Tag Archives: leadership

Linking Mindfulness and Peak Performance

by Pete Kirchmer

mPEAK Flow

“Performance Enhancement” is a popular goal in my line of work that is typically associated with the supplement industry or return on investment (ROI) business strategies. Images are conjured up of competitive athletes in bright lycra crossing finish lines, a lone climber sumiting a mountain with ice picks or people in suits shaking hands on big business deals. This is in stark contrast to images that come to mind when thinking about “mindfulness”. This ancient wisdom tradition inspires peaceful images of stacked stones, Zen gardens and people sitting with serene posture on beaches at sunset. So how exactly does Mindfulness fit with Performance Enhancement? Although seemingly opposites, research with the US Olympic BMX Cycling Team suggests that mindfulness practice actually has a lot to contribute to those aspiring to enhance their performance; and it’s not all beaches and sunsets.

logo-mpeakCorporate leaders, extreme sports enthusiasts and everyday people who are looking for a competitive edge have been flocking to mindfulness training programs such as mPEAK, to help them cultivate presence, resilience and emotional regulation for greater success in work, sport and life. As a Mindfulness Based Health Coach I’ve been exploring this link between mindfulness and performance with my clients for the last decade. The path to improving performance is not always a straight one but there are several consistent themes that have emerged in my work.

Presence & Flow

When all of life’s circumstances align and conditions are just right; meaning you’re engaged in an inspiring and novel activity, you’re being challenged but feel competent and there is a degree of risk involved, you’re granted access to a deep state of presence called “flow”. According to positive psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, flow, also known as “The Zone”, is the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. In essence, flow is characterized by complete absorption in what one does. But how often does life offer us this perfect set of circumstances? When was the last time you found yourself in a state of flow? Occasionally you might find yourself naturally engaged in conversation, attentive to a project, deeply immersed in a book, hobby or sport. But what I’ve found in my practice is that people more often default into a state of distraction; they’re lost in thought, zoned out, ruminating, and mindless. In this state, peak performance and enjoyment are unavailable.

Luckily, it’s not necessary to passively wait for the perfect storm of conditions before you find yourself in flow. The specific mindfulness practices I teach my clients offers access to the present moment no matter what the external circumstances. With a blend of focused concentration, physical embodiment and a sense of allowing things to be as they are, mindfulness is a necessary and powerful precursor to experiencing flow. My clients and the participants of the mPEAK program are challenged to bring a sense of curiosity and a “beginners mind” to every moment, expanding the possibilities of experiencing flow in the high performance activities they’re involved in as well as in every day situations.

Emotional Regulation & Resilience

mPEAK Tour BikersMost of the people who seek my coaching are already pretty good at what they do and have had their fair share of successes. Their strengths and skills have gotten them far, but still they have a sense that something is holding them back from performing at their peak potential. Does this sound like you? There are times when it’s all coming together; you’re making consistent progress and seeing gains but then all of a sudden…SMACK! Life happens, right? You fumble the ball, pull a hamstring, miss a deadline, blow a deal, or worse. To add insult to injury, perhaps your temper flares and you say the wrong thing to the wrong person. Or maybe your pattern is to shut down and spiral into self-defeating thoughts. If so, you’re hardly alone; this happens to everyone at some point whether you’re a pro athlete or even a mindfulness professional! The reason we react to challenges this way is that our brain interprets these setbacks as a threat to our survival, which triggers the sympathetic nervous system’s fight/ flight reaction. With adrenaline and cortisol running through the veins; anger, blame, self-criticism and escapism are automatic, habitual reactions. These unconscious stress-driven reactions make the initial problem exponentially worse and lead to lower self confidence and higher stress levels.

What I’ve found is that life, work and sport will all offer consistent challenges but what separates the high performers from the rest, is how we respond to these challenges. For instance the best thing that ever happened for my sport and life was to rupture a disc in my lower back. You see, before facing the possibility of never running again, I took this body for granted. It wasn’t until I was faced with the pain of losing my identity as an athlete that I really began to understand what a gift it is to freely move and lift and play. Rather than let it stop me, this challenge eventually inspired me to levels of performance that far exceeded my original state. I’ve had clients with similar experiences of transformation after big events such as facing the loss of a business or a marriage. With a perspective based in mindfulness and self-compassion, these challenges can serve as the bell to finally awaken to our lives and our purpose.

