Mindfulness is defined by experts as non-judgmental, present-moment awareness. It usually begins with sitting quietly and then focusing on one's breathing for a few minutes.
According to an article by Jeanne Meister in Forbes Magazine, mindfulness was one of the hottest topics in the World Economic Forum this year. She says that in the past decade, mindfulness has been used by companies to lower health costs, improve employee productivity and help employees stay on task. Many believe it can lead to innovative thinking and improved communication skills -- good for business leaders and their team members alike.
But what is it exactly about mindfulness that has the power to make good entrepreneurs great?
Surprisingly, the answer does not lie behind some mystic belief. A study by the Harvard Business Review says that the claim is backed by hard science.
The HBR research team observed participants during an eight-week mindfulness program. They also pooled data from more than 20 other studies to determine which areas of the brain are consistently affected by practicing mindfulness. Out of these, they concluded that:
Mindfulness allows entrepreneurs to self-regulateOne of the two most affected parts of the brain is the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC, deep inside the forehead, behind the brain’s frontal lobe.) Those who practice meditation are shown to resist distractions and make correct answers more often, and learn from past experience to support optimal decision making. According to scientists, the ACC may be important in coping with uncertain and fast-changing decisions.
Entrepreneurs are no strangers to change. It is the essence of start-ups to exist in a constantly shifting and uncertain environment. These conditions may be terrifying to some, but entrepreneurs know it is precisely this that makes the start-up business so exciting and full of opportunities. While they may have failed ventures and missteps, they learn their lessons and are able to apply it to present challenges.
Mindfulness helps deal with stressThe other region of the brain most affected by practicing mindfulness is the hippocampus. It is covered in receptors for the stress hormone cortisol, and studies have shown that it can be damaged by chronic stress, contributing to a harmful spiral in the body.
For entrepreneurs, everything is a potential cause of stress. There are the day-to-day issues -- customers, employees, cash flow -- in running the start-up. Strategically, they also have to think about the business’ viability, sustainability, investors and direction. They know that many will be affected by the repercussions of every decision they make.
The members of the research team in Harvard say that practicing mindfulness is not only a “nice to have” thing. It is a must-have.