Daniel Coleman: Today we're going to talk about a question that people should be asking themselves if they're not already. Does mindfulness really work? It's everywhere in business today. But does it really matter? What difference does it make? And, if you don't know, mindfulness is a method of training your attention so that you can bring it where you want and keep it where you want.
Richard Davidson: The data show, first of all, that we are a very distracted culture. 47% of the time, the average American adult reports that he or she is not paying attention to what they're doing.
Daniel Coleman: And the way they found this out was the iPhone app rang you at random times and asked you two questions. What are you doing now? What are you thinking about? If those don't match, your mind has wandered.
Richard Davidson: And the data show that even eight weeks of mindfulness training, each week for a two-hour class and a few minutes every day, is sufficient to actually produce a change.
Daniel Coleman: One of the big findings is it there's less mind-wandering. And this makes sense, because mindfulness is direct training in attention.
Richard Davidson: And one of the major sources of distraction is emotional cues. We pay attention to things that are emotionally salient.
Daniel Coleman: Do you mean that email he sent me the got me so ticked off?
Richard Davidson: Exactly. And then we reverberate. We keep ruminating about it after the email.
Daniel Coleman: I know, that was four weeks ago, and I was thinking about it at 2:00 in the morning.
Richard Davidson: Yeah. So how does it work in the brain?
Daniel Coleman: Yeah, how does it work? Can you show us?
Richard Davidson: Sure. So if this is the front of the brain, and this is the back of the brain, there is a big chunk of real estate right up front here that we call the prefrontal cortex.
Daniel Coleman: That’s right behind the forehead, right?
Richard Davidson: Right behind the forehead. And one of the amazing things about the prefrontal cortex is that if you look over the course of evolution, this area of the brain grows more prominently in humans than in any other species. So this probably has a lot to do with things that are characteristically human.
Daniel Coleman: In fact, it’s called the brain’s executive center. It's like the CEO of the brain.
Richard Davidson: So this area of the brain has important connections to the emotional area of the brain. We're talking about the source of distraction being emotion in many, many cases. And buried in the middle of the brain, sort of right around here, is a structure that we call the amygdala.
Daniel Coleman: Oh, yeah, the amygdala is the brain’s trigger point. It’s like the radar for threat, the fight or flight or freeze response, which is very primitive, but it happens in today's offices all the time.
Richard Davidson: And so there is a direct connection between the prefrontal cortex and the amygdala that we call the uncinate fasciculus.
Daniel Coleman: You remember the uncinate fasciculus? I don't think anybody heard of it, Richard.
Richard Davidson: So this is the connection. And it doesn't matter what it's called. But what we find in the scientific evidence is that when we practice mindfulness for some period of time – it doesn't happen instantaneously -- this connection is strengthened. And this allows the prefrontal cortex to modulate the impulses from the amygdala and to recover more quickly.
Daniel Coleman: Modulate means the amygdala says, this guy is ticking me off, I'd like to slug him. And the prefrontal cortex says, just say no. It's inhibitory, right? First you don't react as much, and then you recover more quickly, isn’t that right?
Richard Davidson: Exactly.
Daniel Coleman: Yeah.
Richard Davidson: And the recovery more quickly is really an important attributes of what we think of as resilience. Resilience is, in many ways, the ability to recover more quickly from adversity. So instead of ruminating about the email that ticked you off for for several weeks after the email, you can come back down and recover.
Daniel Coleman: That’s great news.
Richard Davidson: It is good news. And we don't need anything other than our minds and training our minds to do this.
Daniel Coleman: So basically, mindfulness works in a couple of ways. It makes less mind wandering. It strengthens the prefrontal ability to say no to those, like, I got to do it.
Richard Davidson: Emotional impulse.
Daniel Coleman: And it also helps us keep our attention on that one thing that’s so important. So in other words, there a lot of benefits. On the other hand, one of the reasons we wrote this book is there is a lot of hype. Mindfulness doesn't do everything that's been claimed for it. Emotional intelligence abilities, for example, need to be worked on more directly, but can be helped by mindfulness. It does do a lot of good things. We're recommending it. But we're not saying -- we don't want to oversell it. Let's be rational about this.
Richard Davidson: Aetna is a great example. They disseminated a program for one year. And as part of what they did, they actually collected some very interesting metrics. Now, this is a program where mindfulness was one important piece, but there are other elements as well. It included some physical exercise, some nutritional diet information.
They actually monitored health care utilization, because this was Aetna and they had all this information on their employees. And they found that, on average, the practice of mindfulness and these other strategies that were included in this intervention led to a reduction of $122 per month per employee. And when that adds up with tens of thousands employees, it's an enormous savings. It's penny-wise and pound-foolish not to use this.
Daniel Coleman: Companies like Aetna have found that there is good ROI from the practice, that this makes sense for a company.
Richard Davidson: So please try it.