Of all the tools designed to make us better, from exercise to socializing to eating healthy, mindfulness training must be the only practice still steeped in prejudice.
Mindfulness is a form of meditation designed to help you tame your mind. Of course, as soon as you hear the word “meditation” you no doubt think of mystics wearing robes chanting to the Buddha.
Not so fast. Scientific studies show that meditation actually works, that the brain is plastic and open to being harnessed, and more than that, that it can make a very real difference to your business fortunes, improving focus, ramping up productivity and reducing stress.
What is it?
Strip away the mysticism and mindfulness is the practice of centering yourself fully in the present moment; of noticing air passing through your nose, filling your lungs, and moving out again through your mouth or your nose. The idea is to attune yourself so deeply to the way your body is feeling right now that you are able to intercept, or recognize, the way thoughts appear and disappear like little bursts of light. Once you can recognize thoughts coming, you can detach yourself from the fear or panic or irritation they inevitably promote. So often are thoughts are prompting a fight or flight response that is completely unnecessary. Why should your heart speed up over an email from a supplier you’re unhappy with?
In much the same way we train our bodies, mindfulness is designed to exercise our minds. Through repetition – like the reps you might perform at the weights section of the gym – it becomes easier to let thoughts come and go, rather than be governed by them.
What does science say?
Scientific research in this field has not been around long, but studies have already concluded that mindfulness can significantly reduce areas in the brain responsible for fear and depression. There is evidence to suggest the practice can also reduce the efficacy with which neurotransmitters get us hooked on addictive behaviors.
Is it a fix-all?
The important thing to bear in mind is that nothing is going to make you better in business, or much happier, overnight. Mindfulness is not a fix-all in much the same way that a new hire isn’t going to dramatically transform your business fortunes if there are bigger logistical issues at play. Mindfulness will, however, give you mental clarity. If applied properly, it will make decision-making easier and in the same vein, will make you more relaxed and better able to enjoy the moment.
Mindfulness can enhance productivity
Mindfulness is not only the playground of mystics that eschew a 9-5 life. A great many very successful people have embraced it as a way of enhancing their productivity. ABC reporter Dan Harris had to go through an on-air mental breakdown before he decided to evaluate his lifestyle choices, a decision that would ultimately bring him to mindfulness training.
Harris dedicated a few minutes of every day to getting better at the art. On days he didn’t do it, he felt more easily flustered, more prone to making rash judgments. On days he did, he was able to detach himself from the whirring thoughts in his head and got so good at the method he wrote a bestselling book, 10% Happier: How I Tamed The Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, And Found Self-Help That Actually Works.
Whether it’s broadcaster Dan Harris, media titan Rupert Murdoch or Huffington Post’s Ariana Huffington, many successful businesspeople now meditate.
But I don’t have time for it
In the constant rush to get work done, to juggle 1,000 tasks at once, the most common obstacle people put forward is time. There’s not enough time to do it. Time is too precious. The reality is we’re rushing so much we’re severing our attention spans and rarely honing in on a single activity. When was the last time you put your phone away, closed your inbox and concentrated fully on a single task?
Well, mindfulness will help you do that. In the process, you’ll get tasks finished faster and to a higher standard. Suddenly, the idea of taking short breaks to refocus doesn’t seem so silly after all.
How do I get started?
There are a host of YouTube videos you can watch and practice with online, or check out Headspace, the world’s most popular meditation app.