Ancient Greek philosopher, Epictetus, once said: “It’s not what happens to you, it’s how you react that matters.” Around 2,000 years later – in this highly stressful 21st century – Epictetus’ observation is more relevant than ever.
Essentially what Epictetus is saying is that as individuals, our responses to complex situations and people will determine the influence that they have on our overall wellbeing.
As a c-level executive, how you deal with daily stress most certainly affects your ability to resolve issues and achieve lasting change inside an organisation.
And it’s your “id, ego and super-ego” - the three states of being and responding as described by psychiatrist, Sigmund Freud’s structural model of the human psyche - that kicks in when you are presented with a stressful situation, or you are under threat from another individual.
“Developing a capacity for being mindful is really developing a deep psychological insight; a level of consciousness in the moment. And this is the absolute and only platform from which sustainable change can be achieved," says Barbara Jones, director at Executive Mandala, a leadership development firm.
Jones’ organisation works with c-level executives in corporate organisations – some who work in the IT industry – promoting a practice known as ‘mindfulness’ or mindful awareness.
To some people, mindfulness might sound like hippy rubbish but to others, it’s a key pillar of productivity. In fact, Salesforce CEO, Marc Benioff, has practiced mindfulness meditation every day for the past 20 years, and last month said he was providing staff with access to meditation rooms on every floor of the company’s office in San Francisco.
You can even download mindfulness apps on iTunes.
So what is mindfulness exactly? Essentially the practice is about focusing on the present moment, and becoming aware of your subjective stream of consciousness without judgement.
The practice has ancient Buddhist roots, stretching way back to 500 BC before it was hijacked by Western psychiatry in the mid-20th century, largely through the work of Swiss psychiatrist, Carl Jung, and American Professor of Medicine, Jon Kabat-Zinn.
In 1979, Kabat-Zinn established the Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. He adapted Buddhist teachings to create a stress reduction and relaxation program.
Today, mindfulness is used in psychology to ease symptoms of stress, depression and anxiety, and even to treat drug addiction.
“If we are working on changing just from a behavioural level, we can change momentarily – but if you don’t get down to the ‘why’ factor, what’s really driving the over-reactionary tendencies, we will revert to our detrimental reactions. Being truly 'mindful' helps us to develop the deep insight, which enables us to be aware of what is really driving our detrimental responses.
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