1. Improve Your Intuition. There’s a reason intuition is called a “gut feeling.” Intuition is felt in the body long before a corresponding thought forms in the mind. Learning to be more mindful of the sensations and emotions in your body will help you tap into your innate intuition.
Researchers at the University of Iowa conducted a study on intuition using polygraphs and four decks of cards. Two decks were blue, two decks were red. The red decks had a much lower probability of winning. After just ten cards, a sweat response could be measured when a participant considered taking a card from the red deck. It wasn’t until after fifty cards that participants could articulate why they preferred the blue deck. Their physical “gut feeling” intuition knew the red decks were bad five times faster than their logical mind.
2. Reduce Fight or Flight Response. This is your body’s response to perceived threats to your survival. In caveman days, a threat might be a lion or a hyena. Social exclusion was also seen as a real threat, because if you were cast out of the clan, your chances of survival were greatly diminish.
Today, that fear of social exclusion is triggered by less deadly events: your boss yelling at you, being blamed for failure, or even an unreasonable client. All of these can trigger a “fight or flight” response, whether or not your livelihood is actually at stake.
Adrenaline enters the blood stream, your heart rate goes up. Creativity goes down and you become more apt to stress, anger and other negative emotions. Vision narrows into an frenzied “I have to get this done” mentality, making it difficult to come up with creative solutions to problems. It becomes almost impossible to enter a flow state.
Mindfulness can help you significantly reduce the body’s fight or flight response. Julie Brefczynski-Lewis conducted a series of neuroimaging tests where she measured the amygdala’s response to fear-inducing stimuli. The amygdala is the part of the brain responsible for the fight or flight response. She found that the more meditation experience a participant had, the lower their response to fear-inducing stimuli.
3. Choose How You React to Emotions. Without mindfulness, it’s easy to get swept away by emotions. The “response time” between feeling an emotion and acting on that emotion can be virtually non-existent. For example, if you feel anger, you might act on that anger without thinking. In the workplace, being run by emotions can be highly detrimental.
Mindfulness training can help you notice when emotions come up, so you can choose how to act on them. For example, you can notice anger as it arises. Then, you can consciously choose whether or not to act on that anger. Sometimes acting on it is the right course of action. At other times, walking away is the better choice. Mindfulness gives you the option to choose from your higher self, rather than be run by the emotion.
4. Reduce procrastination. Procrastination can be caused by any number of unconscious emotions. It could be a project that seems so big, it feels dreadful just to think about starting. It could be perfectionism or fear of doing a bad job. It could be fear of self-criticism. It could be a wide mix of different negative emotions associated with work.
Mindfulness practice will allow you to deeply understand what causes procrastination for you personally. You’ll be able to watch it develop in your mind and body. You’ll be able to notice how it starts, how it takes shape and when it disappears. Then you can start to unravel it, until it disappears (almost) completely from your mental habits.
5. Boost happiness for yourself and your team. Mindfulness can help raise your happiness “baseline.” In other words, how happy are you when there’s nothing in particular to be happy or unhappy about? We all have a baseline. Most people’s baseline is somewhere between “depressed” and “neutral.”
A mindfulness practice can help you raise that baseline, so you’re happy by default. Numerous studies have shown that happiness can help increase workplace productivity, improve leadership and boost overall performance.
These are just five of the many different ways mindfulness can help you improve as a leader. How has mindfulness improved your leadership or your work?
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