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Frequently Asked Questions

What is mindfulness?

At the simplest level, being mindful means knowing what you're doing (and thinking and feeling) in the present moment. For example, when you set your car keys down, you know where you are setting your car keys down, and therefore can find them again! It's helpful to remember where we put the car keys, but mindfulness is especially helpful in stressful situations. For example, how many of us know clearly when we are acting defensive by resisting listening to someone telling us how our actions are negatively affecting them, or by saying harsh things that we will later regret? Mindfulness practice helps us know clearly what is happening, and how we are reacting to what is happening, as it is happening - so that we might choose a skillful response instead of reacting mindlessly.

Which forms of mindfulness are being studied, and do I need to have a formal mindfulness practice to participate?

Because mindfulness is a naturally occurring skill, and can also be cultivated and developed via a wide range of techniques and practices, the study seeks to include leaders with a wide range of experience with mindfulness, and some leaders without any explicit mindfulness practice. If you take the initial survey (accessible by clicking "Ready to Participate" on the left sidebar), you will be asked to indicate if you practice mindfulness formally, informally, or not at all.

Why conduct a study of mindfulness and leadership?

Because leadership is exceptionally difficult and challenging, and previous research suggests that mindfulness could be very helpful as a tool for developing social and emotional skills for working with the challenges of leadership.

For example, leaders are often expected to provide the solutions to complex vexing problems. But as a leader you know that people see problems very differently, making it difficult to facilitate a common understanding and plan for working effectively toward a solution. In the process, you often become a "lightning rod" for conflicts, and unproductive negativity and dissent, while simultaneously getting inaccurate information because many people are hesitant to tell the boss what they really think - or because we may be too defensive to hear painful information. These dynamics often put you as the leader in the most stressful role: wanting to appear strong and decisive, while figuring out how to get everyone communicating responsibly and working together effectively, and while you also may be confused about what the problems are and how to fix them.

Previous research has shown mindfulness to be helpful for working with these kinds of intense inner and relational stresses. This study investigates whether leaders who are more (or less) mindful, with and without a formal practice, have any particular characteristics related to personality and/or social and emotional intelligence; and which of those characteristics they think have been the most important for their effectiveness as leaders. For leaders who practice mindfulness, the study also explores how you think your mindfulness practice has helped you in your inner life and outer relationships as a leader.

If mindfulness is the primary research interest, why include leaders who don't practice mindfulness?

For two reasons: 1) because mindfulness is a naturally occurring skill on which people vary, and it may be that the natural ability to be mindful is important for effective leadership, and 2) there may be other factors that are as important - or more important - than mindfulness in helping leaders be effective in handling difficult feelings and situations.

What would be required of me if I decide to participate, and how much time would it take?

Your participation would happen via a series of steps estimated to take a total of 2 hours. For more information, please see the Participation Information page.

If I'm not currently working in a leadership position, can I still participate?

Yes! If you have recently changed jobs, retired, or are between jobs, but have worked in a position that more-or-less meets the study criteria within the past 2-3 years, please complete the initial participants survey by clicking on the link on the left sidebar. If it has been more than 3 years but you are still interested in participating, feel free to contact me.

How and when would I receive information about my individual results? How and when would I receive information about the study results?

Information about your individual results can be received in two different ways.

First, I will provide you with a summary report of your results interpreted in the context of the general findings of the study. For example, if the study results show higher levels of mindfulness to be associated with lower levels of anxiety in leaders, my report will provide information about how your self-reported levels of mindfulness and anxiety compare with the study group as a whole, and how your results compare with potentially interesting sub-groups (e.g., those who practice the same form of mindfulness as you, or leaders with the same number of years of leadership experience as you). This report will be prepared and sent after the completion of the study, most likely in the fall of 2008.

Second, you will have completed two well established assessment instruments (one on personality and one on social and emotional skills) as part of your participation in the study. The publishers of these instruments provide one or more optional reports of your results interpreted in the context of the general results of thousands of other individuals who have completed these instruments. If you would like to receive the publishers' reports interpreting your results, you will have the option to request one or more of those reports through me, for a fee, when you complete the instruments. Detailed information about the optional reports, what they cover, and their respective costs, will be provided with the information I send to you about how to complete the instruments. These reports will usually be sent to you within 2 weeks of when your completed instruments are received.

