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October 15, 2012 / TaskHoppers

If You’re Too Busy to Meditate, Read This

This morning, like every morning, I sat cross-legged on a cushion on the floor, rested my hands on my knees, closed my eyes, and did nothing but breathe for 20 minutes.

People say the hardest part about meditating is finding the time to meditate. This makes sense: who these days has time to do nothing? It’s hard to justify.

Meditation brings many benefits: It refreshes us, helps us settle into what’s happening now, makes us wiser and gentler, helps us cope in a world that overloads us with information and communication, and more. But if you’re still looking for a business case to justify spending time meditating, try this one: Meditation makes you more productive.

How? By increasing your capacity to resist distracting urges.

Research shows that an ability to resist urges will improve your relationships, increase your dependability, and raise your performance. If you can resist your urges, you can make better, more thoughtful decisions. You can be more intentional about what you say and how you say it. You can think about the outcome of your actions before following through on them.

Our ability to resist an impulse determines our success in learning a new behavior or changing an old habit. It’s probably the single most important skill for our growth and development.

As it turns out, that’s one of the things meditation teaches us. It’s also one of the hardest to learn.

When I sat down to meditate this morning, relaxing a little more with each out-breath, I was successful in letting all my concerns drift away. My mind was truly empty of everything that had concerned it before I sat. Everything except the flow of my breath. My body felt blissful and I was at peace.

For about four seconds.

Within a breath or two of emptying my mind, thoughts came flooding in — nature abhors a vacuum. I felt an itch on my face and wanted to scratch it. A great title for my next book popped into my head and I wanted to write it down before I forgot it. I thought of at least four phone calls I wanted to make and one difficult conversation I was going to have later that day. I became anxious, knowing I only had a few hours of writing time. What was I doing just sitting here? I wanted to open my eyes and look at how much time was left on my countdown timer. I heard my kids fighting in the other room and wanted to intervene.

Here’s the key though: I wanted to do all those things, but I didn’t do them. Instead, every time I had one of those thoughts, I brought my attention back to my breath.

Sometimes, not following through on something you want to do is a problem, like not writing that proposal you’ve been procrastinating on or not having that difficult conversation you’ve been avoiding.

But other times, the problem is that you do follow through on something you don’t want to do. Like speaking instead of listening or playing politics instead of rising above them.

Meditation teaches us to resist the urge of that counterproductive follow through.

And while I’ve often noted that it’s easier and more reliable to create an environment that supports your goals than it is to depend on willpower, sometimes, we do need to rely on plain, old-fashioned, self-control.

For example, when an employee makes a mistake and you want to yell at him even though you know that it’s better — for him and for the morale of the group — to ask some questions and discuss it gently and rationally. Or when you want to blurt something out in a meeting but know you’d be better off listening. Or when you want to buy or sell a stock based on your emotions when the fundamentals and your research suggest a different action. Or when you want to check email every three minutes instead of focusing on the task at hand.

Meditating daily will strengthen your willpower muscle. Your urges won’t disappear, but you will be better equipped to manage them. And you will have experience that proves to you that the urge is only a suggestion. You are in control.

Does that mean you never follow an urge? Of course not. Urges hold useful information. If you’re hungry, it may be a good indication that you need to eat. But it also may be an indication that you’re bored or struggling with a difficult piece of work. Meditation gives you practice having power over your urges so you can make intentional choices about which to follow and which to let pass.

So how do you do it? If you’re just starting, keep it very simple.

Sit with your back straight enough that your breathing is comfortable — on a chair or a cushion on the floor — and set a timer for however many minutes you want to meditate. Once you start the timer, close your eyes, relax, and don’t move except to breathe, until the timer goes off. Focus on your breath going in and out. Every time you have a thought or an urge, notice it and bring yourself back to your breath.

That’s it. Simple but challenging. Try it — today — for five minutes. And then try it again tomorrow.

This morning, after my meditation, I went to my home office to start writing. A few minutes later, Sophia, my seven-year-old, came in and told me the kitchen was flooded. Apparently Daniel, my five-year-old, filled a glass of water and neglected to turn off the tap. Oops.

In that moment, I wanted to scream at both Daniel and Sophia. But my practice countered that urge. I took a breath.

Then, together, we went into action mode. We got every towel in the house — and a couple of blankets — and mopped it all up, laughing the whole time. When we were done soaking up the water, we talked about what happened. Finally, we all walked together to our downstairs neighbors and took responsibility for the flood, apologized, and asked if we could help them clean up the mess.

