The art of paying proper attention. And of living in the here and now, directing our full focus on to the moment. And not just at some point, but now. An example: do you still remember what your first coffee of the day tasted like? No? For most people, autopilot kicks in as soon as they wake up. Meaning that we are never really present for the task at hand. And this is where mindfulness enters into the equation. Special exercises are designed to bring whirring thoughts to a standstill, creating a space for serenity to take hold. This helps when waiting in line at a checkout or dealing with day-to-day workplace stress.

Companies are turning to mindfulness techniques that make employees more relaxed – and more productive.

At the international SAP group, mindfulness goes right to the top of the corporate pyramid. The company even has its own dedicated mindfulness guru. Peter Bostelmann is Chief Mindfulness Officer at the Walldorf-based software giant. It is his job to make sure that employees take part in a two-day mindfulness course entitled “Search Inside Yourself”.  The idea is that the company and its employees adopt a more considered approach, both towards themselves and each other. Each day, the company runs half-hour meditation sessions in Walldorf. And employees can participate in Mindful Lunches. In the meantime, the programme has proved such a success that there is a year-long waiting list.

Schemes like this are an important part of attracting qualified employees. As companies compete to bring in the brightest talents, some are turning to courses that last several weeks, or outdoor workshops to help employees to access their inner selves for the first time. In something of an oversimplification, it shows people how to get in touch with their feelings and take stock of what’s happening on the inside and outside. And in an open, non-judgemental way.

It goes without saying that this helps to improve focus, clarity, resilience and emotional intelligence. The advantages for companies are manifold. If employees are less stressed about their work and more relaxed, then they are better positioned to deal with challenges and more satisfied overall.  A win-win situation! But where does the sudden interest in mindfulness and meditation come from?

The trend that isn’t a trend

One of the guiding principles of mindfulness comes from Buddhism. Mindfulness goes back much further than modern-day research into the term.  But you do not have to be a Buddhist to practice it. The most common method is known as mindfulness-based stress reduction, or MBSR for short.  Developed at the end of the 1970s by US molecular biologist Jon Kabat-Zinn, it takes religious spirituality out of meditation, without downplaying its importance.

"Taking on a leadership role is one of the most crucial choices a person can make – it is the decision to step out of darkness into the light.”

In an interview with German newspaper FAZ, he said: “Mindfulness is not a passing fad like aerobics, but an attitude to life. It brings calm into our hectic everyday lives and helps us to cope better with stress, fears and negative feelings.  Of course, this is exactly why many managers, who are under great pressure at work, use meditation.” And many people share his views.  World-famous pioneer Deepak Chopra understood the importance of adopting a holistic approach that brings physical health, emotional wellbeing and spiritual fulfilment into balance with Western lifestyles. The principles that he teaches in his management seminars also apply to other areas of our lives, and to families, schools and society. “At the deepest level,” Chopra writes, “a leader is the symbolic soul of a group.” And that deserves its fair share of attention.