Finally, I will prepare an executive summary of the overall findings of the study. You can expect to receive this at the same time as my summary of your results in the fall of 2008. If you wish to receive further information, you can request notification via email of any publications that result from the study and how you can obtain copies.

How is mindfulness practiced?

Mindfulness is practiced by focusing your full attention on whatever is happening in the moment with clarity and acceptance. Many people learn mindfulness through a variety of meditation techniques, but it can also be learned on one's own through precise, accurate attention to ALL of one's experiences - physical sensations and perceptions, thoughts, and emotions - as they occur moment-by-moment. Mindful attention is especially important with experiences we find difficult or unpleasant. Mindfulness increases our ability to see what is actually happening, and more importantly, our reactions to what is happening, clearly, and therefore to work more skillfully with the inevitable difficulties of life.

Although mindfulness can be enhanced with practice, it is a natural skill that we all possess and have all experienced many times in our lives. Sometimes it occurs spontaneously during special moments of joy, or in a situation of unexpected grief or surprise. Consciously practicing mindfulness enhances perception and awareness over time because undivided attention makes mindful moments seem fuller, richer, clearer, more vibrant or piercing, more poignant and alive.

What benefits of mindfulness have been proven by research?

Over the past 30 years, psychologists have developed secular methods for teaching mindfulness, and research has shown that mindfulness helps people manage and reduce difficult thoughts and feelings in many contexts: anxiety, stress, depression, chronic pain, intense emotional reactivity, and stress-related physical conditions such as psoriasis and eating disorders. Researchers have also studied mindfulness as a way to enhance wellness via improved cognitive functioning, and the development of acceptance, presence, and compassion. This study takes a "wellness" approach by looking for associations between mindfulness and a number of normal personality and social/emotional characteristics that leaders think have been important for their effectiveness. For more information, see the Recommended Readings page.

How do you think mindfulness might benefit leaders?

When mindfulness is strong, we can respond to difficulties in a less reactive, more conscious and accepting manner. For example, with mindfulness we can see our habitual emotional reactions in the heat of the moment when something "pushes our buttons" and we feel intense fear or anger. Rather than react with fear and anger, mindfulness makes it possible to feel those feelings without getting lost in them or acting them out, so we can choose an appropriate response rather than react in an automatic and often counterproductive way. Mindfulness also helps us see how we often relate to people or situations based on our thoughts and feelings about them rather than who they really are or what is actually happening right then.

With practice, mindful awareness can help us generate insight into our habitual/unconscious reactions, our patterns of thought and interpretation, and our motivations. Mindfulness practice develops awareness, acceptance, and insight, which supports the ability to respond with greater wisdom, clarity, and compassion in any situation.

As a well-known meditation teacher puts it: "It's not what's happening that's important, it's how you're relating to what's happening that's important" (Joseph Goldstein).

Where did Mindfulness Practice Come From?

Mindfulness practice was first taught in India by the Buddha, a title that means "awakened one." He was a prince in a small kingdom in what is now Nepal during the 6th century B.C.E. Moved by the suffering he saw, he renounced his privileged life around age 30 and spent the next 50 years learning, and then teaching, how to eliminate our experience of suffering by developing our capacity for wisdom and compassion. All schools of Buddhism teach mindfulness practices as a way to develop wisdom and compassion.

What is the symbol in the upper right corner of the website, and what does it represent?

The symbol on the banner is called an "endless knot" and comes from the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. We thought it was a fitting symbol for this study for two reasons. First, leadership involves the ability to cope effectively with an endless series of complex, interconnected knotty problems! Second, in the Tibetan tradition, the endless knot signifies the interdependence of all beings, thereby encouraging us to think about the impact of our actions on others. It represents developing wisdom and compassion, and manifesting that in wise behavior - that is, in actions that most benefit and least harm ourselves and others.

Copyright © 2007 Metta McGarvey. All rights reserved. Site design by Claire Bennet.