- Effective leaders and managers work on their mindset first and their skillset second.
- Working on your mindset includes training your brain to stay focused and open to new ideas and concepts.
- Research indicates that meditation can also be used to improve cognitive abilities.
- Neuroplasticity is the brain’s ability to re-wire itself. You can use your brain’s natural neuroplasticity to eliminate negative and obsessive thoughts.
I’d like you to focus on the target above for 60 seconds. Just look at the center of the target and hold your focus for about a minute.
Give it a try. I think you might be happy with what takes place.
Dr. Andrew Huberman, a neuroscientist and professor at the Stanford School of Medicine, does research on the mind and how you can get the most from it.
He says that focusing your eyes on a stationary object for as little as 60 seconds can improve your focus significantly. For people like me who have ADHD, this simple technique can come in handy. It can be used to settle the mind and improve its ability to focus.
But staring at a drawing of a target is not the only thing you can do to improve your focus and improve your mindset. You can also use things like meditation, EFT tapping, breathing exercises and a few other techniques we’ll be discussing here.
Another technique to improve your mindset and increase your focus is through meditation.
If you’re like a lot of people, you’re already familiar with meditation and the ways it can help you reduce stress, heighten mental clarity, and even improve your health.
You might also be familiar with apps like Calm, Headspace, and Heartfulness. They’re all great ways to improve your perspective on the chaos that we sometimes face as humans.
Apps are great and research shows that they can help reduce stress in the people who use them. As good as they are, I’ve never found them to be very good at helping people get into a deep and lasting meditative state.
If you’d like to learn how to meditate, keep reading. But if meditation isn’t your thing, that’s okay, too. Just skip ahead to the next section. (See how laid back I was about people who don’t want to learn how to meditate? That’s because I meditate, which helps me manage my controlling instincts.)
Learning to Meditate Can be as Simple as Learning to Count
I’m often asked by friends and family to teach them how to meditate. “You probably already meditate,” I tell them. “Jogging, praying the Rosary, silent communion with Nature – these are all forms of meditation that people do all the time.”
That said, if you’re interested in learning more about traditional meditation, like the kind discussed in Dan Harris’s bestseller 10% Happier, then keep going. This short guide will help you understand everything you need to know.
Before we dive in, let’s start with some scientific facts about the benefits of meditation:
- Memory and Learning: Harvard Medical School compared the brains of people who practiced mindful meditation for at least 30 minutes each day with those who did not. After only eight weeks, those who had meditated measured for increased grey matter in the part of the brain that plays a huge role in memory and learning.
- Alzheimer’s: According to a study done by the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Alzheimer’s patients who practiced meditation showed a slower progression after eight weeks than patients who did not participate.
- Thoughts and Impulse Control: The University of Wisconsin has found that people who meditate regularly exhibit high levels of gamma wave activity. Such activity allows these frequent meditators better control of their thoughts and impulses.
- Decision Making: According to a study done by UCLA, people who routinely meditate for an extended amount of time have larger amounts of gyrification, that is folding of the brain’s cortex, than the average brain. Increased gyrification enhances neural processing, or decision making.
- Hearth Health: Patients with coronary heart disease were given the option of taking a class on either transcendental meditation or health through improved diet and exercise. After five years, it was found that those who had chosen to pursue meditation had reduced their overall risk of stroke, heart attack, and death by an amazing 48%.
- Pain Management: A study at the Institute for Natural Medicine and Prevention in Iowa found that practitioners of transcendental meditation had a 40 to 50 percent drop in pain response in the thalamus and prefrontal cortex.
- Reduced Stress: In a study at the University of Calgary, cancer patients enrolled in an 8-week meditation and gentle yoga program. Six- and 12-month follow-ups showed significant decreases in stress symptoms, including drops in systolic blood pressure and heart rate.
- Insulin Levels: In a study led by Paul-Labrador at Cedars-Sinai, researchers found that meditation could stabilize insulin levels and heart rate.
- Cholesterol: Other studies have found meditation to be effective in lowering LDL (bad) cholesterol, fighting cirrhosis, and fending off the adverse effects of autoimmune disease.
Perhaps the best way to describe how to meditate is to tell you about my experience with a counselor several years ago. I had just read an article in my local newspaper about adult Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder. I suspected that I had suffered from ADHD all my life and decided to consult a counselor about getting a prescription for Ritalin. “Ritalin is fine for some people,” he said. “But have you ever tried meditation?”
