This is an outdated version published on 2022-11-30. Read the most recent version.

Mindfulness and Behavioural Insights

Reflections on the Meditative Brain, Systems Theory and Organizational Change




anticipatory systems, autopoeisis, behavioural insights, capability building, cognition, emotion, government, mindfulness, policy making


This paper explores the impacts of the Mindfulness-Based Behavioural Insights and Decision-Making (MBBI) programme. Combining mindfulness with behavioural insights instruction, the authors have developed the MBBI programme through a series of iterative trials over the last ten years. In addition to fusing mindfulness and behavioural insights, this programme also draws on the theories of autopoiesis, anticipatory systems, the predictive brain and constructed emotions, which all challenge the common assumption that behavioural and emotional responses are automatic (triggered by given stimuli and not open to change through self-reflection). The paper explores the use of the MBBI in the Welsh Civil Service. Employing evidence from in-depth interviews with participants and a SenseMaker analysis, it rethinks the role of mindfulness at work, repurposes the application of behavioural insights training toward a more ethical and systemic direction, and develops a reflective approach to capability building amongst public servants.


Arendt, J. F., Verdorfer, A. P., & Kugler, K. G. (2019). Mindfulness and leadership: Communication as a behavioral correlate of leader mindfulness and its effect on follower satisfaction. Frontiers in Psychology, 10, 1–16.

Baggio, M., Ciriolo, E., Marandola, G., & van Bavel, R. (2021). The evolution of behaviourally informed policymaking in the EU. Journal of European Public Policy, 28(5), 658–676.

Barrett, L. F. (2006). Solving the emotion paradox: Categorization and the experience of emotion. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 10(1), 20–46.

Birmingham Leadership Institute (2022). Systems thinking and leadership practitioner level 7 apprenticeship. University of Birmingham.

Bristow, J. (2019). Mindfulness in politics and public policy. Current Opinion in Psychology, 28, 87–91.

Cabrera, D., Cabrera, L., & Powers, E. (2015). A unifying theory of systems thinking with psychosocial applications. Systems Research and Behavioral Science, 32(5), 534–545.

Chater, N. (2018). The mind is flat: The illusion of mental depth and the improvised mind. Penguin.

Checkland, P. & Poulter, J. (2006). Learning for action: A short definitive account of soft systems methodology and its use for practitioners, teachers and students. Wiley.

Churchman, C. W. (1979). The systems approach (2nd ed.). Dell.

Clark, A. (2015). Surfing uncertainty: Prediction, action, and the embodied mind. Oxford University Press.

CMRP (Centre for Mindfulness Research and Practice) (2013). Mindfulness based stress reduction. Course information, unpublished.

Crane, R. S. (2017). Implementing mindfulness in the mainstream: Making the path by walking it. Mindfulness, 8(3), 585–594.

Dolan, P., Hallsworth, M., Halpern, D., King, D., & Vlaev, I. (2010). MINDSPACE: Influencing behaviour for public policy. Institute of Government.

Dunning, D. L., Griffiths, K., Kuyken, W., Crane, C., Foulkes, L., Parker, J., & Dalgleish, T. (2019). Research review: The effects of mindfulness-based interventions on cognition and mental health in children and adolescents – a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 60(3), 244–258.

Fazeli, S., & Büchel, C. (2018). Pain-related expectation and prediction error signals in the anterior insula are not related to aversiveness. Journal of Neuroscience, 38(29), 6461–6474.

Forbes, D. (2019). Mindfulness and its discontents: Education, self, and social transformation. Fernwood Publishing.

Fuenmayor, R. (1990). Systems thinking and critique. I. What is critique? Systems Practice, 3(6), 524–544.

Geiger, S. M., Grossman, P., & Schrader, U. (2018). Mindfulness and sustainability: Correlation or causation? Current Opinion in Psychology, 28, 23–27.

Gigerenzer, G. (2015). On the supposed evidence for libertarian paternalism. Review of Philosophy and Psychology, 6(3), 361–383.

Goldberg, S. B., Tucker, R. P., Greene, P. A., Simpson, T. L., Kearney, D. J., & Davidson, R. J. (2017). Is mindfulness research methodology improving over time? A systematic review. PloS One, 12(10).

Good, D. J., Lyddy, C. J., Glomb, T. M., Bono, J. E., Brown, K. W., Duffy, M. K., Baer, R. A., Brewer, J. A., & Lazar, S. W. (2016). Contemplating mindfulness at work: An integrative review. Journal of Management, 42(1), 114–142.

GOV.UK (2015). Statutory guidance: The civil service code. GOV.UK.

