As you may have learned from the previous focus post, mindfulness and mediation have many benefits including:
- Improves your focus and concentration
- Helps you sleep
- Reduces stress
- Increases self-awareness
- Increases acceptance
- Increases happiness
- Improves immune health
- Slows ageing
The list goes on. You will find a frenzy of articles, tips, tricks and courses all over the internet. In recent years, academic research confirming the amazing effects of meditation has pushed mindfulness from a niche interest to a full-blown lifestyle. Everyone these days seems to be putting their own spin on the practice in the workplace, the classroom and at home. However, no matter how much we read about it, talk about it or study it, putting mindfulness into practice can be challenging, especially when first starting out.
As an entrepreneur, your life is often riddled with stress, anxiety and lack of sleep. While a never-ending, fast-paced environment is often what leads an entrepreneur to success, over time, this very thing is what can cause you to burn out. Practicing meditation is a growing trend among entrepreneurs due to interviews by notable thought leaders such as Tim Ferriss and Kevin Rose. The purpose of this document is to explore how successful founders are relying on the benefits of meditation to keep them grounded and focused in the midst of an often chaotic environment. Additionally, we will go through some specific mindfulness meditation exercises and tips for how to get started and fit meditation into our busy lives.
1. How and why do founders use meditation to keep them focused?
We’re seeing this practice popping up everywhere but why all the hype? Let’s start by covering how practicing mindfulness specifically helps entrepreneurs keep focused throughout their day.
i) It changes your brain
The reason the more you practice mindfulness, the more mindful and focused you will be is because you’re actually changing the neural structure of your brain. According to research in cognitive neuroscience, practicing mindfulness actually decreases the pathways in your brain responsible for mind-wandering while increasing the areas of the brain responsible for focus and attention. It will also decrease activity in the brain areas called the amygdala, leading to a decrease in stress and anxiety. Finally, practicing mindfulness also increases the activity in the brain area responsible for positive mood. Due to these brain changing capabilities, more entrepreneurs are practicing mindfulness to make them more resilient to the daily ups and downs and to keep them laser focused during days where distraction is high.
ii) Mindfulness will keep you disciplined
Most things in life are outside of our control. We can’t control the world around us but through consistent mindfulness training, you can learn to control your mind. A trained mind can be your best friend rather than your worst enemy, leading you down the road to success and to accomplish things you never thought possible.
When you first start practicing mindfulness, you will notice that your mind will constantly race and you will tend to veer towards negativity. However, this practice is a process, slowly and surely you will start to see the results of a calm and focused mind.
“Patience and persistence is the secret to success” – S.N. Goenka
iii) Mindfulness will keep you resilient
Starting a business is hard — you’re getting thoughts and opinions from everyone and the environment you are working in tends to be rocky and uncertain. This can be a very isolating experience full of stress and anxiety. In the early stage startups, giving up is something many are faced with.
Mindfulness will protect yourself from being your own worst enemy. Building this resilience will not only decrease the day to day anxiety, but it will also unlock creativity and focus potential. Being able to think with a clear and creative mind will mean you and your team will be much better at tackling problems and getting stuff done.
Now let’s dive into some fundamental teachings of mindfulness…
2. What does mindfulness actually mean?
We hear so much talk about mindfulness and meditation but have you ever stopped to think about what this means? The very definition is confusing not only to you but to researchers, academics and experts alike. Here is a great definition offered by Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn:
“Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment and nonjudgmentally” – from his book, Wherever you go, there you are: mindfulness meditation in everyday life
Let’s break that down a little more. What does it mean to pay attention in a particular way? Well, in this case, you are going to be purposefully directing your attention to something – the present moment – while ignoring distractions. What does it mean to focus on the present moment? This means that your awareness is centered on the here and now. You’re not stressing or even thinking about the possibilities of the past or future. Lastly, you’re going to be paying attention to thoughts that arise moment to moment and you are going to simply acknowledge them non-judgmentally. In other words, you’re not going to apply labels of good or bad, right or wrong to your thoughts.
Let’s try to put this into practice:
- Take two minutes right now to simply pay attention.
- Close your eyes and get into a comfortable position.
- You can be seated, lying down, standing up
- Notice your body.
- Take three deep breaths and as you’re breathing out, notice how your body feels against the chair or floor. Notice your feet on the ground. Notice the sensations throughout your body. Does your body hurt or feel uncomfortable anywhere?
- Allow your thoughts to come and go
- While you’re paying attention to your body, let your mind do as it wishes. Do not try to control it, simply pay attention to it. What are your thoughts telling you? See your thoughts as an observer without any intention to change them.
- Be aware of your whole body as best as you can. Take another deep breath and open your eyes when you’re ready
3. The More Practical Side of Mindfulness: Savouring walks
As an entrepreneur, it can become really easy to miss out on the pleasant things occurring around us due to the constant busy lifestyle you tend to lead. As a result, you will miss out on opportunities to experience positive emotions — which we learned from the previous blog is one of the foundational building blocks of an effective focus formula and long-term happiness.
