The mindfulness training program Search Inside Yourself helps employees stay focused on the essentials even when they’re stressed.

You ought to just finish that off. Oh, and you really should answer those urgent mails. But the next meeting’s due to start pretty soon. Sound familiar? Our working days are often hectic. Time is at a premium, we’re constantly under pressure, and multitasking is the rule rather than the exception.

But if you do too many things at once, you don’t do any of them properly and you end up feeling bogged down and fed up. So what can you do when it feels as if a tsunami is crashing in on you? Stop for five seconds, close your eyes, breathe in deeply, and concentrate on breathing out again slowly.

It may sound banal. But it really helps. And it’s one of the exercises featured in the mindfulness training course currently being rolled out globally at SAP. Called Search Inside Yourself, the course has been used successfully at Google for many years and helps employees remain clear-headed, structured, and creative ‒ even in stressful situations.

Michael Jäger, project lead at SAP, took part in a mindfulness course recently after moving up from the waiting list. He wanted to learn how to distinguish better between what is important and what is urgent and to become more effective in his daily work. “The course has helped me focus better,” he says. “Mindfulness really clears your head and lets you approach your tasks in a more structured way.”

The short, simple exercises that characterize mindfulness have a far-reaching impact. In fact, neurological studies have found that regularly practicing mindfulness actually alters the physical structure of the brain. Practitioners of mindfulness have been shown to have lower gray-matter density in the regions of the brain that are responsible for stress and a higher density in the regions that control self-perception and empathy. “It is fascinating to see the brain’s plasticity and that, by practicing meditation, we can play an active role in increasing our well-being and quality of life,” says psychologist and neuroscientist Dr. Britta Hölzel.

“Search Inside Yourself is a training, that really works,” said SAP employee Karola Schmitt. “Through the learned techniques and, above all, through mindfulness, I have more awareness for my fellows and can be more open and approachable with them. After the course, I felt strengthened and well equipped for new challenges.”

SAP initially embraced the concept of mindfulness in 2013 by offering pilot courses for employees and managers, first in the U.S. and then in Germany. The feedback was so encouraging that it expanded the offering. Since then, some 2,000 employees in more than 25 locations around the world have taken part in one of the mindfulness courses. More than 70 courses are planned for 2016 and there are already 5,000 names on the waiting list.

The beginners’ mindfulness course consists of bite-size chunks of theory and plenty of practical exercises. The course investigates topics such as the fundamentals of neuroscience, self-perception, and self-mastery. Participants learn to observe and direct their own behavior more effectively, to formulate their goals more clearly, and to increase their self-motivation. They also learn about emotional intelligence and about how to become more attentive and empathetic and to show more openness and attention to others.

Peter Bostelmann on Search Inside Yourself

Search Inside Yourself was introduced to SAP as a result of an employee initiative by groups in various locations who were interested in mindfulness. But the key impetus for developing an offering for the entire company came from Peter Bostelmann. An industrial engineer working in the field organization, Peter has been an exponent of meditation for 10 years and can testify to its positive effects. He took part in the first public Search Inside Yourself training course in San Francisco back in 2012 and was immediately taken by the simple, effective exercises it taught. “I was impressed by the clever way in which such profound effects appeared to be achieved so easily,” says the founder and current head of SAP Global Mindfulness Practice. “And that led me on to think that mindfulness would be a great thing for SAP, too.”

SAP Chief Learning Officer Jenny Dearborn recognized the potential of mindfulness training and raised the topic to the next level in her article first published in the Huffington Post. “Mindfulness can play a key role in the health both of employees and of the organization as a whole. But it does more than that. It enhances people’s sense of satisfaction and raises their motivation levels. Which is why this new kind of mental training is now firmly entrenched in our learning offering,” she says.

SAP’s HR director in Germany, Wolfgang Fassnacht, also recognizes the positive effects of mindfulness: “Focus and creativity are strengths that are essential for a fast-moving and innovative company like SAP.”

But it is not just within SAP that Search Inside Yourself is winning favor. German industrial giant ThyssenKrupp is considering extending its own mindfulness training courses, and SAP’s approach is proving a frequent and valuable source of inspiration. Currently, SAP is training employees and managers to become mindfulness trainers themselves – with the help of a growing network of mindfulness practitioners and local practice groups at many different locations. This means that thousands of employees worldwide will have a chance to attend the two-day course and reinforce their expertise in small groups at local level. Dr. Janin Schwartau, Head of Learning and Transformation at ThyssenKrupp, says, “SAP’s progress on developing its global mindfulness practice shows just what an innovative company it is. I am particularly impressed by the way SAP is using a network of internal trainers to roll the program out worldwide.”

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