“Suppose you read about a pill that you could take once a day to reduce anxiety and increase your contentment. Would you take it? Suppose further that the pill has a great variety of side effects, all of them good: increased self-esteem, empathy, and trust; it even improves memory. Suppose, finally, that the pill is all natural and costs nothing. Now would you take it? The pill exists. It is meditation.” – Jonathan Haidt
Meditation is an ancient art that has been practised for thousands of years in Eastern culture. In the 60s and 70s, several practitioners began to bring it to West: notably, Jon Kabat-Zinn, who created “mindfulness.” Mindfulness has since risen to prominence, being employed in a variety of sectors – including health, education and business.
Mindfulness is a buzzword nowadays, so many people speak of it without a distinct understanding of what it entails, or the results it generates. It is a style of meditation, that brings focus to the present moment, allowing us to observe without judgement.
Meditation has many positive effects. It changes our physiology and psychology in a way that makes us more productive, less emotionally reactive, and better collaborators in a team. All of which will help you to be a better business leader and motivator.
In this blog, I will explain how meditation grows and changes your brain, to increase productivity and reduce stress – thus improving workplace performance. Then I will outline simple steps to help you start your own meditation practice.
Meditation is the new Medication
Take your knuckles, and gently rap them against your forehead. Behind that lump of bone is a region of your brain known as the pre-frontal cortex. Your pre-frontal cortex is often referred to as the “CEO” of the brain. It is this area of the brain that is responsible for logic, analysis, attention and decision-making.
When you meditate, your pre-frontal cortex becomes thicker and creates new neural connections. This allows you to process information better, focus more intensely, and separate your decision-making from your emotions. Overall result? More productivity and better analytical skills.
Roughly in the centre of your brain, you have a small almond-shaped structure called your Amygdala. The Amygdala processes emotional learning, and your fear and stress responses. When our Amygdala is in overdrive, we are in a heightened state of stress and anxiety, known as “fight-or-flight”. When our amygdala is overactive, it can bypass the logical, rational decision-making of the pre-frontal cortex, and cause us to act through emotion alone. Consequently, we make angry or fearful decisions, which can be detrimental for business.
Meditation “dampens” down the activity of our Amygdala, reducing our emotional reactivity. This means that we don’t get wound up or frustrated by setbacks so easily. It takes us out of fight-or-flight mode, reducing our levels of stress and anxiety. Put simply, you will be more mentally resilient, better at overcoming setbacks and less stressed. This is incredibly beneficial in the workplace, where stress, anxiety and pressure are commonplace. With meditation’s dual effect of enhancing the pre-frontal cortex and dampening down the amygdala, it massively aids our decision-making processes.
How to Meditate
First, let’s break down some mental barriers you may have about meditation. It is not religious and does not require any spiritual beliefs to gain benefit. You do not need to devote your life to it, as little as five minutes a day can reap the rewards outlined above.
There are many resources to help you start your meditation practice. I recommend beginning with a guided practice. There are two excellent apps: Calm, and Headspace, which take you through a beginner’s guided program.
Start with as little as 5-10 minutes a day. Try it for a week and see how you feel.
Self-guided meditation schedule
For those who want to advance a little further, here is my outline for progressing from guided to self-guided meditation:
- Set aside some time in a quiet space where you will be undisturbed for at least 20 minutes. If you don’t have time during the working day, then do it first thing in the morning or during lunch. This is a long enough period to allow yourself to shift your physiological and psychological state, and open up more benefits of meditation, such as self-awareness and reflection.
- Sit in a chair with your hands resting in your lap, or lie on (not in) your bed with your hands by your side.
- Listen to music without vocals. Consider nature sounds, or soft calming melodies. I use something called binaural beats, which is music tuned to the frequency of certain brain waves to help shift your neurological state.
- Breath in through your nose, and out through your mouth. Envision cool, light air entering your body, and hot black air escaping. Breathe into your belly, not your lungs. This fully engages your diaphragm for deep, relaxed breathing.
- Count your breaths. Each inhale is an odd number. Each exhale an even number. Count the breathes up to ten. When you get to ten, start again at 1. When your thoughts wander and you lose count, just start the process again at 1.
Create “Zen” in the workplace
As a business leader, you will no doubt want smarter, more productive workers. By encouraging meditation and incorporating it into everyone’s schedules – this will be a reality.
Stress is prevalent in the workplace and for most of us it is unavoidable. Regular meditation helps balance the physical and mental demands of a working day. When your workforce meditates together, they can share a more relaxed state that increases calm – paving the way for improved creativity, problem-solving skills and decision-making.
Consider setting up lunchtime meditations, whereby employees can gather and recharge their batteries and focus themselves ready for the afternoon. You can also advertise various meditation resources and highlight the benefits for them. This will show your employees that you care about their wellbeing, which can help to create loyal, empowered workers who want your business to succeed.
As Jonathan Haidt alluded to, if there was a pill that produced the effects of meditation, we would all be taking it. If you want to enjoy these benefits, then take the time to commit to a meditation practice and encourage your people to do the same. It is an investment in yourself, your workforce and your business.