Editor's note: Another new voice to welcome on The Wireboard: Edie Raphael! You can read more about Edith's background and why we're excited to have her onboard on her bio page. For now, enjoy this article from Edith!
What if I told you that there is one activity that can make you smarter, happier, healthier and more productive and you don’t need to join a club, wear special clothes, or break a sweat. You can do it anywhere: in your house, office, or hotel room. And you can wear whatever you want: PJs, your business attire or a bathing suit. All you need to do is sit… very still…and be aware of what’s going on in the present moment without judgment.
Yes, I’m talking about meditation or a mindfulness practice. So much of what we do at Rewire depends on mindfulness. For instance, if you've been reading The Wireboard for long, you've read about metacognition. Metacognition is a form of mindfulness and one way to be aware of your Lizard Brain. Today's Wireboard article is part one of a two-part series on mindfulness. Next week, I'll introduce ways to begin a practice of mindfulness in your work and life. Today's piece is focused on making the case for mindfulness. So, if you're new to the concept of mindfulness, or on the fence about it, or would like a solid list of research to share with colleagues on mindfulness, then today's article is for you!
Making the Case for Mindfulness
Earlier this year the Harvard Business Review announced that “the business world is abuzz with mindfulness” and declared it a “must have” for all executives. Practicing non-judgmental, present-moment awareness (aka mindfulness) enhances the types of thought patterns that leaders in the complex world of business need. Some of the brightest business leaders and most creative problem-solvers adhere to a regular meditation practice as a way of cultivating mindfulness. These days many big companies are offering mindfulness programs to their employees: Apple, Google, Adobe, Proctor and Gamble, Goldman Sachs and Davos, to name just a few. Earlier this year, Atlantic Monthly called meditation "corporations' newest productivity hack."
Why this massive investment in mindfulness? Research results published in top medical journals have identified at least eight different regions of the brain which are dramatically changed in as little one session of mindfulness practice. Here are just a few of the documented benefits of mindfulness which have captured the attention of executives and corporations.
Mindfulness Benefits At Work
1. Improves ability to focus and pay attention
In the busy world of business, the ability to stay focused on the task at hand is key. MRI scans of meditators (people who practice meditation) show more stability in their ventral posteromedial cortex (vPMC)—a region linked to spontaneous thoughts and mind-wandering. And on both brain scans and performance studies, meditators are shown to have quieter “resting” brain activity and a heightened ability to focus.
2. Boosts working memory
Whether you need help remembering the names of your clients, or where you set down your phone, working memory can save you time and increase productivity. The American military community (especially the Marine Corps) has been exploring the benefits of mindfulness before and after combat experience. One study of highly stressed pre-deployment military groups who participated in an 8-week mindfulness meditation training showed significant advantages in working memory over their peers who did not participate.
3. Increases information processing and improves decision-making
For everyone in middle management to the top at their organization, complex decision-making and information processing with speed is a valuable asset. For instance, a recent Forbes article made the case that people who practice mindfulness are better at framing decisions (in the context of goals, values and needs), gathering relevant information, coming to a conclusion with speed and confidence, and learning from feedback in the aftermath.
Further, Research Scientists at UCLA have observed that long-term meditators have larger amounts of gyrification (“folding” of the cortex, which may allow the brain to process information faster) than people who do not meditate. Further, a direct correlation has been discovered between the amount of gyrification and the number of meditation years, possibly providing further proof of the brain’s neuroplasticity, or ability to adapt to environmental changes.
The insurance giant, Aetna, reported a decline in overall health care costs and Green Mountain Coffee saw injury rates drop among factory workers when company-wide mindfulness programs were instituted. The reason is that mindfulness has beneficial impact on physical and mental health. Here are a some of the specific benefits of mindfulness practice on health:
1. Decreases level of anxiety, stress and depression
A mindfulness practice called Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) has been found in multiple studies to reduce depression and anxiety as much as prescription drugs. Mindfulness accomplishes this by allowing practitioners to take control of their perseverating (the technical term for "thought processes") over negative thoughts, experiences and memories. Through the disciplining of the mind gained through mindfulness, people prone to depression are able to actively stop the repetition of negative self-directed thinking.
2. Reduces the risk of heart attack and stroke
In a five-year study focused on African-Americans (a population with higher general risk for heart disease), the American Heart Association found that participants practicing meditation twice daily were 48% (yes, you read that right) less likely to experience a heart attack, stroke or to die from all causes.
3. Decreases alcohol and substance abuse
The NIH has gathered a plethora of well-executed studies on substance abuse and addiction which have shown that various mindfulness based strategies help significantly reduce addiction by lowering stress-induced relapses.
Even with all of this accumulated breadth of knowledge, scientists are still finding new benefits and advantages of mindfulness.
If you are coming to the logical conclusion that having a meditation practice makes a lot of sense, stay tuned! Rewire wants you to have the tools you need to get started. In my next post, I’ll lay out the practical points of beginning and maintaining a meditation practice. Also, I'd love to hear any thoughts or questions you have about mindfulness or any of the benefits I listed above. Drop me a line in the comments section.