On December 09th, 2014 I decided to attend professor’s Richard Davidson, Ph.D lecture in Boulder, organized by the Naropa University as an inaugural event of the Francisco Varela Lecture Series: Science & Mindfulness.
Professor Richard Davidson is one of the most renowned experts in the field of human emotions and the exploration of the mind.
Personally, the theme of human emotions always interested me because of the nature of my work in corporate consulting, leadership development and executive coaching. No matter what we are doing, emotions are always present and the successful implementation of change management processes in organizations and individuals is directly related to our inner emotional states.
I decided to write this article to share some insights about the most recent findings in the field of mindfulness practices and its impact in our well-being.
A brief history on Dr. Davidson: in 70’s he went on to receive his B.A. in Psychology from NYU. He studied at Harvard University and worked with Daniel Goleman, author of the book Emotional Intelligence. He gained his Ph.D. in Personality, Psychopathology, and Psychophysiology there in 1976. He is also connected to John Kabat-Zinn, founder of the MBSR method (Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction), a personal friend of professor Francisco Varela, Ph.D. a biologist best known for introducing the concept of autopoiesis to biology and also close to the spiritual master Ram Dass.
Dr. Davidson also runs the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds, a research center that integrates contemplative practices from eastern traditions with modern science. This center was born after a meeting that Dr. Davidson had with H.H. the Dalai Lama in 1992. He challenged Dr. Davidson to investigate how mind training affects well-being and how neuroscience insights could enhance such practices. H.H. the Dalai Lama believes that every human being has the innate desire to overcome suffering and find happiness. This episode was the incentive that pushed Dr. Davidson to experiment, under the utmost scientific rigor, on how the mind works and how well-being can be cultivated.
As a professional coach this is surely one of the most recurring topics that I hear from my clients. How can I overcome stress and become more focused and productive? How can I live a life, a job that is more meaningful to me? How can I express my emotions in a non-destructive way so I don’t suffer negative impacts at the workplace? Emotions, emotions, emotions, they are everywhere all the time!
During his lecture Dr. Davidson highlighted four main recent findings:
1. Neuroplasticity: the brain is build to change its own structure according to our daily experiences. Our brain molds itself independently of our will. So, better cultivate positive mental habits in a conscious way. The brain will change, for good or for worse, that’s inevitable.
2. Epigenetics: in recent experiments with advanced meditators, clear changes in the expression of certain genes were registered after just 8
hours of continuous meditation. Biological changes happen through continuous meditative practice.
3. The discovery of bi-directional ‘express highways’ between the body and the brain: many tests proved that to cultivate the well-being of the body affects the well-being of the mind and vice-versa.
4. Innate goodness: this was the most controversial topic brought up by Dr. Davidson, but he approached it with caution and confidence. During innumerous tests with 6-month-old babies, they demonstrated a preference for images that showed cooperation and nurturing behaviors instead of aggressive and selfish ones. Dr. Davidson briefly explained the scientific process used in this tests and stated that this is just the beginning and that scientist still know very little about how the mind works.
What does all of this have to do with coaching? Everything! Specially concerning the Integral Coaching™ approach that we use at Metacoaching®. We understand that effective changes will only take place if the individual is developed as a whole: mind, emotions, body and consciousness. Few coaching schools have successfully integrated these four dimensions.
Mindfulness is at the core of our work with our clients. In this sense Dr. Davidson provided data stating that North Americans spent 47% of their time not paying attention to what they are doing. Staggering!
Considering that ADD (attention deficit disorder) signs and symptoms have skyrocketed in the recent years, how the development of our ability to pay attention may affect our personal and professional relationships and our productivity? These were some of the questions pondered by Dr. Davidson.
He also mentioned that the dean of the Business School at the Wisconsin-Madison University, where Dr. Davidson also works, but at the laboratory of Affective Neuroscience, sought his guidance on how would these findings can impact the business world.
When we talk about the well-being of employees and how much corporations spend with health-care and leave of absence due to burn out and stress related diseases, the costs are really high. Dr. Davidson mentioned that he is already involved in the development of curriculum for healthy mind habits for executives. He believes that when the efficacy of this curriculum can be proved and lower organizational costs, corporations will promptly adhere to mindfulness practices at the work place.
I believe that professional and personal coaching programs act as a bridge connecting productivity, well-being and mindfulness, but for that to happen corporations and individuals must clearly understand if the coaches they are hiring have this integral capability at its core, otherwise the risk of hiring someone that will only design action plans will certainly lead to lower adherence to the coaching program and unsatisfying results.