After that, I had lost an hour of writing. If I was going to meet my deadline, I needed to be super-productive. So I ate a quick snack and then ignored every distracting urge I had for two hours — no email, no phone calls, no cute Youtube videos — until I finished my piece, which I did with 30 minutes to spare.

Who says meditation is a waste of time?

 

– by Peter Bregman – peterbregman.com

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September 19, 2012 / TaskHoppers

Michael Lewis’s Princeton Commencement Speech

Lewis’s life experiences and research has led him to believe that luck plays a huge role in determining one’s success (or lack of success). Students graduating from Princeton are by most people’s standards extremely lucky. These individuals may feel a sense of entitlement, but they should not forget the role luck has had in their current success:

A few years ago, just a few blocks from my home, a pair of researchers in the Cal psychology department staged an experiment. They began by grabbing students, as lab rats. Then they broke the students into teams, segregated by sex. Three men, or three women, per team. Then they put these teams of three into a room, and arbitrarily assigned one of the three to act as leader. Then they gave them some complicated moral problem to solve: say what should be done about academic cheating, or how to regulate drinking on campus.

Exactly 30 minutes into the problem-solving the researchers interrupted each group. They entered the room bearing a plate of cookies. Four cookies. The team consisted of three people, but there were these four cookies. Every team member obviously got one cookie, but that left a fourth cookie, just sitting there. It should have been awkward. But it wasn’t. With incredible consistency the person arbitrarily appointed leader of the group grabbed the fourth cookie, and ate it. Not only ate it, but ate it with gusto: lips smacking, mouth open, drool at the corners of their mouths. In the end all that was left of the extra cookie were crumbs on the leader’s shirt.

This leader had performed no special task. He had no special virtue. He’d been chosen at random, 30 minutes earlier. His status was nothing but luck. But it still left him with the sense that the cookie should be his.

This experiment helps to explain Wall Street bonuses and CEO pay, and I’m sure lots of other human behavior. But it also is relevant to new graduates of Princeton University. In a general sort of way you have been appointed the leader of the group. Your appointment may not be entirely arbitrary. But you must sense its arbitrary aspect: you are the lucky few. Lucky in your parents, lucky in your country, lucky that a place like Princeton exists that can take in lucky people, introduce them to other lucky people, and increase their chances of becoming even luckier. Lucky that you live in the richest society the world has ever seen, in a time when no one actually expects you to sacrifice your interests to anything.

All of you have been faced with the extra cookie. All of you will be faced with many more of them. In time you will find it easy to assume that you deserve the extra cookie. For all I know, you may. But you’ll be happier, and the world will be better off, if you at least pretend that you don’t.

Never forget: In the nation’s service. In the service of all nations.

 

Source: http://www.curatedalpha.com/2012/michael-lewiss-princeton-commencement-speech/

 

August 1, 2012 / TaskHoppers

The 6 People You Need in Your Corner

Nothing incredible is accomplished alone. You need others to help you, and you need to help others. With the right team, you can form a web of connections to make the seemingly impossible practically inevitable.

 

The Instigator:

 

 

Someone who pushes you, who makes you think. Who motivates you to get up and go, and try, and make things happen. You want to keep this person energized, and enthusiastic. This is the voice of inspiration.

 

The Cheerleader:

 

This person is a huge fan, a strong supporter, and a rabid evangelist for you and your work. Work to make this person rewarded, to keep them engaged. This is the voice of motivation.

 

The Doubter:

 

This is the devil’s advocate, who asks the hard questions and sees problems before they arise. You need this person’s perspective. They are looking out for you, and want you to be as safe as you are successful. This is the voice of reason.

 

The Taskmaster:

This is the loud and belligerent voice that demands you gets things done. This person is the steward of momentum, making sure deadlines are met and goals are reached. This is the voice of progress.

 

The Connector:

 

This person can help you find new avenues and new allies. This person breaks through roadblocks into finds ways to make magic happen. You need this person to reach people and places you can’t. This is the voice of cooperation and community.

 

The Example:

 

By Jessica Hagy

July 27, 2012 / TaskHoppers

The Best Strategy for Reducing Stress

Imagine you’re sailing in the Bahamas, sipping a cold drink and listening to the water lapping the sides of the boat.

