Why do increasing numbers of over-extended and busy professionals make it a priority to integrate mindfulness practices into their daily lives?
Michelle Obama, Jerry Seinfeld, Ellen DeGeneres, Jeff Weiner (LinkedIn CEO), Evan Williams (Twitter co-founder), Oprah, Sting all meditate daily.
Like you, they have little time - so do they know something you don’t know?
Yes, they do.
Stress and rumination - also known as ‘monkey mind’ - taxes our ability to navigate multi-faceted modern life and reach our potential. Negotiating professional and personal goals can leave us scrambling until we burn out or cut and run. Dreams diminish. Bottom lines drop.
We think we can manage it all. But research strongly suggests that mental loads such as To Do lists rapidly consume our mental resources. Every time you change focus from one thing to another, there is something called a “switch cost” - in effect your mind stumbles a bit, and requires time to get back to where it was. For example, one study showed that it can take 15 minutes to completely refocus after checking an email. Yikes!
Less distraction and less anxiety equal a better bottom line. Clearing your mind leads to deeper more productive thinking.
Mark Zuckerberg is famous for having multiple sets of the exact same outfit to avoid cluttering his thoughts about Facebook with decisions on what to wear on any given day!
A study at the University of Wisconsin found that people who meditate regularly have different patterns of brain electricity. Mindfulness can induce neuroplastic changes in various areas of the brain, including areas related to the stress response and reduce autonomic arousal by increasing output in the vagus nerve activating the parasympathetic (calm down) system.
Unmanaged stress also affects aging at a cellular level by shortening the telomeres associated with longer life. P. Kaliman found that mindfulness practice can diminish inflammation and other biological stresses that occur at the molecular level and diminish physical and mental capacity. Meditation is thought to increase cognitive flexibility and moderate age-related cognitive decline.
Meditation also reduces ‘urge surfing’ (not reacting to mental urges), negative affect states before they dominate thinking patterns and behaviour, and acts as an attentional anchor to manage ruminative unproductive thinking patterns.
However formal meditation is not the only way to benefit from mindfulness. Mindfulness is simply defined as, “paying attention in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally”. Similar benefits can be achieved through focused attention, mindfulness, or compassion and loving-kindness meditation. Each has a unique strategy and positive effect.
Anxiety is strongly correlated with poorer mental and physical performance and is often implicated in depression. Evidence also suggests that informal practices such as yoga, Tai Chi or playing a musical instrument may be as effective as formal mindfulness practice. A 2015 random controlled trial found that only 8 weeks of yoga significantly reduced anxiety in healthy women.
Start Small. Five Minutes a Day.
Start with something already part of your day, such as the first cup of coffee. Focus on that cup of coffee - the smell, the colour, the sensation of warmth, and then slowly take a sip with all your attention. Engage with beginner’s mind, as if you have never before experienced coffee. The trick is to be in that moment and no other. When attention wanders, gently turn your mind back to the coffee.
Start with 5 minutes of slow, focused, longer outbreaths, or humming, as both activate the vagus nerve and reduce arousal.
Start by sitting comfortably and for 1 minute each: breathe in for 4 and out for 6; allow your breath to fall into an easy rhythm, focus on breathing and imagine random thoughts of a leaf on a river and let them drift; relax and simply sit; think about something you are grateful for, then how you physically feel.
The evidence is here. Mindful time will benefit your health, relationships, and business. Common excuses such as, “I don’t have time or space, my mind is too busy, I have physical or emotional pain,” are just self-defeating stories. Yes, you will likely struggle and resist. My own goal is 20 minutes twice a day. I don’t always reach it. I can talk myself out of it. I frequently just want to think. I love thinking! But I now know my most creative thoughts come when my mind has a quiet time. So I resist my resistance.
If learning more about busy life mindfulness strategies and overcoming some of your challenges interests you, follow this link to my website for the next Busy Life Mindfully workshop. I can promise you, the benefits will more than outweigh the time you invest. That’s good business.
All the people mentioned are only a fraction of successful individuals who credit mindfulness practice for their stamina, energy and creative success. They do know something. And they act on it.
Dr. Gail Howell-Jones
Gail is a registered psychologist, transition coach, clinical supervisor, speaker, and author. She is masterful at supporting people through significant transitions, finding focus, peace, and that seemingly-fictitious “life/work balance.” Gail also provides regular workshops that allow you to dip your toe into the worlds of mindfulness, intentional change, risk taking, and vision creation.