Should I Meditate?

What do Madonna, Steve Jobs, Joe Namath, Oprah Winfrey, Phil Jackson, Ellen DeGeneres, Jerry Seinfeld, Kobe Bryant and Clint Eastwood have in common? Yes. They’re all leaders in their industries, but they share something else: meditation.

These illustrious people, who come from a range of disparate backgrounds, attribute part of their success to meditation. So could meditation also help make you more successful? The following questions offer a guide:

1.    Do you often worry about things you can’t control?
2.    Do you have chronic pain?
3.    Would you characterize yourself as stressed?
4.    Does your day sometimes feel like it passes in a fast-moving blur that’s beyond your control?
5.    Do you often feel impatient?
6.    Do you have trouble sleeping?
7.    Do you find yourself not listening to others because you’re distracted by other thoughts?
8.    Do you find it difficult to concentrate throughout the completion of one task?
9.    Do you worry about the past or future frequently?
10.    Do you find that you sometimes react to situations and later regret what you said?

Should I meditate?
If you answered “yes” to one or more of the above questions, meditation could be beneficial for you. Research shows that mindfulness practices can help […]

3 Ways to Cope with Unnecessary Stress

Intermittent stress primes the brain for performance. A 2013 study at the University of California, Berkeley, uncovered benefits of stress, such as pushing the brain to an optimal level of alertness with improved behavioral and cognitive performance. This short-lived stress is like a cup of coffee: It jolts the brain into critical action.

Chaos
But chronic stress—anxious, never-ending worry—increases the risk of heart disease, obesity and depression. It also, ultimately, has the opposite effect of brief moments of stress by decreasing cognitive performance.

Fortunately, unless the house is on fire, most stress is self-inflicted and exists only in our minds, which means we can control it. Try these three simple techniques to let go of stress:

1. Focus on the present: Any thought that begins with the words “what if…” sends your mind directly into the past or the future, both of which can create anxiety. Speculating about what could have happened differently in the past or what could happen in the future is rarely productive. If you don’t need to go there, don’t. You’ll feel much calmer.

2. Practice gratitude: By appreciating what you have, you can swap stress for increased happiness.

Want Innovation in the Workplace? Cultivate Compassion

“No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.” ―Aesop

Innovation and company culture. The words are common parlance in business today, and the two are often found together. Google, for example is an organization motivated by innovation, and its commitment to innovation is cultural, not process driven. But how can an enterprise and its leaders nurture innovation?

In the 15th century, the word “culture” pertained to agriculture, as in “cultivating” the land. Over time, the definition morphed to involve the anthropological study of people, and eventually, in the 1980s, “company culture” came into usage to describe the personality of a workplace. Google didn’t stumble upon its innovative company culture by accident. Remember that “culture” stems from “cultivate”: Successful companies cultivate their culture carefully. (Yes, it’s a tongue twister.)

Idea Creativity Inspiration Thought Planning Concept
Innovation, the process of introducing something new or different, requires a special environment: Think back to some (hopefully) long-ago childhood moment where you or were ridiculed for blurting out a silly idea. That’s the wrong environment for innovation. Companies with successful innovative cultures have leaders who demonstrate compassion. Compassion, a cousin to empathy, is “a sympathetic consciousness of […]

Just Think: A Shocking Study

When choosing between being left alone with their own thoughts or administering electric shocks to themselves, people prefer electric shocks. In a study titled “Just Think: The Challenges of the Disengaged Mind,” researchers published the following abstract in Science in July of 2014:

In 11 studies, we found that participants typically did not enjoy spending 6 to 15 minutes in a room by themselves with nothing to do but think, that they enjoyed doing mundane external activities much more, and that many preferred to administer electric shocks to themselves instead of being left alone with their thoughts. Most people seem to prefer to be doing something rather than nothing, even if that something is negative.

Business man holding electricity light bolt in his hands

The Irish poet William Butler Yeats used to say, “It takes more courage to examine the dark corners of your own soul than it does for a soldier to fight on a battlefield.” But how far into those dark corners can a person get in 6 to 15 minutes? Is the battlefield of the mind worse than electric shocks?

Apparently. Even among participants who (after […]

Shifting Priorities: The Art of the Mindful Email

Not so long ago, the ability to multitask was viewed as an asset, but the glamour of doing many things at once is fading. The term “multitasking” originated from the computer industry in 1965 (first appearing on paper to describe the capabilities of the IBM System/360), but long before it was part of our lexicon, people were scrambling about trying to accomplish more than one thing at once. Back then, multitasking was simply part of daily life, especially for women who tended to children while doing chores around the house. Whether these undertakings are truly multitasking—performing two or more tasks simultaneously—or simply jumping from one task to the next as priorities shift is debated. But what’s not up for debate is that the actual tasks have changed: Today, people text and drive while listening to music and following GPS directions, respond to emails while talking with friends during dinner, or scroll through their Instagram account while listening in on a conference call and taking notes.

busy woman at her desk
The reason multitasking is now under fire is because it doesn’t actually make us more efficient. A recent article in The Guardian, titled […]

Acceptance Versus Avoidance

For those who tend to obsess about the future or who can’t let go of the past, quieting the mind can be a welcome reprieve that, as science has shown, is good for both mental and physical health. Meditation provides an immediate grounding in the present moment, but for some it can be a surprisingly fine line between using it as a tool for avoidance instead of a path to acceptance.

ACCEPTANCE

Instead of using critical thinking to address a situation, some seek a retreat in mindfulness, a place to disconnect and avoid real-life challenges and emotions. A recent SIYLI blog, “Work Stress: Retrain the Brain,” explores ways to recognize the symptoms of stress and then practice pausing, actually stopping to breathe for a moment before reacting. In these circumstances, mindfulness is a tool to slow down long enough to dissipate the fight or flight response and then, hopefully, move forward with more awareness.

But time spent meditating, whether for that one breath while stressed or for prolonged periods, isn’t an escape from reality. It’s not a magic trick, a panacea or special sauce that obliterates problems. The stress caused by these […]

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?

confusion

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 […]