Work Stress: Retrain the Brain

Deadlines. Commuting. Colleagues. Technology. Wages. According to Everest College’s 2014 Work Stress Survey, 80 percent of Americans are frazzled by something at work. Think about it: That means only two out of 10 people in the workplace aren’t stressed.

Working in a state of frenzy can be a heady addiction for some, but it’s not a healthy one. Stress is linked to depression, heart disease, insomnia, weight gain, memory and concentration problems, as well as a host of other unsavory disorders. Not to mention that it’s unpleasant to work with anxious people. How can more of us join the happy and healthy minority?


The first step begins by noticing the symptoms of stress. Sometimes they’re subtle: a racing heart, hot ears, tensing muscles, talking fast or a clenched jaw. Sometimes they’re more obvious, such as the urge to yell or kick something. Self-awareness begins with emotional awareness. And recognizing these symptoms, before reacting, is where it all starts.

Once we can recognize a symptom or two arising, we just need to pause. Take a breath. Let the feeling subside. Let whatever triggered it wait for a few seconds, or even a minute, before responding. […]

Poetry & Pragmatism

Several years ago, I was leading an “Accomplishing More By Doing Less” workshop at Esalen Institute. At about the halfway point, one of the participants exclaimed, “Oh, I get it. The essence of your message is that the way to be successful and happy is by tuning into whatever the universe brings.”  I responded, “I’m not really a whatever the universe brings kind of person, especially when it comes to business. I’m more of a write-the-fu**ing-business-plan guy.”

Of course both are important—the poetry of tuning in to our feelings, intuitions and aspirations, while paying attention to the dynamic signals from our environment. The poetry of the imagination, of depth and connection, are essential in business and all parts of our lives. And the pragmatic is also essential—to plan, implement the plan and measure results in a way that is grounded and effective.
man of the middle-2
As the CEO of Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute, our mission and vision is quite poetic and aspirational: “All leaders in the world are wise and compassionate, thus creating the conditions for world peace.”  It also has practical elements: the daily work of building a team, developing a strategy and […]

Science-Based Mindfulness

Science has made radical discoveries that have changed our actions throughout history, especially in human health. Bloodletting, for example, was once thought to cure a plethora of ailments. More recently, research has altered our perceptions of low-fat diets and the causes of high cholesterol. Neuroscience is no different, and because we promote science-based mindfulness, we’d like to highlight some of the latest discoveries in the field.

Scientists used to believe that connections between brain nerve cells were fixed early in life and could not change in adulthood. Recent studies, however, have disproved that theory and provide evidence that practicing mindfulness changes the brain. In 2011, researchers reported that people who meditated for approximately 30 minutes each day for eight weeks showed measurable changes in gray-matter density in the sections of the brain associated with memory, empathy, stress and sense of self.

In 2013, a study led scientists in 2013 to believe that mindfulness practitioners can better control how the brain processes and filters sensations, such as pain and depression. Neuroscientists have also shown that practicing mindfulness affects the areas of the brain that control perception, body awareness, emotion regulation, complex thinking and more.

Work in 2014 pooled the data from more than 20 […]

The Beginner’s Advantage

If you’ve ever tried to learn a sport under the guidance of someone more experienced, you’ve probably noticed how effortless it appears for an expert while you, as a beginner, struggle. That can be frustrating, but being a novice is actually a great way to get a thorough workout. Because a beginner is less efficient, it requires less time to burn more calories for a novice than an expert. Similarly, because meditation is an exercise for the mind, neophytes can also reap some immediate rewards:

For many, the hardest thing about learning to meditate is to stay focused on the breath. The mind wanders, but all we have to do to regain focus is bring our attention back to the breath. This is where beginners prosper: Like exercise for the body, the more we repeat a movement, the stronger we get, building powerful mental muscles quickly because of that untrained mind. Every time, we bring our attention back to the breath, the “muscles” that control mental focus get stronger.

Brain and heart  is equal weight age stock vector

On top of that, simply learning new things improves brain plasticity by forging the neural […]

Slow (e)Motion

“Tachypsychia” is a neurological condition that distorts the perception of time, appearing to make events slow down or speed up. While we don’t hear often hear the word much in conversation, most of us have experienced it—whether during a traumatic accident or some other stressful moment. If you’ve ever found yourself in a situation that felt like it spiraled out of control in a speeding blur or warped into slow motion like a scene from the old television series “The Six Million Dollar Man,” you’ve experienced tachypsychia.

