Chances are you will have read about mindfulness. Over the past few years the likes of Google, SmithKlineBeecham, Goldman Sachs and some City law firms have been blazing the corporate trail by offering in-house mindfulness training programmes. Along with its growth in popularity, research supports the practice as a way of reducing stress and anxiety amongst staff, while increasing wellbeing. And even better still say many CEOs, this can lead to an improvement in the bottom line. So not only does practising mindfulness appear to make people happier and healthier, it may even result in a proven competitive advantage.
But what is mindfulness? Its guiding principle – which can be applied anytime, anywhere to everyday life – is to be able to step out of the busyness of the mind and be present in the moment. Sounds easy, doesn’t it? However, in reality many of us have become used to functioning on autopilot, with our minds constantly distracted. How often have you walked into a room to accomplish a task only to forget instantly what it was you wanted to do?
We live and work in times of constant change and, whilst change is nothing new, the pace is accelerating. Mindfulness trains us to focus on the moment in a non-judgemental way, rather than allowing our attention to be hijacked by thoughts of the past and worries about the future. You may have already experienced mindful moments whilst out running, skiing, watching a child’s play or listening to music. These are times when you feel grounded and your thoughts fall away.
Those who find the idea a bit airy fairy cannot ignore the research which suggests it works. It is not only corporates who have fully embraced mindfulness as an antidote to the relentless pressure and information overload common in some workplaces. Thousands of mindfulness services are prescribed to NHS patients every year to help treat anxiety and depression: a good plan indeed, especially when reading recent World Health Organisation figures forecasting that by 2030, mental health issues will form the biggest burden on health care resources.
Children and young adults are not forgotten either. Last month I attended a presentation at my children’s school where mindfulness training is being introduced on the back of research which has shown that, when applied in schools, it can increase children’s self-esteem, concentration levels and performance in class.
However, mindfulness is not short of its critics either, who argue it as being just another fad, and not necessarily a panacea for the ills of modern life. Let’s be honest. Isn’t it worrying that so many of us are living lives we feel unable to cope with?
No doubt for many, there is a place for mindfulness. Perhaps it can support how we cope with a demanding lifestyle where we are tasked with juggling multiple commitments and conflicting priorities, by giving us the skills to focus on the present, be more resilient and have greater control over how we respond to situations, both at work and beyond.
As Master Oogway (of Kung Fu Panda fame) says:
Yesterday is history
Tomorrow is a mystery
But today is a gift
That is why it is called the Present