Everybody has stress in their lives, certainly at work. What many people fail to realize is that unexpected and unfortunate things are bound to happen, but stress, anxiety, anger and discouragement are states of mind – internal to ourselves. The first step to learning how to controlling our emotions is to make this distinction between circumstances outside ourselves and possibly outside our control, and our inner lives, which all of us can more or less get a grip on.
The second thing to realize is that there is a difference between mind and consciousness. The mind is the whole movie, the entire painting; consciousness is what part we are watching, or what detail we’re focusing on. These are only rough definitions, or a case of making language fit concepts it wasn’t really designed for. Before we get into pointless and unanswerable questions like “Are my mind and I different things?”, let’s see what the practical benefits of meditation are.
Mindfulness as a Business Tool
Meditation is becoming ever more mainstream as a way of handling stress, avoiding unnecessary anxiety and improving memory, concentration and decision-making skills. When a person is agitated, his consciousness is less under his control – the movie keeps skipping back and forth so that it’s impossible to pay full attention to any one scene.
“Mindfulness” is an awkward word that essentially means thinking about how you’re thinking and feeling. One example of mindfulness is to become aware of your emotions taking over before losing your temper and counting to ten instead. Mindfulness meditation is a way of exercising this faculty; just like a bodybuilder will do squats to improve his muscular strength, training your brain to keep an eye on itself makes doing so easier and more automatic in the future.
Practice Makes Perfect
Meditating for increased mindfulness essentially means finding somewhere quiet, turning off the phone for five minutes and closing your eyes while sitting comfortably. Then, instead of thinking nothing, which is almost impossible, simply let your thoughts more or less travel as they will. The mindfulness part of this exercise means observing what these thoughts are, with one caveat: it’s important not to say yes or no to any thought or feeling. Try not to push uncomfortable thoughts aside or start an argument with yourself, just observe.
The way in which this skill assists managers in doing their jobs is that a person who knows what he’s thinking can view a situation and his reaction to it more objectively, better identify what factors are most important and make a decision more calmly. Meditation is not a fad or a euphemism for doing nothing; it is a valuable mental tool much like mnemonic tricks used to remember things better. Meditation, on the other hand, seems to improve everything from creative thinking, propensity to addiction, clinical depression and the ability to concentrate for longer. Even sessions of as short as a minute have been shown to yield these effects.
Other Kinds of Meditation
Everybody’s different, and so there are also numerous types of meditation other than specifically training for mindfulness. Some involve physical movement, focused breathing and a pseudo-scientific life substance called qi; tai chi and yoga are examples of these. Other types of meditation rely on repeating a phrase or sound, focusing on an object or geometrical design, or simply stopping thought while still remaining fully aware.
Whatever the specific technique, the end result involves having less stress, a better understanding of how a person feels about various issues and better powers of concentration. Our thoughts love to get stuck in a rut, re-hashing the same semi-logical sequence without managing to find a way to resolve a problem. Mentally unplugging from this loop for just a few minutes stops this futile cycle allows us to return to the decision with fresh eyes and a consciousness that zeroes in on that which we actually want to consider.