Why Mindfulness And Meditation Matter In Leadership

*As originally seen on Forbes.com

*As originally seen on Forbes.com





STI 3.13

What stresses you out? We all have situations in which it is harder to maintain equilibrium than in others. Mine is: having to do too many administrative tasks that should be done by someone else. What’s yours?

Proof That You Should Do Nothing

We know we “shouldn’t” get freaked out and anxious, we know staying present will enable us to find better solutions, we know we “should” be getting a good night’s rest to tackle the situation with a fresh mind the next day, but we can’t always get there without help. We’ve been hijacked. Our patterns are in charge. We’re human.

No one has time to process every single blip in their life. We can’t track down the source of every pattern and sometimes it’s not a pattern, it’s just life. So how do we take care of our health and stay mindful of what’s important when life throws us a curve ball?

Meditation.  Mindfulness. Stopping your thoughts. Whatever you’d like to call it.

You know about the well-documented benefits. But are you doing it?

One of the biggest indicators of my clients’ success in stepping up their leadership is whether they have an existing mindfulness practice or are willing to start one.

Dr. Andrew Newberg, a neurotheologist and director of research at Philadelphia’s Myrna Byrd Center of Integrative Medicine recently studied the brains of spiritual leaders while they meditated or prayed. In his video he concludes:

“The more you do a practice like meditation or prayer, your brain physically gets thicker and it functionally works better.”

Mindfulness meditation has long been touted as an effective way to improve our health and well-being but studies have been notoriously subjective and difficult to validate. New studies are reporting that mindfulness meditation helps relieve our levels of perceived anxiety and depression. It improves attention, concentration, and contributes to better sleep. Researchers from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, MD sifted through nearly 19,000 meditation studies, and found 47 trials that addressed the above mentioned issues and which met their criteria scientifically valid research. Their findings, published in JAMA Internal Medicine, suggest that mindfulness meditation can help ease psychological stresses like anxiety, depression, and pain and improve sleep patterns.

A study conducted by Harvard researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) determined that meditation literally rebuilds the brain’s grey matter. The study only lasted 8-weeks and in that time they found benefit equal to prescription drugs—and without the side effects.

The Mind Is A Lousy Master…And An Excellent Servant

One of the biggest causes of stress is ruminating, or repeating a certain stressful thought. The brain sets off down an old thinking pattern and stays there. Mindfulness practices teach our brain to pop up out of that old pattern and recognize it for what it is.: a default and well-worn groove that we have a choice to step out of. We can then focus on the candle, on a flower, on a mantra…on whatever we choose to focus on.

I believe we have repetitive thoughts because most of us haven’t trained our minds to be still. Your mind and thoughts can be directed—and you’ll see results fairly quickly. And best yet, in stillness you will find all of the answers you seek.

Mindfulness meditation re-grooves the brain and builds a new neurological network. Do it enough and, like the studies show, you can train your brain like a muscle to stay calm and present in the face of adversity or good old daily stresses of life.

Do Try This At Home…And At The Office

There are many teachers of meditation and books or CDs to show you the way. Here are some of my favorites for beginners.

If you’ve never meditated before, a simple way to start is to breathe in to the count of seven, hold for a count of seven, and exhale for a count of seven.  Then repeat.

When you’re counting use the “one, one thousand, two, one thousand, three, one thousand…” method. If your mind starts to wander, gently bring it back to focus on your breath. Set a timer for five minutes before you start. I recommend sitting upright with palms facing up.

If you want to close your eyes or light a candle or place a flower in front of you to focus on, do it. When you’re starting out you’re just exploring and finding out what works for you. If you’re having a stressful day at the office, practice the above breathing technique. You can even do it during a meeting!

That’s why meditation is referred to as “practice”. As in “I’m practicing meditation” or “I have a meditation practice”. You’re teaching you’re brain to interrupt repetitive patterns, calm and center itself.

It takes practice to get to automation, but it’s worth it.


