Multitasking Loses Its Cool; Mindfulness Is Now Key To Success

As you read this article, you might at the same time pretend to listen to a co-worker’s latest gripe or skim through your emails.

No problem, right? After all, the ability to multitask is critical if you want to succeed in the 21st century.

Well, the pendulum actually has swung in the other direction, at least if you talk to a new breed of leadership training providers.

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For them, mindfulness — not multitasking — is the key to success. But what exactly is mindfulness?

“The simplest definition is it’s a way of being in the moment, seeing things just as they are, without judgment,” said Mirabai Bush, who has consulted on mindfulness with companies such as Aetna (AET), Google (GOOG) and Monsanto (MON). She is a senior fellow at the Center for Contemplative Mind in Society.

Janice Marturano, a former General Mills (GIS) executive, offers another definition, describing mindfulness as “a precise way to train the mind so that we can bring all of our capabilities to our roles as leaders and influencers in society.”

Mindfulness training can help people focus, see clearly, work with change, form deeper relationships and more. It goes far beyond putting a stop to multitasking, Marturano said. She helped bring such training to General Mills and now serves as the executive director of the Institute for Mindful Leadership.

So how do you go about achieving mindfulness? Bush said one basic practice is to take a break during the workday and concentrate on your breathing. You can do this right before an important meeting.

“Bring your awareness to your breath, as your breath enters and leaves your body — not doing any special kind of yoga breathing,” she told IBD in an interview. You will have thoughts jump into your head, but just let them come and go without judging yourself. This mediation exercise is simple, but not that easy to do, yet it provides many benefits, Bush said.

Mindfulness training draws on Buddhist ideas. Bush points out, though, that “there are variations on mindfulness practice in all the religious and spiritual traditions.”

She adds that she’s seen greater interest in the field over the last five years. It’s been driven in part by people trying to fight stress triggered by the tough economic times — as well as more neuroscience and social-science research that’s highlighted key benefits. For example, mindfulness training can reduce levels of cortisol, a stress-related hormone.

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