By Deep Patel
What do mega-successful business leaders and entrepreneurs like Ray Dalio, founder of Bridgewater Associates, Jeff Weiner, CEO of LinkedIn, and Arianna Huffington, founder of the Huffington Post, all have in common?
They carve out time in their busy schedules to meditate.
Meditation was once seen as an unconventional pursuit of hippies or the avant-garde, but more Americans are turning to the practice to bring balance and peace of mind to their stressed-out lives. According to one national survey, nearly 18 million adults practice meditation regularly, thanks to a growing body of research showing that mind and body practices like mediation can help people manage pain and reduce feelings of stress.
The beauty of meditation is that its benefits can be far-reaching, helping to enhance learning, quell anxiety, and tame negative emotions. Not completely convinced? Here are seven proven ways meditation can prepare you for success.
1. Enhanced learning and memory.
Successful business leaders can quickly process and learn new information, and recall that knowledge when needed -- an important skill for anyone with goals beyond an office cubicle. It turns out meditation is a good way to give yourself a boost in this area. Researchers have found that meditation stimulates areas of the brain associated with memory, concentration, and learning.
One study of college students who took a mindfulness class four times a week for two weeks showed that their working-memory capacity improved during that time. Other studies showed that mindfulness meditation helps increase gray matter volume, including bolstering areas of the brain that assist with learning, memory, cognition, or emotional regulation.
Researchers note that meditation may change the brain's structure and increase mental activity and agility. This means that meditation may literally make your brain more robust. People who practiced mindfulness meditation for eight weeks showed an increase in gray matter in areas associated with learning and memory processes.
2. Put a halt to pessimistic thought loops.
We all fall into negative thought patterns or pessimistic ruminations from time to time. But obsessively dwelling on negative thoughts such as past failures, frustrations and regrets can eat away at your confidence and cloud your mind when you need to think clearly. Left unchecked, these feelings contribute to chronic anxiety, which can weigh down your mind, keep you from taking action and thwart your motivation. Meditation is a powerful aid in breaking these negative thought loops.
One way to eliminate negative thoughts is to repeat a mantra to yourself, such as "Let it go." Saying a simple, positive phrase to yourself is one of the oldest and most straightforward ways of meditating, and it has been shown to have profound effects if done consistently.
Start by repeating the phrase to yourself, and when you feel your mind wandering, return your attention to the mantra. With time and practice, negative thought loops dissipate and leave your mind free to focus on other things.
3. Build mental capacity and improve accuracy.
As we age, our mental capacity peaks before slowly deteriorating. However, meditation is like a workout for your brain. Over time it can improve your overall brain health and build your mental capacity. This makes sense because when you meditate you're essentially practicing concentration and laser-like focus. So it should come as no surprise that studies show that meditation can help people sustain their focus, even during boring tasks.
For decades, researchers have found that Buddhist monks who regularly meditate perform far better on concentration tests than the average person. Those who meditate regularly not only increase their ability to concentrate, but also boost their attention to detail and level of accuracy.
4. Tame negative emotions.
Who hasn't let their emotions get the best of them? It happens. But negative emotions can have a myriad of detrimental impacts on our personal and professional lives, especially if we aim an impulsive outburst at friends, colleagues, employees, or customers.
The aftermath can lead to hurt feelings, low morale, and perhaps a visit to human resources. Not to mention the many other more subtle ways in which negative emotions can make it harder to succeed.
Meditation allows us to recognize and control negative emotions by helping us process and accept what we are feeling and then assisting us in releasing those feelings. Mindfulness meditation in particular focuses on "maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment," with the goal of accepting the feelings that arise in each moment. This allows you to shed your emotions quickly so you maintain a kind of mental equilibrium.
5. Create better relationships.
Those who practice mindfulness meditation report higher levels of satisfaction in their relationships with others, and they are better able to handle conflict when it comes up. Meditation helps you build emotional resilience, which means you are able to bounce back from bad moods more quickly and are less likely to become upset.
Through regular meditation, we can observe and accept our own emotions and are better able to recognize how those around us are feeling. Meditation helps you become a more attuned communicator.
This is because mindfulness meditation helps you create emotional space to have a more mindful, conscious response to those around you, rather than the knee-jerk reaction so many of us are prone to. Instead of allowing a situation or comment to set us off, we recognize what we are feeling and have more emotional flexibility in how we respond.
6. Reduce stress and anxiety.
When we find ourselves in a stressful situation, which our body interprets to be threatening, it causes a fight-or-flight response, including a flood of hormones that quicken our heartbeat, elevates our blood pressure, and speed up our breathing. When you're dealing with chronic stress, tension or anxiety, this response can have lasting impacts on your health. Meditation can help clear away the daily information overload that contributes to chronic feelings of stress.
Meditation relaxes you by allowing you to focus on one thing, such as your breathing, thus helping eliminate the stream of jumbled thoughts causing stress. If practiced on a regular basis, meditation can give you a sense of peace, calm, and balance, and help you gain new perspectives when facing a stressful situation. This can also help you feel more tranquil and ready for sleep when bedtime rolls around -- an added benefit!
7. Tap into your creative side.
Innovation is the key to success in nearly every field. How awesome would it be if you could clear away the cobwebs from your mind and fire up your creative juices at will? Meditation can help you nurture that idea-making part of your brain.
One study found that open-monitoring meditation, a type of mindfulness meditation that involves observing and noting how one is feeling in the present, can help increase "divergent thinking." This kind of thinking is when your mind is allowed to jump from one thought to another, without judgment or exerting top-down control from within.
Open-monitoring meditation focuses on keeping attention flexible and unrestricted -- you simply accept what you are feeling. Research has found that this kind of meditation improves working memory, increases cognitive flexibility, and reduces cognitive rigidity.