In my practice, I’ve seen time and time again how mindfulness practice can lead to greater awareness of potential obstacles as well as more skillful decision-making; so the frequency of life smacking you down becomes less. And when life does inevitably deal you a rough hand, these practices can help you respond more skillfully, get up faster, turn challenges into practice opportunities and ultimately do less harm to yourself and others.

As the lead trainer of the upcoming 3-Day mPEAK Intensive this March, I’ll be teaching high performers from around the country how to pause and maintain a centered, balanced perspective and find resilience even in the face of challenges. With these new capacities for resilience and access to flow states, participants can begin to perform more consistently at their peak potential.

If you’re ready to sign up for the 3-Day mPEAK Intensive this March please click here. If you have any questions regarding the mPEAK program, please contact me at mpeak@ucsd.edu.

Perhaps someday in the future, when we think of mindfulness we’ll imagine athletes in uniform sitting with serene posture on playing fields and people in suits pausing silently before meetings. The more research that emerges, the more obvious it becomes that Mindfulness and Performance are truly on the same team.

peter_kirchmerPete Kirchmer is a lead trainer in the the mPEAK program designed and developed at the UCSD Center for Mindfulness. He is founder of Mindfulness Based Health and specializes in coaching his clients in applying the practice of mindfulness to making healthy lifestyle changes as well as improving performance in life, work and sport. Pete has completed training as a Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) Teacher through the UMass Oasis Inst., holds a BS in Exercise Physiology, and is a Certified Professional Life Coach through the Coaches Training institute, Center for Applied Positive Psychology and Wellcoaches. Currently Pete has a private coaching practice with clients around the country.  He is a regular presenter at Rancho La Puerta, a world-class wellness resort in Tecate, Mexico, is an active member of the Harvard Institute for Coaching and is on the Board of Directors for the Encinitas Mindfulness Community. For more information about Pete Kirchmer please visit his Mindfulness Based Health Coaching website.

 

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The Truly Mindful Workplace: A Reality Whose Moment Is Arriving

Christy Cassisa, J.D.

Christy Cassisa

By Christy Cassisa, J.D.
Co-Director of Workplace Initiatives and Giving
UC San Diego Center for Mindfulness

If you follow workplace mindfulness in the news, you’ve had quite a bit of reading material in the last few months. Businesses of all types have embraced the fact that the wellbeing of their employees improves the health of the company.  One quarter of large US companies have launched stress reduction programs of some sort, and many of those are also incorporating mindfulness and meditation trainings.  Many well-known names such as Google, Aetna, General Mills, AOL Time Warner and Target have brought mindfulness and meditation to their people.  Mindfulness is being hailed as the next great thing in the efforts to improve the performance, health and overall wellbeing of employees and leadership alike.

Mindfulness In Leadership
Both formal studies and informal self-reports show that leaders who practice mindfulness have more mental clarity and flexibility, are able to listen better and as a result, make better decisions.  Enhanced emotional resiliency and self-awareness arise as a natural byproduct of mindfulness practices, and these in turn can lead to more effective and inspirational leaders.

One such program you may have read about in the Financial Times (The Mind Business) was developed at General Mills.  Janice Marturano, deputy general counsel, phrased it this way: “It’s about training our minds to be more focused, to see with clarity, to have spaciousness for creativity and to feel connected. That compassion to ourselves, to everyone around us- our colleagues, customers- that’s what the training of mindfulness is really about.” More than 400 employees and 250 executives have participated in the GM program, and the results are amazing:  83% of participants reported increased personal productivity and of the senior executives who took the course, 80% reported improved decision-making and 89% reported that they had become better listeners.

For executives, learning to do nothing to achieve more is counter-intuitive. But what they often find once they begin to look is that the very drive that has lead them to success thus far blinds them to the next steps to progress further. And this clouded vision is precisely what mindfulness meditation can clear.

