Our minds are our most precious resource; they are the source of our problem-solving or problem-making. In some sense our own world is made from our mind. It is our minds that touch the world first and bring the world back to us. It is our minds that interprets the sensory data and direct experience of what we encounter in the world to create the story or narrative of our lives. How our minds perceive the world largely dictates how we decide to be and act in the world.
It seems strange that we hardly take the time to care for what is our greatest asset. It's part of our culture to maintain physical fitness and vitality. But what about mental clarity, vitality and health ? Why not take time each day to look after our mind, to ensure it is functioning optimally? Current scientific studies are showing that regular meditation effectively maintains a healthy mind that is more focussed, clear and creative.
Like many entrepreneurs, I used to wonder why anyone would "just sit there" doing meditation. "How is that going to help?", I would wonder. As a compulsive thinker and doer myself, sitting down to meditate was extremely difficult for me. But I discovered that without a way to lower my levels of stress and anxiety I found I was getting 'stuck' in problems-business problems and life problems.
My focus and attention would become 'locked onto' things that I perceived as negative and I would spend a lot of time thinking of ways to solve them but not make a huge amount of progress. As meditation became part of my regular regime, I found I could dial down my stress with greater ease and shift my mind/body into finding creative solutions to problems more quickly.
Mindfulness has supported me along the path to becoming a better entrepreneur and I hope a better person. Here are four ways it can help you.
1. Tune into fresh creative insights and solutions
Meditation creates an oasis of quiet, which gives the mind space and time to declutter. Our minds are often busy with a huge array of information and thoughts. In mindfulness meditation one can witness the mind settling and clearing it's cache of contents that no longer serve an immediate function or purpose. And yet, this can often be the time we discern or discover a creative idea or insight hidden that bubbles up to our attention, once our mind is less busy. Although meditation is not about finding or making creative breakthroughs, it's a pleasant by product of allowing the mind to rest for a short while.
2. Prevent stress from interfering with your effectiveness
Being a good communicator is more than just being good with words or people. At the base of those and other leadership skills is a need for a more nuanced, more refined awareness of the internal and external conditions that shape your perceptions, decisions and behaviours. But stress can 'lock down' our higher cognitive functions and leave us at the mercy of stress based responses such as the "fight or flight" response. This deep seated emotional reflex by our amygdala, is triggered by any perceived threat, ultimately to protect us from danger. The amygdala proved to be useful warning system to keep us safe from predators. Nowadays rather than the threat of physical predators we face many more stressors from our complex social environment- like an argument with a colleague or a complex product roll out. It requires cognitive flexibility, creativity and sometimes empathy to solve issues effectively, but our higher functioning brain, the prefrontal cortex, goes offline when we're hijacked by the amygdala response.
3. Making friends with uncertainty
As an entrepreneur you forge your own path and you can live long in the shadow of fear, uncertainty and doubt. There are no guarantees and the only support net you have is the one you create yourself. You invest all of your energy, (and maybe your savings) and bring a spouse or business partner along with you on the journey. Managing conflict then becomes and essential skill to surf the inevitable ups and downs of business relationships.
Mindfulness teaches you to make room for difficult emotions and find more effective ways of managing. Increasing your self awareness allows you to tune in to what is going on -in yourself and others- and find effective solutions. It encourages clearer decisions and the ability to free our self from our own biased perceptions about what we believe to be right or wrong. Instead we see a wider more nuanced view and remain open to more possibilities. Thus restoring a greater sense of freedom in terms of how we decide to act.
4. Stay sharper for longer
In an age where our attention is under assault from electronic devices, and an array information management tools, developing sustained unbroken focus seems like a luxury. The truth is that sustained attention is a discipline and just needs practice. When we practice sustaining our attention on one thing, our focus becomes stronger. This allows us to be less distracted and to return to task quicker if we are distracted.
5. Be Present to the (extra) ordinary joys of life.
Ultimately, the greatest gift is to recognize the value of being present to the fundamental beauty and miracle of life as it moves around you and within you. We taste and savor deeply the simple joys of just being alive, in this body, connected to ourselves and to others in a way that gives rise to an amazing clarity. This clarity allows us first to understand the nature of our own mind and bodies and how they create either freedom or limitations for us.. But also we see more clearly than ever, the value of ours (and others') lives as they flow incessantly forward into the future. We become more acquainted with gratitude and empathy and through this gratitude and empathy we discover a kind of "intimacy with all things".