Mindfulness is one of those words that’s getting a lot of attention. In the past, mindfulness has been seen as a soft skill and undervalued in business. Today, I think people finally see its value. Staying present and practicing mindfulness can transform your ability to lead and navigate change without high levels of anxiety and stress.
The power of mindfulness is it gives us the ability to connect to what is happening internally, such as our thoughts, emotions and body sensations, while also connecting with the external environment but not being attached to any of them.
When you lead change mindfully, your focus on the present. Therefore, you are not responding to a current situation based on past judgments and old behaviour patterns. You can exercise more conscious control of your reaction to the event or situation. The result is you consciously interact with the problem instead of unconsciously react.
Mindfulness Changes the Brain
Mindfulness also strengthens the structures of the brain that you use to focus attention, reflect on the experience, shift your perspective, discern options, and choose wise actions.
Practicing Mindfulness doesn’t just make our work life easier; it also thickens the prefrontal cortex, which increases memory, and processing power. I don’t know about you, but I will take the help to improve my memory and make better decisions.
Staying Present Shifts Perspective
When I bring up the idea of mindfulness with my clients, I can still get a few eye rolls. I have had leaders refer to it as fluffy or soft. Although I have noticed that’s been changing over the past few years.
One reason for the change is the overwhelming amount of evidence demonstrating the concrete benefits of mindfulness. The economic and human benefits of practicing mindfulness in the workplace are hard to ignore.
Wendy Quan, a change management practitioner, started teaching mindfulness to people in her organization after experiencing the benefits herself. During a significant change initiative, she found people who participated in a mindfulness practice even on a drop-in basis saw immediate benefits.
People who participated related to others differently, more consciously, and with less bias. In another study, Wendy took people through a short 15-minute guided mindfulness practice. She measured participants’ ability to deal with change before and then again after participating in the program.
The results were amazing.
Before participating in the mindfulness program, 47% believed they had a very low ability to deal with change. After participating in the practice, only 2% identified as having a low ability to deal with change.
Researchers found similar results in another study of managers who used mindfulness during a transformational change. The managers reported that staying present or mindful helped them interact with others, maintain perspective, and be attuned to others’ emotional state. Some managers also found practicing mindfulness made them a better resource and advisor for the people affected by the change. They also reported it helped balance the big picture with the details and remain calm and focused with uncertainty.
I have seen similarities in my practice and with other leaders. Through a short mindfulness exercise, one leader noticed he had many negative assumptions about an employee’s motivation for specific behaviours. He saw how these unvalidated assumptions were impacting his stress and derailing many of their conversations. Focusing on the present and checking his beliefs made the discussions more productive and improved employee performance.
Mindfulness Helps Build Readiness
Staying present, becoming aware of how past behaviours or events influence your response to a current situation will help you cultivate readiness and prevent resistance to change.
When most people think of mindfulness, they think of meditation. Mindfulness is not just meditation. Ellen Langer, the author of Mindfulness, states, “meditation is the tool we use so we can practice and achieve mindfulness when we are not meditating.”
I have been a meditator for a long time and know the benefits of even a short 30-second mindfulness meditation. But when I talk about staying present to create a culture of readiness, I am not talking about meditation—staying present means consciously connecting with what’s happening at the moment without the old labels of the past.
For example, when you hear someone complaining about the change initiative, you are enabling and think, “they are always complaining.” Then find yourself wanting to label them resistant to change – stop. Ask yourself, am I reacting to these current complaints based on judgements or assumptions you have previously made and beliefs based on past encounters with the person or group.
If the answer to the question is yes, then you are responding mindlessly instead of mindfully. You are operating with old information in a new context.
To build readiness and engage with the present moment, you will need to suspend your judgement and check in on the assumptions you are making. Take a second to notice how you feel internally, what’s happening externally. Then come into the present moment with a sense of curiosity and listen with a readiness mindset. Ask; what can I learn about them and their level of readiness in this conversation or at this time?
Staying present isn’t about ignoring the past. Our history with change does influence our response to future changes. It’s ok if you consciously reflect on how your organization’s history with change affects what is happening in the present moment. The critical difference is when you are fully present, the past is not driving the present. You open a new opportunity to shift the conversation.
I have been practicing mindfulness for several years, and it truly is a practice. Just about the time I am about to pat myself on the back for staying present and not reacting to a situation, another situation arises when I respond with an old and less effective pattern of behaviour. You may recognize it when after the fact, you hear yourself saying, “they just pushed my button.”
What I have learned is that when I am fully present, there is no button to push. That’s because we are attuned to the subtle shifts in our internal and external environment. We notice slight modifications in breathing changes or that sense of anxiety or frustration that arises in our chest or other external cues. Because we are paying attention without judgement, we don’t feel the need to react.
The Higher the Uncertainty, the More Staying Present Helps
The higher the level of uncertainty, the more valuable it is to stay present and mindful. I have talked many times about how our need for predictability can cause us to react in less than productive ways and increase our stress and anxiety. Mindfulness acts as a counterbalance to uncertainty and gives us a greater sense of control and options for responding.
As a result, we make better decisions.
Three Ways to Stay Present and Build Readiness
- Create new categories or labels to define a situation.
- Welcome new information and pay attention to cues that signal further information is available.
- Be open to different points of view about the same situation.
Embracing mindfulness takes practice. It’s something I can help you with. Reach out if you’d like to begin using mindfulness in your change management practice.
 Graham, L. (2018). Resilience Powerful Practices for Bouncing Back from Disappointment, Difficulty, and Even Disaster (First ed.). Novato California New World Library
 Fabritius, F., & Hagemann, H. (2017). The Leading Brain Powerful science-based strategies for achieving peak performance.