Oprah Winfrey. Steve Jobs. Phil Jackson. Russell Simmons. Bill Clinton. Ray Dalio (founder of Bridgewater Associates, the world’s largest hedge fund firm). What do each of these individuals have in common aside from being insanely successful? They are (or have been) regular meditators who extol the benefits of this practice as contributing to their achievements. At this point in time, no one questions the need to exercise one’s body for greater effectiveness, both in and out of work. Similarly, engaging in a regular meditation is exercise for your mind that will make you more productive in a variety of spheres. Need some more convincing? Read below for my top five reasons that all leaders would benefit from a little time spent on a zafu (meditation pillow).
1. Meditation is a Stress Reducer
Numerous studies have shown that regular meditation is effective in reducing stress. Whether it is used to calm the mind of individuals with anxiety disorders, or to simply relax after a long day, its effectiveness has been proven time and time again. In fact, studies show that across time, meditation changes the brain’s structure so that not only are you better able to deal with stress, you become less prone to experience stress or fear in the first place.
2. Meditation Improves Your Emotional Intelligence
According to Daniel Goleman, the individual largely responsible for bringing the term “emotional intelligence” to the general lexicon, there are five aspects of E.Q.: self-awareness, self-regulation, internal motivation, empathy, and social skills. The different types of meditation can positively impact the majority of these variables. For example, mindfulness meditation, a form of meditation in which the individual learns to observe his or her thoughts nonjudgmentally, helps one to gain greater insight into oneself, and in turn can assist with regulating one’s behaviors. Lovingkindness meditation (LKM), a form of meditation aimed at developing greater acceptance of others, can assist with developing empathy, which in turn, can improve one’s relationships with others.
3. Meditation Enhances Your Resilience
The business world is fraught with unexpected developments, shifting priorities, and setbacks. Resilient individuals are able to bounce back quickly from these events, maintain a sense of perspective, and focus on the task at hand. In laboratory studies, mindfulness meditation has proven effective in helping individuals bounce back more quickly from unexpected stressors.
4. Meditation Improves Your Focus and Concentration
Various studies have shown that meditation improves one’s ability to concentrate for extended periods of time. For example, Buddhist monks who have maintained a regular meditation practice tend to perform better on concentration tasks than control groups. There is also good news for those of us who do not have the time or inclination to devote ourselves to a life of contemplation. In various experimental studies, participants who are taught to engage in a regular meditation practice exhibit better concentration than those in a waitlist group after just a few months.
5. Meditation Enhances Your Immune Function
Neuroscientist Richard Davidson and colleagues conducted an 8 week study in which participants were taught mindfulness meditation. In addition to having an increased activity in the left-sided anterior portions of the brain (a pattern associated with greater positive emotion), they also showed increased antibodies in response to an influenza vaccine compared to a control group. Interestingly, the increases in the antibodies were commensurate with the increase of activity in the left anterior portions of the brain. Want to be healthier? Add meditation to your daily routine.
As someone who has meditated regularly for the past several years, I can also personally attest to the value of making the time to clear one’s mind. I have seen the difference it makes in my effectiveness, sense of well-being, and ability to handle stress. I have also witnessed similar positive changes in my clients who have committed themselves to this endeavor. So, give it a try – as little as 10 minutes a day can be beneficial. “But I don’t have time to meditate,” you say. Then perhaps you should consider this old zen adage, “You should sit in meditation for twenty minutes every day – unless you’re too busy; then you should sit for an hour.”
In the past month, I have surprised even myself by the number of times I have recommended mindfulness to my executive coaching clients. I have recommended it for a new manager who needed to improve his listening skills, an executive who struggled with confidence, and a stressed tech worker. I have also suggested mindfulness for dealing with impulsivity, emotional intelligence, and concentration.
So, am I just a lazy psychologist who has a one-size-fits-all approach to coaching? Not at all! There just happens to be a wealth of research that shows the numerous ways mindfulness can increase work effectiveness.
Jon Kabat-Zinn, who is world-renowned in the field of mindfulness defines it as “paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally, to the unfolding of experience moment to moment.” Read on for five ways it can hep you to be at your best at work.
1. Mindfulness Improves Self-Esteem
If you struggle with self-doubt on the job, mindfulness can boost your confidence. One study showed that students who took part in mindfulness meditation showed greater self-esteem after meditating, compared to a control group. The researchers argued this was because they developed a non-judgmental attitude toward themselves, were able to stay present, let their thoughts come and go without reacting to them, and learned to label their internal experiences. All of these strategies prevented them from getting carried away with their self-criticism.
