There's one thing you'd expect about the most highly rated training program at Google: it has the longest wait list to get in. There's also one thing you wouldn't expect: the subject has nothing to do with engineering or coding or algorithms.
It's about mindfulness, and it's calledSearch Inside Yourself.
Mindfulness, according to specialists and commentators such as Dan Harris, is the next public health movement that will become commonplace, the way that exercise and eating a certain amount of fruits and vegetables have become commonplace over time as medical advice.
We can expect to add mindfulness to the list of routine expectations that are part of a healthy lifestyle.
That's one of the reasons why the Search Inside Yourself program is so popular. Another reason is that it works, when "works" means that it cultivates the three main benefits of emotional intelligence, which also happen to be three powerful capabilities that employers -- and particularly entrepreneurs -- want themselves and their employees to possess: outstanding leadership, high performance, and happiness.
Google's Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute has made its program available to public audiences -- both individuals and organizations -- through various programs around the country and around the world. Last week I participated in a two-day training held at the Institute for Transformational Leadership at Georgetown University in Washington DC, and I came away with these three insights about mindfulness that will guide my business toward an optimal second half of 2018.
Focus on the "why."
On any given day, our minds are wandering 47 percent of the time. Which means that for nearly half of our working hours, we are not fully present and attentive to the task at hand. (Yikes.) What you want to do is shift from "autopilot" to "aware," when the physical presence of your body and the intellectual presence of your mind are synced and integrated.
How do we do this?
There are a number of strategies within mindfulness training that can help; one that I find most helpful is to take a minute (literally, 60 seconds) at the beginning of a meeting or as I transition from a phone call to a face-to-face conversation, and simply pause. Even that 60 seconds, or just that 60 seconds, minimizes the anxiety caused by feeling rushed, and it minimizes the stress caused by a sense that you're always running behind. Over the course of the day, those 60-second pauses to gather yourself accumulate into a more present awareness of yourself and what's happening around you.
My personal reaction to this practice has been a persistent return to my Why -- why the business exists, that is -- which keeps day-to-day activities in perspective of the bigger goal.
Happiness is a skill that we can learn.
It starts with a calmer, more settled mind, which enables the conditions for happiness. The research continues to mount that demonstrates meditation as a gateway to a calm mind. Even better, from a productivity point of view, research has indicated that meditators have better access to "flow." What entrepreneur doesn't want that in their toolkit? It's why a subculture of elite-performers-who-meditate has developed, from Marines to top executives.
For me the surprise of a consistent meditation practice, even for 10 minutes a day, has been its longer-term impact on my sense of happiness. Meditation generates a specific mental state in real time, and over time as well. The more we do it, the more familiar we become with our mind. In practice, that's meant a heightened sense of awareness not only about the health of my business but also about the potential threats to it. In my mind I know there will always be threats and, as I come to know my mind better, I'm also better able to calmly and rationally respond to those threats.
Your brain's hidden power
Don't think you're much of a meditator? No worries. Your brain is "neuroplastic," which means that we can actually train it to develop the pathways that enable meditative states, such as a calm, settled mind. So even if right now you don't feel as though the "snow globe" thoughts inside your head can ever be coaxed into settling down, science tells us that the potential is there.
A Harvard study found that meditation grows gray matter around personal development, and reduces gray matter around stress and anxiety. The idea of neuroplasticity was revolutionary in its suggestion that we can change the structure of our brain, and build muscle in places within the brain that were less developed, especially those places that are associated with emotional intelligence.
It's an empowering, hopeful and motivational finding that I'm happy to share, both personally and professionally.