Making Time for Mindfulness

Research shows that even hard-charging executives can benefit from taking a step back, says emotional intelligence expert Daniel Goleman.

Daniel Goleman, author of the bestseller “Emotional Intelligence,” is a regular contributor to Korn Ferry.

Executives' days are filled with difficult conversations, tough decisions, and strategizing for growth and success in their endeavors. Under these inevitable pressures, some leaders get stressed, while others can stay calm and focused in the moment.

When I tell executives that research shows that mindfulness meditation reduces stress, some look skeptical. I can imagine they’re thinking, “Me? Meditate? You’ve got to be kidding!”

I’m not kidding. I’m speaking both from having reviewed hundreds of research studies on the benefits of meditation and from my own personal experience as a long-time meditator. Constant stress and worry take a toll on our cells, aging them. So do continual distractions and a wandering mind, due to the toxic effects of rumination, where our mind gravitates to troubles in our relationships but never resolves them. Among other findings, meditation reduces the inflammation that leads to cells aging and reduces levels of the stress hormone, cortisol.

Mindfulness meditation trains your brain to focus on something, notice distractions without being pulled away by them, and then refocus. Repeating those basic steps strengthens your capacity for focus just as lifting weights builds your muscles. 

What Matters

Our brains take in far more information in any given moment than we know in conscious awareness. Selective attention allows us to tune out what’s irrelevant and focus in on what matters. Research that my long-time friend and colleague Richie Davidson and I reviewed in our new book, Altered Traits: How Meditation Changes Your Mind, Body, and Brain, tested that ability to select what to focus on amid the deluge of stimuli coming our way. People who practiced mindfulness meditation were better able to focus on one thing and ignore distractions. This was true even for beginners.

Executives who excel in handling stress well and focusing in on what matters have an edge.  Consider trying mindfulness meditation to see how it can help you meet the challenges of your work. You can find many resources online for how to meditate, but I recommend finding a teacher who instructs you in person to get the full experience. And try it daily for at least a month to get a lasting impact.