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The Cost of Distraction: How Mindfulness Can Positively Impact Your Bottom Line

"To be mindfully engaged is the most natural, creative state we can be in”. Ellen Langer

We live in a world where distractions and interruptions are the norm and occur every 3 minutes in the typical office environment. What's surprising is that it can take anywhere from 5-23 minutes to re-focus on the task at hand. We may be guilty of spending much too long looking for misplaced files, having an excessive number of tabs open in our browser or perhaps the incessant reminders from our social media lure us in for just one more 'quick check'. These are unconscious activities brought on by mindless behaviour and we tend to operate in this preoccupied, distracted mode every day.

Recent studies indicate that our minds are wandering on average, 46.9% of the time. The unfavourable impact on our focus, productivity, engagement, and interpersonal relationships is far reaching. Gloria Marks has shown that attention distraction can lead to higher stress levels, a negative mood and lower productivity.

According to Medibank Private the Australian economy is losing $34B annually to 'presenteeism' or the loss in productivity when employees come to work yet are not fully productive ~ often due to illness brought on by job stress, lack of work-life balance, unhealthy lifestyle, allergies or illness. Organisations are starting to explore how to address this ever-growing concern and the rise of mindfulness in the workplace has definitely piqued some interest in this regard.

Jon Kabat-Zinn, a thought-leader in the field defines mindfulness as 'an awareness that arises through paying attention, in the present moment , on purpose, without judgement',

If you have the image of yourself sitting in lotus pose (cross legged on the floor), your view of mindfulness is probably limited and there is definitely potential for a broader understanding.

Mindfulness can be practiced anywhere, through almost any activity. Essentially, it involves focusing your attention on whatever it is that you happen to be doing and being immersed in that moment. Concentrated focus on the breath is a common introduction into mindfulness, you may also practice through focusing on what you're eating, focusing on walking, focusing on the body through a body scan and so forth. There are many ways to practice mindfulness and finding one that works for you is important.

So what does all of this 'hippy-like' behaviour do? It literally changes the structure of our brains. In fact, through regular practice, strong evidence demonstrates that it increases the amount of grey matter in the pre-frontal cortex, the anterior cingulate cortex and the hippocampus ~ the areas responsible for things such as attention, decision making, emotion regulation and analytical processing. These areas are also responsible for executive functioning -skills everyone uses to organise and act on information and include: impulse control, flexible thinking, working memory, self monitoring, planning and prioritising.

In the latest research, mindful based stress reduction (an 8 week mindfulness program) was effective for managing work-related stress and boosting psychological resilience in the workplace, particularly when facing stressful situations such as organisational change.

A daily mindfulness practice has led to a number of positive outcomes across a number of studies and include (but not limited to):

1. Greater clarity and focus [1]

2. Improved self-regulation and overall EQ [2]

3. Enhanced engagement [3]

4. Reduced stress-related illness [4]

5. Improve recall and memory [5]

6. Better sleep [6]

7. Improved immune function [7]

Skeptic or not, mindfulness has evidence-based research behind it, with high impact improvements in overall performance and well-being at work and in life ~ all of which positively impact the bottom line. So ask yourself "why not?" and consider introducing mindfulness into your organisation.

[1] Siegel, D. Mindfulness training and neural integration: differentiation of distinct streams of awareness and the cultivation of well-being. Soc Cogn Affect Neurosc (2007) 2 (4): 259-263.

[2] Lykins, E & Baer, R. Psychological Functioning in a Sample of Long-Term Practitioners of Mindfulness Meditation. Jo of Cog Psychotherapy. V23, #3, 2009, 226-241.

[3] Gardner, Frank L., and Zella E. Moore. The psychology of enhancing human performance: The mindfulness-acceptance-commitment (MAC) approach. Springer Publishing Company, 2007.

[4] Grossman, Paul, et al. "Mindfulness-based stress reduction and health benefits: A meta-analysis." Journal of psychosomatic research 57.1 (2004): 35-43.

[5] Zeidan, Fadel, et al. "Mindfulness meditation improves cognition: Evidence of brief mental training." Consciousness and cognition 19.2 (2010): 597-605.

[6] Hülsheger, Alina Feinholdt & Annika Nübold. A low-dose mindfulness intervention and recovery from work: Effects on psychological detachment, sleep quality, and sleep duration Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, Vol

[7] Davidson RJ, Kabat-Zinn J, Schumacher J, Rosenkranz M, Muller D, Santorelli SF, Urbanowski F, Harrington A, Bonus K, Sheridan JF. Alterations in brain and immune function produced by mindfulness meditation. Psychosomatic medicine. 2003 Jul 1;65(4):564-70.

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