Interest in mindfulness, defined as
“present-centered attention and awareness”
1 is surging. Companies that have
adopted a mindfulness program for its
employees include Google, LinkedIn,
Facebook, General Mills, Intel, and the
Seattle Seahawks, just to name a few.
Thirteen percent of US workers
report engaging in mindfulness-enhancing practices2 and as of 2015,
over 4,000 scholarly articles have been
published on this topic.
Mindfulness has a positive impact
on all arenas of human functioning.
Research in psychology, neuroscience, and medicine shows that mindfulness affects attention, cognition,
emotions, behavior, and physiology
in positive ways. While most of the
research has focused on the positive impact of mindfulness on the
individual, a growing body of work
in the management area also suggests
that mindfulness is linked to better
What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness has its roots in Buddhist
teachings. Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn, a molecular biologist, started offering mindfulness training in the United States in the
late 1970s as a therapeutic tool to help
patients manage chronic illness.
Simply put, mindfulness means to
pay attention, without preference,
non-judgmentally. There are many
ways the mind can be focused, but
in the context of mindfulness, we’re
describing “meta-awareness,” which is
an apprehension of the current state
of the mind that monitors focused
The practice of mindfulness stresses
the importance of paying attention to
the actual experience of what is happening in the moment. For example,
let’s suppose you are having an upsetting conversation with a colleague
about a missed deadline. There is
layered psychological context to the
conversation — negative self-talk, an
impulse to lash out, emotions, etc.
With mindfulness, rather than
reacting from this place, first, we
instead recognize what is happening
in the moment. You may notice your
heart rate increasing, heat rising to the
face, stomach tightening, and racing
thoughts (i.e., “I can’t believe she’s
doing this again! She always misses
important deadlines and tries to blame
it on me. She’s so irresponsible.”).
Having an awareness of these automatic reactions allows for distance
from the stress-triggering stimulus, so
that you can respond more appropriately. By pausing in the moment, and
paying attention to the mental and
physiological reaction, an individual
can more easily choose how to best
handle a challenging situation.
How to practice mindfulness
The primary tool used to practice
mindfulness is meditation. However,
different people may mean different
things when they use the term. While
many meditation traditions come with
philosophies, religious beliefs, rituals, and specialized equipment, the
practice is simply a form of mental
training. All of the many different
meditation practices that exist, at their
essence, boil down to the same thing:
They are all means of settling and focusing the mind. By sitting quietly with
your own mind day after day, you get
to know it better.
One reason meditation can have
such a powerful effect on people’s lives
is because our mind is one of the very
few things we have the ability to control.
We may not be able to control what
Benefits of mindfulness practice
happens to us, but by getting to know
ourselves and our own thought patterns
better, we can learn to control how we
react to and process the events in our
lives. Developing this ability changes
how we experience life. We can retain
inner strength and a sense of well being
even in very difficult situations.
Increased attention and focus
The human mind is estimated to wander approximately half of our waking
8 Mindfulness practice has been
shown to reduce mind wandering
while increasing attention and focus.
This makes sense given that the
practice of meditation (the primary
method of practicing mindfulness) is a
concentration practice — focusing on
the object of attention, for example, the
breath. When you notice your mind
has wandered away, you return it back
to the object of attention.
Additionally, meditators are better
able to direct their attention by reducing
habitual allocation of attention.
this is a beneficial skill for workers —
being able to notice when the mind has
wandered away from the task at hand,
and then redirecting our attention back
to what’s important.
Research indicates that even a short
mindfulness practice can increase
attention. “Interruptions leave a
residue of attention (e.g., thinking
about the prior stimulus rather than
the present one) that can hamper
subsequent performance. However,
five minutes of mindfulness practice
Olga Mack is a startup lawyer who enjoys advising her clients to success and growth. Currently
general counsel for ClearSide, she has previously worked at Zoosk, Visa Inc., Pacific Art League of
Palo Alto, and Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati.
Jeena Cho is the co-author of The Anxious Lawyer (ABA). She is a keynote speaker and regularly
teaches workshops on using mindfulness to manage stress and anxiety while increasing
52 ASSOCIATION OF CORPORATE COUNSEL
CREATING A MINDFUL WORKPLACE