For nearly 50 years, Jon Kabat-Zinn has guided millions from all walks of life to explore and embrace mindfulness. By skillfully combining science-backed practices with Zen meditation philosophies, this MIT Ph.D. created the world-renowned Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. The MBSR program is seen as a catalyst for bringing meditation and mindfulness into Western mainstream culture.
Today, Kabat-Zinn is internationally celebrated as an advocate on the benefits of mindfulness and meditation. The lasting impact of his many bestselling books, including Full Catastrophe Living, Mindfulness for Beginners, and Wherever You Go, There You Are, further illustrate Kabat-Zinn’s influence.
Recently, Kabat-Zinn has partnered with MasterClass to launch an online MasterClass course. Here, Kabat-Zinn teaches meditators of all levels about how to grow their mindfulness practice. With his inspiring guidance and insights, students learn the power of living in the present moment while enjoying more fulfilling and less stressful lives.
He also contains a wealth of knowledge for leaders who feel overly busy and overwhelmed. Kabat-Zinn believes that learning to slow down—even for a few minutes—can revolutionize your leadership.
And it all starts by living in the Now.
Why Purpose-Driven Businesses Matter
As busy leaders, it can feel like we exist on autopilot—even if the details shift, the structure remains.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with routine itself. For many in leadership roles, it’s essential. However, routine without mindfulness makes it easy to get stuck within these perpetual cycles. By coasting through life and rarely looking up, who knows how many opportunities slip away unnoticed. Without focusing on that all-important Now, what have we missed?
As a long-time mindfulness and meditation teacher, Kabat-Zinn has met many people living on autopilot. Soon after starting a mindfulness practice, they’ll too often say, “I’ve got the whole thing wrong! I didn’t understand what I was gifted by being able to breathe.” It is a wonderful feeling to finally become awake and aware.
“We can miss not just years, but decades of our lives,” says Kabat-Zinn. “Or, living a narrative that’s not true to who you really are. That can be a massive sense of pain and discomfort, especially the older you get.”
Authenticity is critical for successful leaders to thrive—or just to one day reflect on a life truly well-lived. If you’re not leading as your authentic self, or are making choices that do not align with your core values, can you be at your full potential?
Kabat-Zinn’s research shows that a consistent mindfulness practice can teach anyone to pause, reflect, and better understand themselves. With this clarity, you’ll gain a renewed perspective on business, relationships, purpose, and the interconnectedness of everything.
“Business is not just the four walls of the [office],” says Kabat-Zinn. “It’s the supply chain. The customers. The satisfaction. The environment. Mindfulness is a gigantic opportunity to understand the real business of business.” Mindful leaders see their organization as more than an insular entity. It’s one small piece of a much larger ecosystem.
“Imagine a community of people who wake up,” says Kabat-Zinn. “They are not simply driven by the bottom line or greed. They understand the vast relationships. It’d be maximally wholesome, helpful, and minimally harmful to the environment and future generations.
“That requires consciousness. That requires mindfulness.”
Add Mindfulness Into Your Life
“As long as you’re breathing, there’s more right with you than wrong.”
Anyone can integrate mindful practices into their lives. Even small strides like taking a five-minute mindful walk, writing a quick gratitude list, or immersing yourself fully into the present moment can make a difference. However, that doesn’t mean that living or leading with mindfulness is easy.
“Mindfulness is the hardest thing in the world,” Kabat-Zinn says. “It’s very important to bring a huge sense of humor, as well as not building a romantic notion of mindfulness or meditation. Just live your life as if it really, really, really mattered.”
It sounds simple, “but it’s not just a little relaxation exercise or some new age gobbledegook,” Kabat-Zinn says. “That’s why mindfulness is so powerful.” To reap the greatest rewards, mindful leaders need to dedicate themselves to literally practicing it (it is called a practice for a reason). “Mindfulness does more than you think—more than you possibly can think.”
There are countless ways to practice mindfulness, from daily meditation to mindfully eating. What they all have in common is requiring the practitioner to shift their usual mindset like:
Learn to Let Go and Listen
While working on mindfulness, practice letting go of the urge to problem-solve or make sense of any thoughts, concerns, worries, or feelings that emerge. “Don’t build a story about it,” says Kabat-Zinn. As leaders, we always want to fix things. But inevitably, a fix means focusing on the past and the future. Mindfulness is all about the now.
Instead, simply listen as thoughts bubble up. Hear what your inner-self says about happiness, anger, purpose, stress, or fulfillment—and then allow it to flow away. “It’s not making them go away,” says Kabat-Zinn. “It’s about finding new ways to learn from them, listen to them, appreciate them, and welcome them. They’re like waves on the surface of the ocean or storms on the mind.”
“Sometimes the questions are more important than the answers,” Kabat-Zinn says. “It reveals your core humanity. It makes access to your humanity more immediate.” Mindfulness requires an inquisitive attitude about yourself, your life’s experience, and your perception of the world.
We need curiosity to keep our minds open and flexible to life’s infinite possibilities. It can also help us to understand our deepest issues like anger or frustration. “If you dig down and investigate that anger, it doesn’t take long to discover that underneath anger is fear,” Kabat-Zinn says. “Might it be worth investigating what that ultimate fear is?”
Doing The Hard Work
Small moves towards mindfulness is a fantastic step. However, it takes real work to get the most out of the practice—and it’s an unquestionably solo adventure. “Your own body, mind, heart, and relationships will collaborate with you and show you. They’ll gift you everything that you need to befriend what you most want to run away from. It’s a love affair that’s really transformative.
“No one can do that work for you,” he continues. “Others can support you. But ultimately, it is the kind of work you have to do for yourself.”
Growth won’t happen overnight, and changes might start subtly. But as time goes by, you will notice more clarity when making tough decisions, feel fewer moments of stress and anger, or even realize that it’s time for a new path altogether. It’s all part of discovering our purpose and our path.
As Kabat-Zinn says, “the more we learn, the more we grow—and this includes knowing who we are.”
The conversation with Jon Kabat-Zinn continues on the Leading with Genuine Care podcast. In our chat, we talk more about mindful leadership, how meditation can help anxiety, inspiration on living a happier, fulfilling life, and so much more! Don’t miss an article or episode of the podcast by signing up for my mailing list. You’ll also get a free guide to my favorite mindful resources. Connect with me on Twitter and LinkedIn and keep up with my company imageOne.