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If you do not adapt, if you do not learn, you will wither, you will die.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Creating More by Switching Off

In his book Wise Mind, Open Mind Ron Alexander describes meditation for busy minds. Mindfulness and mediation have become popular, they have become buzz words, and for some, they have become a source of irritation. No matter which of the three applies to you, what I’d like to borrow from Alexander, therapist and meditation teacher, is the belief that the mind is one big muscle that requires exercising. Grounded in neuroscience and stem-cell research he builds on the notion that we are not doomed to work with whatever we were given at birth. Many studies have shown that if we work on a certain skill, the part of the brain associated with that skill grows too. Depending on many health and other factors and on how we exercise our brains we can increase our brain cells throughout our life. This is quite a relief, if you ask me, from the old notion that brain cells slowly but gradually (if we’re lucky) cease to exist as we grow older, or start to glue together thereby creating many brain related problems.

Another belief I share with Alexander is the benefits of quiet time and switching off for which mindfulness training is only one example of the many possibly ways to do so. Mindfulness training is said to increase the ability to shield yourself from irrelevant information and to clear your mind from distractions. Who wouldn’t want that in this ever overloading world with all the benefits and downturns from technological tools and constant access and availability. It also helps you focus intently on what you perceive to be relevant input. There are researches who claim to have shown that an 8 week mindfulness meditation course  Recent research has shown that an 8 week mindfulness meditation class can lead to structural brain changes including increased grey-matter density in the hippocampus, known to be important for learning and memory, and in structures associated with self-awareness, compassion and introspection. Recent research has shown that an 8 week mindfulness meditation class can lead to structural brain changes including increased grey-matter density in the hippocampus, known to be important for learning and memory, and in structures associated with self-awareness, compassion and introspection.can lead to structural brain changes including increased grey matter density in the hippocampus known to be important for learning and memory and in structures associated with self-awareness, introspection, and compassion. Recent research has shown that an 8 week mindfulness meditation class can lead to structural brain changes including increased grey-matter density in the hippocampus, known to be important for learning and memory, and in structures associated with self-awareness, compassion and introspecResearch in this area is piling up, results are coming in, but most importantly, it’s supporting what many Eastern cultures have known and practiced successfully for so long: strengthening the mind by quiet time, contemplation, meditation, and letting go can be very successful.

For locals reading this post, the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction Program of the Center for Spirituality and Healing of the University of Minnesota, which is in its seventh year, is receiving very good reviews – just in case you’d like to go this route. This program is developed by renowned practitioner and author Jon Kabat-Zinn who has been a leader in this field for 30 years. If you do not want to ‘go mindfulness’, there are many ways leading to more balance, focus, and switching from the challenges demands of your professional life only to rejuvenate and return to that professional life with more energy and focus.

Mindfulness is closely related to awareness, a topic which has been covered before on this blog. See for example the articles Managing Mindfully, The Real Risks of Leadership, and How are you doing as a Leader? When talking about awareness I refer to awareness of yourself: your style, preferences, values, purpose, blind spots, challenges, ego strength, and of your drives and motivations. I also refer to awareness of where you stand on the many polarities that life and leadership presents to you on a daily basis. And of course I refer to a strong awareness of your environment consisting of the three C’s: customers, competitors, and colleagues, and everyone and everything you can learn from. Reflection, contemplation, being present in the here-and-now, and feedback are your tools for continuous awareness and I suggest you use them wisely.

Increasing your awareness increases your ability to notice (and appreciate and enjoy!). If you just stop and take notice, you see so much more and often accomplish so much more. Learning to be more mindful and more aware can do wonders for your well-being in basically all areas of life - like your travels to work, the way you eat, your cooperation with colleagues, or your relationships. It helps you get in tune with your feelings and stops you dwelling on the past or worrying about the future in order to get more out of the day-to-day.

Whether you wish to gain creativity, IQ, intuition, or just more piece of mind in busy, often tumultuous and fearful times, some common sense concludes this post:

1.    No one can rush from one meeting into the next, from one overscheduled day (or week) into the next, without having to sacrifice focus, sharpness, creativity, balance, or patience and thereby results.

2.    Whether you call it meditation or some other mindfulness technique (and don’t get me wrong, there are great differences in method and in results), it basically comes down to the notion that you do good by taking time to switch off, to rejuvenate, to come to peace, and to clear your mind. For some it’s music, for others its nature or a good night out with friends, maybe a motorcycle ride or a book on the patio. Find your own way, but do find a way to train that muscle called ‘the mind’, by practicing focus and by regularly switching off and regaining balance.

And as far as I'm concerned, presidents and other high-profile officials are no exception to the need to reload, switch off, and relax in order to create more focus, energy, balance, and perseverance.

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