Meditation has been scientifically linked to a wide variety of professional benefits, improving cognition, boosting your mood, increasing focus, and providing a better overall feeling of well-being.
Professionals are so confident in these benefits, they're investing heavily in meditation for themselves and their teams, with companies like Apple, Google, Goldman Sachs, and Nike making it part of their employee development efforts.
Count me as one of the believers. Like many other busy professionals do every year, I recently took the long President's Day weekend off -- in my case, to enjoy a group silent retreat in the Northern California mountains. I didn't speak to anyone, except briefly to the teacher, for three days.
The experience was so invigorating, I'm recommending it to everyone I know who wants to recharge their minds and be more productive. Here are a few things I learned during my silent retreat.
Everyone needs a recharge.
One of the biggest benefits of the retreat was the higher level of energy I had when I returned to my desk. This wasn't some kind of explosive, fast-paced energy, but more of a longer-term mental strength. I frankly felt far less burned out than I had just days before, and I had the mental stamina to show for it.
This was energy I could put into my work. Generally, after a three-day weekend, it takes an effort to generate some momentum, but I was ready to jump right in. This gave me a head start on my week's work and, best of all, that energy continued throughout much of the week.
Each day consisted of more than ten 45-minute meditations. You sit in a comfortable position and concentrate on your breath. When thoughts swirl into your head, you simply re-focus on your breath. It seemed grueling at first, but became easier with more practice and experience.
Perhaps the best thing about the retreat, though, is that the gift keeps giving. If I'm ever feeling drained, I can call upon a regular meditation practice and set aside some time to take stock or regain my energy and strength. Since energy management is key to success in business, this could be among the most valuable techniques I've ever learned.
Stress is an illusion.
The retreat also managed to help me reframe my views on stress. In the heat of the moment, it's so easy to let one minor incident disrupt the day. Not only does it hold us back as we waste valuable minutes fuming over something that seems huge at the time, but it also brings down our mood, making the day far less enjoyable than it could be.
Often, the very things that stress us out are forgotten a few hours later, when we realize that we worked ourselves up over nothing. I learned through my retreat that the ups and downs are nothing more than an illusion. One hour I was approaching furious that I had to share a bed in the same room that we had our group meditation "sits." A little later, it wasn't something that seemed important at all.
Meditation gives me a tool I can use when those little things start stressing me out. Once I've worked past such slight hiccups in my day, I can get back to the work at hand, and those productive hours will add up over the course of a month.
Taking a break won't destroy your progress.
I think many of us have the misconception that if we unplug for a weekend, everything may fall apart. I know I thought so.
My three-day retreat taught me that is far from what actually happens. In fact, some founders have discovered that going offline every weekend is a great way to get a mini-vacation and arrive at work reenergized on Monday morning.
Although checking out every weekend may not be feasible for most of us, my retreat did teach me that an occasional day or two off is a great way to shake off the week's stresses, clear my mind, and come back to work with new ideas. Knowing that everything will still be in place when I return to my desk makes me feel more comfortable with unplugging occasionally to sit still and truly refresh my mind.
Just three days of silence were all I needed to learn that I can be more in control of how I react to things. That realization is an empowering feeling, especially since I now have the tools I need to indulge in meditation sessions whenever I need them throughout the day.
Now I want to make meditation a long-term practice. For entrepreneurs who feel like they're running low on energy day after day, that break in the schedule, when you can just stop everything, is a perfect way to get that much-needed recharge, and a whole new perspective on our busy lives.