My answer was yes. I had meditated on and off throughout my life, having learned Transcendental Meditation when I was just 14. (My parents weren’t hippies but, given their open-mindedness to things like meditation, they may as well have been.) The doctor suggested that I increase my meditation frequency from once a day to twice a day.
So, I took his advice and found that the effects were subtle, but profound — I almost completely stopped getting colds, my eyesight improved, my ADHD was more manageable and, most importantly, I found that my stress level dropped to nearly zero.
I describe meditation to friends as the same kind of feeling I get right after a church service – I’m at peace, I have perspective, I’m stress-free.
When I meditate, these feelings stay with me all day long. And because I have this deep, inner sense of peace, those around me sense it and interact with me in a more peaceful, calm manner.
So how does meditation work? There are hundreds, if not thousands, of medical studies on mediation and its effect on humans. I can’t go into all the findings right here, but I will tell you that one of the key states in meditation is called the Alpha state.
The Alpha state is the scientific term for what people sense when they meditate. If you were to ask most people who meditate what they feel, they might say, “A sense of connectedness to all living things” or “Deep perspective and peace” or even “A feeling of oneness with God.”
This all leads to the most important question, which is “How do I meditate?” As mentioned previously, the act of meditation is deceptively simple. They key is to stick with it.
I’m going to encourage you to try mediation for two weeks. If, after two weeks, you’ve decided that meditation is not your cup of tea, no problem – it may not be for you. But to get started, you should try to commit to two weeks of twice daily meditation.
Here are several easy steps to help you get started:
Find a comfortable chair to sit in. (Don’t meditate lying down because you’ll fall asleep.) If you’d like to try sitting in the traditional cross-legged position on the floor, just be sure to sit on a couple of pillows while keeping your crossed legs on the floor. Putting the pillows under your rear end and keeping your legs on the floor helps straighten your back and makes sitting upright simple and easy.
- Close your eyes and take three deep breaths. When breathe in for 4 beats, hold for 7 beats, and breathe out for 8 beats, it stimulates the Vagus nerve which runs from your brain to your abdomen. Do this 4-7-8 exercise three times. This technique has been scientifically proven to reduces stress in and of itself, so it’s a good way to start your meditation.
- After your “4-7-8 breathing” exercise, start breathing regularly. Once you’ve done the 4-7-8 breaths three times, start counting your regular, normal breaths. In and out is one breath. When you reach 10 breaths, start over again at one. (It’s that simple. Really.)
- With eyes closed, focus attention on the spot between your eyes on the lower part of your forehead. As you breathe in, watch the air come in through your nostrils and exit through your nostrils. This will help you focus attention on the spot between your eyes on the lower part of your forehead. (If you breathe through your mouth, that’s fine. Just focus attention on the spot on your forehead.)
- When your mind wanders (and it will), go back to counting your breaths again. Each time your mind wanders, start counting over again at one.
- Start meditating for 15 minutes twice a day. Instead of saying “I’m going to meditate twice a week for two weeks,” say, “I’m going to meditate twice tomorrow.” By breaking it into small chunks like that, it’s easier to stay on track.
- By the second or third week, your mind, body and spirit will kick into the Alpha state. It will be subtle at first, so don’t expect magic, but over time, you’ll begin to recognize the deep, abiding sense of connectedness you’ll feel in the alpha state.
- End with affirmations. Once you’ve gotten comfortable with meditation and have been doing it for a while, some people introduce thoughts or affirmations to their meditation.
Towards the end of my meditations, I introduce the following thoughts into my mind:
- I am Peace
- I am Love
- I am Humility
- I am Clarity
- I am Focus
That’s all there is to it. As mentioned, it’s quite simple. If you can commit to two weeks, you’ll probably become familiar with the Alpha state. Once that happens, you’re off to the races.
How to Rewire Your Brain
Do you ever feel like you’re in a rut? Do you ever feel like you’re trying to solve new problems with the same old solutions? Do you feel as though you keep making the same mistakes over and over?
If you answered yes to those questions, it might be because the neural pathways in your brain are stuck.
In a previous blog post, we discussed neuroplasticity, which is the brain’s ability to change itself by creating new neural pathways and losing those which are no longer used. When you encourage your brain’s neuroplasticity, you can improve your cognitive skills which can help you remain mentally sharp, intuitive, and open to new ideas.
For your brain to rewire itself, you can’t simply do a daily sudoku or crossword (although those can help). Instead, you need to help your brain break out of the patterns it has developed over the years.
