Mindfulness For Executives

Mindfulness For Executives

Mindfulness is an awakening to recognise what is happening in the present moment. Executives are rarely mindful, and are usually engrossed in distracting thoughts or opinions about the happenings at that very instant.


Executives operating in the contemporary volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world are susceptible to a plethora of concerns such as stress, anxiety, confusion, and psychological disturbances. Emotional suffering is the common denominator for executives across every level in an organisation. Empirical evidence of documented research reports that mindfulness practices will aid in improving the mental health of executives.


If executives are less distressed by events in their lives, their suffering will eventually decrease. But how can executives be shielded from disturbances by unpleasant experiences? An executive’s life is undoubtedly a roller coaster ride that includes suffering. The mind and body instinctively react to painful experiences. Mindfulness is a skill that allows executives to be less reactive to what is happening in the moment. It is a way of reducing suffering and increasing well-being. Mindfulness is an awakening to recognise what is happening in the present moment. Executives are rarely mindful, and are usually engrossed in distracting thoughts or opinions about what is happening in the moment.


The various activities of mindlessness that executives often get involved in are:


◆ Hurrying through activities without being attentive to them

◆ Breaking or spilling things owing to carelessness, inattention, or thinking of something else

◆ Forgetting a person’s name almost as soon as they have heard it

◆ Failing to notice subtle feelings of their physical tension or discomfort

◆ Finding themselves preoccupied with the future or past

◆ Snacking without being aware of eating


The science of consciousness


Mindfulness focuses the attention of individuals on the task at hand. When executives are mindful, their attention is not entangled in the past or the future, and they are not being judgemental about what is occurring at the moment. An attention of such a kind generates energy, clear-headedness, and joy. This is a skill that can be taught to executives.



While the subject mindfulness has been credited with a long history, it has currently occupied the space of the science of consciousness. The central tenets of mindfulness are awareness, attention, and recollection. Brown and Ryan (2003) define awareness and attention under the canopy of consciousness. Consciousness encompasses awareness as well as attention.


Awareness is the background “radar” of consciousness that continually monitors the inner and outer environment. One may be aware of the stimuli without them being at the centre of attention.


Attention is a process of focusing conscious awareness, and providing heightened sensitivity to a limited range of experiences. In reality, awareness and attention are intertwined such that attention continually pulls “figures” out of the “ground” of awareness, holding them in focus for varying lengths of time. A pressure cooker whistling in the background may eventually command our attention when it gets loud enough. Similarly, one may carry out several activities on autopilot. Mindfulness is the opposite of being on autopilot; it is paying attention to what is salient in the present moment. Mindfulness also involves remembering, but not dwelling in memories, to reorient our attention and awareness to current experience in a wholehearted, receptive manner. This requires an intent to disentangle from our reverie and to fully experience the moment.


A stress buster


Mindfulness is used to reduce stress and is termed as mindfulness based stress reduction that consists of multiple forms of mindfulness practices, including formal and informal meditation practice, as well as hatha yoga (Kabat-Zinn, 1990). The formal practice consists of breath focused attention and body scan-based attention to the transient nature of sensory experience, shifting attention across sensory modalities, open monitoring of moment-to-moment experience, walking meditation and eating meditation. Informal practice entails brief pauses that involves volitional shifting of attention to the present moment of awareness. Together, this package of mindfulness practices aims to enhance the ability to observe the immediate content of experience, specifically, the transient nature of thoughts, emotion, memories, mental images, and physical sensation.


The qualities of mindfulness moments are illustrated as under:


Non-conceptual: Mindfulness is awareness without absorption in our thought process

Present-centred: Mindfulness is always about being in the present moment. Thoughts on our experience are removed from the present moment.

Intentional: Mindfulness always involves an intent to direct attention elsewhere. Being attentive in the present moment gives mindfulness continuity over time.

Participant observation: Mindfulness is not about being a detached witness. It is an intimate experience of the mind and body.

Exploratory: Mindful awareness is always investigating subtler levels of perception.

Liberating: Every moment of mindful awareness provides freedom from conditioned suffering.


Mindfulness and its advantages


Practicing mindfulness helps executives to: -

a) Develop insight into psychological functioning,

b) Respond skilfully to new situations, and

c) Be less entangled in their ruminations


In view of the above, there is a compelling case for the present-day executives to value the importance of mindfulness, and executives across all functions and domains must keep the following pointers in mind:


1. Overcome activities of mindlessness which are understandably common in organisations.

2. Information and knowledge related to mindfulness must be disseminated to all executives in the organisation by the leaders of learning & development.

3. It is imperative for executives to value the importance and practice of mindfulness and recognise that mindfulness is a significant antidote to VUCA environment.

4. As a strategic initiative, all key personnel in the organisation must undergo a two day mandatory learning programme on mindfulness in view of its efficacy and overarching health and psychological benefits.


The growing interest in the field is reflected in Harvard's course catalogue. This spring, Lazar is teaching "Cognitive Neuroscience of Meditation," Ezer Vierba leads an expository freshmen writing course on "Buddhism, Mindfulness, and the Practical Mind," and Metta McGarvey teaches "Mindfulness for Educators" at the Graduate School of Education. The pioneer of scientific research on meditation, Herbert Benson, extolled its benefits on the human body - reduced blood pressure, heart rate, and brain activity - as early as 1975. He helped demystify meditation by calling it the "relaxation response." Benson is director emeritus of the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital and Mind/Body Medicine Distinguished Professor of Medicine at HMS. Retrieved from :



Dr. K N Viswanatham is a Senior Faculty Member at the State Bank Institute of Leadership, Kolkata. He comes with an experience of more than two decades in teaching, training, consulting, and research. Dr. Viswanatham has a Master's degree in Psychology from Andhra University, and an M. Phil & PhD in Clinical Psychology from NIMHANS. He can be reached on


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