Can Meditation Make You a Better Leader?
Recently, I had an experience at work where I felt wronged by a colleague. I won't go into the details because it's not necessary, but the result was a feeling of being taken advantage of by my colleague. Deep down, I know my co-worker didn't set out to make me feel this way but it happened none-the-less.
As we know, the world is not a perfect place and there have been times in the past when another person did something to make me feel angry, frustrated or wronged. Don't misunderstand me, generally I'm a very even natured person and I tend not to get too upset when things don't go my way .
In previous years I reacted quite differently to similar situations. My feelings would be strong and I'd behave quickly and predictably. I'd hurriedly respond to the email with barely concealed frustration and anger. Typically I'd tone it down just enough so it wasn't unprofessional and then I'd hit 'send'. The rest of my day would be hijacked by my feelings and I'd spend hours ruminating about how I was wronged.
Has that ever happened to you?
What's interesting about my most recent experience is that I did not act that way. The change in my response was so different that actually I took notice of it.
When I realized what my colleague had done, I wasn't angry and I didn't react at all. Instead, there was a gap where my logical brain could observe my more primal brain and take notice of how angry I felt inside. The amazing aspect of my observance was this: it wasn't "me" who felt angry. Instead it was something else deep inside me.  It was such an odd feeling that I actually stopped what I was working on and observed my feelings for a while with a mixture of interest and mild bemusement.
I can hear you now, "Great Mitch, but why are you telling me all this?". My point is this: I can't say for sure, but I strongly suspect the reason my reaction changed is because of my meditation practice.
I started experimenting with meditation in October 2015 because I heard it could improve focus and productivity. To be precise, I've meditated for exactly 2,752 minutes since October 2015. 
Meditation (and its related but different concept "mindfulness") seems to be a popular topic in productivity circles, but in the real world I rarely meet anyone who meditates regularly. What's more, meditation seems to be misunderstood by most people I talk to.
At its most basic, meditation is simply how you practice to develop the ability of monitoring your thoughts and feelings. It's analogous to saying "batting practice is simply how you practice to develop the ability to hit a baseball well." 
The effect of all this practice is that you create a small delay between a receiving a stimulus and when you respond to it. This delay can often give you just enough time to take notice of your feelings and adjust how you respond to that stimulus.
Like most things, I am not an expert with meditation. Depending on my surroundings and how long I've been awake, trying to get my mind to settle down is like trying to calm down a monkey after you've put it in a washing machine. In theory, I suppose it's possible but in practice it doesn't seem to work.
Luckily for people like me (and likely you as well), meditation doesn't require you to master your thoughts. All it requires is for you to focus on something (like your breath entering and leaving your body) and to take notice when your mind wanders off to pursue its own monkey mind thoughts. When this happens (and it will) don't get frustrated or "try harder to focus", simply acknowledge it and redirect your attention back to your focus area.
If you've never given meditation a try, I strongly recommend it. Give yourself a challenge to meditate for 10 days and see if you observe any differences in your daily life.
Five tips to when you start meditating
- Get an app. meditating is fairly simply once you know what you're doing but honestly, it's so much easier to let someone guide you. Try one of the great apps available like Headspace (iOS and Android), Calm (iOS and Android), or Oak (iOS only).
- Meditating (at least how I do it) is not a religious experience, "new-agey" or woo-woo. Meditation is simply sitting still and breathing. If you are a person of faith, meditating does not conflict with your other religious beliefs.
- Be consistent and start small. I try to meditate once per day on weekdays for 10 minutes each time. Often I go longer but some days I skip completely. On average, I successfully sit down and practice 2 - 4 times per week. Consistency will yield benefits even if you only meditate for a few minutes each time.
- Meditate in the morning. In my experience, once the flow of the day starts, my mind runs at full speed and I find it nearly impossible to stay focused on anything, and certainly not something as boring as my breathing.
- Don't down-prioritize your daily meditation just because you're busy. If I'm honest, I need enhanced focus and balance even more on days when I'm struggling to do everything.
Meditation is a person choice and its benefits are likely very personalized as well. I believe that some personality types can derive more calm and focus from practicing meditation than others. If you've never tried meditation, I encourage you to download an app and give it a try. It is a great example of asymmetric risk: the money and time cost is very low, but the potential upside for you is nearly unlimited!
Take care, and I'll talk to you next time.
- : Although kids that won't go to sleep at night and the traffic in Madrid certainly do their best to rile me up.
- : I know this sounds abstract and is hard to follow, but please keep reading. :)
- : I track my meditation in a geeky spreadsheet I keep on Dropbox.
- : Batting practice is a hitting drill in baseball.