Is all the recent discussion about mindfulness legit, or just the next wave of pop psychology? And what, if anything, does it have to do with meeting planning?
First, what is mindfulness? Mindfulness is defined by Psychology Today as “a state of active, open attention on the present. When you’re mindful, you observe your thoughts and feelings from a distance, without judging them good or bad. Instead of letting your life pass you by, mindfulness means living in the moment and awakening to experience.”
Where did the idea of mindfulness originate? In the East, mindfulness is a central practice of Hinduism and Buddhism, both of which honor the concept of dharma, a belief that embraces a way of life that is in harmony with the natural order of the universe. Mindfulness meditation is a practice recognized in both religious traditions, and by their close cousin, yoga. Hinduism is the oldest extant religion in the world, going back more than 4,000 years, so the idea of mindfulness is an ancient and enduring one.
How did mindfulness make its way West? Jon Kabat-Zinn, PhD, is an internationally known scientist, writer and meditation teacher who received his PhD from MIT in 1971. He founded the Center for Mindfulness at the University of Massachusetts Medical School and is the father of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction and its offshoot, Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy. These integrations of mindfulness and science helped to popularize mindfulness in the West.
What does mindfulness have to do with meeting planning? We can begin by examining the purpose of bringing people together in the first place. Host companies and organizations generally have goals about how attendees will learn and collaborate. Meetings are a space where people share best practices, test new theories, find fresh perspectives and exchange original ideas.
Research reveals that we only retain between 25 and 50 percent of what we hear. It is discouraging to think that after all the time and money spent on a meeting, participants will take away such a small percentage of the experience. Here is a place where the practice of mindfulness can make a difference.
Recent research about mindfulness from the Cranfield Centre for Business Performance at the University of Cranfield demonstrates that when meeting chairs or presenters lead with mindfulness, they can help their audience take their time exploring new ideas while preventing them from reacting too quickly to new information. A few suggestions for leaders include encouraging openness; making sure everyone is physically comfortable; allowing participants to express their emotions; respecting the fact that people have a limited attention span; and allowing new ideas and priorities to be discussed in the moment.
In his book “Wherever You Go, There You Are,” Jon Kabat-Zinn says mindfulness means “paying attention in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.” Mindful listening is the act of shutting out internal and external distractions and listening “on purpose.”
Author Charlie Scott suggests three strategies for mindful listening:
- Be present by focusing on the person you are listening to.
- Cultivate empathy by seeking to understand the other person’s point of view.
- Listen to your own cues, or internal thoughts, feelings or physical reactions that may prejudice listening and prevent you from really hearing the speaker’s message.
Mindfulness trainer Lee Papa also suggests creating a meditation room at your event (something she can help with), a place where participants can get away from the frenzied show environment to refresh, reconnect and refocus.
Planning and attending meetings with mindfulness adds value for everyone. Mindfulness creates a space where people are positively and deliberately engaged with one another. They will leave more likely to remember and share what they’ve learned, making them the change agents inside their organizations.
“Walk as if you are kissing the Earth with your feet.” ― Thich Nhat Hanh, Vietnamese Buddhist monk