1 reply
  1. Lloyd Hansen
    Lloyd Hansen says:

    Christine, during your webinar on Using Neuroscience several times you said, in describing a technique, “Use it for good, of course.” What does that mean in an individualistic culture focussed on the bottom line? This discussion came up in a conference call in the conscious business consulting community last year where we questioned the implications of “mindfulness light” which can help institutions that have no interest in consciousness change be more affective in their missions.
    Last October Shambhala Mountain Center had a discussion of mindfulness between Susan Piver and Josh Baran. Here’s my transcription from their talk.
    SP: You have a unique perspective on the secular mindfulness movement.
    JB: Right. Neuroscience drove meditation/mindfulness’s introduction to Silicon Valley. In 2013 mindfulness began to take over. Business was careful to use no Buddhist terminology. It’s secular, neuroscience. They talk about benefits – what it can do for your health and how it can help you. That is not in the Buddhist tradition. I never meditated to become less stressed or more productive. It never occurred to me. It did occur to me to be less distracted. We saw earlier how mindfulness entered the sports world with Phil Jackson and the Lakers. There were no Buddhist words. It was not a Buddhist practice. It was about focus. Now the Seahawks have a full-time mindfulness coach. Mindful equates to being more productive, more successful, even happier. Then there’s mindful meditation to become more compassionate, more wise and to wake up. They may start at the same point – with the breath. How do they change? How can people who want a practice for spiritual reasons tell the difference? In traditional dharma mindfulness is part of the whole pattern, the whole world. It’s to bring insight. It’s not just paying attention. It’s the water you’re drinking. It leads to direct seeing. It’s also part of a balanced diet, you could say, of loving kindness practice and practice of various compassionate forms of action and awareness so it’s part of a vast constellation.
    In pure mindfulness is pure focus. You can be a mindful soldier. This is not just a Western aberration. The fact is in Japan for over 700 years the zen tradition was in a large degree merged with the secular imperial world. Zen focus became part of the samurai code to talk about how you use the sword mindfully to behead people and if you can cut with singlemindedness. There’s no karma. It’s not Buddhism. But it was debased or corrupted. But, as you say, Buddhism merges with the culture, and in Japan there was serious corruption that was hidden.
    You can be mindful and do anything mindfully. That’s not a bad place to begin. You want people to be mindful drivers. We want people to be mindful parents where they’re paying attention to their kids. But even in a lot of mindfulness that is called secular mindfulness today, there is talk about empathy, compassion. It’s not pure focus but you can do pure focus. On the football field, the basketball court, it is pure attention. They’re not talking about empathy for your opponent. In fact in football you’re supposed to hurt your opponent. In fact that’s part of the game to actually hurt them so you can get them off the field. They’re not trying to be nice or gentle or kind. They’re trying to win. So we have many cases now with hedge fund managers that do focus meditation. There are mindful practices for doctors because they recognize if they’re mindful they’re going to work harder. But we all want mindful surgeons. So I think mindfulness is going to come in that way.
    The hope is as people do it there’ll be more discussion, there’ll be more attention to the bigger connections that existed from the beginning in the wonderful tradition that the Buddha created so that people will begin to think that to be fully mindful is to be fully heartful. Remember that the character in Chinese heart/mind is the same character. So you want to be heartful and mindful, and heartful has many different implications obviously. But it’s very important to realize that mindfulness can be misused as they did in Japan as just focus, that mindfulness by itself can make you a better tyrant, a more effective tyrant, a more effective general, a more effective not just a sniper – let’s say the people who are doing the drone attacks. And they’re teaching mindfulness in the US Army now.
    SP: There’s something in motivation and intention. How can people tell the difference between a good teacher and a charlatan?
    JB: Let the seeker be aware. Never stop being a spiritual adult. Don’t give away your integrity, your intelligence, your analytical mind. Scrutinize any teacher. The Buddha taught judging him to make sure his behavior was in synch with what he was teaching. No lineage or title matters. They have to show in their daily life that they are kind, compassionate, attentive, and care about living things. If they don’t, move on.
    Is it really true or is it a story? Question your own thoughts and external situations. Who would you be without the story? It’s about direct seeing, seeing clearly. That’s the work of mindfulness.
    I welcome this community picking up the discussion. Can mindfulness in business contribute to the greater good? How?


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