Columns , Leadership

Learn to trust the process

Meditation can help reduce anxiety, enhance creativity and improve relationships. Getting there might require only 10 minutes a day.

Learn to trust the process
A number of meditation apps, such as Headspace and Calm, are available to help demystify the meditation process and get you started.

For the record, all the articles published with this column are lessons in what the authors recognize they need to learn and embody. This month’s topic is certainly no exception.

In recent years, meditation has expanded into the secular mainstream, even among business leaders seeking to find ways for themselves and their teams to be more effective in dynamic and often-chaotic business environments. So, techniques that for centuries were reserved for monks are being actively taught in places like Wharton Business School and Google.

Why would an activity that seems as esoteric as meditation start to find advocates among cutting-edge businesses and business schools? The simple answer: It works.

Meditation Research

The benefits of meditation have been confirmed by scientific research, as outlined by Emma Seppala, Ph.D., a researcher at Stanford University, for Harvard Business Review. Dr. Seppala noted the following benefits of a meditation process, as confirmed by scientific studies:

  1. More resilience. By decreasing anxiety, meditation can help boost resilience and performance under stress.
  2. Greater creativity. Research on creativity suggests that being in a more meditative and relaxed state of mind is conducive to having greater insights or breakthroughs. Dr. Seppala proposed that this connection between meditation and greater creativity is a result of meditation encouraging divergent thinking (i.e. coming up with the greatest number of possible solutions to a problem), which is a key component of creativity.
  3. Enhanced emotional intelligence. Brain-imaging studies suggest meditation can help strengthen one’s ability to regulate emotions.
  4. Improved relationships. By countering stress, meditation can improve relationships with others. If stress narrows your perspective and reduces empathy, then anything that reduces stress will have the opposite effect, improving your mood and increasing your sense of connection with others.
  5. Sharpened ability to focus. As demonstrated by two Harvard researchers in 2010, people’s minds wander an astonishing 50 percent of the time. The same study was able to show that people were less content as a result of their mind wandering. Meditation, on the other hand, helps quiet the mind and improve the ability to focus, leading to an enhanced sense of well-being.
  6. Increased brain mass. Science is beginning to see actual physical changes resulting from meditation. In early 2011, researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital became the first to report that meditation produced increases in the brain’s gray matter density in a mere eight-week span.

One Meditator’s Experience

Co-columnist Trey Cutler has been on a two-plus-year journey with meditation. Here are some of his experiences with meditation, in his own words:

I felt the draw to meditate for years before I actually started to meditate on a regular basis. I can’t explain why, but I had the sense for a long time that meditation was an important step for me to take at some point. Still, I allowed myself to be “too busy” for many years before I finally chose to give it a try.

I found out immediately that I’m not particularly good at meditating. Although I understand that meditating is not one of those things to be good or bad at, I still could see other people having different and seemingly more meaningful experiences through meditation.

Here was (and is!) my typical meditation experience:

  • Sit down with the intention of finding some quietness/stillness within.
  • Have a ton of thoughts crop up instead, like my top 10 to-do list, sex, something I wished I had handled differently, upcoming tax payments.
  • Finish the session thinking something along these lines: “Well, I obviously don’t have the full hang of this, but I’ll try again tomorrow.”

Despite the regular experience of feeling like nothing much was happening during any of my meditation sessions, I eventually began to notice aspects of my life that were changing for the better as a result of meditation. Gradually, I began to take everything a little less seriously, feel more relaxed even in stressful circumstances and see more clearly how I react to situations that I perceived as negative.

These changes felt very subtle, especially at first, but over time it has felt like I’ve been starting to strengthen some helpful natural capacity that I didn’t even know existed before. My family was the first to really notice the changes and to let me know that they definitely preferred the meditating version of me over the original model.

Starting a Meditation Practice

Meditation can have many different approaches. Experimenting with alternative styles will probably make sense to anyone trying to develop their own meditation practice. For a simple, concise guide to basic breathing meditation, check out A Life of Productivity article at http://bit.ly/2Kz9yy7.

A number of meditation apps, such as Headspace and Calm, are available to help demystify the meditation process and get you started.

A few words of advice for anyone embarking on a meditation practice:

  • Consistency matters. Daily repetition, even if for only 10 minutes a day, can make a big difference.
  • Keep it simple, especially at first. Find a comfortable sitting position rather than trying to assume an unfamiliar posture. Sitting in a chair with feet on the floor is fine.
  • Be easy on yourself. Let go of expectations and just show up each day and see what unfolds or seemingly doesn’t.
  • Try guided meditation, such as through the Headspace app, to develop some familiarity with the process, and then go from there.

Getting the Goods

In 1967, Howard Cosell and Muhammed Ali shared a memorable moment in the history of sports broadcasting. As Ali boasted about his confidence that he would beat anyone, Cosell teasingly accused Ali of being extremely truculent. Without missing a beat, Ali responded, “Whatever truculent means, if it’s good, I’m that.”

Which brings us to our last point about meditation practice: We can get the goods from meditation without ever having to fully understand it. While seeing scientific and anecdotal evidence of the benefits of meditating might be helpful so that we know it is worth the effort, there is no need to understand the mechanics of how those benefits are actually created in order to experience those benefits for ourselves.

The bottom line is this: Used as little as 10 minutes a day, meditation starts to help us move in the direction of our “flow” state. For leaders, this means going through the day with a greater sense of calm and focus that helps both them and their teams perform at higher levels and enjoy more positive experiences together. For all of us, it means more of the good stuff that life has to offer for the benefit of ourselves, our colleagues and families.

Go With the Flow co-columnist Dr. Jeff Thoren is president of VetPartners and founder of Gifted Leaders, a Phoenix company offering leadership and coaching services. Co-columnist Trey Cutler is a veterinary transaction attorney.

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