Building the Ability to Bounce Back

Practicing mindfulness meditation can go a long way to building resiliency, says emotional intelligence expert Daniel Goleman.

Daniel Goleman, author of the bestseller “Emotional Intelligence,” is a regular contributor to Korn Ferry. His latest book, "Altered Traits: Science Reveals How Meditation Changes Your Mind, Brain, and Body," is available now. 


Quick to recover.



Think of leaders you know who fit these descriptions. They’re the ones who navigate challenges with relative ease—even thriving in times of transition—where other leaders would flounder. Sales down for the past quarter? These leaders are moving ahead with a new strategy. Company acquired by another firm? They’ve already made a place for themselves in the new system.

What these leaders have in common is resilience, a psychological quality that Merriam-Webster defines as “an ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change.” Resilience can help leaders at all levels of organizations face today’s volatile environment. Companies across the globe offer resilience training to their employees. It’s no surprise to me that many of these training programs incorporate some form of mindfulness meditation

Meditation Helps Build Resilience

Scientific studies show that practicing mindfulness meditation helps people recover more quickly from stressful events. The technical definition of ”resilience”: how quickly it takes you to get back to calm from the peak of your upset. And research finds that mindfulness strengthens circuits in the brain that speed stress recovery. That’s one of many results neuroscientist Richard J. Davidson and I found when we reviewed more than 6,000 findings on the impact of meditation for our book, Altered Traits: Science Reveals How Meditation Changes Our Mind, Brain, and Body.

For example, meditation teacher Alan Wallace and psychologist Paul Ekman created a renewal program for schoolteachers that combined psychological training with meditation. Result: The more hours the teachers practiced meditation, the quicker their blood pressure recovered from its high point during a stressful situation. That quick recovery still was present five months after the teachers finished the program. That points to the “altered traits” of our book title. For years, studies have shown “state” effects, those that occur during meditation. But Davidson and I are particularly interested in impacts that last—the “trait effect” you can take to work with you.

You Don’t Have to Be an Olympic Meditator to Reap the Benefits of Meditation

Other research found that even beginners in mindfulness released fewer inflammatory biochemicals under high stress. Just four weeks (about 30 hours total) of mindfulness meditation led to a reduction in the key stress hormone cortisol. Again, this was a lasting impact, true even when the study participants weren’t meditating.

And the more you practice, the stronger the effects: that rapid recovery from stress shows up even more strongly in long-term meditators.

Do Your Own Research 

The stress of change and the unexpected are inevitable parts of everyone’s work life. Leaders need a toolkit with resilience to handle day-to-day challenges. I encourage you to conduct your own research on the benefits of meditation. If your company offers some form of mindfulness, try it out—sign up and show up. If there isn’t an in-house program available, find a reputable meditation teacher in your local area or online, or try an app.

Before you start, assess your level of stress, perhaps through checking your blood pressure or writing down other indicators of stress (such as how often you have difficulty sleeping, or how quick you are to anger, in a given week). Then, practice meditation, at least 10 minutes a day for a month. Check back on your stress indicators and see what you notice. If you’re like most meditators, you’ll start to find that meditation helps you bounce back from stressful setbacks, which will bring more resilience and agility to your life—both at work and at home.