3 Steps to quiet your mind: An introduction to meditation for LeadersJun 13, 2023
What is meditation?
If you're reading this article, you may have heard of meditation and the powerful benefits that it can have on your mind and overall well-being. This spiritual practice has been used for thousands of years to achieve mental clarity and reach a calm state.
According to Sam Harris, scientist, entrepreneur, author and creator of the Waking Up app, meditation is introspection and mental training — a technique for breaking the spell of negative states of mind. He states “until you have some capacity to be mindful, you have no choice but to be lost in every next thought that arises. You can't notice thought as thought, it just feels like you. So therefore, you're hostage to whatever the emotional or behavioural consequences of those thoughts are.” That’s where meditation comes in to help you still your mind.
Why is meditation especially important for leadership?
On a human-level, noise, distractions, pressure to deliver results and societal expectations can be difficult to navigate in everyday life. Often we can feel out of control, procrastinate or question our decisions. In these times, leaders are called to navigate between their head and their heart, between thinking and feeling, between relationships and results. Finding the balance between the two is where success or failure happens. Learning to remain calm when dealing with external chaos, can help us diserne between between the rational and the emotional to make the better and more balanced decisions.
When we are stuck in our experience, running on auto-pilot mode, we lose clear thinking and make interpretations. When we lose clarity of thought, we make decisions which may not serve us nor others. Usually we don’t even realise this. It is only with external feedback that we tend to realise our mistakes.
We can develop self-awareness from a place of calm, we create space to change how we respond versus reacting to our surroundings. By creating space between ourselves and what is happening to us, we can consciously decide how to respond differently to overcome emotional challenges and obstacles at work and at home. This space is created by developing self-awareness.
"Meditation is not about stopping thoughts, but recognising that we are more than our thoughts and our feelings." Arianna Huffington, co-founder of the Huffington Post and CEO of Thrive Global
Meditation and Breathwork are tools which support the creation of self-awareness, of this space in between what happened to us, and how we respond to it. This is the space Leaders need to invest in to access clarity of thought more easily to make more balanced decisions.
Is meditation different from breath-work?
Simply put, meditation is the practice of quieting your mind. Easy to say, harder to do. Yoga was created as a way to prepare the body to be relaxed and not get distracted by physical tensions when sitting still for long periods of time. Through meditation you can become the observer of your thoughts and emotions which helps process them out of your body. This is practice helps us find more peace within.
Breathwork is a great tool to prepare for meditation to reduce our heart rate, so the chemistry of our body works in our favour to prepare our nervous system to quiet our thoughts. The two go well together. Often guided breathing is the best place to start with simple equal counts of 5 in and out a few times a day for immediate relaxation.
- Control your breath to calm your nervous system
The stress response which is also referred to by “fight or flight” is a state of being that we have got so used to we don’t even recognise it. It has become more to us to feel relaxed.
The relaxation response, was identified by Dr. Herbert Benson in the 1970s as an antidote to “fight or flight” by calming the nervous system through activities which promote stillness, presence and focused breathing like meditation, yoga, and breathwork.
For example, box breathing is a relaxation technique that can be used for stress management. It involves breathing for equal counts in, holding your breath, out and holding your breath again. Starting with counts of 4 or 5 is a good place. Give it a try 5 mins a day and witness yourself becoming less reactive.
Leaders who learn to quiet their mind will have a better chance to overcome emotional challenges at work and be better equipped to support others. Making this transition from operating from a place of survival to a place of feeling centered and in control of one’s emotions regardless of the external factors requires inner mastery.
This is super hard to do as we are wired to be distracted, multi-task, ignore or feel overwhelmed by our feelings. Just like going to the gym, to effectively meditate and learn to access a state of calm ondemand, you have to practice quietening our mind.
- Focus your attention and be in the present moment
The mind is always looking for distractions, fears, and doubts to keep us busy and avoid being present. Once you have learnt to calm your nervous system, meditation will be easier. The next step is becoming more present because it is only by being fully present that our ego temporarily disappears because it has no material to analyse to create fears about the future or the past. Presence is focused concentration, that is when the ego disappear and the mind becomes quiet. That is when we access a state of peace.
Author of The Power of Now and A New Earth, Eckhard Tolle, says ““All negativity is caused by an accumulation of psychological time and denial of the present. Unease, anxiety, tension, stress, worry – all forms of fear – are caused by too much future, and not enough presence. Guilt, regret, resentment, grievances, sadness, bitterness, and all forms of nonforgiveness are caused by too much past, and not enough presence.” I highly recommend exploring Tolle’s works to understand more about mindfulness and living in the present moment and how it can bring you instant relief from any suffering.
Science supports the impact of being present on our nervous system too. Studies have shown that individuals who practice mindfulness have lower cortisol levels.
Finish reading this article on our Medium Blog here.
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