Gross, J. J. (2014). Emotion regulation: Conceptual and empirical foundations. In, J. J. Gross (Ed.), Handbook of emotion regulation (pp. 3–20). The Guilford Press.

Gu, J., Strauss, C., Bond, R., & Cavanagh, K. (2015). How do mindfulness-based cognitive therapy and mindfulness-based stress reduction improve mental health and wellbeing? A systematic review and meta-analysis of mediation studies. Clinical Psychology Review, 37, 1–12.

Hafenbrack, A. C., Kinias, Z., & Barsade, S. G. (2014). Debiasing the mind through meditation: Mindfulness and the sunk-cost bias. Psychological Science, 25(2), 369–376.

Hallsworth, M., Egan, M., Rutter, J., & McCrae J. (2018). Behavioural government: Using behavioural sciences to make better decisions in government. The Behavioural Insights Team.

Haskin, D. (2017). Coming home: Compassionate presence in prison. Anthropology of Consciousness, 28(2), 152–155.

Hinton, P. (2017). Implicit stereotypes and the predictive brain: Cognition and culture in “biased” person perception. Palgrave Communications, 3, 17086.

Hohwy, J. (2020). New directions in predictive processing. Mind & Language, 35(2), 209–223.

Hwang, Y.-S., Bartlett, B., Greben, M., & Hand, K. (2017). A systematic review of mindfulness interventions for in-service teachers: A tool to enhance teacher wellbeing and performance. Teaching and Teacher Education, 64, 26–42.

Ison, R., & Straw, E. (2020). The hidden power of systems thinking: Governance in a climate emergency. Routledge.

Jha, A. P., Morrison, A. B., Dainer-Best, J., Parker, S., Rostrup, N., & Stanley, E. A. (2015). Minds “at attention”: Mindfulness training curbs attentional lapses in military cohorts. PloS One, 10(2)

Jones, R., Pykett, J., & Whitehead, M. (2013). Changing behaviours: On the rise of the psychological state. Edward Elgar Publishing.

Kabat-Zinn, J. (2003). Mindfulness-based interventions in context: Past, present, and future. Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice, 10(2), 144–156.

Kahneman, D. (2011). Thinking, fast and slow. Macmillan.

Kahneman, D., & Klein, G. (2009). Conditions for intuitive expertise: A failure to disagree. American Psychologist, 64(6), 515–526.

Kahneman, D., & Tversky, A. (1984). Choices, values and frames. American Psychologist, 39, 341–350.

Kersemaekers, W., Rupprecht, S., Wittmann, M., Tamdjidi, C., Falke, P., Donders, R., Speckens, A., & Kohls, N. (2018). A workplace mindfulness intervention may be associated with improved psychological well-being and productivity. A preliminary field study in a company setting. Frontiers in Psychology, 9, 195.

Kreplin, U., Farias, M., & Brazil, I. A. (2018). The limited prosocial effects of meditation: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Scientific Reports, 8(1), 2403.

Langer, E. J. (1989). Mindfulness. Addison-Wesley.

Lazarus, R. J. (2009). Super wicked problems and climate change: Restraining the present to liberate the future. Cornell Law Review, 94, 1153–1234.

Leggett, W. (2014). The politics of behaviour change: Nudge, neoliberalism and the state. Policy & Politics, 42(1), 3–19.

Levin, K., Cashore, B., Bernstein, S., & Auld, G. (2012). Overcoming the tragedy of super wicked problems: Constraining our future selves to ameliorate global climate change. Policy Sciences, 45 (2), 123–152.

Lomas, T., Medina, J. C., Ivtzan, I., Rupprecht, S., Hart, R., & Eiroa-Orosa, F. J. (2017). The impact of mindfulness on well-being and performance in the workplace: An inclusive systematic review of the empirical literature. European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology, 26(4), 492–513.

Lutz, A., Mattout, J., & Pagnoni, G. (2019). The epistemic and pragmatic value of non-action: A predictive coding perspective on meditation. Current Opinion in Psychology, 28,166–171.

Maex, E. (2011). The Buddhist roots of mindfulness training: A practitioner’s view. Contemporary Buddhism, 12, 165–175.

Mair D. S. L., La Placa, G., Schwendinger, F., Raykovska, M., Pasztor, Z., van Bavel, R. (2019). Understanding our political nature: How to put knowledge and reason at the heart of political decision-making. EUR 29783 EN, Publications Office of the European Union.

Maturana, H. (1970). Biology of cognition. Biological computer laboratory research report BCL 9.0. University of Illinois.

Maturana, H. (1988). Reality: The search for objectivity or the quest for a compelling argument. Irish Journal of Psychology, 9, 25-82.

