Mindfulness is all the rage right now and companies including Google, Apple, Facebook, Nike, and Goldman Sachs are all jumping on board. Mindfulness, the practice of focusing one’s attention to experiences occurring in the present moment, has many noted benefits including decreased stress, lower blood pressure and heart rate, increased awareness, and higher brain functioning.
Thanks to recent advances in the field of neuroscience, we now have new insights into how this ancient Eastern practice can benefit people in the workplace.
In a landmark study, Harvard-based neuroscientist, Sara Lazar, used brain-imaging techniques to examine neurobiological effects associated with mindfulness training. She compared the brain scans of a group of subjects who completed an eight-week mindfulness-based stress reduction program against a control group who received no mindfulness training.
Lazar found that participants in the experimental group experienced significant changes in the amount of gray matter in five major brain regions as compared to the control group. Participants who completed the mindfulness program showed a thickening of gray matter in four distinct areas of the brain involved in learning, cognition, memory, emotional regulation, perspective taking, empathy, and compassion. Furthermore, this group of participants experienced a reduction in gray matter in the fight or flight part of the brain that controls anxiety, fear, and stress.
Researchers have also found that regular expression of gratitude leads to changes in the body’s biochemistry. Studies out of UC Berkeley and UC Davis found that the practice of gratitude has major health benefits including a 23% reduction in Cortisol, a stress hormone associated with several health issues.
UC Davis Professor, Dr. Robert Emmons, who spearheaded several of the gratitude studies, posits that gratitude practice enables people to stay present in the moment and appreciate the things they have instead of focusing on the things they wish they had. Regular expression of gratitude allows people to avoid negative feelings and attitudes such as envy, resentment, and judgment; and instead focus on more positive feelings.
In the workplace, people who practice gratitude and mindfulness enjoy many benefits including:
- Increased attention and focus
- Increased clarity in thinking and perception
- Increased awareness
- Creativity and innovation
- More meaningful relationships with colleagues
The results are clear, mindfulness and gratitude training can literally change your brain chemistry and lead you on the path to success. Also, thanks to the advent of mindfulness-based apps, it is possible to begin incorporating these practices into your daily routine no matter how busy you are. In fact, this was one of the inspirations behind Mood, an interactive mindfulness app released last month.
Founder, Zac Hersh shares his thoughts behind the creation of his new app and how it can benefit anyone and everyone.
Studies show that gratitude and mindfulness practice create positive changes in the brain that are linked to workplace success
Hersh, a long-time sufferer of anxiety, spent nearly three years trying to find the perfect tool to help him alleviate his anxiety. First, he found relief in physical exercise, leading him to become a certified personal trainer, accomplished ultra-runner, and triathlete. However, over time he realized, “It wasn’t practical to keep dropping whatever I was doing to take off for an hour-long exercise session anytime my anxiety flared.” Hersh then began incorporating meditation and mindfulness into his daily routine, which proved very beneficial for lowering his anxiety. However, he soon found himself in the same position…”When my anxiety came up, it wasn’t practical for me to go sit in meditation for an hour or even ten minutes.”
Hersh decided that the solution to his problem was to create a “practical and quick tool that could be used anytime, anywhere.” He partnered with psychologist, Dr. Paul Hersh, and world-class programmer, Noah Lively, and together they created the mobile app: Mood: Mindfulness Made Simple.
Hersh shares his thoughts on the vision for the app, why gratitude is so important, and how to gain buy-in from skeptics in corporate America.
Q: With so many mindfulness apps on the market, tell me how Mood is different?
Hersh: Mood offers an entirely new, unique, and modernized mindfulness approach explicitly built around the current lifestyle needs of people living in a fast-paced society…Mood stands out as the quickest and most intuitive mindfulness process out there….Within three or four breaths the user experiences the benefits of Mood.
Q: Are you targeting a specific population?
Hersh: We have taken on the challenge of getting people to use Mood who were initially opposed to adopting a mindfulness/meditation practice in their lives. Though Mood can also make an excellent compliment for someone who follows a traditional meditation/mindfulness practice…One of our core objectives it to get our app in the hands of people who (for some reason or another) don’t believe mindfulness practice is something they can do. One of my favorite things is watching a skeptical initial user go from saying they could never see themselves following a mindfulness routine, to discovering through the use of Mood the incredible benefits that come with having a mindfulness practice in their lives and then hearing all the significant and unexpected impacts it has.
Q: Can you tell me more about the “gratitude” component of the app and why that it is so important?
Hersh: In our fast-paced society filled with a constant stream of stimuli coming at us from all different angles (TVs, phones, smartwatches, friends, family, the list goes on), it has become easier and easier to lose track of our thoughts. When that happens, we are more prone to get caught in a constant loop of negative thoughts running through our minds. “I’m too out of shape to go on a run,” “No one likes me,” “The planet is doomed,” “What’s that mark on my arm? I wonder if it’s cancerous.”
We have become so overwhelmed, that those thoughts tend to run in the background of our mind 24/7, meaning that most of the time we aren’t even consciously aware of them; we start to think that’s how life is. This is why we begin Mood with a gratitude practice. Being reminded to stop throughout our day and think of someone or something we are grateful for is a powerful disrupt button in the stream of negative thoughts. Thinking of what you have to be grateful for instead of thinking that everything sucks changes your perception of the world almost instantly. You can then take that momentary mental shift and use it to spark positive thoughts throughout the rest of your day. By using gratitude and practicing it daily, you can step out of the negative thought stream and begin to lead a happier life.
Q: What is your vision for the future of the app?
Hersh: The vision for Mood is and has been, in this world of ever-increasing stress and distraction, to provide an excellent, efficient, simple to use mobile experience that brings a moment of peace and clarity so that you don’t ever miss a moment because those are the things we can never truly get back. As time advances, so shall our product building upon that vision of providing the best possible experience to help you find a moment of peace, calm, and clarity.
Q: From your perspective, how can we get more people in the corporate world to buy-in to the use of mindfulness-based apps?
Hersh: It is my belief and our rationale behind the design of Mood, that we can get more people in the corporate world to buy-in to the use of mindfulness-based apps, by stripping away the excess and eliminating the typical barriers to entry that come with traditional mindfulness practices. Not that anything is wrong with these methods; however, in the context of this question, things such as chanting, long periods of sitting and religious connotations, cause many people not to adopt any mindfulness practice in their life. I believe by going to the root of these various “mindfulness” rituals and merely providing a direct tool, more people will be willing to try it. Picture someone about to enter a meeting, is it fair to expect them to pull out their headphones and sit in the corner and follow a guided meditation for 20 minutes? No, but they can stop for a moment and center their thoughts, and take a few conscious breaths.
Q: Any other information that is important for our readers to know?
Hersh: The Mood team is 100% committed to creating not just an app but an ecosystem that improves the lives of our users. Along with the app, we offer a weekly insightful blog and newsletter with all things mindfulness!
For more information on Mood: Mindfulness Made Simple click here.
To download Mood click here.