Conceptual image of business woman without head and daily routin

It’s believed that high levels of dopamine and norepinephrine induce tachypsychia. These hormones are what trigger the fight or flight response, our survival mechanism. If we feel attacked or anxious, our heartbeat quickens, blood pressure rises and breathing becomes shallow. Fortunately, the occasions in life where we truly need to react with great intensity are rare these days, so it’s important to be able to control this instinct when it’s not needed, especially in day-to-day interactions that can trigger emotional reactions.

We are not our emotions. With mindfulness practice, you can make a subtle, yet important, shift […]

Moving through the Darkness: Accelerating Joy

As those of us in the Northern Hemisphere slide closer toward the deepening darkness of the winter solstice on December 21, many of us sometimes experience something that feels darker than just the dwindling daylight outdoors. The winter blues are most easily remedied with sunlight, but in lieu of traveling to sunnier lands, mindfulness and meditation can help focus on finding light during the darkest months of the year.

Over time, many people who practice formal meditation discover a powerful quality sometimes referred “non-energetic joy.” Once tapped, this is bountiful energy.

Happy boy at sunset

Practicing Joyful Mindfulness accelerates this quality and begins by bringing full attention to small joyful experiences in our daily lives. Riding a bike, savoring a good cup of coffee, watching a child learn something new or petting a purring cat are examples of times during which we can apply Joyful Mindfulness. The key is to appreciate these moments of joy with a highly attuned consciousness.

Bringing mindfulness to these every-day experiences is immediately rewarding because the moments themselves become even more enjoyable, simply because you’re more present to appreciate them. Then, like anything, the more you practice, the more adept […]

The Written Word: a Path to Self-Discovery?

In 2009, researchers asked 49 college students to take two minutes on two consecutive days to write about something they found to be emotionally significant. After completing the writing (four minutes in total), participants registered immediate improvements in mood and performed better on standardized measures of physiological well-being. The study concluded that merely “broaching the topic on one day and briefly exploring it the next” is enough to put things in perspective.

This study, combined with others, is a strong argument for journaling. Writing things down helps free your mind, organize your thoughts, process emotions and access a world of possibility.

businesswoman with a note-book
While journaling, you’re not trying to communicate with somebody else. Instead, the goal is to let your thoughts flow, without judgment, to see what comes up. To do this, all you need is a few minutes and, perhaps, some prompts. To get started, create a few open-ended phrases to get the pen moving. Here are a few examples:

• I am aware that…
• What motivates me is…
• I am inspired by…
• Today, I aspire to….
• What hurts me is…
• I wish…
• Others are…
• Love is…

Then give yourself a certain amount […]

Simple Gratitude

November brings a holiday in the United States to give thanks, but the act of being grateful deserves more attention than only one day of the year. Even during difficult times, most of us still have something or someone in our lives to appreciate. It’s easy to underestimate gratitude, but research shows that people who exercise gratitude are more likely to be productive, optimistic, generous and compassionate.

Some of the most compelling science to show the benefits of gratitude has explored its expression in a variety of ways: asking participants to think about a living person for whom they are grateful, to write and deliver a letter to someone for whom they are grateful or to keep a gratitude journal. In all of these studies, participants demonstrated increased happiness over time.

Like gratitude, it’s also easy to underestimate the power of intention. Without intent, we couldn’t scratch our noses, get out of bed, or call a friend. What we manifest begins with intention, so cultivating gratitude through meditation can be especially rewarding.

How do you combine the two?

Initiating meditation by setting an intention of gratitude, such as “I intend to practice gratitude for …” or “My intention is to appreciate …”, is a good place […]

Replacing Self-Criticism with Compassion Through Metta Meditation

Everyone has an inner critic. The voice inside that says “you can’t do it” or “you’re not good enough.” For some, this voice is a whisper – just a nagging doubt in the back of the mind. For others, it’s stronger. It’s a constant voice that hurts confidence and eats at self-worth.

What’s your relationship like with your inner voice? Are you happy with it? Like any other relationship, this relationship can also be changed. Instead of tearing you down, this voice can help build you up. It can help you build your confidence, boost your self-worth and increase your overall happiness.

So, how can you transform your inner critic into your inner champion? Through metta meditation.

What Is Metta Meditation?

Metta meditation is “kindness meditation.” It’s any kind of meditation that encourages and develops compassion.

Most traditional types of metta meditation focus on developing compassion towards others. However, this same meditation can actually be turned inward – and be directed at your own inner voice.

Here’s the meditation. For self-critical people, it’s often easier to start by loving others rather than themselves – so that’s where this meditation starts.

  • Start by doing one to two minutes of breathing meditation. Let yourself settle into the present moment.
  • Now, […]

5 Tips for a Deeper Meditation Practice

Want to dive deeper into your meditation practice? In this blog post, we’ll talk about five different ways to take your meditation practice deeper and further.