Why GE is adding mindfulness to the mix

It seems like a turbo-charged irony that when Debbie Jeremiah was the CFO of Ferrari UK, it was yoga and meditation that helped her to stay on track. In fact, she regarded mindfulness and fast cars as fine friends.

“I thought that driving a supercar was essentially a mindful experience,” she says. “If you were driving the car of your dreams, how much attention would you be paying to the sights, sounds, smells and sensation of driving that car, versus driving your regular car … often with your mind on autopilot?”

Debbie Jeremiah
Debbie Jeremiah, GE’s Mindful Leader Program manager.

The pursuit of mindfulness usually attracts those with a natural bent towards the yogic but, as manager of GE’s Mindful Leader Program, Jeremiah has the cynics in her sights.

She says that her core message, which she’s delivering in Sydney on September 22 at the  Mindful Leadership Forum, is that there are two ways to deliver mindfulness. “One is the standard way: mindfulness trainers, mindfulness apps, webinars and so on,” she explains. “This is great, but it has a limited audience, it’s hard work and it’s tends to appeal to people who are interested anyway, and those aren’t necessarily the people I want to reach.”

Jeremiah, a chartered accountant who has trained in neuroleadership, is charged with running a global program to help GE employees improve their performance and resilience.

Given that the company is largely comprised of engineers, developers, scientists, researchers and sales teams, who are also experts in the technology they’re taking to customers, Jeremiah is focusing her mindfulness training around brain science.

When people understand how their brain behaves in a work environment, they start to become naturally mindful,” she says. “They check in with what their brain is up to, then they move forward in perhaps a different way, such as taking a quick break, stepping away from the situation, breathing… That is simply what mindfulness is. Paying attention to your mind when you wouldn’t normally do so, stopping and then moving forward, perhaps in a different way.”

GE employees in 180 countries around the world can tap into a host of digital mindfulness offerings, including free apps, webinars and brain-training classes, via the company’s Brilliant You program. Feedback from the training includes: “I am always skeptical on things of this nature, however, I was delightfully surprised at how much I enjoyed this seminar. It … definitely appealed to the engineer in me.” 

Jeremiah knows that she’s faced with Type A naysayers who think being mindful is about as important as alfalfa sprouts, but she’s confident that once people twig to the clear benefits that it can bring to their lives and careers, she’ll have a multitude of mindfulness evangelists.

“From learning about how my own brain operated, I found myself regularly  ‘checking in’ with my brain throughout the day, to see what it was up to and to determine what state it was in,” say Jeremiah of studying for a Masters in NeuroLeadership. “Unlike smart phones, our brains can vary in performance throughout the day… I began to structure my day to make the most of my creative morning brain energy, leaving the admin and emails to later in the day. I deliberately took mini ‘brain-breaks’ to conserve mental energy so I had more left at the end of the workday and I deliberately reduced the items needed to be held in my short term memory, which uses up precious mental resources. I was better able to regulate my own emotions, as I began noting and examining them, and overall I felt less overwhelmed and stressed. My work performance and resilience both improved.”

There are few who wouldn’t welcome a similar shift gained via such a simple strategy, so even doubters will surely dabble. Jeremiah is now studying for her PhD in “insight creation through smarter, mindful and more brain-friendly meetings”. Where do we sign-up for those?

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