June 26, 2015
The afternoon streams proposed during the 2015 IMD Orchestrating Winning Performance covered a wide variety topics, some more surprising than others. In ‘Mindfulness for better life’, Lothar Bielke promised to give ‘Tools to enhance your professional practice/life’. Some participants expected a checklist workshop on strategies for high-flying executives.
“I was expecting a description on how to handle stress and avoid a burnout,” admitted Ioana Canescu from Finland, a five-time returnee to IMD. When the activity turned out to be more meditation than action, she said that she was taken by surprise.
Mindfulness has nothing to do with mysticism, religion, belief systems or oriental techniques, Lothar Bielke explained, it’s a way to better deal with the modern world.
At the heart of the concept of mindfulness is an absolute state of awareness, the ability to be unreservedly present.
Most of us are on autopilot, the coach observed. We are rarely occupied with the present and allow our minds to jump from one topic to the other like a monkey jumping from branch to branch.
“Now, stay the way you are and just take a pause,” he invited. “Close your eyes or look out the window, it doesn’t matter what you do, just be aware of what is going on.”
An absolute silence descended upon the room as most participants closed their eyes. The disciplined obedience of a large group of driven individuals was uncanny.
After chiming a bell to end the long pause, Bielke asked people to express what they had observed. The answers varied from “I felt relaxed”, “I felt at peace”, “I could hear my breathing”, “I was listening to my heartbeat” to “A lot of thoughts came to the surface”, or “I could see colors behind my closed eyes.”
The coach expanded on the notion of mindfulness by saying that it was a way of allowing things to be what they are, without attempting any form of control.
“Mindfulness is a relation with the present moment, without trying to change it or run from it into thoughts.”
For the second exercise, the coach asked the seated participants to become aware of the touch points of their bodies with the chair and their feet on the ground. He then asked them to redirect their awareness to their breathing.
“Observe simply the coming and going of your breath,” he suggested. “Whenever we’re in touch with breathing, we’re in touch with the present moment.”
This time some of the participants surprised themselves by falling asleep.
The last exercise was done walking to show that mindfulness can be attained even when moving. “Whenever the mind wanders off, bring it back to the sensation of walking, or of whatever else you’re doing, eating, taking a shower, listening to birds singing,” Bielke said.
He explained that mindfulness is a mental practice that can also be very useful in a working environment: “It is the skill of placing your mind where you want it to be, or detaching it from where you don’t want it to go,” a skill that can be very useful, for example, in a boring, but important business meeting, or in the event of anger. “Take a pause, breathe,” the coach counseled.
Ioana Canescu, a recent recipient of the IMD Lifelong Learning award who works in cognitive computing, was very receptive to this advice. “I’m an extrovert. Instead of talking, I’m sure that there would be a very positive outcome if I learned to breathe before dealing with a contentious situation.”
She said she was impressed by Bielke’s ability to instill a sense of peace in the room. “Maybe it was his voice, his pace. When I opened my eyes, he closed his, so I convinced myself to close mine again. I allowed myself to go with the flow.”
“To think about breathing was the most important thing that I learned. It takes my mind away from something else.”