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Attention: Mindfulness!

Conscious and mindful – that's how you go through life well and healthily, hums it in the Instagram generation. But what exactly do they mean? And what's the point if some people even claim that mindfulness is a true gamechanger in professional life as well, making work and business better?

A man with post-its in and around his face, on which e.g. take a break is written Does mindfulness help against stress in working life? (Foto: Luis Villasmil, Unsplash)

Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction

To call a spade a spade: 2020 was a modest year. That is probably what most entrepreneurs in our industry would subscribe to. Clearly, what is needed now are vaccinations and economic recovery, state aid perhaps, more turnover in any case.

But do you know what is also necessary and helpful? Mindfulness. Mindfulness-what? Isn't it about yoga, meditation, green tea and lazy lenz? You don't believe in all that? Hullabaloo, junk and mainly nonsense?

Wonderful! Read on! This article is for you.

Agnes Kick "Mindfulness is neither wellness nor esotericism", says Agnes Kick (Picture: MBSR Verband)

The magic word is focus

Mindfulness is admittedly a very soft, flabby word. However, it actually describes a medical-scientific approach. Perhaps some people would find it easier to use the much less fluffy sounding abbreviation MBSR, which stands for Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction.

This in turn is a method that the US molecular biologist Jan Kabat Zinn developed in the 1970s for use in the treatment of mental illnesses like anxiety disorder and depression. MBSR is also used in clinical pain therapy.

"Mindfulness as we understand it is neither wellness nor esotericism," explains Agnes Kick, Managing Director of the MBSR-MBCT Verband e.V., the professional association of mindfulness teachers in Germany, "but rather it is about training conscious attention to the present moment and thus also improving the ability to focus.

According to the expert, the conscious and calm perception of one's own thoughts and feelings helps to overcome blockages, reduce stress and better deal with fears and pain – in private life as well as at work.

Mindfulness in professional life benefits both the individual employees and the company as a whole. Large companies such as SAP and Bosch have therefore long offered mindfulness courses to their employees, the Daimler car company has had its own mindfulness manager for two years, and Google has set up its own mindfulness programme for employees and managers. This is called "Search Inside Yourself".

Medical image of a brain in multiple viewsRegular mindfulness training changes neuronal structures (Picture: Anna Shvets, Pexels)

Is it working? – A look at the sickness rate in the company

"Brain researchers, for example, found out that regular mindfulness training changes neuronal structures. This has proven to have positive effects on mental and physical health and quality of life," explains Agnes Kick.

Mindfulness helps to work efficiently and with concentration, to master challenges in an agile way, to be stress-resistant and relaxed. Yes, mindfulness also makes you happy, but this is again so vague, so we will stick to concrete measurable benefits that mindfulness brings to a company.

Sick leave in a company is clear and can be depicted in figures. This can be significantly improved by introducing and practising mindfulness in the company. MBSR can prevent or even alleviate stress-related illnesses in the workforce.

"People can overreach themselves for a very long time, constantly going beyond their limits. For months. years. But at some point the organism says: This is the end. And then nothing more works. In the morning, even the strength to get out of bed and into the shower is then lacking," says Stefanie Kunz, certified psychologist and mindfulness trainer from Berlin, describing the phenomenon of burnout.

"And once that point is there, it takes a very, very long time to get back into a state where that person can resume work. He or she is out of work for a company for months," explains Kunz.

However, the psychologist is important to stress that "Mindfulness is not a relaxation method. Mindfulness makes it clear what is. And it can be anything but relaxing when you sit there with your thoughts. When you notice how incredibly tense and stressed I am, how my thoughts race". But: Only those who recognise problems can tackle them.

A man working on his cell phone while eating a portion of noodlesMultitasking and Always on - constant stress makes us sick (Picture: The Creative Exchange, Unsplash)

What makes us sick: Always on, multitasking, transformation – and Corona

Of course, one person is more prone to stress-related illnesses (whether it's a stomach ulcer, sleep disorder or even the whole burn-out) and the other is not so much. But the fact is that the modern world of work has the potential to make you sick.

Sure, it's been written many times before: Always on is a problem. Permanent availability. In a digital world, switching off is difficult, even if it is necessary to prevent overload – and we are not free.

"Everybody knows the autopilot-like grip on a mobile phone," explains Stefanie Kunz. At that moment we didn't consciously decide to check mails or go on Facebook - we do it unconsciously. Often on the side. "Many employees look at their mobile phones while writing an e-mail and are in a parallel zoom session," observes her colleague Agnes Kick. "That can't be efficient! Nor is it in the interests of the company." In the end, we lose time and energy with multitasking.