Employee Well-Being
When it comes to employees, the benefits are also well-documented. Company-wide stress reduction programs are nothing new, but with the addition of mindfulness and meditation, employees have shown dramatic improvements in stress levels and overall wellbeing.  Meditation programs have shown employee results such as:

  • Reduced anxiety and increased overall sense of calm
  • Enhanced ability to bounce back from emotionally charged situations
  • Enhanced coping abilities related to everyday stress as well as severe or acute stress encounters
  • Increased creativity
  • Improved memory
  • Increased focus (staying on task longer)
  • Improved teamwork, increased respect and support for colleagues
  • Strengthened immune system
  • Lowered blood pressure

And these results are simply the performance and health-related measures. At Google, employees reported improved marriages, reversed decisions to leave the company, and more. The benefits to the employee far exceed those measured by standard health and productivity scores.

Return on Investment
What, you say, is the value of this kind of program?  What does my bottom line expect to get in return for the outlay of time money and effort into a mindfulness meditation program?

According to the Gallup Business Journal, wellbeing is an employer issue. By the numbers, they reported:

  • People who have thriving wellbeing have a 35% lower turnover rate than those who are struggling; in a 10,000-person company, this represents $19.5 million.
  • Employees with high wellbeing have 41% lower health-related costs compared with employees who have lower wellbeing. In a firm that has 10,000 employees, this difference amounts to nearly $30 million​

So incorporating these measures, your ROI of each benefit may be measured as so:

  1. Stress Reduction:  As a result of reducing the stress of your employees, look for a reduction in health care costs and absenteeism rates.
  2. Improved Employee Well-being: As a result of investing in your people, look for increased retention rates, improved employee satisfaction and overall engagement measures.  And as an interesting additional measure, you might look to your customers’ experiences as a result of this investment in your employees’ health and well-being: look for increases in sales and improved customer satisfaction surveys.
  3. Strengthened Leadership: Leadership Development programs have many measures to use to evaluate the effectiveness of executives, ranging from 360 evaluations to overall company performance. When executives are operating more effectively, the entire company benefits in innumerable ways.

In case you have not been immersed in the news of mindfulness in the workplace, I’ve summarized many of the recent articles below.  Please comment on this post to contribute additional articles as you find them so that other readers can have access to all the latest information and resources!

Note: Christy Cassisa is a former attorney, turned coach, who has recently been appointed as the Co-Director of Workplace Initiatives and Giving for the UC San Diego Center for Mindfulness. As she notes, “With all of the excitement surrounding mindfulness in the business community, we feel it is time to opt in. In this effort, we are thrilled to announce the launch of the UCSD Center for Mindfulness Workplace Programs.  Now you can bring the Center’s expertise to your office with a program or workshop tailored for your business or group. If you have an interest in learning more, take a look at Christy’s blog, Mindful Clarity, and/or contact Christy via the Center for Mindfulness at mindfulness@ucsd.edu

Workplace Mindfulness Articles

Developing Mindful Leaders– Harvard Business Review, Dec 2011

Meditation Makes You More Creative– Science Daily, April 2012

OK Google, Take a Deep Breath– New York Times, April 2012

How to be Happier at Work– Inc., May 2012

How to kill a thought in a good way– Forbes, June 2012

Meditation Can Keep you More Focused at Work– USAToday, July 2012

Be more mindful for a better workplace– Chicago Tribune Aug 2012

Mindfulness is not a Cure, it’s Better– HuffPost, Aug 2012

The Mind Business– Financial Times Magazine, Aug 2012

Mindfulness-based stress reduction effects on moral reasoning and decision makingJournal of Positive Psychology, Sept 2012

A Guide to Mindfulness at Work– Forbes Oct, 2012

Mindfulness Helps you become a better leader –Harvard Business Review Oct 2012

Multitasking Loses its Cool: Mindfulness is Now In – Investors.com, Oct 2012

The ROI of Practicing Mindfulness at Work– Under30CEO.com, Nov 2012

Meditation finds an ommmm in the office– Globe & Mail, Nov 2012

Mindful Multitasking– Levy, U Washington

Why Mindful Breathing Works– Huffington Post, Nov 2012

Lead by Achieving Nothing.  Seriously. Forbes, Nov 2012