The good news is that you can take your old neural pathways and re-wire them with new thoughts.
If you find yourself in a rut, it may be time to create some new neural pathways.
The technique I encourage people to use is a modified version of EFT Tapping. EFT stands for Emotional Freedom Technique and it was first developed by Gary Craig. Although EFT is still being researched, it has been used quite effectively to treat people with anxiety and people with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
In a Nutshell
Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) is a method some people use to help manage stress and troubling thoughts. EFT may help calm you if you’re feeling angry. Or it may help ease your thoughts if you’re worried about something.Source: Wikipedia
If you find yourself under stress or having repetitive thoughts that you’d like to be relieved of, then my version of EFT tapping might be of some help. I’ve found it to be quite effective at shifting old patterns of behavior so that I can create new ones.
To leverage this technique, you can follow these simple steps:
- Think of something that is bothering you. It can be anything – something that causes stress, hurt, anger, sadness. It really doesn’t matter.
- Measure how it makes you feel. A score of 0 means you don’t feel bad at all. A score of 10 means you feel as bad as possible.
- Tap on each collar bone with your hands. Tap firmly, but not so it hurts. And tap a few times each second. This begins the process of shifting your thoughts.
- Shift your thinking. While thinking of whatever it is that bothers you and tapping your collar bone, say a nonsense word out loud. You might feel silly doing this at first, but it works. I choose to say blueberries because they’re colorful, flavorful, and memorable. You can say anything – umbrella, bicycle, tennis ball, yellow hammer, egg, etc. The key is to shift your thinking to the new word or object.
- Replace the thought. Once you’ve tapped your collar bone and said your word out loud for a few seconds, replace the nonsense word with the thought you’d like to input into your brain. It might be, “I’m strong, vibrant, and happy,” or “My parents are proud of me,” or “I am light, joy, and optimism.” It can be whatever you want – assuming it’s a good, loving, and optimistic thought.
I’ve used this technique in my own life to shift my thoughts from a painful experience in my childhood to something that doesn’t bother me anymore. I’m sure you’ll have some success if you use it, too.
Additional Techniques You Can Use to Develop a Better Mindset
We’ve covered a lot of ground here. We’ve discussed everything from being open minded to using meditation to improve mental clarity and to reduce stress.
Some of these topics might seem a bit unusual to you. Or, they might even make you feel a little uncomfortable. That’s good news, because it leads me to my next important point.
Wouldn’t it be great if we could improve our lives without feeling a little discomfort? Wouldn’t it be nice if we would be smarter, thinner, happier, and kinder – all without doing any work?
Sure. That’d be nice. But that’s not realistic.
The truth is that if we’re going to improve our lives, we’ll probably be a little uncomfortable during the process. After all, you don’t run a marathon without a little discomfort. You can’t learn piano without stretching your mind (and muscles) to the point that they’re uncomfortable. And you can’t improve your leadership skills without pushing yourself into new and sometimes uncomfortable areas.
My sister, Ashley, has a friend who has helped illustrate this principle. We’ll call him Bob.
Bob has done very well for himself. He lives in a very nice high-rise apartment and spends his days managing the investment funds that he’s earned from a lifetime of hard work. To say he’s comfortable would be an understatement. Instead, he’s uber-comfortable.
Every so often, Ashley and Bob get together for dinner. But she noticed something interesting about Bob as he got more and more comfortable. She noticed that the world around him was closing in on him.
“Let’s get together for dinner,” she’d say.
He’d say, “Okay!”
“I’ll meet you at the Mexican restaurant about a mile from your apartment.”
“Oh, no, I can’t do that. I really like the Chinese restaurant in the ground floor of my building,” he’d say.
“Okay, Chinese it is. I’ll see you there at 6:00 pm.”
“I can’t do 6:00 pm. We’ll have to do 4:00 pm,” he’d say.
“4:00 pm? For dinner? Why?”
“Because that way I know we’ll get my favorite table in the corner.”
It was at that point that Ashley realized that Bob was building a wall of comfort around him. It started with simple things like eating at the same Chinese restaurant at 4:00 pm so he could get his favorite table. But it kept going from there. In the end, the wall of comfort was making his world smaller and smaller.
I mention this story because it illustrates the key point mentioned previously – when you move towards comfort, your world shrinks. When you move towards discomfort, your world expands.
So, get comfortable with discomfort. It’s a sign that you’re growing, improving, and building a better life for yourself.
Don’t Set Goals. Set Dreams.
