Strengthening the intellectual foundation for our profession of arms.
November 19th, 2016 by Richard Mogg
As the Australian Army seeks methods to improve human performance, cognitive mastery, emotional intelligence, leadership, resilience and innovation it should consider the success that mindfulness training is having in many organisations across the globe.
Mindfulness training has been thoroughly tested in a diverse range of industries in North America, Europe, Asia and Australia. It is found to result in measurable increases in cognitive function, productivity, creativity, improved well-being, job satisfaction, improved collaboration and workplace function, reduced stress and absenteeism. Over 4,000 academic articles have been published over the last 20 years confirming the benefits of mindfulness training.
Mindfulness training has had measurable success in many corporations including: Google, SAP, General Electric, Cochlear, Harvard University, Ford, Sony, Citrix, IKEA, Microsoft, Accenture, Nike, Ratheon, Deutsche Bank, as well as in prisons, schools, hospitals, the British Parliament, the United States Military and in many other organisations.
The United Kingdom’s Mindful Nation Report compiled by an all party group recommends that mindfulness training be delivered in all government departments. Speaking in September 2016 at the Mindful Leadership Forum in Sydney, Peter Bostelmann a senior executive in global software company SAP stated that the success of mindfulness training within corporations has been so rapid that he forecasts mindfulness will soon be a key leader development program in most workplaces.
What is Mindfulness and what are its Benefits?
Mindfulness is not a mysterious mystical pursuit. Mindfulness training is evidence based, supported by research across the disciplines of neuroscience, psychology and medicine.
Mindfulness is about developing a highly functional and effective mind, plus increasing self-awareness and improving emotional intelligence. Mindfulness trains both attention and meta-attention. Meta-attention is the ability to focus while also maintaining open awareness of what you are paying attention to and when you have been distracted.
Through mindfulness training your mind becomes increasing focused and stable, but in a way that is relaxing. In this state clarity, calm and happiness naturally emerge. A growing body of research suggests mindfulness enhances creativity and innovation by allowing a strong connection between the conscious and sub-conscious mind.
Where is the Science and Evidence?
In as little as eight weeks, mindfulness training (consisting of 1-2 hours of weekly instruction, plus 10-20 minutes per day of self-practice) has been found to improve mental function, physical health and work performance. Mindfulness training measurably increases the density of the cerebral cortex, the part of the brain that thinks rationally, solves problems, manages emotional integration and attention. It also increases density in the hippocampus, important for learning and memory, and in structures associated with self awareness, empathy, compassion and emotional awareness. The density reduces in the brain’s amygdala resulting in better management of stress, anxiety and trauma.
Overall, as a result of mindfulness training cognitive function improves, resulting in better memory, increased concentration, reduced cognitive rigidity, faster reaction times, greater self-awareness, and enhanced emotional intelligence. Mindfulness also balances neurotransmitters – dopamine and serotonin. At the physiological level researchers have demonstrated that mindfulness training results in a stronger immune system, lower blood pressure, lower stress and better sleep.
Mindfulness allows a person to see themselves objectively, aware of thoughts and emotions while not getting swept up in them. Thus enhancing self-regulation and response flexibility – that is the skill to pause and respond in the most useful way, rather than subconsciously reacting habitually in sometimes problematic ways.
Application in the Military
It would certainly appear that mindfulness training offers benefits to the military. Particularly as the challenge of managing attention is exacerbated by the multiple digital devices, screens and systems within the digitised military environment. Now more than ever before military personnel and leaders require cognitive mastery including the ability to manage their attention and meta-attention.
Research suggests most of us spend 46.9% of our time distracted. Studies also show that multitasking reduces effectiveness, adversely affects memory, is exhausting and negatively impacts health. Unfortunately multitasking and digital distraction are also addictive. Rapidly shifting between tasks feels exciting but provides a false sense of productivity, it is inefficient and mentally exhausting. Multitasking trains the brain to welcome distraction, as such, we are not focused, less effective, make more mistakes and are less creative. Mindfulness trains the brain to focus attention in the present, while remaining openly aware of distractions and priorities.
When mindfulness is applied in the workplace studies show a more engaged, productive, resilient, more creative, innovative and optimistic workforce, increased safety and reduced absenteeism. Mindfulness trains resilience on three levels: 1) connection with an innate inner calm, 2) building emotional resilience and 3) enhancing cognitive resilience.
Mindfulness has been observed to improve leadership effectiveness, team function, collaboration and communication – by allowing leaders to understand themselves, their emotions, improving the ability to listen and to understand the needs and motivations of team members. Not surprisingly, people who practice mindfulness techniques report an overall increase in quality of life.
How could Mindfulness Training be Delivered in the Military?
Mindfulness can be taught in 6-8 weeks consisting of 1-2 hours of weekly instruction, plus 10-20 minutes per day of self-practice. Instruction can be either face-to-face or online, participants can be provided with online information to assist in maintaining a mindfulness practice. The armed forces could run trial mindfulness courses to demonstrate the benefits and to test the method of instruction most suited to the military.
In fact, trials have already begun in the Australian Defence Force. The Royal Australia Airforce (RAAF) have trialed Corporate Based Mindfulness Training as part of Resilience Training. HQ Forces Command has commenced a weekly lunchtime mindfulness drop-in session. Australia’s Special Operations Command (SOCOMD) have incorporated a mindfulness module in their Human Performance Optimisation Program. Testimonials from Defence personnel participating in these initial mindfulness programs have been very positive.
This article is written to generate discussion within the military community and reader’s comments are invited within this site or emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.