Have you ever tried to meditate? It sounds simple enough: just sit still, and try not to think about anything. Clear your mind, and enter instant nirvana. It’s promoted as the key to inner peace and has been credited with everything from curing diseases to boosting sex lives, so it seems like it’s worth a shot. Just sit and… don’t… think. Oops, I just realized I was thinking about my breakfast. And my tax return. Oh damn, just spent the last 5 minutes writing a to-do list in my head, and now my phone is ringing and I really should get it…
For most beginner meditators, myself included, it can be an incredibly frustrating endeavor. We get annoyed at ourselves because we seem to be inept at something so simple. And many conclude that meditating just doesn’t work, or it’s not for us because we’re either completely daft, or our brain is just so damn powerful we can’t find the off switch. The truth is, we all have what Buddhists call a “monkey brain”–so named because it swings wildly from one branch to the next, seemingly incapable of stopping and staying in the here and now and focusing the mind intentionally. As you practice meditation, you start training that monkey to sit still.
More and more research is showing the benefits of meditation are clearly worth the effort. It helps us, as entrepreneurs, stay relaxed, in the moment, clear-headed and calm, it may even help control pain and weight. We become better able to see things around us as they really are, without letting our imaginations create stories about everything and everyone around us. It’s when we believe those stories we tell ourselves that we suffer.
How many times a day do you find yourself stressed, annoyed, frustrated, angry, bitter, or concerned with the worst case scenario of the unknown? If you’re going through your day with these emotions weighing you down, you know how much less effective you become in your professional and personal life. If meditation can help, it’s worth a shot, right? At the very least, it’s far less expensive than Prozak and has no negative side effects that I’m aware of.
And please don’t think that meditation is one more thing you need to get stressed about. The way many people approach it is so complicated and full of ritual and painstakingly detailed instructions. They tell you there is an exact right way to sit, a certain set of cushions you need, a mantra, a buddha statue or waterfall in front of you. And of course, you need at least an hour to devote to your sitting practice.
I’ve found something that works for me. It’s a variation of meditation. A visualization that focuses on ideal outcomes for goals I’ve set and am working toward achieving, challenges I’m facing, or on people I care about. Here’s how simple it can be: you at work in the middle of the day, sitting in your office chair, in your suit. Closing your eyes, or keeping them slightly open. You can choose to follow your breath, counting each full inhalation and exhalation, until you reach ten breaths, and then allow your focus to shift to the first situation that needs attention. Any time you catch your mind wandering away, the clock ticking on the wall, the ringing phone, the traffic outside, your stomach growling, your foot itching, gently bring it back and focus on seeing a beautiful outcome for the situation you are choosing.
When you notice a distracting or negative thought going through your mind, just let it float on by. You can’t stop thoughts from coming, but you can choose whether or not you attach to them, if a distracting thought arises, either just let it go, like clouds floating across the sky, or trust your intuition and decide if that thought needs attention. For example, if a friend slips into my thoughts, I’ll focus on things like peace of mind, resolution, happiness, joy etc. depending on what I know they are facing. I visualize the look on people’s faces, the sounds I’m hearing, the energy in the room, even down to the smallest detail like the smell in the air. I focus my mind on what I want, and how it will feel when I achieve it. This has been incredibly powerful in my life!
Being that we spend much of our time in the “what if’s” of stress, this is my way of focusing the power of my mind to help create the things I want in my life, for myself and for those I care about. It helps me get clear on what I’m working towards and why. I find I make better decisions, be more productive, and am a better leader as a result.
That’s it. Really. And it can be two minutes of your day, or 20, or two minutes. Try to maintain a daily practice, starting with a few minutes and gradually increasing the amount of time. You can do it on a park bench, on a crowded bus, or in an empty boardroom. (When you’re just getting started, the quieter the environment is, the easier it will be for you.) Sitting works better than lying down, because going horizontal often makes us fall asleep.
Try it for a couple of weeks, and see if it doesn’t have a noticeable effect on your daily life at work and at home. Sometimes just stopping and staying right where we are, focusing our wondering minds on positive things (instead of what it defaults to), even for a few minutes, can create profound shifts in our lives.