There’s a difference between a goal and a dream. Goals are fine, but over time they can feel like a To Do list. And To Do lists are drudgery.
Let’s talk about goals for a minute before moving on to dreams and why they’re better than goals.
A goal is a target that someone is trying to reach or achieve. Said another way, a goal is an aim or objective that you work toward with effort, hard work, and determination.
We all have goals. Whether they’re simple ones, like getting up early to go for a jog, or more complex ones, like building a business, goals are an important part of being human.
But, as mentioned, goals can sometimes turn into To Do lists if you’re not careful. Which is why I’d suggest you turn your goals into dreams.
A dream is a cherished aspiration, ambition, or ideal. One of the key aspects of a dream is that they have emotion tied to them. Emotions are what drive us, so if you can tie your goals to an emotion, you’re more likely to achieve them.
Building a business is a goal. It’s a good goal. But when you add an emotional component to it, it becomes a dream. And we’re motivated more by dreams than by goals or To Do lists.
A dream around building a business might be, “I’d like to sell my business in 10 years so that I can launch a charity that helps young adults.” Or, “I’d like to lose 10 pounds so that I’m healthier and play with my grandchildren in my old age.” Or, “I’d like to get a promotion and a raise because then I’ll be able to spend 2 weeks sailing in the Caribbean with my spouse.”
See the difference? A goal is a To Do item. A dream has an emotional component which makes it easier to achieve.
Action vs. Inaction for Leaders
If you’re like a lot of people reading this, there are things you’d like to do that might make you a little nervous. It might be launching your own business. Or doing stand-up during open mic night at the local comedy club. Or taking riding lessons.
It doesn’t matter. We all have things we’d like to do that make us a little nervous. By conquering those fears, we open ourselves up to new and better things in our lives.
Not long ago, I went to a local university to do an art class around sketching. We were all sitting in chairs that were positioned around a small platform in the center of the stage. In the center of the stage was a model in his early 50s with no clothes on. (He was in surprisingly good shape.)
The model would pose for 10 or 15 minutes while the students sketched. Every 10 or 15 minutes the instructor would tell the model to relax for a minute before changing positions. It was hard work! It may not seem like it, but if you’re over 50 and have to pose – naked! – and hold that pose for 10 or 15 minutes, it can be very, very difficult.
During intermission, the model came off the stage, put on a robe and got a drink of water. I approached him and told him how impressed I was with his dedication and devotion to the art class.
“I guess you’ve gotten comfortable over the years posing naked,” I said.
“Are you kidding me?” he said. “I’m terrified every time I come out here. But I force myself to do it because my life has changed as a result.”
He went on to explain that he first took on the job on a whim. He came across an ad and thought, “I’m going to do this. I’m scared to death, but I’m going to confront my fears and take this on.”
And guess what happened? First of all, he found out that he was a pretty good art class model. More importantly, he learned that he didn’t dissolve into a pile of dust when he took on these challenges. Instead, the challenges gave him strength.
And that strength led to some great changes in his life. Over time, he came to realize that he was unhappy in his job – it was a dead-end job, but he just didn’t have the nerve to quit. But then, because he had learned to confront his challenges, he quit. And found a new and more fulfilling job.
There were other things in his life that he changed as a result of learning how to confront his fears. But perhaps the most important lesson of all was this one:
It’s a valuable lesson and one that we can all be inspired by. So remember, when in doubt, take action. The odds are good you won’t regret it later. And if you do, move on!
Let’s do a quick recap of everything we’ve learned here:
- Improved Focus: Dr. Andrew Huberman points out that we can sometimes improve our ability to focus simply by zeroing in on an object (like a target) for about 60 seconds. It trains our brain to pay attention.
- Meditation: Learning to meditate isn’t as hard as you might imagine. It can be as simple as counting your breaths and focusing your attention to the space in your forehead behind your eyes.
- Move Towards Discomfort: When we move towards comfort, our world shrinks. When we move towards discomfort, our world expands.
- Set Dreams Instead of Goals: Goals can become To Do lists. Instead of setting goals, tie them to an emotion and set dreams instead.
- Taking Action: The pain caused by inaction is usually greater than any pain arising from action.
About the Author: Jamie Turner is an internationally recognized author, professor, consultant, and speaker who has helped employees at The Coca-Cola Company, Holiday Inn, Microsoft, Verizon and others do a better job leading, managing, and mentoring others. To have him speak at your event or organization, email him at: Jamie@JamieTurner.Live