Executive Vitality: Benefits of the Refresh Button

Leadership Effectiveness: Leadership in ActionWhy do people find it so difficult to meditate? When considering embarking on meditation, executives find many excuses. The three major ones are: “I do not have time,” “I do not know how,” and “I do not see the link between meditation and success.”

Most executives feel guilty if they are not actively doing something tangible, visible, and measurable to boost the bottom line. Increasing your ability to maintain (or attain) calmness and focus through meditation will allow you to do just that. A couple of studies lend credence.

A study conducted at UCLA shows a relationship between meditation and increased neuroplasticity (brain’s ability to make physiological changes). There were differences found between the brains of meditators and non-meditators. Previous studies show that meditation increases gray matter, believed to be involved in processing information, and white matter, thought of as the “wiring” of the brain’s communication system. It is assumed, even though all the data are not in, that these changes correlate with “greater cognitive capacity.”[1]

In a UC Santa Barbara controlled study, undergraduates who underwent two weeks of intensive meditation/mindfulness training improved their scores on the test for business and graduate school admission; the control group did not.[2] If meditation can boost mental acuity in an academic setting, it is likely that it could do the same in a business setting.

It stands to reason that whether or not there are actual physical changes in the brain, meditation could enhance performance on the job. We all know from our own experience how we perform when we feel calm, focused, centered, and grounded, as opposed to when we feel agitated, on edge, or distracted.

“I don’t know how” never needs to be an excuse. Books, courses, tapes, and articles on the internet abound. You might be pleasantly surprised to find experts amongst your friends and colleagues.

Harvard Business Review reported on work done at the Mind/Body Medical Institute by Harvard Medical School Associate Professor, Howard Benson, M.D. Over the decades, his research has included looking at stress among executives and the gains in performance via relaxation. He cites work done in the early 20th century by Harvard researchers Yerkes and Dodson. They described the relationship between performance and anxiety. This relationship is easily intuited and recognized by any executive: a certain amount of stress or pressure will sharpen mental acuity, attention, speed, and performance. At some point, however, it reaches diminishing returns—thoughts become scattered and you become unproductive as stress continues to increase. Benson advises actively managing your stress level by using the deflection point as a signal to do some meditative activity in order to refresh and reenergize.[3] Think about when your computer gets stuck and you have to hit refresh to get it going again. Same thing. You can continue to pound away at it, but nothing will happen until you refresh it.

  • First of all, realize that meditation takes many forms and it does not have to take the form of sitting in a lotus position while chanting aloud.
  • Invest the time to start small; plan to take 5 minutes for meditation. Expand to 7, then 10 and so on.
  • Check out resources on how to meditate. Some are as brief as the no nonsense write-up on the Mayo Clinic website, (www.mayoclinic.com/health/meditation/HQ01070). Another source is the 128 page book Meditation for Wimps by Miriam Austin, Sterling, 2003.
  • Stay attuned to your stress level and when you feel it has run its usefulness and is approaching the point of diminishing returns…that is when you need to hit refresh. Take a brief meditative break and come back ready to excel again.
  • And, remember, as in all things, practice makes perfect.

Could meditation help you actually find more time in your day by helping you to focus better? Could your thinking and performance become sharper in a meditation-becalmed state? Could you increase your productivity through meditation?

[1] As reported in the May 9, 2012 New York Times
[2] As reported in the April 11, 2013 New York Times
[3] Harvard Business Review, November, 2005

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