For the on-the-go, type-A personalities who start and run businesses, the notion of sitting quietly and doing nothing in particular can seem anathema to them. But a growing number of businesspeople, including prominent CEOs, are taking heed of the scientific evidence that meditation can actually make you better at whatever you do—by increasing focus and attention, as well as by improving memory, creativity and the ability to multitask—not to mention make you happier by decreasing anxiety, depression and stress.
For many, the biggest barriers to practicing meditation are the myths surrounding it.
- It takes too long. While studies indicate that in general the longer you meditate, the more you benefit from it, researchers at INSEAD and The Wharton School recently found that even 15 minutes of mindful meditative practice can help you make wiser choices. Most teachers recommend starting out with sessions as short as five minutes and building your practice from there.
- It requires superhuman focus. “I used to think that meditation meant clearing your mind, finding stillness and peace, and ridding yourself of thoughts. But when I went to actually do it, I failed miserably,” says Gary Sanders, a teacher at California-based Against the Stream Buddhist Meditation Society, who also runs a distribution company. “The idea of meditation is not to rid ourselves of thought. It is to find acceptance of all that’s arising in the present moment. To meet it with kindness, to meet it with forgiveness, to meet it with nonjudgmental awareness.”
- You have to sit perfectly still. In mindfulness meditation, you build awareness of the present moment while letting go of distracting thoughts. This could mean simply focusing on your steps as you walk, or taking in the details of your surroundings. “You don’t need to find a quiet, still place,” Sanders says. “You can practice behind your desk with the phone ringing.”
- You have to chant. The chanting, the robes, the mysticism: These all make meditation more foreign that it actually is. Chanting is one method of finding focus, but another far more common technique is to concentrate on your breathing.“One of the basic meditation practices is just to be mindful of your breath, the sensation of breathing,” Sanders explains. “You have to understand that your mind is going to go off elsewhere. It might take two breaths, it might take 10 or 20, but eventually your mind will turn to other thoughts like how you’re going to handle an upcoming client meeting or whether you left the oven on. When our mind wanders off, all you need to do is come back to your breathing.”
Whatever form it takes, mindfulness meditation can help you clear your thoughts, recharge your energy and help face the day’s challenges with equanimity. “Remember that it’s a practice,” Sanders notes. “It’s not about achieving, but participating in the moment.”