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Economic value in the modern world relies largely on ‘human capital’ — that is, the motivation and skills of individuals. The demand for human capital has only increased in a more knowledge-based economy.
The evolution of economies was spurred by the accessibility of information and sped up by innovation. One of the consequences of this is that most people working in an office will only be able to focus on a task for around 15 minutes before being interrupted, as pointed out by Edward G. Brown in 2014. According to Brown, various common interruptions can account for the loss of 6.2 working hours each day, which has a hugely detrimental effect on work performance and productivity.
A significant portion of the workforce is under strain. Poor mental health was the leading cause of UK sick leave in 2021.
Most businesses know the importance of maintaining their human capital and care about the wellbeing of those working for them. Many have embraced mindfulness training as a way to help reduce stress. Mindfulness is a form of meditation that seeks to heighten your awareness of each moment, your thoughts, feelings, and the environment around you. The purpose of this is to achieve a state of focussed, alert relaxation by paying attention to your own bodily sensations and thoughts without judgement.
What benefits can mindfulness offer?
There’s a prevalent idea – even hope — that mindfulness could help people flourish, boost performance and improve teamwork. But the enthusiasm for mindfulness has begun to outpace the research evidence available. This is in part because the research into this area is yet in its infancy compared with other fields. So it’s important to note that mindfulness isn’t the silver bullet some claim it to be, as pointed out on page 13 of a 2016 report by The Mindfulness Institute. Rather, its value is found in a gradual increase of awareness of the different aspects of your life. Having this greater level of awareness may be a great help with getting perspective and collaborating effectively and productively with others.
Later, we’ll look briefly at the relationship between mindfulness, productivity and creativity.
For now, though, let’s have a look at the advantages of mindfulness.
6 ways mindfulness can profit us
Here I’ve listed some ways existing research suggests practicing mindfulness on a regular basis can benefit us, paying particular attention to how those impacts may affect productivity. It should be noted that this is by no means an exhaustive list of possible advantages.
Can potentially decrease anxiety and depression.
According to a meta-analysis of nearly 50 studies, health problems related to stress, like anxiety and depression can be treated through mindfulness meditation. Researchers found that going through programmes — mindfulness-based cognitive therapy, for instance — reduces the negative aspects of psychological stress to a similar degree as antidepressants. The effects of mindfulness-based cognitive therapy also seem to last longer after the course of treatment finishes. And, as discussed in an earlier post, happier people are likely to be more productive. So, by helping to prevent relapses into cycles of anxiety and depression, mindfulness might help you become more efficient.
Mental focus and clarity increase after mindfulness meditation.
A review of the effects of mindfulness-based therapies found that they may help support aspects of cognition. These included cognitive flexibility and self-awareness, as well as working memory. These key skills make it possible for you to identify negative thought patterns and seek out different responses and solutions to problems around you. There’s even some evidence that suggests that people who have had mindfulness training are better able to focus attention after they’ve been giving prolonged attention to something else.
Your mind may be less prone to wandering after practicing meditation
The network within the brain that’s linked with mind-wandering becomes very active when we’re not engrossed in a single task. This network is known as the Default Mode Network (DMN). One study suggests that experienced, regular practitioners of mindfulness meditation were more able to push away extraneous thoughts that were preoccupying them. Thus, they were able to do their work with less distraction.
May improve self-confidence
The self-perception of leadership skills amongst a sample of senior managers in London was measured by researchers at the University of Westminster. Then participants were put through a Vipassana meditation program, which lasted 12 weeks. The meditation was revealed to have boosted self-confidence and the ability to inspire a shared vision in others. But it didn’t have a significant impact on their skills as role models allowing others to act. How increased self-confidence may be translated into improved leadership skills— and the role of meditation in this puzzle — needs further study.
Meditation training could help you better control your mood
A 2018 study suggests that the pace and timing of your breathing may help improve your mood and direct your attention. Researchers at the Feinstein Institute looked at the brain’s responses to breathing exercises. Six people who were already in the midst of EEG monitoring did 3 tasks. They first followed patterns of naturally paced breathing, followed by faster-paced breathing patterns, switching between them 8 times. Next, participants counted the number of inhalations and exhalations for a short period and reported their count for each. Their third task was to do a focusing exercise while researchers monitored their own breathing patterns. Aside from the different breathing patterns activating the brain stem, regions of the brain linked to emotion, body awareness and attention also showed activity. Fast-paced breathing triggered the emotion-centre of the brain, the amygdala. This may indicate that fast breathing may trigger anger, fear or anxiety. If true, this makes it more likely that engaging in breathing exercises could help us better regulate our moods.
I’ve talked briefly about the possible link between mood and productivity before and, while the many intricacies of human moods and how they might relate to productivity need further study, early research seems to support the idea that when we are calm and happy, we’re better able to focus and can be more productive.
Your sleep could improve post-meditation training
A small study of adults with insomnia learned mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) which aided sleep. A self-monitoring programme they were introduced to also aided sleep, with the self-monitoring programme supplying a larger decrease in the severity of the insomnia than the MBSR.
Here, there may be another indirect link with efficiency. After all, if mindfulness can be more widely applied to help improve our sleep, perhaps this may lead to increased levels of productivity.
Now, let’s take a closer look at how mindfulness may help us improve our working lives.
Mindfulness: The associations with creativity, productivity and innovation
- There’s evidence that mindfulness, both on an individual and team level is connected to more engagement with work-related tasks and better recovery from work-related stress. If people are more engaged in their work their productivity is more likely to increase.
- A review of several studies supported the idea that, after following mindfulness-based programmes, employees experience less stress and anxiety. They also experience better sleep quality. In such conditions, there’s a better chance efficiency will improve. It should be noted that evidence of a link between mindfulness and other facets of work life, like leadership skills, good decision-making and work performance proved inconclusive.
- Researchers scrutinised over 30 published articles. They concluded that mindfulness and creativity are strongly linked and suggested that engaging in mindfulness-based programmes or interventions could boost creativity. If this is taken as true, it may not be a stretch to imagine that improving creativity may lead to an uptick in productivity, as its sometimes necessary to be creative to remain consistently efficient. For example, you might need to come up with some ideas so that you can move forward with a project and continue to be productive. If creativity sparks innovation, it can be said that it has had a direct impact on your productivity. Exactly how creativity and mindfulness interrelate remains mysterious and is a prime subject for further study.
Despite mindfulness meditation being part of an emerging field of study, the early evidence for its usefulness — a portion of which I’ve highlighted here — is promising. We’ve covered several advantages ranging from improved focus and clarity of thought through to how it may boost your confidence. I hope I piqued your curiosity, enough for you to give mindfulness a fair shot. By doing so, you might come to experience less stress and have better quality sleep. Who knows? You might even be able to boost your productivity!