Meditation! Why is everyone talking about that ancient practice as it relates to leadership today? Since leaders need grace and coolness under fire in today’s rapidly changing stressful world, in simple terms, meditation can create that world of present moment focus and nervous system equilibrium that we equate with coolness under fire.
As humans we all have two kinds of nervous systems, sympathetic and parasympathetic. The sympathetic nervous system kicks in when we are under threat. It speeds up our heart rate and breathing and shoots adrenalin into our bodies. In other words it is getting us ready for flight or fight with the latest sales figures, personnel challenges or difficult meetings. The parasympathetic nervous system is the calming system. It is supposed to kick in when we get out of that difficult meeting and sit down at our desk or take a moment to look out the window at some greenery.
Sounds good? The problem with western civilization at the moment is that our business and political culture is so fraught with pressure, stressful situations and hyper activity that our parasympathetic nervous system doesn’t get a change to kick in and our bodies have adapted to being “on” most of the time. Hence the prevalence of heart disease and burn out to name two results!
So if you are an organizational leader facing the current world, how do you find that balance when you are feeling like the future is breathing down your neck and you don’t have time to breathe? As many of you know just having your brain’s executive function say “stop it” doesn’t work with anxiety.
Yet research at UCLA and other centers shows that even 15 to 20 minutes of meditation a day can slow your heart rate, help your mind focus and begin to retrain your parasympathetic nervous system. Taking 5 minutes to sit at your desk, look at nature and breathe deeply can keep your day more productive.
When our minds are going like a speeding train, it takes some practice before the 5 minutes at the desk deep breathing or the 15 minutes early in the morning doing sitting or walking meditation begins to change us. Like any learning it can be difficult at first and the change gradual until one day you look back at the old harried days and wonder when that all changed.