Mindfulness is a concept that has increased in popularity in recent years, as evidenced by, for example, the increase in worldwide search volume for this term on Google Trends. Although I had heard the term “mindfulness” and was generally aware of the idea behind the term — being fully present and engaged in the moment and aware of your thoughts — it wasn’t until I was listening to a podcast on my drive into Boulder a few years ago that I decided to dig in a bit more. The guest on the podcast that day was Tim Ferriss and in discussing his book, “Tools of Titans,” he mentioned that of the more than 200 executives, leaders, and world-class performers he interviewed as the basis for his book, more than 80 percent practiced some form of mindfulness or meditation.

At the time, I had recently become a partner at Neugeboren O’Dowd, the culmination of a goal that had been set in motion 15 years earlier when I decided to attend law school & started studying for the entrance exam. After becoming a part-owner of the firm I had worked for 8+ years, I was setting new goals for myself. Upon hearing that 80 percent of world-class leaders perform some sort of mindfulness or meditation, I decided to try it myself and see why so many high performers incorporate a consistent mindfulness practice.

The Mindfulness Body-Stress Connection

Research shows that mindfulness meditation reduces the symptoms of stress, anxiety, and depression. These are things that so many of us are thinking about right now, and can have a significant impact in the workplace, even the remote ones. One UK study examined 238 healthy employees between two large companies. These employees were randomly categorized into two groups, a wait-list control group, and the practice group (who used a mindfulness meditation app). The app offered 45 guided audio meditations in 10-minute and 20-minute recordings. Over 8 weeks, the practice group completed an average of 17 meditation sessions. The result showed a drop in distress and job strain and an overall improvement in well-being. At 16 weeks, these job strains were even lower.

Another study at Google and Roche found that participants utilizing a software application as part of the study reported a 46 percent reduction in depression and a 31 percent reduction in anxiety. Other studies have shown the use of an application alone resulted in an 11 percent increase in mental resilience and a 7.5 percent increase in satisfaction in life. 

Beyond help with depression and anxiety, some studies have even shown a benefit to physical conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome, fibromyalgia, and psoriasis. The Harvard Gazette reported, “Other MGH researchers also are studying the effects of meditation on the body, including Sara Lazar, who in 2012 used fMRI to show that the brains of subjects thickened after an eight-week meditation course.”

Numerous studies indicate that mindfulness lowers the cortisol and epinephrine levels that stress creates. Stress stimulates the sympathetic nervous system, and when that happens, cortisol and epinephrine surge in the bloodstream. When epinephrine (adrenaline) rates are higher than normal, you’ll experience risks to the heart through increased heart rates and blood pressure. You may also experience higher cholesterol levels, lowered immunities, lower energy levels, and problems with your sleep. Mindfulness relaxes your body and mind by stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system to prevent the release of those stress hormones. People who meditate regularly can condition their bodies to de-stress on-demand, thereby improving their physical and mental health simultaneously.

The Mindfulness Success Connection

The positive effect of being in the present moment is even more important with the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic. Many of us can’t lean on co-workers, family members, and friends the way we once did. For many, the anxiety and pressure of work and life have been ratcheted up higher when working from home as this is something that many have never experienced before. Focusing on what you are doing now can reduce anxiety and pressure related to not knowing what will happen in the future.

Meditation is a unique tool to use for mindfulness. Meditation is a practice where you focus your mind on a particular thing or activity (e.g., your breath), and by doing so, you help to train your mind to focus on the task at hand. In everyday life, this can be helpful to take your mind off of things that may be bothering you and to refocus your attention. I’ve found that meditation leads to more productivity and more productivity leads to more success. Meditation provides a sense of awareness that allows me to see more wins. Awareness of small successes breeds confidence, which helps lead to greater success. Similar to physical activity, the more you do it, the more benefits you see from it.

Benjamin Franklin once said that “Some people die at 25 and aren’t buried until 75.”  From my experience, mindfulness not only helps prevent this mindless going-through-the-motions of everyday life that Franklin alludes to, but it can also improve clarity in the middle of a stressful situation. Understanding that mindfulness is not only being aware of your thoughts in the present moment but also of your emotions and judgment, I’ve realized the positive effect this combination has on listening and the awareness of another person’s situation. These traits can increase the positive responses in anyone that encounters them in any line of work, regardless of whether you’re working in-office or at home.

Helping Your Team Achieve Success

Being mindful of any activity helps lead to success in that activity, and when it is lacking, distraction prevents the attainment of desirable results. With one-third of our lives spent on the job, having a successful career can lead to a happy life in general.   

Consistency is Key

As with physical activity, being consistent with a mindfulness practice will lead to greater results. No, I’m not “smarter” after I meditate, but since my focus is more attuned and my stress level is better managed, I see increased results in my work product when I’m consistently applying my meditation & mindfulness routine. 

Improve Remote Work Experiences

With so many people still working from home, having a homework environment that meets the needs of the employee is critical to ensuring success. Regardless of whether a mindfulness practice has been, is, or will be a part of a daily routine in their employees, employers can take action to reduce stress and create a better working environment for their employees.

One way Neugeboren O’Dowd is attempting to reduce the stress of our team is by helping them with their work from home setups. We’ve offered them a $1,000 stipend on anything they may need to make their home workspace more comfortable. 

It could be a stand-up desk, a new chair, plants, or artwork; whatever they need to improve their space. This can support their work, their well-being, and can help them to reduce their stress levels. As shown above, reducing stress leads to an increased physical being, thereby increasing happiness & productivity.     

A large portion of the country has been working remotely since March, and we don’t know when this is going to end. There is so much uncertainty with this pandemic, and this uncertainty alone is triggering our stress levels. Mindfulness can help us all bring those levels down a notch.

We can’t take the uncertainty away, but we can just take a few minutes a day to help us focus on only what we need to focus on. These are very simple practices that anyone can do to improve their success — even in a pandemic.