How’s Your Mental Hygiene?

Kathryn Scanland Leadership

The faculty of voluntarily bringing back a wandering attention, over and over again, is the very root of judgment, character, and will. ~William James
Have you ever worked with someone who frequently became defensive? What about the person whose mind seems to wander quickly in meetings? Or the colleague who is always trying really hard but continues to struggle with time management? Have you ever worked with someone who seemed so focused, clear, creative, and compassionate in the midst of a fast-paced and complex organization that you wondered if they could be for real?
All of these scenarios have something in common – mindfulness. This is what William James described when he said “voluntarily bringing back a wandering attention, over and over again.” In recent years, mindful leadership has gained momentum. Effective leadership requires self-knowledge, self-awareness, and centeredness. Research tells us that the best leaders have some method to manage the barrage of information, data, possibilities, perspectives, and opportunities to sustain their presence of mind and overall health. 
A mindful leader trains their mind to turnoff their autopilot, multitasking habits so they can bring all of their mind’s capabilities to the moments of their lives. The American Psychological Association says “The inability to focus for even 10 minutes on any one thing at a time may be costing you 20 to 40 percent in terms of efficiency and productivity.”
Here’s the really good news, at least for me, mindfulness can be learned, with practice. One of the most common ways to learn to become more mindful is through the practice of meditation. If I just lost you, hold on for one minute. For many of us, meditation may have been labeled or defined as thinking about nothing. As I now understand it, that’s not really accurate.  Meditation is a practice that enables just what William James described, the ability to bring your mind/attention back to center, over and over again. When you meditate your mind will wander; that doesn’t mean you’re unsuccessful or doing it wrong. When you recognize that your mind has wandered and you bring it back to center, you are very much meditating.
Through meditation, you learn to become mindful. When you are mindful of something, you are observing it, not caught up in it, and not identified with it. You release any judgment about it. By releasing judgment you are able to be more focused, see it with more clarity, and become more creative because you have no preconceived notion as to what is.
If you think that mindful leadership sounds like a lot of gobbledygook, I’d suggest you give it a test drive for a couple of weeks and see if you can sense a difference. Organizations like General Mills, Target, Intel, Mayo Clinic, and United Way have invested heavily in training their leaders to become more mindful.
We brush our teeth every day because we believe that dental hygiene is important. Our mind and mental abilities are key to successful leadership; so what are our mental hygiene practices?

Dr. Kathryn Scanland is the president of Greystone Global LLC, a consulting firm focusing on strategic planning, leadership development and organizational design. This post is republished with permission from Tuesday Mornings.