Mindfulness, for most people, often falls into the category of a luxury item, better reserved for those who have abundant amounts of time on their hands. Yet, in Matt Tenney and Tim Gard’s new book, The Mindfulness Edge: How to Rewire Your Brain for Leadership and Personal Excellence Without Adding to Your Schedule, the authors contend that mindfulness won’t just add value to your life, but also to your bottom line.
Tenney, noted author, keynote speaker, corporate trainer, and consultant with the Perth Institute, partners with noted neuroscientist Tim Gard, PhD, to show why and how mindfulness is a required edge in the leadership world.
The authors begin by reminding us that while all success and failure originates in the mind, rarely do we take any time to intentionally train the mind. And yet, studies in neuroscience tells us that due to the innate neuroplasticity of the brain, we can change its physical structures. It all begins, they tell us, when we adopt a beginner’s mind. The authors write, “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.” The beginner’s mind allows us to have an open, inquisitive attitude that frees us from the filter of our own thinking. And freeing ourselves from our deceptive filters, the authors contend, is how we wrest ourselves from the control our conditional, habitual patterns have on us.
Mindful self-awareness is not only how we arrest the tendency to fall back on default patterns of thinking and acting, but also the foundation of emotional intelligence. And while emotional intelligence has become a well-established theme in leadership circles, it also has direct impact on gross margins and expenses. And the reason, the authors tell us, is that we are all subject to cognitive biases. Cognitive biases come in many forms, such as the status quo bias, the logic bias, and the illusion of control bias, but they all lead to perceptual distortions and the tendency to make inaccurate judgments and bad decisions. The status quo bias, for example, is regulated by our unconscious need to fit in and causes us to want to maintain homeostasis, which kills innovation. The reaction time bias, on the other hand, affects the speed at which we take action. And a good leader, the authors write, “is one who strikes a good balance between the two extremes (acting too quickly and too slowly), but slightly favors action over planning.”
We learn to become aware of our biases and develop the mental agility that defines exceptional leaders by letting go of what we already know and being open to present-moment experience. The more we practice mindfulness, the more we improve our emotional regulation and control, and ultimately the ability to generate positive emotions in ourselves and those around us. Here, the authors point to the studies on mirror neurons that demonstrate that when witnessing positive emotions, the same neurons fire as when experiencing them.
Freeing ourselves from biases – especially the status quo bias – has a powerful impact on our ability to be innovative. Here, the authors tell the story of Debbie Sterling and GoldieBlox, a construction toy for girls. Sterling, while pursuing her degree in engineering, stumbled onto a problem. Noticing her own difficulty with spatial awareness, Debbie realized that women are no less equipped than men, but simply socialized to play with dolls – which don’t develop spatial awareness – as oppose to construction toys, which do. It was there that GoldieBlox, a book about a girl who goes around solving problems by building things and the construction toy which allows girls to live out the story, was born. Debbie Sterling, the authors write, “displays one of the most defining characteristics of an innovator – an apparent obsession with disrupting the status quo.”
Yet leadership success may also mean resilience in the face of opposition. Here, Tenney draws upon his own time in a military prison, which he refers to as, “the most important experience of my life.” Through the power of serving others, Tenney was able to transform his confinement into a monastery, spending the last three years living and training as monks do. What Tenney realized was that the more he focused on serving others, the more success he had. And through becoming more aware of our day-to-day activities, we can also change our happiness levels. By cultivating what the authors call “unconditional happiness,” we can learn that happiness does not depend on any external condition being met. Unlike the rest of our lives, which are filled by moments of striving, perhaps the most important lesson mindfulness can teach us is the art of letting go – what the authors call “nonstriving.”
Packed with compelling research, helpful tips and exercises, and powerful stories, The Mindfulness Edge doesn’t simply open the door for us to become more aware of ourselves, our biases, and our thinking, but also helps uncover the powerful leaders within us.
The Mindfulness Edge: How to Rewire Your Brain for Leadership and Personal Excellence Without Adding to Your Schedule
John Wiley & Sons, March 7, 2016
Hardcover, 288 Pages