Overwhelmed, Lacking Focus and Not Getting The Results You Want?
Are you stressed out? Struggling to be as focused as you'd like? Could be more productive? Not getting the results you want? When I was a CEO, I was never able to switch off, constantly on the go working long hours and always on the phone or email. Increasingly over time I found myself exhausted and strung out. It didn’t matter how much I rested over the weekend or during holidays, as soon as I returned to my office on Monday I was frazzled by the afternoon, and truth be told, was probably quite crabby to deal with! And to add insult to injury, I found that I was far less focused and productive than I usually was.
That’s when I first turned to yoga and meditation. At first, I was looking for ways to de-stress. But what meditation (and yoga) actually taught me was ways to better manage myself. This is because meditation creates space - space in one’s mind to think. A few minutes in the morning and maybe in the evening is all that’s needed to centre yourself and find focus. It helped me to put stresses and demands of my CEO role in a separate box whilst I was meditating so that I came back to the challenges of my role refreshed and with a wiser, more considered perspective. How? Because meditation makes us more productive by increasing our ability to resist distracting urges. And it was this ability to resist impulses which helped me make better, more thoughtful decisions and become more intentional about what I said and how I said it.
Our ability to resist an impulse determines our success in learning a new behaviour or changing an old habit. It’s probably the single most important skill we need for growth and development, as it’s this ability to resist an urge that enables us to be more focused and productive. It’s also one of the hardest skills to learn!
This morning, like every morning, I sat cross-legged on a cushion on the floor, rested my hands on my knees, closed my eyes, and did nothing but breathe for 20 minutes whilst I listened to a guided meditation from the Chopra Centre. I’d like to say that my mind was truly empty of everything that had preoccupied me before I started. And maybe it was - for all of about five seconds! Barely had I sat down than the thoughts came flooding in - nature does abhor a vacuum after all. I felt an itch on my arm which I just had to scratch. A great subject for my next blog post popped into my head. I thought about a difficult conversation I’m going to have at some point during this week. I started wondering how many people will turn up to the webinars I’m running this week. And then my cat wanted to come and sit on my lap!
I could have got irritated by my ‘monkey mind’ but instead, every time I got distracted from my intended purpose, I simply brought my attention back to my breath. Meditating daily strengthens our willpower muscle; our urges don’t just disappear, but we’re better able to manage them. For example, when an employee makes a mistake and we want to tell him off even though we know it’s better to have a quiet discussion in private. Or when we want to check email or social media every few minutes instead of focusing on the task in hand. Does that mean we never follow an urge? Of course not, but meditation helps us to have more power over our impulses so we make intentional choices about which urges to follow and which to simply let pass.
Sometimes, not following through on something we want to do is a problem - like not sending out those invoices you’ve been procrastinating on or getting that quote out in good time. But sometimes, the problem is that we do follow through on our thoughts, like not checking we’ve got the whole story before reacting or playing politics instead of rising above them. Meditation teaches us to resist the urge to follow through on counterproductive responses because sometimes, we just have to rely on plain, old-fashioned, self-control or willpower.
And there’s now a large body of scientific research about how meditation is so effective. Using modern technology like MRI scans, scientists have developed a more thorough understanding of what’s actually taking place in our brains when we meditate. The key difference is that our brain stops processing information as actively as it normally does. In the image below you can see how the beta waves (shown in bright colours on the left) are dramatically reduced during meditation (shown on the right). As we begin to meditate, we move from the planning mind to a deeper state of awareness, known as the theta state, which affords us with stronger intuition and a greater capacity for complicated problem solving.
So if you thought meditation is for monks sitting on mountaintops, think again! Practiced by Steve Jobs, Bill Clinton and Oprah Winfrey, it’s the secret weapon of top-performers in business, sport and creative individuals creating breakthrough results in their lives.
Starting on 3rd November, I’m going to be joining the Chopra Centre’s 21-Day Meditation Experience, the Energy of Attraction. I’d love it if you could join me. And do let me know how you get on in the comments box below!
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