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Mindfulness, Leadership, and Business - 7 Lessons from the First Year of Using My Brain Differently

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I've been meditating and using focused attention training techniques for all of 2017 and a little more than 1 year in total. So, I decided to reflect back on how that year has gone, what I've got out of the practice, and what I've learned so far.

I describe my journey in the steps below. I hope it will be valuable to others who might be considering meditation. While I'm focused on business leadership in particular, I hope my list will be useful to anyone in terms of what you can get out of meditation. In particular I'm talking about the question: How can meditation help you? It's a personal activity, but here, described in detail, is how it helped it me.

Why does that matter? Well it matters because I often see 'improved focus' or 'stress reduction' as benefits. So, then how - exactly how - does that work? My answers are below.

As a leader I feel it's important for me to frame this in one more way. As a leader you deal with stressful situations at work. Most of us can handle these types of situations, if you couldn't handle them you wouldn't be a leader or manager very long. But after 10 years in management in several different organizations, I was unhappy with my stress management techniques and wanted something better.

So I decided to try mindfulness and it has had a big impact on me in one year. I recommend it.

Without further ado, here are the ways in which I feel meditation has helped me this year. These go in roughly chronological order as they happened during the year:

  1. Almost immediately I began to be able to see an emotional reaction coming and to distance myself from it, if only slightly. This was imperfect (it didn't work all the time) but it was consistent enough to be noticable, and it has improved in consistency over time.
  2. By being aware of my reaction I began to see that I was making a situation more about me than was really necessary. Is this person upset? Well, yes, but they're really just looking for help and I know how to help them. By focusing my thinking in this way I could get even more distance and be more effective in high-stress situations by focusing clearly on the problem.
  3. Understanding the connection to The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. This book is an important tool and framework I've used in my career long before I started to practice meditation. The foundation of the Seven Habits is to be proactive. There's a lot more on this topic in this blog post, but suffice it to say, I see meditation as a useful tool to understand your responses to events and improve your ability to be proactive (and not reactive) in response. Meditation allows you an ability to practice this awareness in an offstage way. This is an extension of 1 and 2 to some extent, but for me it is a useful extension that places my practice in a broader context. It's also a useful way in talking about this topic with colleagues.
  4. In Andrew's class I learned about Negativity Bias - this helped me understand some of the why behind the reactions that I was having. It isn't that I'm a pessimist. My brain is built to identify negative (and potentially negative) situations. This is an evolutionary adaptation which served early man well, and kept them from being eaten by bears, but it needs to have some regulation to be useful to a modern person. It is very helpful to be aware of this fact and no when Negatiiy Bias is in play.
  5. I began to be able to predict some of the time when I was headed into a situation that might produce an emotional response. This allowed me a little bit of forethought on how I would handle this situation and the possible stress responses I might have.
  6. Working on Positivity Bias. By reading Hardwiring Happiness I was able to not only identify Negativity Bias but to actually work toward adding Positivity Bias. This is achieved by focusing on positive experiences and success and more fully integrating them into our conscious and subconscious minds.
  7. The Waste of Worry. I know that people trust a worrier - someone who is obviously aware of possible future implications is often considered more trustworthy than a person who seems unaware, even if their lack of awareness makes them confident. This is useful up to a point, but also puts a wasteful burden of stress on people worrying about things more than is necessary.

As it relates to number 7, I don't have a final resolution to perfect balance. I can counteract some of the stress from it and help others to do so, but it is useful sometimes. As I work on it I hope to integrate it both for myself and help my team. I want to balance the necessary concern and planning that is crucial to individual, business, and societal success with more tools to keep that in its proper place.

After a year of meditating, I feel that mindfulness practice has helped me to manage stress better than I could without it. But stress reduction has been achieved through the advancements listed above, not on it's own as a separate outcome.

Here's hoping that 2018 will be a great year with further refinement and improvement of the abilities listed above and new discoveries as well.

Photo above by Scott Webb on Unsplash.