Takeaway: By training yourself to take a step back from your thoughts and emotions, you can view yourself and the situation more objectively, and feel good about yourself, regardless of what may be going on around you.
2. Mindfulness Can Decrease Burnout
In today’s competitive market, companies are frequently in the position of trying to do more with less. As a result, workers often complain of demanding jobs with increased workloads and mounting stress. Luckily, studies of healthcare workers have shown that mindfulness practices can help guard against burnout. For example, a study of primary care clinicians showed they were less burned out, anxious, stressed, and depressed as a result of mindfulness training, and that these results persisted 9 months afterwards. Mindfulness has also been linked to decreased levels of cortisol (stress hormone) in the body.
Takeaway: Practicing mindfulness enhances your resilience to stress by positively altering your physical reactions and helping you to look at situations in a more objective fashion.
3. Mindfulness Can Improve Customer Service
If you are in a customer-oriented role, mindfulness can help you to better meet the needs of your clients. In another study of doctors, it was found that physicians who are more mindful were rated by their patients as more effective in communication and quality of care compared to their less mindful colleagues. The researchers concluded that because these doctors were more attentive to the patients, talked more with them about their emotions, and took more time to connect, the patients had a better overall experience with them.
Takeaway: Regardless of the field you are in, being fully present with others can only enhance your ability to hear, understand, and respond to their needs.
4. Mindfulness Can Help Your Job Performance
My clients consistently talk about how their jobs require them to deal with busy schedules, competing priorities, and a need to multi-task. Fortunately, mindfulness has also been shown to assist with these challenges. In a study of restaurant servers, it was found that the employees who were more mindful were rated by their managers as being more effective overall. The researchers argued that the ability to maintain attention in a busy environment gave those individuals a leg up compared to their co-workers.
Takeaway: Mindfulness can help you to concentrate and stay centered, even when things around you get crazy. This can help you to respond to the demands around you in a calm way.
5. Mindfulness Can Make You More Compassionate
In a study out of Northeastern University, participants who went through a meditation training program were over three times more likely to help an actor who was pretending to be in pain and on crutches compared to the control group. The researchers suggested that the meditators developed greater compassion for their fellow human beings as a result of this 8-week training program, and as a result, were more likely to help someone in need.
Takeaway: Given that most of the clients I work with long for a positive and supportive workplace culture in which employees genuinely care about each other, the enhanced compassion associated with mindfulness can increase employee engagement.
Regardless of the field you are in, a regular mindfulness practice can help you become happier and more effective on the job. Invest in yourself and enjoy the results!
I have been on a bit of a tear in terms of guest blog posts, and so, here is another one I wrote for Brainspeak.com. In this article I address the issue of how to have a career that in which you are not only successful, but truly fulfilled by your work. It is based in large part on my book, The Consummate Leader. Check it out!
As a corporate psychologist, I get into a lot of discussions with people about their careers. And, when I talk to some people, it would seem that fulfillment and work are like the chupacabra – something that is supposed to exist according to folklore, but that they have seen no trace of in the real world.
Well, fair reader, I am here to tell you this legendary pairing exists!
When I am asked how to achieve the sometimes seemingly elusive sweet spot of a career that brings both happiness and success, these are the tips I give to those who want to enjoy a wholehearted and fulfilling professional life.
1. Know Thyself
Regardless of what you pursue, self-awareness provides you with a firm foundation for excellence. Reflect on your strengths, areas for growth, and stress triggers. Armed with an understanding of where you are your best, be intentional about using your strengths ad choosing jobs and projects that allow you to shine. At the same time, have specific goals that will allow you to work on the areas in which you are not as strong. This will ensure you are consistently growing and developing.
Here is a guest blog I wrote for Family Friendly Working on how to keep your stress at bay when you’re a working parent.
The life of a mumpreneur is one filled with lots of challenges. On the work front, there is the constant need to bring in revenue, provide quality customer service, and attend to all the administrative aspects of the business. On the home front, balancing the needs of your children, significant other (if you have one) and yourself can be a real challenge.
At times, all of the competing demands can feel overwhelming. Yet, the research tells us that it is important for us to stay upbeat through it all: leaders who take a positive approach are more effective at sales, have more productive staffs, and ultimately, more successful businesses. And, not surprisingly, people who are more positive also enjoy better health, stronger relationships, and a greater overall sense of wellbeing.
So, how does a busy mum stay happy and centered while juggling the two full time jobs of motherhood and work? Read on for some suggestions: