Would you like to boost profits, be more successful and contribute to world peace? That’s the promise of the corporate mindfulness trend sweeping the business world.
Around a quarter of large US employers already offer some kind of stress reduction programme to their workforce but it is mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) which is at the sharp end of best global business practice.
Increasingly seen as a crucial factor for optimal leadership and executive performance, mindfulness training has also been rolled out to employees at a growing number of multinationals across the world such as: Google, Apple, AOL, IBM, General Motors, and PricewaterhouseCoopers, in order to improve productivity and communication.
Google’s personal development guru, Chade-Meng Tan, has been ahead of the curve for some time, causing a stir in the corporate world in recent years with his groundbreaking Search Inside Yourself (SIY) programme and international bestseller of the same name.
Meng’s seven-week (20 hour) mindfulness based emotional intelligence course, already attended by more than 1000 Googlers, goes one step further than stress reduction — it firmly repackages the mindfulness trend for profit as well as happiness, claiming to improve employee performance and job satisfaction.
But what exactly is mindfulness? According to Meng, it is a way of achieving calmness, clarity and self-awareness.
He said: “Every time your attention wanders away and you bring it back, it’s like a bicycle exercise for the mind. Every time you bring the attention back it strengthens the neurological mechanisms that control attention, specifically the pre-frontal cortex. If you do that a lot then you gain mastery over attention, and that mastery allows you, among other things, the skill to calm the mind on demand. That is life changing.”
Meng claims that a widespread mindfulness and kindness practice is as crucial to health, happiness and success as physical fitness, adding that, all other things being equal, calmness and compassion are the best indicators of personal success and profits.
He backs his claims with neuroscientific research which has shown mindfulness to have a positive effect on the whole body by reducing cortisol (the stress hormone), calming the ‘fight or flight’ response in the amygdala and improving memory, attention and empathy, leading to better business decisions and working relationships.
At his SIY talks, Meng invites every person to send kind thoughts to two other people in the audience, saying: “Being on the giving end of a kind thought is intrinsically rewarding.”
He says making kindness a habit attracts love and this is especially crucial for effective leadership: “The difference between the best-performing managers and the worst-performing managers is one thing: affection.
“The more people love you, the harder they work for you…being loved is good for your career.”
One of Google’s earliest engineers, joining in 2000, Meng is now head of personal growth at the Googleplex HQ in California. With humour and clarity, he manages to take the sometimes abstract concepts of mindfulness and meditation and make them immediately accessible.
But there’s nothing lightweight about the course content, which is grounded in science and endorsed by the Dalai Lama. It was created with the help of a Zen master, a Stanford University scientist and Dan Goleman — the guy who literally wrote the book on Emotional Intelligence.
The SIY programme consists of three steps: attention training, self knowledge and mastery, and creating new mental habits. Meng claims results can be seen in as little as 100 minutes but mindfulness is definitely an accumulative skill.
Meng predicts the mindfulness movement will reach a “critical mass” in education, business and government within a generation or two, making it a truly mainstream practice with global effects for peace — his original motivation for the course.
He said: “I had one simple dream: to create the conditions for world peace in my lifetime…to do that I had to align peace with profits and success.
“There will be a point of critical mass when a large number of people will have become successful through the practice of mindfulness. We will reach this critical mass in one or two generations.
“We cannot not do this. It’s too compelling. It’s as important as physical fitness.”
Viv Mayer, a former business reporter for the Bermuda Sun, is now a freelance writer and journalism lecturer in the UK specializing in health and wellbeing.
Writer’s note: Quotes were taken from Meng’s talk and Q&A at a packed Camden Centre in London, hosted by Action for Happiness, on Thursday, April 24.
You can find out more about the Search Inside Yourself curriculum here: www.siyli.org and the book of the same name here: http://www.siybook.com/
More resources: Mindfulnet.org (mindfulness at work website) http://www.mindfulnet.org/index.htm
The American Institute of Stress http://www.stress.org/