With pursuing happiness all the rage at the moment, no doubt someone has already recommended meditation to you. What new insight could yet another expert touting the benefits of mindfulness training possibly have to offer?
Sharon Salzberg--a celebrated meditation teacher and author of several books, including her latest, Real Happiness at Work: Meditations for Accomplishment, Achievement, and Peace--doesn't differ from other boosters of meditation when it comes to the practice's many benefits.
"People feel they can think better--the technical term is 'executive function' in terms of neuroscience. You find that you're not so caught in tunnel vision. You see more options. You're more creative. There's better communication," she told Inc.com in an interview, citing science that shows meditation changes the brain, immune system, and even gene expression. But she does offer a uniquely accessible approach for the newbie to mindfulness practices to get started.
Meditating on the sly
While meditation does require a certain level of commitment--"It is just like physical exercise--thinking about it admiringly doesn't do it," she laughs--Salzberg stresses that reaping these entrepreneur-friendly benefits takes neither long hours nor arcane practices.
"You don't have to leave the world behind, you don't have to do endless retreats, and you don't have to sit six hours a day," she says. "It doesn't belong in the realm of woo-woo weird things. It's mental training. It's so accessible."
In fact, once you're up and running you can slip meditation into your day, calming yourself and boosting your performance without those around you even knowing you're up to anything at all. Salzberg calls these "stealth meditations" and offers several examples:
- Let it ring. "Don't pick up the phone on the first ring. Let it ring three times and breathe, and then you pick it up." Why? "We're trying to interject moments throughout the workday where we come back to ourselves, come back to this moment."
- Breathe before you send. "Write out the email and don't press send right away. Breathe and then read it again and decide if you want to send it."
- Unitask. "Maybe don't drink the tea while you're checking your email while you're on the conference call while you have the TV on mute reading the crawl underneath. Maybe just drink the cup of tea. It's not going to take hours, and you're not going to ruin your workday, but it's a very different experience," she suggests.
The overall point, for Salzberg, is taking meditation out of the realm of colorful pillows and flowing clothing, and putting it squarely into the middle of the working day as a vital and practical tool. "If you're at work and there's a contentious meeting going on and tempers are starting to flare, you don't have to open up the closet and pull out all this equipment, sit down cross-legged, light the incense and look weird," she reassures leery business owners. "You just need to settle your attention on your breath. No one even knows you're doing it, so it's very personal. It's very independent."
Prerequisites for success
Which doesn't mean there are absolutely no preconditions for successfully getting started with a meditation practice. You might not need special clothes or long hours ("Undertake a commitment to try to sit three times a week for five to 10 minutes to begin with, working up to 20 every day," Salzberg suggests), but you do need appropriate expectations and a good guide.
"Have an understanding of what to expect and what not to expect. People get so discouraged because they think, 'I couldn't do it. I couldn't stop all my thoughts.' That's not the purpose of meditation, but it's such a common misconception," she says. "The thought that you're going to enter this blissful fog and sort of float away is just not true."
To get the right context, you need the right guide, and as the popularity of meditation has grown, the quality of instruction hasn't always remained consistent. While books and online courses are a fine way to get started, Salzberg says, be aware "there isn't a licensing agent or anything that's looking at the whole field and saying this one's good and this one's not good."
"If you have a tendency to try too hard and you get all uptight, with a teacher who reinforces that, sadly, you're going to end up more stressed and you're not going to feel like it was worth your time. And that's a shame," she concludes.
But with the right attitude, a touch of instruction, and a little bit of commitment, there's no reason you can't soon be calming office conflicts, viewing problems more globally, and generally being happier at work thanks to a simple meditation practice.