Minds Matter: Mindfulness is the Key to Success

“Being mindful is not a matter of thinking more clearly about experience; It is the act of experiencing more clearly” — Sam Harris

Have you ever grabbed a snack from the office counter and looked in wonder at the empty wrapper by the time you reached your desk?

Have you ever looked at the clock and been surprised that the day is already over when your work is only halfway done?

How are you today? Are you energized and ready to take on your dreams, or are you feeling stopped by your circumstances? Did you notice your thoughts and feelings before I asked you these questions?

If you’re losing track of time, feeling overwhelmed, or just not entirely satisfied with your progress in your career or your life, it’s a good idea to learn how to manage your mind.

Mindfulness, once considered the realm of mystic Eastern traditions, is gaining serious traction in the West as a useful tool for personal and organizational effectiveness.

William George, a senior fellow at Harvard Business School, writes about the profound benefits of his regular meditation and mindfulness practices in the Harvard Business Review; his former high blood pressure was lowered to healthy levels and he reports that he became more effective at work.

“When I started meditating, I was able to stay calmer and more focused in my leadership, without losing the “edge” that I believed had made me successful.” — William George

Meditation is one way to significantly improve mindfulness. You might not think that you have time to practice this daily discipline, but what if I told you that in just 27 minutes a day for 8 weeks, your brain could become significantly healthier in terms of memory and executive decision functions? What if I told you that you could improve your response to stress and be more compassionate and effective in every area of your life?

Sara Lazar, a neuroscientist who teaches psychology at Harvard, describes the results of her groundbreaking research about neuroplasticity and meditation in the Harvard Gazette.

The research team chose people who had never meditated and instructed half of them to meditate 40 minutes every day for eight weeks.

At the end of eight weeks, the brain scans of the meditators, who only practiced for an average of 27 minutes a day, showed significant positive changes when compared to both their beginning scans and the ending scans of the non-meditators.

Specifically, the gray matter in meditators increased in two important areas: the hippocampus, the area of the brain responsible for executive decision making and working memory, and the tempo parietal lobe, which is responsible for empathy, perspective shifts, and compassion. In addition, the amygdala shrank. These are the almond shaped parts of your brain that generate the fight or flight response. This means that less damaging adrenaline is released in the body of the meditators in response to stress.

There were many remarkable results reported in this experiment, including the fact that the gray matter density in the hippocampus of a 50-year-old brain increased to the level of a healthy 25-year-old brain after just eight weeks of daily meditation practice.

“Meditation is not relaxation; it is mind cultivation. It is not mindfulness; it is training for the practice of mindfulness.” — Bhante Sujatha, Chief Sanganayaka of North America.

In addition to training your mind through meditation, you can use some simple techniques to practice mindfulness at work.

Ellen Langer, a research psychologist at Harvard, studies mindfulness from a practical, Western perspective. To boost mindful leadership, she suggests imagining that people can see your thoughts. Think about it. If you practiced this habit, you’d pay far more attention to your mind, especially in conversations and meetings. This heightened self-awareness would improve your ability to accept new ideas and understand different points of view. It would be easier for you to collaborate with others and find innovative solutions for the challenges in your business.

Langer also suggests the simple trick of noticing five new things about the people with whom you habitually interact, or the spaces that you occupy.

There are many other ways to practice mindfulness, including eating silently, taking the time to notice your thoughts when you wake up in the morning, and observing your breath as you listen to someone.

Your mind is a critical part of your identity. If you make a concerted effort to improve your ability to be mindful, the payoff is a life that is more effective, calm and joyful. Without being mindful, you can’t truly realize your human potential, because it takes mindfulness to become fully aware of who you are.

As far as a cost-benefit analysis, I’d say that mindfulness practices are well worth your time.

Start today. Stay sharp. Be mindful. Be you.

“No matter what you are doing, you’re doing it mindfully or mindlessly. There is no other way.” — Ellen Langer

The Power of Humility

“Look in the mirror, not out the window, to apportion responsibility for bad results.

Look out the window, not in the mirror, to apportion credit for success.” –Jim Collins

Great leaders are rarely inspired by their own success. Rather, they view personal success as a necessary step on the ladder that leads to the elevated platform of leadership, where they can observe those they lead and find and nurture talent. In his groundbreaking work on leadership, Jim Collins tells us that truly great leaders, who accomplish sustainable success for their companies or their countries, have two characteristics in common; personal humility and professional will.

They don’t take credit for the success of their endeavors, even when the evidence demonstrates that they were the catalyst for greatness within their corporations. And more often than not, they take responsibility for the failure of their efforts, even when the blame clearly lies elsewhere.

How does an individual achieve this level of success, where they are humble and massively successful?

I have met and worked with leaders at every level in the last 30 years. From Nelson Mandela to Paul Kagame, the president of Rwanda, from the top executives in business to the leaders in the entertainment world, every successful leader I have met has a common core.

A strong identity. They know who they are, where they are going, and how to get there.

I think this is the key to their success.

Once true leaders are at the helm of the corporation or in a governmental leadership position, they have already established success for themselves. They are not driven by a shallow need to prove anything to anyone.

With a strong identity at their core, they can subvert the urge to let their ego rule the day. Good leaders will wisely use any credit for the good of their team and any criticisms for their own growth and development.

In other words, a true leader will look for opportunities to inspire, motivate and guide others, instead of using their success to inspire, motivate and guide themselves. They can afford to spread credit to their team, because their identity inspires them, their mission motivates them, and their values guide them.

I have learned this through decades of research and development on identity and leadership. Leaders with strong identities stay steady while others falter. They can handle the eventual necessary transfer of power, because who they are is not dependent on external factors or outside opinions. They validate themselves.

Great leaders are humble enough to get out of their own way, and lead others to greatness.

“When you’ve worked hard, and done well, and walked through that doorway of opportunity, you do not slam it shut behind you. You reach back, and you give other folks the same chances that helped you succeed.”– Michelle Obama