Maturana, H. R., & Varela, F. J. (1972). Autopoiesis and cognition: The realization of the living. Reidel.

Maturana, H. R., & Varela, F. J. (1987). The tree of knowledge: The biological roots of human understanding. Shambhala.

Maturana, H. R., & Varela, F. J. (1992). The tree of knowledge: The biological roots of human understanding (2nd ed.). Shambhala.

McCaw, C. T. (2020). Mindfulness 'thick' and 'thin' - A critical review of the uses of mindfulness in education. Oxford Review of Education, 46(2), 257–278.

Midgley, G. (2000). Systemic intervention: Philosophy, methodology, and practice. Kluwer/Plenum.

Midgley, G., & Lindhult, E. (2021). A systems perspective on systemic innovation. Systems Research and Behavioral Science, 38(5), 635–670.

Midgley, G., & Pinzón, L. (2011). The implications of boundary critique for conflict prevention. Journal of the Operational Research Society, 62, 1543–1554.

Mullainathan, S., & Shafir, E. (2013). Scarcity: Why having too little means so much. Macmillan.

Mindfulness Initiative (2016). Building the case for mindfulness in the workplace. The mindfulness initiative. Private Sector Working Group.

Nehring, D., & Frawley, A. (2020). Mindfulness as a self-help fad: The mindfulness industry, popular psychological knowledge and the sociological imagination. In D. Nehring, O. J. Madsen, E. Cabanas, C. Mills, & D. Kerrigan (Eds.), The Routledge international handbook of global therapeutic cultures (pp. 119–134). Routledge.

OECD (2017). Behavioural insights and public policy lessons from around the world. OECD Publishing.

Oliver, A. (2013). From nudging to budging: Using behavioural economics to inform public sector policy. Journal of Social Policy, 42(4), 685–700.

Pagnoni, G. (2019). The contemplative exercise through the lenses of predictive processing: A promising approach. Progress in Brain Research, 244, 299–322.

Pessoa, L. (2013). The cognitive-emotional brain: From interactions to integration. MIT press.

Purser, R. (2019). McMindfulness: How mindfulness became the new capitalist spirituality. Repeater.

Purser, R. E. (2018). Critical perspectives on corporate mindfulness. Journal of Management, Spirituality & Religion, 15(2), 105–108.

Pykett, J., Lilley, R., Whitehead, M., Howell, R., & Jones, R. (2016). Mindfulness, behaviour change and decision making: An experimental trial. University of Birmingham.

Reitz, M., Chaskalson, M., Olivier, S., & Waller, L. (2016). The mindful leader: Developing the capacity for resilience and collaboration in complex times through mindfulness practice. Ashridge Executive Education HULT.

Rittel, H. J., & Webber, M. (1973). Dilemmas in a general theory of planning. Policy Sciences, 4(2), 155–169.

Robson, C., & McCartan, K. (2016). Real world research: A resource for users of social research methods and applied settings (4th ed.). Wiley.

Rosen, R. (1985). Anticipatory systems: Philosophical, mathematical, and methodological foundations. Pergamon.

Rosen, R. (1991). Life itself: A comprehensive inquiry into the nature, origin and fabrication of life. Columbia University Press.

Rupprecht, S., Koole, W., Chaskalson, M., Tamdjidi, C., & West, M. (2018). Running too far ahead? Towards a broader understanding of mindfulness in organisations. Current Opinion in Psychology, 28, 32–36.

Sanders, M., Snijders, V., & Hallsworth, M. (2018). Behavioural science and policy: Where are we now and where are we going? Behavioural Public Policy, 2(2), 144–167.

Scharmer, C. (2007). Theory U: Leading from the future as it emerges. Society for Organizational Learning.

Segal, Z. V., Teasdale, J. D., & Williams, J. M. G. (2004). Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy: Theoretical rationale and empirical status. In S. C. Hayes, V. M. Follette, & M. M. Linehan (Eds.), Mindfulness and Acceptance: Expanding the Cognitive-Behavioral Tradition (pp. 45–65). The Guilford Press.

Seth, A. K., & Friston, K. J. (2016). Active interoceptive inference and the emotional brain. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 371(1708), 20160007.

Shapiro, S. L., Carlson, L. E., Astin, J. A., & Freedman, B. (2006). Mechanisms of mindfulness. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 62(3), 373–386.




How to Cite

Lilley, R., Whitehead, M., & Midgley, G. (2022). Mindfulness and Behavioural Insights: Reflections on the Meditative Brain, Systems Theory and Organizational Change . Journal of Awareness-Based Systems Change, 2(2), 29–57.



Original Articles (Peer-Reviewed)