Mindfulness matters - a route to building competitive advantage in sport?

Professor Simon Chadwick

Posted: August 14, 2014

The mindfulness revolution continues apace, with numerous corporations from Google and EBay to PIMCO and the Huffington Post embracing the practice as a means for improving business performance. There is already extensive coverage of how important mindfulness can be, with both the Harvard Business Review and INSEAD having recently stressed its merits.

In sport too it is interesting to see coaches, athletes and teams embracing mindfulness in the quest to win leagues and competitions, English soccer club Liverpool and Team Sky being two examples.

As someone who has already been practising mindfulness for several years, I am a believer in the practice and an advocate of its merits. For those who remain to be convinced, if nothing else consider my blood pressure figures. At the heart of mindfulness is meditation; fifteen minutes before I meditate, my blood pressure is typically around 120/78; fifteen minutes after meditating for half an hour, the figures are typically down to around 109/74.

This may not an especially scientific measure of mindfulness’ benefits, but nobody can doubt the benefits of lower blood pressure at work. According to the Livestrong website, these can include a reduction in heart problems, lowered risk of strokes, improved eyesight, and less susceptibility to problems with one’s kidneys. If nothing else, the implications for the welfare of a corporation’s human resources are potentially profound – so too for the health programs of these corporations.

If all it takes to achieve such marked changes in blood pressure is 30 minutes a day, then the case for promoting mindfulness and supporting meditation is surely irresistible? In which case, corporations are faced with decisions such as when to let employees meditate (ideally, it is better to practice either earlier or later in the day), where to do it (personally, I prefer a quiet, still place) and who to do it with.

The latter point is an especially important one as, while individual meditation is perfectly acceptable, group practice is encouraged. This is because group meditations are thought to produce a collective surge of energy and foster a sense of connectedness among those who are taking part. Finding workspaces where groups of people can meditate together, at a time of the day that maximises benefit without undermining work, is a key challenge for corporations.

By now, some readers could well be suspicious that mindfulness, and its close associate meditation, are simply nice distractions for free-thinking, liberal types to escape the harsh realities of 21st century business. This could not be further from the truth; indeed, as someone who typically spends up to 60 minutes a day meditating, mindfulness has more to offer people and corporations, much more! Based on both my personal experience and a growing body of research, here is what mindfulness can promote:

-Sharper focus – it becomes easier for one to see through problems and get straight to the heart of difficulties or challenges you may face;

-Better concentration – one’s mind more readily stays ‘on task’ and does not drift-off into thinking about peripheral, unimportant or unrelated issues;

-Greater sense of purpose – through meditative practice, one becomes able to differentiate more easily between more pressing matters and less important ones, allied to stronger motivation and ability to act;

-Enhanced sense of worth and capability – mindfulness enables one to see who you really are, what your strengths are, what role you play in life and what contribution you make to the world, thereby enabling you to know and understand your distinctive capability;

-Ability to see other peoples’ perspective – through mindfulness and self, one is released from one’s attachment to self and to ego, allowing a more acute understanding of others to develop;

-Empathy – alongside the latter point, one becomes better able to listen to and empathise with other people, creating opportunities for one to better understand the actions and intentions of others;

-Better decision making – instead of deciding based upon the baggage and a distorted view of the past, or on either an overly optimistic or pessimistic view of the future, one makes decisions ‘now’ decisions based on considered judgement;

-Basis for learning – mindfulness in itself is learning in the way in enables one to see inside oneself and to understand others, but at the same time it opens one’s mind to the world and to the possibilities created by it.

Even in the case that sceptics and cynics read this piece and fail to see its relevance, possibly with some becoming highly critical, this is not a problem for those of us who practice mindfulness. A natural response of the mindful is neither to respond negatively or dogmatically, nor to establish and defend an entrenched position. Rather, mindful people face outwards, open-up, embrace the criticism, understand it and then seek improvement. This sounds like an important recipe for dealing with, for example, customers – doesn’t it? Mindfulness really does have its part to play in business today.


About Professor Simon Chadwick

Professor Simon Chadwick set-up and edits The Scorecard. He is Director of CIBS (Centre for the International Business of Sport) at Coventry University, where he works as Professor of Sport Business Strategy and Marketing.  Simon tweets via Prof_Chadwick