For much of my life, mindfulness and meditation were concepts that I gave little attention to. They were hippy, woo-woo, soft ideas that just didn’t seem relevant to my young, ambitious, business self. Sitting quietly, reflecting, or focusing my attention on my breath felt like wasted time, even if others spoke of myriad benefits.
About eight years ago though, I found myself open to change. I’ve struggled in various ways my whole business life with focus. ADD stuff- hard to sit still, hard to hunker down and do admin work. Spreadsheets and reports killed me; necessary stuff we all have to do sometimes, but I just couldn’t quiet my brain long enough to push through. It was affecting my leadership capacity.
A friend turned me on to an interview with Ray Dalio on Youtube. Dalio is the founder and CEO of Bridgewater Associates, one of the most successful investment firms in history, and renowned for its company culture. He spoke about the importance of meditation in the success he’s had, and his overall personal happiness. He spoke of having more control over his thoughts, and how it made him less reactive, less stressed, more focused and effective. He had my attention.
He went on to talk about a simple practice of sitting quietly for 20 minutes in the morning, and 20 minutes in the afternoon. Every day, for the past 20+ years. He credited this practice as a linchpin to his success.
Watching that interview blew my mind wide open to the topic of mindfulness, and ever since, it’s been a growing curiosity and staple in my personal and professional toolkit.
The type of meditation Dalio practices and promotes is a type of mantra meditation, where you simply repeat a single word in your head silently. Sounds woo-woo, I know, but there’s been a fair bit of science that’s emerged over the years.
The consensus seems to be that it creates a state of restful alertness in the brain, which is associated with higher metabolic activity in the frontal and parietal parts of the brain, along with decreased metabolic activity in the thalamus, which is involved in regulating arousal, and hyperactivity.
What does this mean? In my experience,- over time, the practice has helped me be less reactive, less scattered, and less stressed.
Does 20 minutes in the morning, and 20 minutes in the afternoon seem like a massive step? Here’s a way to start practicing mindfulness right now- whether you’re reading this on your iPhone in the cab of your truck, or you’re sitting in your living room chair with a cup of coffee.
I’ve heard this called a “body inventory”, and If you’re like me, and many clients I’ve shared it with, you can experience benefits from it in as little as three minutes.
Sit in a comfortable position. Close your eyes and rest your hands in your lap. Breathe normally. Start by placing your focus on the top of your head and move down your neck, just noticing the weight of your head on your shoulders. Notice any aches or pinches or tightness in your neck (most of us have them).
Pause for a moment and notice your breath. If you’ve been breathing through your mouth, switch to your nose. Notice the feeling of your breath moving through your nostrils.
Continue to move your focus down your body. Notice the weight of your body leaning against whatever seat or chair you’re sitting in. Notice any aches or pains in your muscles or joints from your workout yesterday or a rough night of sleep. Notice the feeling of your hands resting on your jeans or skirt, the texture of the material on your fingers and palms.
Finish your body inventory by wiggling your toes and feeling them strain against the inside of your shoes, or pressing on the floor. Then open your eyes.
So what possible benefit could come from this exercise?
Part of what we’re doing with this body inventory is giving our mind a break from the swirl of thoughts that are constantly coming at us throughout the day- what just happened, what’s coming next, what could happen, what should have happened. We’re taking a moment to notice what is, right now. It can be fantastically relaxing and de-stressing.
I’ve taught GM’s to do this, mitigation managers, even technicians, and without fail, they always find immediate value in it. Occasionally, Brandon and I will even start a session with clients doing a three minute body inventory.
One of the foundational principles of mindfulness is to exercise control over our mind and thoughts, rather than our thoughts and our mind controlling us. We want to be in the practice of responding to our circumstances and interactions, rather than reacting to them.
How many of us have hit reply-all with an angry response, fired an employee, or chewed out our team, only to regret (or grieve) that reaction and its consequences later?
As we train ourselves to slow down, and respond to the things that come at us, we get to consider our options, and choose the most effective one. Our leadership leaves less of a toxic residue behind, and there’s less carnage in our wake.