Why Mindfulness Is a Must-Have Mental Skill Every business leader faces overwhelm, self-doubt and a hundred other unhelpful habits of mind. Learning to pause them in their tracks puts you back in the pilot's seat.

By Dr. Malachi Thompson III

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

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As leaders in business, there are emotional and mental challenges we experience that our subordinates don't share or appreciate. Making the common but difficult transition from being an excellent technical operator to becoming a middle or more senior manager, usually involves taking on an overwhelming workload.

The learning curve is steep and fast. You can feel as though you're drowning. Just as you feel you're getting the hang of something new, a curve ball gets thrown at you from left field. Demands can change just as quickly as you received the initial directives.

You're now responsible for larger numbers of people and need to quickly understand a broader scope of roles, systems and processes, not to mention build relationships quickly with key people. Such conditions are a perfect incubator for that doubtful critical voice inside to chime in: I don't know if I can actually handle this. Or, I never thought the pressure and workload volume would be like this. Or, I feel like I'm constantly chasing my tail and can never keep up.

Related: 8 Mental Disciplines More Powerful Than Self-Doubt

Failure feels imminent and you desperately want to go back to how things were. Before, you knew confidence, felt clear purpose and had a strong internal sense of your competence. Now your foundation as a leader is shaking, and you're continually running on overdrive.

In all honesty, your brain is always operating exactly the way it is designed to: to keep you safe. We are evolutionarily hard-wired to operate by a negatively biased mindset. Psychology researchers such as Professor John Cacciopo of the University of Chicago have extensively researched and documented increased cerebral cortex activity within the brain when comparing the effects of negative emotion-invoking stimuli with positive emotion-invoking stimuli.

You can imagine that having no intervention to keep such thoughts in check can result in cognitive and emotional derailment. However, mindfulness provides for a non-confrontational intervention where you develop the skill to choose to pivot your thinking and stop the broken record of unhelpful thought looping on repeat.

What is mindfulness?

A framework highly used by therapists globally to help individuals manage mental illness, mindfulness is finally starting to receive recognition for its effectiveness in creating a peak performance mindset. Widely used by elite athletes, it is increasingly being adopted by c-suite managers as a contemplation skill to increase resilience, reduce stress, and regain clarity and focus. You strengthen your capacity to face adversity with greater mental composure and emotional stability.

Consider there are two main functions our brains perform during mindful meditation:

  • The generation of thoughts, feelings and emotions -- these are transient and can change from one moment to the next;

  • The observation of information, data and feedback without judgment, evaluation or criticism, or without even trying to make sense of it.

We learn to listen to and accept the thoughts and feelings that arise within us. We practice being able first to notice that we are having these unfavorable thoughts, labels, criticisms, judgments and feelings, and then we pause them in their tracks by choosing to observe them: Hmmm, it's interesting I'm having this thought of feeling like I will never be good enough. Or, hmm…it's interesting that I'm feeling this weight in the pit of my stomach."

Related: Mindfulness Isn't Just a Trend, It's Key to Being a Better Leader

Stepping behind the lens of the camera to then become the observer helps to de-intensify the impact, the weight of what your mind has generated. As this de-intensifies, you increase your capacity to control your mental state and your mood. By practicing this technique you put yourself back in the pilot seat but developing strong self-awareness initially is key.

The evidence base for mindfulness.

In 2012, Dr. Gaëlle Désbordes used functional magnetic resonance imaging to document reduced activity in the brain's amygdala during mindful-attention training and normal daily activities after the training. The notable result was recording the reduced activity to persist in participants after they had completed a two-month training program of mindful-attention meditation.

Désbordes' findings not only have strong positive implications for using mindfulness training to improve our emotional and mental responses to everyday stressors. As business leaders, we now have an empirically tested tool which better equips us to navigate emotionally and mentally the stormy waters that might lie ahead.

Relate: How to Instill a Culture of Mindfulness at Your Startup

With the guide of a qualified practitioner, invest in making this skill an essential feature of your mental toolkit. You'll not only leap leagues ahead of your competition, but you'll also move faster and further toward your chosen goals. The cognitive noise in your head will quieten and your feelings of overwhelm will lessen even though the workload and increased responsibilities remain. Don't delay any longer. Taking action now is the next step.

Dr. Malachi Thompson III

Entrepreneur Leadership Network Writer

High-Performance Consultant

Dr. Malachi Thompson spent more than a decade leading and developing high-performing military teams. He is the founder of Champion Leaders. He teaches proven strategies to help entrepreneurs and leaders activate their genius, lead in their field and impact the world.

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