Richard Branson does it. Arianna Huffington swears by it. The likes of Google, Microsoft and Nike are talking about it. Mindfulness is a hot topic. It’s de rigeur for creative and tech start-ups to promote it as part of their company culture and even have a meditation space in their office. But can mindful observance actually make you a better business leader?
The problem for many business owners is that they’re operating at their maximum level.
A survey of 500 SME leaders, found that 54 per cent weren’t convinced that health and well-being benefits would be key and beneficial part of future growth strategy. There’s often a misguided perception that investing in mindfulness is a complex task that involves time, money and training.
Most people think that it also requires a specific knowledge, but this isn’t the case. The simplest way is to control your breathing. Business owners can really benefit from allocating just two to five minutes in the morning to sitting down and practicing this. Taking time out to exhale can give you a greater sense of clarity and focus, and help to avoid explosive situations and manage your working day in a stress-free way.
Neuroscience research has shown that mindfulness and meditation can provide relief without using opioids – the natural production of which is the body’s main pain-blocking mechanism.
Mornings are often recommended as the ideal time to meditate as cortisol is naturally at its highest for about an hour after waking up. Hayley Smith, owner of a boutique PR firm with clients in the hospitality and fashion industry, tries to set aside up to 30 minutes a day to focus on her breath and thoughts. She says that silence helps her recharge – research shows exposure to noise can disrupt productivity and increase stress levels – and has even led to her coming up with new business ideas.
Smith minimizes distractions by switching off all devices. She admits that this can be overwhelming, especially for business owners who are trading overseas or dealing with clients in different time-zones, but says that checking email, for instance, can cause you to overthink, increasing cortisol levels. And getting stressed simply by looking at the to-do list in your inbox isn’t the best way to start the day, she adds.
Practising mindfulness before getting to the office means that once you’re at your desk you’re able to concentrate on the task in hand with increased effectiveness. It’s also likely to lead to a decrease in mistakes and could even improve creativity and help you communicate ideas more clearly. These are all sought-after qualities in a strong, modern business leader.
There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to mindfulness. What works for some might not work for others. But business owners who practise it and encourage employees to do so – as long as they are made aware of how it’s having a positive impact on the body – are likely to see not just an improvement in the chemical balance in the brain, but their work-life balance as well.