Before you run a marathon, it’s best to try jogging a mile. Physical activity is more enjoyable when you take the time to train consistently. The same can be said for mindfulness. At Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute, we work to give you the tools to train your brain.
You might jump in and find all the joy you ever wanted, more likely you’ll get more clear, be more present and see that strengthening your mind is like strengthening your body. It’s better to practice your mindfulness once a day than leap in an expect to be mindful for hours at a time. Once you have strengthened your mind as you would strengthen your body, you can employ mindfulness all day, every day! For example, if you do a lot of mindfulness exercises, your mind becomes calmer and more perceptive. You can focus your attention more strongly and for longer, and so on.
So basically, mindfulness is like sweating at the gym, minus the sweating, and the gym. We do, however, recommend hydrating.
One important similarity between exercise and meditation is that, in both cases, growth comes from overcoming resistance. When you are weight training, every time you flex your biceps in resistance to the weight of dumbbells, your bicep muscles grow a little bit stronger. The same process happens during meditation. Every time your attention wanders away from your breath and you bring it back, it is like flexing your biceps— your “muscle” of attention grows a bit stronger.
For many of us, when we try to be mindful, we find our attention wanders away from our breath a lot, and we keep having to bring it back, and then we think we’re doing it all wrong. In fact, this is a good exercise because every time we bring a wandering attention back, we are giving our muscles of attention an opportunity for growth. So even if your mind wanders, you get to strengthen your ability to be mindful, you end up winning.
A third similarity between exercise and mindfulness is they can both significantly change the quality of your life. If you never exercise and you put yourself on a regular exercise regime, a few weeks or months later, you may find many significant changes in yourself. You will have more energy, you can get more stuff done, you get sick less often, you look better in the mirror, and you just feel great about yourself.
The same is true for mindfulness. After a few weeks or months of starting a regular regime, you have more energy; your mind becomes calmer, clearer, and more joyful; you get sick less; you smile more; your social life improves (because you smile more); and you feel great about yourself. And you don’t even need to sweat!
Alright, we’ve got a nice healthy brain, but how can we use this brawny brain for business? Two pioneers in the field of contemplative neuroscience, Richard Davidson and Jon Kabat-Zinn conducted the first major study in a business setting, with employees of a biotechnology company as subjects. This makes it highly relevant for somebody who operates in the corporate world. The study showed that after just eight weeks of mindfulness training, the anxiety level of the subjects was measurably lower.
More surprisingly, when the electrical activity of the subjects’ brains was measured, those in the mindful group showed significantly increased activity in the parts of their brain associated with positive emotions.
The most fascinating finding had to do with their immune function. Near the end of the study, subjects were given flu shots, and those in the mindful group developed more antibodies to the influenza vaccine. After just eight weeks of mindfulness, subjects were measurably happier (as measured in their brains) and show a marked increase in developing immunity. Remember that this study was not conducted on bald guys wearing robes living in a monastery, but on ordinary people with real lives and real high-stress jobs in corporate America.
So, when you’re brain is in shape, you’re better equipped to overcome the daily stresses at the office. When you can wield the power of your brain’s focus, suddenly an inbox full of email doesn’t seem as daunting.
At SIYLI, we can’t promise you that two minutes of working out a day will give you six-pack abs, but we can promise you that two-minutes of mindfulness will significantly improve your life at the office. Work on training your brain. It’s cheaper than a gym membership and offers amazing rewards in the office.
SIYLI Suggestion: This week, let’s start brain training! Spend two minutes each day focusing on your breathing. If your attention pulls away – fantastic! – it’s time to refocus on your breathing and know that you’ve just completed your first cortex-curl.