29 August 2015 12:09:58 IST

The importance of mindfulness

Large corporations believe it enhances productivity and overall quality of life of their employees

The days gone by witnessed turbulence in the global financial markets resulting in what most have dubbed as the ‘Black Monday'. On the 24th of August, the slowdown in the Chinese economy caused the Shanghai stock market crash, making the Chinese government intervene and devalue the Yuan while imposing a range of restrictions on stock trading.

Around the world

India’s Sensex lost over 1,600 points and investors lost over Rs 7 lakh crores. European investors saw €500 billion vanish in a single day. However, this isn’t the first time the stock market has seen such astronomical increases or hurtling crashes.

The money market has seen many such moments in its long existence.

A stock market crash is inevitably followed by experts trying to analyse the reasons for such debacles, in addition to advising investors to see the dip as a buying opportunity and invest more.

Warren Buffet, arguably the greatest investor of modern times has said: Be fearful when others are greedy and be greedy when others are fearful. According to him this is the way to create immense wealth. Simple as it sounds, this attitude calls for immense courage and conviction as well as the willingness to go against conventional wisdom.

This needs a calm and composed mind which is trained to ignore the white noise and focus on making the right decision.

Calm and collected

We live in a complex and interconnected world with many factors, sometimes incomprehensible, over which we have very less control. Because of a particular event happening in one remote corner of the world there can be repercussions in a place which is thousands of miles away from the event’s occurrence.

It is just not the financial markets which are turbulent with stock market gyrations; there are so many geo-political events which can destabilise well laid out plans for an organisation. Managers are expected to make decisions with imperfect, incomplete data and leaders are expected to lead their team with confidence in an uncertain world.

So a calm, composed and clear mind and approach is the need of the hour.

Philosophical teachings

We have been privy to the long list of skills and competencies required of a successful executive. Strong communication skills, people skills, analytical and problem solving capabilities, cultural sensitivity, global mind-set, and so on. The critical success factor list being long, there is a growing need today, which people are beginning to articulate as the need for/or to be a ‘Mindful Manager'.

Being mindful is defined as being aware of something that may be important. A word dating back to the early 14th Century, it has become a part of common usage in the last few decades, thanks to the increasing interest in the philosophical teachings of Buddha.

Positive externalities

In the world of business, mindful ness is the act of being considerate with well-developed sense of perception. Meditation is one of the proven methods of developing mindfulness. More and more companies are helping their employees practise meditation to develop mindful ness. General Mills, which offers a leadership course focusing on mindfulness, has reported reduction in stress levels of its employees and an enhanced sense of well being. Likewise, Athena, a health care insurance company, has seen significant reduction in cases of absenteeism, stress levels and associated reduction of health costs which come with stress.

Steve Jobs was a great believer and proponent of the importance of meditation. Back in 1981, long before mindfulness mediation became a popular subject of scientific inquiry, Jobs, the co-founder and face of Apple, was well into practicing mindful ness as a way to calm his mind, stay focused, and feel happier. And he was not an outlier. Oprah Winfrey, Kobe Bryant, Jennifer Aniston are some famous people who followed mindfulness training.

Steve Jobs apparently learnt meditation during his travels to India in his youth and his deep interest in Zen is reflected in the beautiful designs of Apple products. Fast forward to 2015, Google offers an internal course called “Search inside yourself”, which is anchored on mindfulness training. We see high-tech companies such as Twitter, E-bay, Facebook have their own versions of mindfulness training.

Scientific basis

What was once considered to be an exotic and esoteric practice is today considered mainstream. It is believed that people who have been practising meditation was a long period of time in their lives have increased levels of activity and grey matter in the prefrontal cortex of their brains: the part of the brain responsible for higher order thinking, this includes the act of judging, decision making and discerning right from wrong. Apart from this, this part is also responsible for eliciting pro-social behaviour such as empathy, compassion, and kindness. Many popular meditation techniques have originated in India and its neighbourhood. Gautama Buddha is considered to be first teacher of Vipassana, a meditation technique which has now developed a massive global following. Transcendental meditation which has celebrity followers around the world started from India.

Learning and practising mindfulness will lead to compassionate behaviour in our workplace and will lead to productive and joyful interaction with our friends, families and colleagues. Not everybody can become a Buddha, yes, but one can a start somewhere.

After all, a journey of a thousand miles begins with a first step.

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