Mindfulness for success: Innovation takes many forms, and IE University is taking a lead on a form of meditation that is making waves on campus and in the boardroom.

Professional life is about decisions. Knowledge and experience are important in making good choices, but so is clearly seeing the reality of any given moment. Mindfulness is entering the company boardroom, legal office and locker room, enabling people to concentrate better, make decisions without preconceptions, boost their creativity and improve teambuilding. It is an area where psychological knowledge is demonstrating its worth in a whole range of professional fields.

But what is it? Mindfulness, a kind of secular meditation, is a state of active attention on the present moment. The objective is to become intensely aware of your own existence, removed from your thoughts, feelings and the particular stresses of that day, which you can observe from a distance without judging.

Try it. Anyone can.

Feeling better?

Office meditation

Enlightened institutions – including IE University – are increasingly embracing the use of innovative techniques related to mental flexibility and personal development as genuine keys to success.

“We launched an executive master’s degree in positive leadership, including yoga and mindfulness back in 2010, at a time when very few people in Europe were talking about mindfulness, especially in graduate schools,” says Lee Newman, Dean of the IE School of Human Sciences and Technology.

“We launched an executive master’s degree in positive leadership back in 2010, at a time when very few people in Europe were talking about mindfulness”

Lee Newman, Dean of the IE School of Human Sciences and Technology

Major corporations including Google and Monsanto have used mindfulness and meditation techniques to overcome stress and strain between colleagues. US research suggests that 26% of workers feel burned out by stress in their jobs, and this stress, compounded by the difficulty to find space for reflection amid the busy noise of the 21st-century working environment, means that mindfulness is not a luxury, but rather a smart investment to avoid a burnout epidemic and promote sustainable careers.

A series of studies led by US behavioral researcher Dr Andrew Hafenbrack in the past decade show that a state of mindfulness can be a useful tool to recognize and counteract one’s default tendencies and behaviors which are repeated time and again, even though they bring about negative results. Instead of focusing on past problems and also lessening anxiety about the future, “increased mindfulness reduces the tendency to allow unrecoverable prior costs to influence current decisions,” Dr Hafenbrack and associates concluded in a 2013 paper entitled “Debiasing the Mind Through Meditation.”

Mindfulness for success

Mindfulness at work allows people to detach from negative emotions and make better decisions.

Research also backs up the idea that an employee or entrepreneur who practices meditation is more likely to make ethically sound decisions. “Individuals high in mindfulness report that they are more likely to value upholding ethical standards and are more likely to use a principled approach to ethical decision-making,” Nicole Ruedy and Maurice Schweitzer wrote in the Journal of Business Ethics.

“Individuals high in mindfulness are more likely to use a principled approach to ethical decision-making”

Nicole Ruedy and Maurice Schweitzer

But there is more to a new and open approach to workplace psychology than just encouraging individual professionals to practice mindfulness or another form of meditation. As well as managing stress and aiding with balanced decision-making, working on people’s mental approach can boost creativity and teambuilding skills. A 2015 survey by the Association of American Colleges and Universities found that 57% of graduates considered themselves to be sufficiently creative and innovative, but only 25% of their employers agreed.

Dr Newman describes the range of skills that can be developed, which he and other teachers use at IE Business School and IE University, including positive behavioral change and positive leadership. “My students learn to use the neuroscience of habits to learn how to change behavior. They learn about how to focus on opportunities rather than always working on solving problems, which is a different emotional framing. They do mindfulness practice which allows them to train their brain to be more open to opportunities and innovation and see things through a more positive lens,” he explains.

“Positive leadership is about understanding the conditions I can put in place as a leader in which other people are going to perform at their peak and at their best. Research shows very clearly that when you set up conditions under which the average day in the life of an employee has more positive than negative emotions, people feel more open-minded and they are more innovative. They see more collaborative opportunities with people rather than conflict. We have courses in positive leadership in the undergraduate program and in our master’s programs, and we teach some of the same components in a more condensed format.”