Research suggests that when we use mindfulness to learn how to savour rather than let good moments pass us, we can maximize the benefits associated with them. This will not only improve your psychological well-being, but it will also help you train your focus capabilities. This activity is another simple introduction to mindfulness meditation, however, this one does not require you to have a sitting practice. Rather, this activity can be performed anytime you are out and about and will train to you pay more attention to the sights, smells and sounds we often neglect.
How to do it
- You can either set aside a time to go for a 10 minute walk each day or you can simply practice this when running from meeting to meeting throughout the day
- As you walk try to pay attention to everything you can. Every sight, every sound and every smell should be the focus of your attention
- As you do this, really try to pick up on all of the positive things happening around you. For example, the feeling of the sun on your skin or the light breeze on your face. You could also focus on a tree you’ve never noticed before, the architecture of a building, the way people interact with each other or the familiar smell of a particular flower you like.
- Whatever the case, try and notice all the positive things around you.
- As you do this, try to pause for a moment and take them in — don’t just let them slip past you.
- Acknowledge each one of these deliberately and consciously. What about it makes it pleasurable to you?
- As you do these walks, try to notice something different every time you take the same path or try and switch up the path now and then to take in something new.
The goal of this practice is to experience more pleasant things around you and to realize how much information comes and goes through our conscious awareness without our knowledge. This is a great activity for beginners because it will not only teach you to slow down every once and awhile but it will also help you savour and focus on the simple pleasures in life. Both of which are crucial in the chaotic lives of entrepreneurs.
4. Mindfulness in practice: The Raisin Meditation
Now that we have a better idea of what mindfulness actually means, let’s get more familiar with mindfulness meditation. We’re going to take you through an exercise that serves as a great introduction to mindfulness meditation – it is called the raisin meditation. It is going to help you tune into what you’re experiencing and sensing in the present moment. This exercise will not only train you to keep your focus throughout the day, but it will also reduce stress and increase your experience of positive emotions – who couldn’t use a few more feel-good sensations in their life?
Throughout this activity, you’re going to focus your attention on each of your senses as you eat a raisin. Try this with a single raisin, if you don’t have a raisin any food will do. We would like to recommend that you try doing this for 5 minutes a day for one week. Research suggests that your mindfulness increases the more you practice it.
How to do it
- Take the raisin and hold it between your index finger and your thumb
- Pretend as though you’ve never seen this object before. Imagine that you have just come from a distant planet without seeing such a thing. Take the time to study every part of it. Turn it around with your fingers and notice the colour. Notice all the darker folds, asymmetries, highlights and unique features.
- Next, explore the texture of the raisin. Notice any softness, hardness, smoothness, coarseness. You can also try to explore this with your eyes closed as it will enhance your sense of touch.
- Take the raisin and hold it beneath your nose to smell it. With each inhale, notice the smell that arises while noticing any changes to your mouth (e.g. watering) or stomach (e.g. hunger pangs).
- Bring the raisin to your ear and gently roll it around with your fingers. Listen to any sounds coming from it.
- Slowly bring the raisin to your lips, and notice how your arm and hand know exactly where to go. Place the raisin in your mouth; without chewing, focusing on the sensations of having in your mouth. Feel the raisin on your tongue and notice any changes happening in your mouth (e.g. mouth watering).
- Now you may prepare to chew the raisin, notice where your mouth moves the raisin as it is setting up to chew. Very consciously, begin to chew but notice every movement. Experience the taste and any flavour emanating from it as you continue to chew. Do not swallow the raisin yet but pay attention to the sensations of texture and taste; notice how these change from moment to moment.
- When you feel ready to swallow the raisin, first pay attention to this intention. Notice how your tongue and mouth move the raisin in position to swallow. After you have investigated these senses, swallow the raisin.
- Finally, see if you can pay attention to the sensation of the raisin moving down your throat and into your stomach. Pay attention to the sensations occurring throughout your body after you have completed swallowing the raisin.
This activity is a great way to connect with the idea of mindfulness. After you have completed this exercise multiple times, see if you can notice any differences in how it feels to complete the exercise compared to the first few times. This meditation technique will train you to focus your mind on the present moment using all of your senses. Next, we are going to talk about another exercise that you can implement throughout your day.
Recap and a final reminder:
Let’s recap what we’ve learned about the concept of mindfulness. Practicing these activities for a short period everyday will lead to some amazing changes in your ability to focus, remain positive and become more aware of thoughts, feelings and sensations throughout your day.
- We took you through some main points as to why top entrepreneurs are adopting the practice of mindfulness in their lives
- We went over the confusing definition of mindfulness, what it all means and we went through an activity to help us understand a little better
- We took you through a very simple yet very informative mindfulness meditation exercise to help you realize the simplicity in how to become more mindful
- We went over a mindfulness activity that can be implemented throughout various times in our day which will help us train our minds to become more positive and observant
All in all, this practice isn’t for the faint at heart. It is something that must be continuously practiced — everyday, consciously and deliberately. Hopefully getting started won’t seem half as bad after reading this article and performing the suggested activities. Understanding the concept of mindfulness can be daunting but following the raisin meditation will put things into perspective. Furthermore, you can implement the savouring walks activity to practice mindfulness throughout your day. Over time, you will come to realize the great benefits that come from such a simple practice.