Mindfulness – the new superpower?

Guest contribution by | 17.03.2022

New Me, New We, New Work, New World

Mindfulness is a concept that has been hyped for years and yet for many it is still a “fuzzy” construct. Is it a method, a state or rather a behaviour? What expectations are realistic and what is the truth behind the concerns that mindfulness could be misused by companies for their own purposes?

For years, the number of scientific studies on the topic of mindfulness has been growing and there are more and more evaluations from companies that show the positive effects that mindfulness-based programmes have on a people’ s personality as well as on their environment. Especially now – in a crisis-ridden world – we can benefit from the effect of a mindful attitude, because it can make a great contribution to peaceful coexistence.

In this article I discuss

  • what expectations are associated with mindfulness-based programmes,
  • what mindfulness and its counterpart are,
  • what potential it has, and
  • what makes it so valuable, especially in today’s world.

 

Expectations of mindfulness-based programmes

Expectations of mindfulness-based programmes are as varied as the challenges people face. Some want

  • mental strength,
  • others want to improve their leadership skills, and
  • a large proportion “simply” want a more confident way of dealing with “difficult” emotions and situations.

Oh yes, and against more

  • focus,
  • flow and
  • motivation

nobody objects to that either.

To see how mindfulness can meet these expectations, we first need to understand what exactly we are talking about. A look behind the scenes of mindfulness-based programmes shows that the definition is not the same everywhere.

What is mindfulness?

Mindfulness has two aspects:

The first aspect describes mindfulness as a form of awareness that takes place consciously in the present moment. When I am mindful, I am aware of myself with all my thoughts, feelings and perceptions, and at the same time I am aware of the environment in which I find myself.

The second aspect deals with the inner attitude I take in the present moment. This attitude influences how I encounter all that I perceive. Mindfulness strives for an open, friendly and non-judgemental attitude.

While the first aspect is mentioned in many articles, the second often goes unnoticed. Yet this second aspect is important in order to be able to develop further competences in addition to improved perception.

An open and friendly attitude prevents us from quickly falling into pigeonhole thinking and evaluating something before all aspects have been grasped. As soon as we evaluate, we limit our perception. We decide that we now know enough, take in only what fits this knowledge and neglect what does not fit. This very often leads to errors of judgement, which lead to wrong decisions and wrong actions.¹

The counterpart

The state of mindfulness can best be explained if we compare it with its counterpart – everyday consciousness.

In everyday consciousness, we do most of our daily tasks – especially activities that we have rehearsed and that require little attention: Driving a car, gardening, ironing – all of these work even when our minds are completely elsewhere. And it is in action even in acutely dangerous situations. This is important for our survival and we don’t want to change that.

Since everyday consciousness lets us act quickly and without thinking much, many functions in everyday life benefit from it. For example, as practised drivers, we can operate our car without having to think about when and how to use the clutch, shift gears and brake.

The better something is rehearsed, the faster it can be recalled. Even top athletes know how important this is in a competition. At the same time, creativity thrives on letting oneself drift in the play between thoughts and feelings. It only becomes problematic if we switch on the autopilot too often, for too long and in unfavourable situations. The analysis and assessment of the situation takes place unconsciously, quickly and incompletely. We compare what we perceive with what we know. If we do not take the time to comprehensively grasp a situation, we inevitably miss information that we might need to make a good decision.

Competing systems

Mindfulness and everyday consciousness are states of the mind in which we spend the waking phases of our lives, and we can only be in one state at any one moment.

Scientists have found that we automatically fall into everyday consciousness when there are no outside influences on us. In that case, our brain chooses a network called the Default Mode Network. It is associated with activities such as daydreaming, mental imagination and self-centred thinking.

Just concentrated on a task, a thought can catapult us to another place and time in milliseconds. Without noticing it, we are on the next weekend trip or ruminating for the hundredth time about what went wrong in the meeting the day before.

If we want to stay focused on one thing, we need a high level of attention that brings us back every time we digress. The good news is that we can train both our attention and mindfulness.

Change needs mindfulness

It also becomes difficult when we want to say goodbye to habits and old patterns of action. If we want to change something in the long term, we need mindfulness.

In this state we can recognise and change ingrained ways of thinking and the resulting impulses. Unfortunately, it is not enough to decide once for the desired new behaviour – no matter how much we want it and are convinced of it. Since everyday consciousness is our default mode, which is much more energy-saving for our brain, it is preferred by it. We will keep playing the ingrained patterns – even if they don’t help today – until new patterns are created.

Since both states make sense, we have to learn to choose the appropriate state at the right moment. There are numerous tools and methods for this, which I discuss in my courses² and in my book.

Self-awareness and self-care

The more often we are mindful of what we feel, think and which impulses control us, the better we get to know ourselves – our strengths and weaknesses, what we like and what we want to avoid at all costs.