In addition, the modern world of work sets so-called transformation processes in motion in many industries and companies. In short, there is a lot of simultaneous conversion, modernisation and digitalisation. Companies today no longer operate as they did in 1980.

"Fixed structures are becoming more permeable, communication faster, processes more complex. In agile teams with little hierarchy, employees and managers are required to find their roles anew," observes Agnes Kick. This causes uncertainty and stress.

And where it wasn't already a lot and changeful enough, the pandemic was added at the beginning of this year. It doesn't make our working life any more beautiful: "People are driven by fear of Corona and its consequences these days," says Kick. "In addition, there is the unusual situation of not having direct contact to family, friends or colleagues. Many now organise their work at home.

All this causes stress, anxiety and worry – just like waiting for test results or a heavy workload. Every day is different than planned in the present time: Customers cancel orders at short notice, legal regulations on business trips change almost daily, supply chains do not function as usual, hygiene concepts are changing the way offices work. Zoom sessions with customers and colleagues are on the one hand possible without having to travel, but at the same time much more strenuous. Fear, worry and uncertainty characterise people and thus also companies.

"Mindfulness is increasingly becoming a key competence and enables us to deal with uncertainty more calmly and keep stress at bay. The mindful attitude enables us to keep a clear view of the situation: not only to be fixed on what is not going well, but also to recognise what is working, maybe even better".

Detail of a female face with the raised index finger in front of the mouthMeditation is not about complicated yoga asanas or cross-legged instagram moments before sunset - it is about silence (Picture: Kristina Flour, Unsplash)

Training for more mindfulness: meditation and smiling

Mindfulness is not a noble revelation and does not fall from heaven. Mindfulness can and must be trained. The most commonly used technique for achieving more mindfulness and at the same time an essential part of any MBSR program is meditation. Stop, stop, hold on! It is not about sinking into silence like a monk in a yellow robe for days on end, it is about a few moments of silence. A few minutes a day that make a difference. As has been proven and after about eight weeks of training, a few minutes of meditation every day.

In addition, practical mini-meditation units, which have proven to be very powerful in everyday office life, also help, as Stefanie Kunz reports: "Before each meeting, try to sit quietly for three minutes and get to yourself. Listen to yourself: How is my body doing? How is my mind? And how am I doing emotionally?"

In doing so, you consciously leave behind what has been on your mind up to now and help to focus on the upcoming meeting. "In this way you connect with the intention to listen to others and only speak when it is really important. This changes the meeting atmosphere completely, when you often have the feeling that people talk here for the sake of talking. People will start talking, chaotic situations will arise and the participants will walk out of it completely exhausted".

And: Smiling helps. "We try to put more kindness in everything we do. Friendliness with oneself but also with others," explains Stefanie Kunz. "Everyone knows that: when you're stressed, the tone becomes rougher, the atmosphere in the team gets worse. Stress activates a survival mode in which everyone looks at themselves first".

In the end, the whole company benefits from this: "If you are relaxed, you can look at others better, so mindfulness is something that benefits cooperation and teamwork. And thus ultimately also the productivity in the company".

If mindfulness ultimately serves the whole company, can the individual start here at all or is it necessary for the whole team, does the whole company have to tackle the issue to make a difference?

Not at all, says Kunz firmly. "It also works for you alone. An employee alone can decide for himself that he wants to better respect his limits and regain more freedom". In fact, adds Agnes Kick, it does not even make sense to send an entire company or even an entire department to the mindfulness workshop. "Mindfulness cannot be prescribed. Participation in the seminars must be voluntary. Usually good experiences get around quickly and motivate people to follow suit.

Stefanie Kunz"If you are relaxed, you can better look at others", Stefanie Kunz is convinced (Picture: private)

Service: Advice, Coaches, Books

A good place to start to deal with the topic of mindfulness are the books of the founder of MBSR Jon Kavat Zinn. "Healthy through Meditation" is a classic, compact and easy to read. The next step leads to a seminar or workshop with experts like Stefanie Kunz and Agnes Kick.

On the website of the MBSR-MBCT Verband e.V. there is the possibility of a Germany-wide course search. There are courses especially developed for companies, which contain knowledge about stress theories on the one hand and very practical body and meditation exercises on the other.