By Palma Michel, former CFO headhunter and founder of the Mindful Leadership program at BeYoCo
The world as we know it has changed dramatically since 2008 and there has been more volatility in the past eight years, than over the past 30 years. It sounds like a cliché but we live in a world of constant change, increased complexity and uncertainty. Applying yesterday´s business solutions and behaviours to today´s and tomorrow´s problems does no longer work. It is no longer about “what” someone does but “how” they go about it.
In order to initiate or guide skilful change we need to be present to what is here, not what we thought would be here or to what was here yesterday. We also need to be able to hold ambiguity and be comfortable with the unknown.
What typically gets into our way to do this is our nervous system. We evolved in circumstances that did not change as intensely as the circumstances we find ourselves in today. Back millions of years in evolution, our reflexive bottom-up mind or reptilian brain (amygdala) favoured short-term thinking, impulse and speedy decisions. Whenever the amygdala perceived something as a thread this led to a fight, flight freeze reaction. While this was useful when our ancestors were attacked by a tiger, fast forward to now, the problem is our amygdala still goes off when it perceives something as a threat, which typically happens when we are faced with an unknown situation; but it could also just be a full inbox, a budget meeting, etc. The other problem is that fMRI scans show, that what mostly switches on our amygdala are not even external circumstances but our very own thoughts. Our amygdala is also much faster in brain time than our executive brain and as a result we often react to what we think is here and fall into habitual reactive patterns instead of being able to respond according to what the situation requires.
According to Professor Jeremy Hunter from the Peter F. Drucker Graduate School of Management, contemporary management education has largely overlooked creating an educational process as systematic as accounting and financial analysis for managing oneself. Professionals are left to fend for themselves to know how to skilfully handle and transform the inner forces of emotions, physical sensations, thoughts and beliefs.
Neuroscientist Richard Davidson and his team suggest that mindfulness training can change our in-built response to pressure and demands; by strengthening our executive brain (the left side of the prefrontal cortex) as well as the white matter between the amygdala and the executive brain. By dampening down the amygdala, the prefrontal cortex is able to quiet signals associated with negative emotions, enabling the brain to plan and act effectively.
As such mindfulness practice is not a nice to have but a core capacity for managing today. Mindfulness training in the business world means examining our underlying assumptions and what we are doing while we are doing it – moment by moment. With mindfulness we begin to uncover the workings of our own mind, seeing how the filters of our mind effect our focus, engagement, perceptions, decisions and strategies.
Mindfulness training can be a capacity to effectively meet adaptive challenges, which are those challenges that require us to do something different and to develop a new way of operating in the world. Training in mindfulness helps us to say no to impulse and regain our capacity to be present in the midst of the current environment.