“Being mindful is not a matter of thinking more clearly about experience; it is the act of experiencing more clearly”
— Sam Harris
Have you ever grabbed a snack from the office counter and looked in wonder at the empty wrapper by the time you reached your desk?
Have you ever looked at the clock and been surprised that the day is already over when your work is only halfway done?
How are you today? Are you energized and ready to take on your dreams, or are you feeling stopped by your circumstances? Did you notice your thoughts and feelings before I asked you these questions?
If you’re losing track of time, feeling overwhelmed, or just not entirely satisfied with your progress in your career or your life, it’s a good idea to learn how to manage your mind.
Mindfulness, once considered the realm of mystic Eastern traditions, is gaining serious traction in the West as a useful tool for personal and organizational effectiveness.
William George, a senior fellow at Harvard Business School, writes about the profound benefits of his regular meditation and mindfulness practices in the Harvard Business Review; his former high blood pressure was lowered to healthy levels and he reports that he became more effective at work.
“When I started meditating, I was able to stay calmer and more focused in my leadership, without losing the “edge” that I believed had made me successful.” William George
Meditation is one way to significantly improve mindfulness. You might not think that you have time to practice this daily discipline, but what if I told you that in just 27 minutes a day for 8 weeks, your brain could become significantly healthier in terms of memory and executive decision functions? What if I told you that you could improve your response to stress and be more compassionate and effective in every area of your life?
Sara Lazar, a neuroscientist who teaches psychology at Harvard, describes the results of her groundbreaking research about neuroplasticity and meditation in the Harvard Gazette.
The research team chose people who had never meditated and instructed half of them to meditate 40 minutes every day for eight weeks.
At the end of eight weeks, the brain scans of the meditators, who only practiced for an average of 27 minutes a day, showed significant positive changes when compared to both their beginning scans and the ending scans of the non-meditators.
Specifically, the gray matter in meditators increased in two important areas: the hippocampus, the area of the brain responsible for executive decision making and working memory, and the tempo parietal lobe, which is responsible for empathy, perspective shifts, and compassion. In addition, the amygdala shrank. These are the almond shaped parts of your brain that generate the fight or flight response. This means that less damaging adrenaline is released in the body of the meditators in response to stress.
There were many remarkable results reported in this experiment, including the fact that the gray matter density in the hippocampus of a 50-year-old brain increased to the level of a healthy 25-year-old brain after just eight weeks of daily meditation practice.
“Meditation is not relaxation; it is mind cultivation. It is not mindfulness; it is training for the practice of mindfulness.” — Bhante Sujatha, Chief Sanganayaka of North America.
In addition to training your mind through meditation, you can use some simple techniques to practice mindfulness at work.
Ellen Langer, a research psychologist at Harvard, studies mindfulness from a practical, Western perspective. To boost mindful leadership, she suggests imagining that people can see your thoughts. Think about it. If you practiced this habit, you’d pay far more attention to your mind, especially in conversations and meetings. This heightened self-awareness would improve your ability to accept new ideas and understand different points of view. It would be easier for you to collaborate with others and find innovative solutions for the challenges in your business.
Langer also suggests the simple trick of noticing five new things about the people with whom you habitually interact, or the spaces that you occupy.
There are many other ways to practice mindfulness, including eating silently, taking the time to notice your thoughts when you wake up in the morning, and observing your breath as you listen to someone.
Your mind is a critical part of your identity. If you make a concerted effort to improve your ability to be mindful, the payoff is a life that is more effective, calm and joyful. Without being mindful, you can’t truly realize your human potential, because it takes mindfulness to become fully aware of who you are.
As far as a cost-benefit analysis, I’d say that mindfulness practices are well worth your time.
Start today. Stay sharp. Be mindful. Be you.
By Stedman Graham, as published in The Huffington Post on 13th January 2015