Written by Hanna Jacobsson, Client Director at AchieveForum
Mindfulness has long been a buzz word to help us cope with the stresses and strains of our hectic lives; and increase our focus and productivity levels. However, today I would like to share some thoughts about how we can change behaviours by incorporating mindfulness at work.
Let’s first look at the definition of mindfulness
Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgmentally.
Here at AchieveForum, we have carried out a great deal of research into how to influence new behaviours in a VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) world. All too often, we hear from talent professionals that they are frustrated when their training efforts fail to result in the new desired behaviours.
Neuroscience tells us that our brains are programmed to be resistant to change. As we learn new things, new connections are made in our nerve cells. These neurons communicate with each other via junctions called synapses. It’s these synapses or neuro pathways that get stronger and more efficient, and therefore we create habits that are very difficult to change.
Mindfulness as a brain-changer
Recent research gives evidence that when we practice mindfulness it actually changes the brain. This has a direct correlation to how we behave, how we are able to build resilience and how we operate in a complex world, where making quick decisions and ‘failing forward’ is critical.
Further research from the fascinating world of neuroscience shows that we can actively support new behaviours by minimising threats and maximising rewards. David Rock’s SCARF model that is commonly used in development and behaviour change programs, was developed from neuroscience, and looks at key areas where we can minimise threats and maximise rewards for others in order to influence behaviour and improve working relationships.
At our recent Summit event for L&D and HR professionals, ‘Driving Behaviour Change in the Digital Age’, I ran a mindfulness session. Prior to the in-person event, the group had spent some time looking at the SCARF model, mapping our own reactions and responses to given scenarios and thinking about the impact on those around us. I therefore looked at this model in terms of how we can use mindfulness to change our own behaviours.
This is how mindfulness can support such behaviour change:
1. STATUS – our relative importance to others
Neuroscientists have shown that practicing mindfulness gives a sense of self. When we have a better understanding of our strengths and weaknesses, our values, where our thoughts and emotions are coming from, we feel more empowered and less threatened if someone else does not agree with us.
Of course, everyone has a certain need for attention and a sense of importance, but by focusing on what is important to ourselves we are empowered to take bold decisions, be less risk-averse, and have the courage to experiment – all of which are critical ingredients for thriving in the digital age.
2. CERTAINTY – our ability to predict the future
Neuroscience also proves that one part of the brain, the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), is activated when we practice mindfulness. This is associated with learning from past experience and also with better decision making.
The uncertainty is no longer as threatening and by being fully in the moment, we also practice embracing uncertainty, enabling us to fully appreciate and welcome the present experience.
3. AUTONOMY – our sense of control over events
Through practice of observing our thoughts and emotions, we are better able to take a step back when external threats occur. This allows us to make a conscious decision on how to respond to external threats. It is proven that an activated ACC show less impulsivity and less unchecked aggression.
4. RELATEDNESS – how safe we feel with others
A lack of relatedness can leave us feeling isolated and lonely . This can reduce the flow of creativity, levels of commitment, and a desire to collaborate. Being in the ‘here and now’ and truly taking time to simply be with ourselves, helps us to feel more connected to our inner self, our surroundings and other people. This helps us to overcome the feeling of loneliness. By practicing mindfulness, we see an increase in levels of oxytocin, which is our ‘love’ hormone.
5. FAIRNESS – how ‘just’ we perceive the exchanges between people to be
Since mindfulness makes us feel connected to something bigger, we stop comparing ourselves with others. The sense that things are unfair and ‘happens’ to us, makes us feel victimised. In a stats of mindfulness, this decreases.
Finally, when we feel threatened, our brain releases ‘stress hormones’; and when we feel rewarded our brain releases ‘happy hormones’. The same scientific process occurs when we practice mindfulness.
Interested in this topic?
To influence others, why not start by incorporating more mindfulness practices to the team, and support them in setting up ways to encourage each other to practice it. Already doing this? We’d love to hear how it’s going. Why not tweet your ideas and comments using #mindfulnessatwork?
If you would like some guidance around incorporating mindfulness into your day, download a copy of my ‘Mindfulness for Behaviour Change’ step-by-step exercise plan.