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Senior Correspondent

Do you feel that there are not enough hours to accomplish what’s on your calendar at work? Do you know how to escape the noise and clutter and the constant tug on your time and energy? In today’s frenetic, fast-paced world, the idea of taking out a few moments of solitude to center yourself sounds almost counterproductive. However, research demonstrates that there are significant benefits from slowing down and focusing on recharging and regaining perspective.

In an effort to improve professional effectiveness and overall organizational productivity, mindfulness can be a beneficial behavioral tool and a sound investment. Mindfulness is a psychological process or mental state achieved by observing one’s thoughts and feeling and bringing one's attention to the internal and external experiences occurring in the present moment. Although mindfulness is an excellent practice for all employees, it is especially important for those in a leadership position. Leaders face situations that require them to identify and respond to the needs of their teams and other employees as well as their own concerns. Paying attention to situations in the present moment can guide a leader’s actions and responses through clear intention rather than emotional impulses or reactive patterns.

Sunny Strout-Roston, Ph.D., the author of several books on leadership development and business strategy explains that executives and senior managers have to keep many balls in the air. "They’re so often busy dealing with a never-ending series of urgent or challenging issues that they have little room for reflection on their work experiences or for clear-headed thinking about future strategy."

Benefits of mindfulness include improved concentration and the ability to stay "on task." Within that quiet time and space, before a stream of thoughts and negative emotions appropriates good judgment, one can develop perspective and look at issues from all sides. According to a study conducted at UNC and by mindfulnet.org, intentional, long-term focus helps improve leaders’ flexibility and adaptability. It also helps them move beyond their familiar ways of thinking and seeing the world and become open to new ways of listening, leading, responding, and innovating. Today, there are numerous corporations including Google, Target and General Mills who offer mindfulness training in an effort to help their executives stay focused on their goals and drive success.

Some preliminary steps towards being more mindful include:

  • Be present – take a few minutes to "check in." Clear your mind and slow your breathing.
  • Use the STOP sign technique: Stop what you are doing. Take five consecutive breaths. Observe the sensations in your body and notice what’s on your mind. And when you are ready, Proceed.
  • Integrate simple practices of focus and awareness throughout the workday.

In addition, visualize positive outcomes. As Daniel Goleman, author of Emotional Intelligence, argues, positivity is part and parcel of focused attention. "Pessimism narrows our focus," he writes, "whereas positive emotions widen our attention and our receptiveness to the new and unexpected." Organizational leaders can benefit from imagining organizational "end-states."  This can be as simple as posing a variant of the question Goleman suggests – "If everything works out perfectly for our organization, what would we be doing in ten years?” – and taking time to contemplate the answer.

Seventy years ago, Viktor Frankl, an Austrian psychiatrist who had just emerged from years as a prisoner at Auschwitz, wrote "Between stimulus and response, there is a space, In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom."

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