How mindfulness reduces stress and boosts learning

by NZ Adviser27 Jun 2016
After recently clinching the French Open, Novak Djokovic became the first man in almost half a century to win four consecutive major tennis championships.

The 29-year-old has revealed in multiple interviews that one of the secrets to his success is meditation.

“Obviously, there is a huge amount of pressure and stress and everything involved, so you need to have a place where you know you can switch off and recharge your batteries,” Djokovic said in 2013 when discussing his meditation visits to a Buddhist temple in Wimbledon. 

In fact, Djokovic first became No.1 in 2011 which was also the year he began meditating.

This is just one example of the strong correlation between high performance and steadiness under pressure, said Michael Bunting, founder of the leadership consultancy WorkSmart Australia and bestselling author of The Mindful Leader.

Mindfulness allows you to take control of your mind and obtain a better sense of stillness, openness, curiosity and learning, accoridng to Bunting.

“It helps people deal with uncertainty and stress, and over time you get this profound sense of inner balance and equanimity,” he said.

“Equanimity is defined as being balanced and steady under fire. One could think of it like a top professional sportsman performing under extreme pressure.”

Bunting added that he has asked clients what hampers their learning and the common response is related to fear or feeling overwhelmed.

This is important because there are two things in particular which learning requires: curiosity and non-defensiveness.

He refers to an article written by Chris Argyris from Harvard University, called Teaching Smart People How to Learn.

“One of the key points Argyris posits in that article is the reason why top executives don’t learn well is because of what he calls a ‘profoundly defensive reasoning posture’,” said Bunting.

“This means that when things go wrong, typically what happens is the blame game or the rationalisation game."

 This defensive reasoning happens when people get feedback, which is very important because asking for feedback is a critical leadership competence.

“People sometimes don’t understand that this emotional discomfort is an essential aspect of receiving difficult feedback,” Bunting said.

“They haven’t been taught what mature mindfulness practice teaches you to do, and they haven’t been taught to cope or deal with difficult feelings."

Consequently, when leaders get difficult feedback they invariably end up defending and rationalising.

“Good mindfulness practice will teach you to start dealing with your difficult feelings, and that is crucial for learning,” he said.

“Specifically, it teaches you to deal with the overwhelming fear, stay curious and stay learning.” 

Michael Bunting is the bestselling author of The Mindful Leader and A Practical Guide to Meditation, and co-author of Extraordinary Leadership in Australia and New Zealand. He runs leadership consultancy WorkSmart Australia, a certified B-Corp. For more information, visit

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