Meditation to Improve Performance

meditateDeep breathing, savouring food and walking alone are some of  the methods that can teach awareness and better one’s well-being.

For centuries, meditation helped Asians lead more meaningful lives.  Meditation is now going global because research is proving its effectiveness for  improving human performance and well-being.

Two INSEAD colleagues, Assistant Professor of Organisational  Behaviour, Zoe  Kinias, and PhD student Andrew  Hafenbrack and  have even demonstrated how 15 minutes of meditation improved resistance  to the sunk cost fallacy in business decision-making.

A study at Northeastern University showed how people trained in meditation  for just eight weeks behaved with attention to others 50 per cent of the time,  compared with 16 per cent for an untrained group. Research like this is why  large US corporations like General Mills and Target now use meditation as a tool  to improve their performance.

In the C-suite, meditation has significant advantages for developing  executives into more capable leaders.

Business schools are effective at teaching the technical tasks of managing,  but teaching leadership has proven more problematic.

Leadership is much more an art than a science, demanding a curriculum based  on personal exploration of self and social awareness.

Leaders must learn to see themselves accurately and be aware of how they see  other people.

Looking at powerful leaders like Churchill, Reagan, Gandhi, Clinton, Jobs or  Mandela, we often find limited technical management skills, while values and  personalities drive the agenda. No one would ever argue Steve Jobs was a good  manager technically, but how he used his personality to lead Apple changed the  world.

Nelson Mandela used meditation to prepare himself for leading South Africa as  a united nation. In an interview with Oprah Winfrey, he revealed how reflection  became the basis for future success.

Oprah: You said if you hadn’t been in prison, you  wouldn’t have achieved the most difficult task in life – changing yourself. How  did 27 years of reflection make you a different man?

Mandela: Before I went to jail, I was active in  politics – and was generally busy from 7am until midnight. I never had time to  sit and think. But in prison, I had time to think. I had a clear view of my past  and present, and I found that my past left much to be desired, both in regard to  my relations with other humans and in developing personal worth. In my younger  days, I was arrogant – jail helped me to get rid of it. I did nothing but make  enemies because of my arrogance.

What Mandela is describing is the self-awareness that mediation teaches: who  you are and how you relate to others.

So how does meditation fit into our busy lives? I use a simple technique  whenever I struggle to translate an idea into words. I shut my eyes and breathe  deeply, allowing oxygen to refresh my brain and help me focus on an idea rather  than the entire article. When I open my eyes, the words are there.

I would suggest, initially, the use of a few everyday meditation techniques  to start living more consciously by focusing on the here and now.

  • The starting point for meditation is actively thinking about your breathing.  If you ask most people about improving their health, they will talk about a  better diet, regular exercise or reducing stress. But using your breathing to  re-energise your mind and body is equally important.

Breathing is natural to all living things: learning to  control it consciously gives you another tool to influence your well-being.

Most of us use about 30 per cent of lung capacity, so deep  belly breathing through the nose is an internal massage that helps the mind  address pent-up struggles and the body balance itself. Count silently one to  five for each breath in and for each breath out.

  • Ironically, the mobile phone is a great meditation tool. Most people lose  track of how many times a day they automatically check their e-mail. Try  checking it every two hours and use two minutes to practise deep breathing.

Disconnecting from the internet to reconnect with yourself  focuses your mind on the present and avoids constantly stimulating your body to  produce the stress hormone cortisol. It is simple biology; the less you check  your messages, the more focus and less stress you have throughout your day.

  • Meals are another great place to live more consciously. Start every meal  like a gourmet by tasting the first few bites and using all your senses to  explore the texture, aroma, temperature, flavours and colours – the total  tasting experience. Savouring food makes eating more fun and teaches you  awareness.
  • Once or more a week walk alone for 15 minutes to somewhere scenic or just  special to you and enjoy everything you see. No checking messages or reading the  paper: just yourself and the place.
  • Take small breaks throughout the day to scan your body for tension and then  focus your breathing on the points of discomfort, stretching gently. This helps  provide more energy and is comforting after hours at the desk.