The attitude of kindness enables us at all times to accept ourselves as we are and to remain appreciative even when something does not want to succeed. This is extremely important because most people have an inner driver whose expectations sometimes cause them more trouble than external pressure ever could.

Mindfulness helps to stop being blindly at the mercy of the driver. It can increase our level of self-confidence and strengthen self-acceptance. Regular mindfulness practice also enables us to be less vulnerable to stress, better able to deal with distressing feelings and more compassionate towards ourselves and others.

These are all important aspects for the development of a strong personality.

Train emotional competences

Mindfulness plays an important role not only in looking at our own thoughts and feelings. Through the open and friendly attitude associated with mindfulness, we can develop skills that are not only useful for ourselves, but also for good cooperation.

For example, when we listen attentively to a person or take the time to grasp the mood behind the words, we give that person our full attention. I am sure that everyone has experienced how good it feels to receive a person’s undivided attention.

Mindful listening contributes to peaceful coexistence and the resolution of conflicts. Especially if we are able to do it even in difficult conversations. As soon as we listen mindfully, we perceive with an open attitude what the person is saying, how they are saying it and how this affects us.

If we manage not to immediately and impulsively relate all that is communicated to us and evaluate it, we receive valuable information. Then we can understand and handle the situation better. Our counterpart feels “heard and seen”, even if we do not agree with everything.

The attitude of mindfulness also has a positive influence on how we deal with our emotions. When we observe what we feel, we open a space between stimulus and reaction. In this space, we have the chance to step out for a moment, recognise our impulses, understand them and act appropriately.

With these competences, we can also score points in leading teams and people, which is shown, among other things, in the exciting Google study “Aristotle”³.

Where are the pitfalls?

It may be child’s play to enter the state of mindfulness, but it takes practice and willpower to stay in this state for a long time. So we have to keep getting ready to consciously enter this state.

It is important to realise that mindfulness is not our default programme. We need patience, self-compassion and forbearance when we set out.

Awareness and inner attitude open up a space for us, but it is not the solution to all our problems. It is about understanding ourselves – our thoughts, feelings, evaluations and the triggers we act on. This takes time and sometimes outside support, because it is notoriously difficult to see the blind spots ourselves.

The most important point is the willingness to pause again and again in everyday life – especially when we tend to rush through our day at 155 mph.

Can mindfulness be misused?

There is sometimes criticism in the media that mindfulness is used – for example, to become even more efficient or to optimise oneself for a world that seems to be all about “higher, faster, further”.

I am convinced that mindfulness cannot be used for mischief, because in the first step it only enlarges our space for perception, decision-making and action. What we do with it is up to each individual.

Those who go in with a self-optimising approach will find their way closer to themselves with the open attitude or they will stop. My hope is that with mindfulness we can move from “higher, faster, further” to a new strategy that makes us “bigger, freer, more humane” as human beings.

Conclusion

Mindfulness is the mental state that occurs when we switch off autopilot and consciously perceive the moment with all our senses in the most judgement-free way possible. In this state we can guide ourselves instead of being controlled by any impulsive evaluation. The more mindful we are with ourselves, the more conscious we will be in our dealings with others.

Especially now – in the midst of a world shaken by crises – it is more worthwhile than ever to reflect on where our old behaviour has led us and how a mindful approach can accompany and positively influence the inevitable change.

A change that begins within us (new me), continues in our environment (new we), changes our work (new work) and makes the world a better place (new world).

Let’s make something of it, let’s use the superpower!

 

Notes (Partly in German):

[1] Cf. Kahnemann, Daniel (2016). Fast thinking, slow thinking. Penguin Verlag, and Dobelli, Rolf (2020). The art of clear thinking. Piper Verlag (2nd edition).
[2] Gabriele Andler currently offers two courses: Weg – das achtsamkeitsbasierte Programm für Entscheider und Gestalter and Search inside yourself.
[3] Google study “Aristotle” by Duhigg (2016). Published in the New York Times Magazine.

Gabriele Andler has written a great book in German on mindfulness as a path (Achtsamkeit als Weg). Highly recommended!

Achtsamkeit als Weg - Blog - t2informatik
Gabriele Andler

Gabriele Andler

Gabriele Andler works internationally as a coach, trainer and author. She has conducted numerous mindfulness-based programmes in companies worldwide and runs her own institute for yoga and mindfulness.

In her 24 years at SAP, she worked as a consulting manager and knows the challenges that companies and their employees face today.

Her many years of experience with mindfulness practice have supported her in self-management as well as in leading global teams.

At SAP, Gabriele was part of a grassroots movement that aimed to make mindfulness accessible to all employees.

Since 2015, she has been passionate about establishing mindfulness practice in the business world. Her intention is to support people in their personal development and to focus attention on the potential that every person has within themselves.