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Stress, Mindfulness and the Executive Brain

February 17, 2014

Stop for just a moment and take everything in, within and around you, noticing without judging. This is mindfulness.

800px-Satellite_dishes_at_Kodiak_Launch_Complex_-101119-F-0000F-270-The NeuroLeadership Institute refers to mindfulness as “direct experience,” focusing on the brain circuitry activated when you’re being mindful. Think of it as being a video recorder or a sensory satellite receiving dish.

So why is mindfulness important to leaders?

Well, many workplaces create high levels of stress. Stress can trigger our “threat” circuitry … quickly ramping up our “fight or flight” response … simultaneously shutting down our prefrontal cortex (PFC), or executive brain.

The PFC is where higher ordered thinking, like judgement, creativity and complex decision-making, occur. Best to avoid shutting it down when possible.

For most of us, our opportunity to “hit the brakes” as we experience a threat is fleeting. Why? Because these brakes are located IN the PFC!

This is where mindfulness comes in. Research has shown that those with a strong “direct experience” network have stronger braking systems and are better able to manage a “threat” state. This translates into better access to the executive brain functions located in your PFC.

“But I don’t have time to meditate,” you groan.

That’s OK.

You can strengthen your direct experience network just about anywhere, any time: walking to a meeting, on a train, at a traffic light, during lunch, upon waking….

Simply spend a few minutes noticing everything you’re sensing, internally and externally, without judging.

You can start small (a daily minute or two) and build from there. One study showed a dramatic improvement after practicing mindfulness for 20 minutes a day for only FIVE days.

So if you want to work at your highest cognitive levels, take advantage of those fleeting moments and turn them into mindfulness moments.

[With thanks to this post’s guest author, Paul McGinniss of the NeuroLeadership Institute]

2 Responses

  1. Thanks for this. Great job simplifying – but not over-simplifying – this practical application of mindfulness.

  2. You’re very welcome Laura – glad that you found it useful!

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