I believe mindfulness practice offers a positive and practical contribution to building the compassionate, candid and creative cultures we need in our health and social care services. If you are interested in learning more, join our open programme on developing compassionate leadership through mindfulness.
- See our leadership development work
- Find out more about our open programme: Developing compassionate leadership through mindfulness