Mindfulness in the workplace is gaining staying power and credence, backed by a growing body of research and data demonstrating the positive results of practicing mindfulness. Companies such as Intel, PWC, McKinsey, and AstraZeneca, and other organizations like the U.S. Marines, Harvard Business School, New York Knicks, and Seattle Seahawks offer mindfulness programs. Given how mainstream mindfulness is becoming, I frequently get asked, how do I establish a mindfulness program at my own organization? Here are some of the answers to that question.
Getting support for a mindfulness program is the first step, and, like any program you are advocating, you must speak to three things:
- What is the concept/thing we want to offer?
- How does our organization benefit from concept/thing?
- How do we provide concept/thing to our employees?
At the Mindful Leadership Summit last November, Golbie Kamarei, who brought mindfulness to the world’s largest asset manager, BlackRock, said that in her experience, there are three needs that participants have:
- Exercises and learning around developing mindfulness
- Data and research that support the benefits of mindfulness
- Group connection and community
The way she addresses these various needs is through a group mindfulness practice that meets twice a week at lunchtime. She emails participants in between meetings to stay connected and to offer other materials, such as articles on the latest research into mindfulness. She mentioned that these programs are not required – they are provided on an opt-in basis, but no one is forced to participate.
It is also important to let participants know what to expect. The most common question I get during my talks on mindfulness is, what exactly is meant by a “mindfulness practice”? “Practice” means engaging in guided exercises that develop concentration capacities by focusing attention on your immediate experience. These exercises repeatedly bring attention to an object, such as your breath, then expand attention to your broader experience, such as noticing what you are thinking and feeling. So “practice” in this context is no different than practice to improve your ability to play a sport, play an instrument, or learn a new language – you engage in exercises designed to develop specific skills. Some good mindfulness exercises are provided here by the UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center, free of charge.
It can be helpful to anticipate and address some common challenges of those new to a mindfulness practice. Here is some feedback I frequently hear:
- I can’t sit still. When people say this, they really mean, “I’m not used to being still, and I feel very uncomfortable.” It makes sense that when we are rewarded for completing tasks and juggling multiple responsibilities, “doing nothing” feels odd and unrewarding. Like anything, it takes practice until something starts to feel natural and a willingness to be patient until you get there.
- I’m not very good at this. There is a common misunderstanding that experienced practitioners can zoom into the present and stay there. In reality, even experienced practitioners often drift off. Mindfulness practice is not about being “perfectly present,” it is about noticing when your attention has drifted off and bringing it back to now, over and over again.
- It’s not working. With just 30 minutes of practice a day for eight weeks, researchers see differences in the brains of those who practice mindfulness vs. those who don’t. So practice does pay off nearly immediately. Since brain scans are not accessible to most of us, invite people to assess progress in other ways – do I seem to be less stressed? More focused? More self-aware?
One of the best ways to gain support for your program from both participants and sponsors is by presenting program benefits. In my next post, I’ll provide a summary of research on mindfulness that can help give your program credibility.