A Mindful Approach to Sustaining High Performance - A Business Case every Leader should
If you are a business leader or manage a high performing team, what is your strategy to ensure your people can sustain their level of high performance over the coming months?
Pushing through no matter the personal cost, is not a strategy, unless you want a team that collapses one by one from fatigue and burnout.
Pushing through also doesn’t lend itself to innovative and creative thinking, which is exactly what businesses need to transform successfully in our rapidly changing and challenging environment. Chronic ongoing stress, anxiety, overwhelm and fatigue will also slowly but surely start to erode any levels of engagement and team cohesiveness you had enjoyed in the past.
So what are your options? And more importantly, are you prepared to think outside the box to find a solution? One option is to tackle this in a way that perhaps you had dismissed in the past as being too fluffy or soft.
What does the research tell us? Does mindfulness meditation work?
When it comes to performance and wellbeing, research based mindfulness mental skills training, when undertaken in the correct way, can be highly effective and even transformative.
And forget about fluffy. Here's why...
- Clinical research into the benefits of mindfulness training started in 1979 when Professor Jon Kabat-Zinn offered Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) to patients at UMass Hospital. Over the years, following thousands of peer-reviewed studies, research-based mindfulness programmes have been shown to improve health outcomes in a wide range of clinical and non-clinical populations. Outcomes include reduction in anxiety, depression, perceived stress, anger, and rumination, while improving positive outlook, empathy, sense of cohesion, self-compassion, and overall quality of life.(1,2)
- Studies also indicate that for those with recurrent depression, Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) may be as good as antidepressants.(3)
- In 2016 a white paper was produced by a UK Government working party and organisations including Ernst & Young, General Electric, and HSBC. It stated, that while scientific business research is still in its infancy, there are strong correlations between mindfulness training and improvements in wellbeing, relationships and performance.(4)
- A number of successful New Zealand organisations are now focusing on mindfulness based mental wellness and performance in the workplace. Through BlueSkyMinds, Xero have trained over 400 people through our eight-week High Performing Minds mindfulness programme, seeing them become finalists for two HRINZ awards. AA Insurance regularly hold eight-week ‘HPM’ Mindfulness programmes in Hamilton and Auckland, and AUT run eight-week programmes every year for all staff. All these organisations have seen significant decreases in self reported stress, increases in mindfulness at work, resilience, attention, and performance after the 8 weeks of training, and 6 months later (where measured).(5)
- The New Zealand Defence force offers recruits an eight-week MBAT (Mindfulness based attention training programme).
- Counties Manukau District Health Board have trained over 400 doctors, nurses and non-clinical staff with overwhelmingly positive results. The initial programme has been scientifically evaluated, and employees have shown a signiﬁcant reduction in stress, burnout, and increases in resilience.
What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is an innate human capacity that enables us to intentionally focus on what they experience in the moment with an attitude of openness, curiosity and care. It means being aware of our thoughts and feelings, without ignoring them, or getting overwhelmed by them.
Mindfulness meditation is one of the most successful ways to strengthen mindful awareness. Through regular practice, we can notice when we are dwelling on past or future events, and how emotions and impulses affect our stress levels, performance, decisions, and relationships. Systematically strengthening our mindful awareness over time can lead to less stress, more focus, more self-awareness and increased physical and mental wellbeing.(6)
Implementing Mindfulness Training at Work
What we have learnt from working with businesses, is that when it comes to building positive long term change within individuals and workplaces, nothing works better than having a group of people on a similar journey, over a number of weeks guided through structured content, led by a qualified, experienced, authentic and compassionate teacher.
The most globally recognised clinical curriculum is that developed by Oxford (MBCT) and UMass Universities (MBSR). These programmes offer systematic evidence-based training and are considered the gold standard in their field. The programmes we offer at BlueSkyMinds are based on these frameworks, and aligned to meet needs in a business setting.
A suitably qualified teacher will have the skill to work a full range of mental health conditions, and ensure practices are tailored to meet individual needs and organisational outcomes. Last year the international mindfulness teacher network moved towards adopting a standard tool for the assessment of competency of teachers so that standards of teaching can be maintained across the world (7). This tool is called Mindfulness Based Interventions -Teaching Assessment Criteria (MBI-TAC).
Why not an app or short course?
Well it depends on the outcomes. If you want sustained, significant and measurable personal and business change in wellbeing and performance, it may take more than giving people access to an app or short course.
The potential downfall with short courses or being left with an app is that it may not be tailored to specific needs. People on our longer courses regularly tell us they have tried an app or short course but were discouraged when left on their own. Many mentioned they hit a significant road bump including the surfacing of difficult emotions during a meditation, intense boredom, getting into a battle with recurrent habitual thought patterns, or the feeling their time could be better spent doing something more “productive”. Sadly our culture of quick fixes, fast change, and instant solutions makes slogging it out over weeks seem counter intuitive, even though the end result can be incredibly rewarding and transformational.
Why does mindfulness training need to be spread out over a number of weeks?
Let's be honest here, the truth is - real change does take time, though most of us do not like to admit it! Developing a mindfulness practice that increases performance and decreases stress over the long term is no different. Mindfulness practitioners agree it takes six to eight weeks for a habit or new behavioural changes to stick (8), plus it can take weeks to uncover and work skillfully with past habits and behaviours that may have been getting in the way of high performance and lower stress levels. The good news is the increase in wellbeing, engagement, performance and sense of achievement by being able to decrease mind-wandering, increase focus, enhance relationships, and reduce stress far outweighs the weekly time commitment.
So when it comes to your teams wellbeing and performance - are you prepared to think outside the box?
Mental wellness as well as sustaining performance is rightfully becoming a top priority for many teams. BlueSkyMinds run an 8-week programme called High Performing Minds Mindfulness Training which is specifically designed for businesses, and leadership teams who know that mental health is extremely important for their people during this challenging time. All their expert facilitators have a business background and have completed a rigorous 12 month globally recognised mindfulness teacher training pathway through MTIA.
1. The Mindfulness Initiative https://www.themindfulnessinitiative.org/research-overview
2. An overview of mindfulness-based interventions and their evidence base. Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand 2011. https://www.mentalhealth.org.nz/assets/ResourceFinder/mindfulness-based-interventions-and-their-evidence-base.pdf
5. Read the Xero Mindfulness Case Study here: https://www.blueskyminds.org/xero-client-story/
7. See Mindfulness Training Institute Australia New Zealand for more - https://www.mtia.org.au/
8. See Building the case for mindfulness in the workplace page 21 - https://www.themindfulnessinitiative.org/building-the-case-for-mindfulness-in-the-workplace