Relaxing, right? Not for my friend Rob.*

Rob is not usually stressed-out. For many people, Rob’s daily work would be hair-pulling stressful — he’s a real estate developer who routinely deals with a multitude of nagging problems related to renters, banks, lawsuits, property management, and rapidly changing valuations. But Rob routinely handles it all with steadiness and perspective.

So why was he stressed that blissful day on his boat? The same reason most of us get stressed: frustrated expectations. Rob had an important call to make and his cell phone wasn’t working. He was experiencing the gap between what he expected to happen and what was actually happening.

That’s the underlying cause of stress and it’s afflicting us more these days than ever because our expectations keep rising, thanks in part to exponential improvements in our technology. Read more…

July 23, 2012 / TaskHoppers

Who Are You Really Mad At?

A man and two children, a boy about nine and a girl about seven, were walking ahead of me in silence. The boy looked up and said something to his father. Whatever he said set off his father who started yelling at the boy. I could see the boy’s pain as his father’s words hit him. It was heartbreaking.

What happened next took me by surprise, but shouldn’t have: As soon as his father stopped yelling at him, the boy turned to his little sister and hit her. Read more…

July 3, 2012 / TaskHoppers

The ‘Busy’ Trap

If you live in America in the 21st century you’ve probably had to listen to a lot of people tell you how busy they are. It’s become the default response when you ask anyone how they’re doing: “Busy!” “So busy.” “Crazy busy.” It is, pretty obviously, a boast disguised as a complaint. And the stock response is a kind of congratulation: “That’s a good problem to have,” or “Better than the opposite.”

It’s not as if any of us wants to live like this; it’s something we collectively force one another to do.

Notice it isn’t generally people pulling back-to-back shifts in the I.C.U. or commuting by bus to three minimum-wage jobs  who tell you how busy they are; what those people are is not busy but tired. Exhausted. Dead on their feet. It’s almost always people whose lamented busyness is purely self-imposed: work and obligations they’ve taken on voluntarily, classes and activities they’ve “encouraged” their kids to participate in. They’re busy because of their own ambition or drive or anxiety, because they’re addicted to busyness and dread what they might have to face in its absence.

Almost everyone I know is busy. They feel anxious and guilty when they aren’t either working or doing something to promote their work. They schedule in time with friends the way students with 4.0 G.P.A.’s  make sure to sign up for community service because it looks good on their college applications. I recently wrote a friend to ask if he wanted to do something this week, and he answered that he didn’t have a lot of time but if something was going on to let him know and maybe he could ditch work for a few hours. I wanted to clarify that my question had not been a preliminary heads-up to some future invitation; this was the invitation. But his busyness was like some vast churning noise through which he was shouting out at me, and I gave up trying to shout back over it.

Even children are busy now, scheduled down to the half-hour with classes and extracurricular activities. They come home at the end of the day as tired as grown-ups. I was a member of the latchkey generation and had three hours of totally unstructured, largely unsupervised time every afternoon, time I used to do everything from surfing the World Book Encyclopedia to making animated films to getting together with friends in the woods to chuck dirt clods directly into one another’s eyes, all of which provided me with important skills and insights that remain valuable to this day. Those free hours became the model for how I wanted to live the rest of my life.

The present hysteria is not a necessary or inevitable condition of life; it’s something we’ve chosen, if only by our acquiescence to it. Not long ago I  Skyped with a friend who was driven out of the city by high rent and now has an artist’s residency in a small town in the south of France. She described herself as happy and relaxed for the first time in years. She still gets her work done, but it doesn’t consume her entire day and brain. She says it feels like college — she has a big circle of friends who all go out to the cafe together every night. She has a boyfriend again. (She once ruefully summarized dating in New York: “Everyone’s too busy and everyone thinks they can do better.”) What she had mistakenly assumed was her personality — driven, cranky, anxious and sad — turned out to be a deformative effect of her environment. It’s not as if any of us wants to live like this, any more than any one person wants to be part of a traffic jam or stadium trampling or the hierarchy of cruelty in high school — it’s something we collectively force one another to do.

Our frantic days are really just a hedge against emptiness.

Read more…

July 2, 2012 / TaskHoppers

6 Exercises To Strengthen Compassionate Leadership

Want loyal, dedicated, and passionate employees? Be a loyal, dedicated, and passionate boss. Here are some tools to develop well-being in your workplace through better communication.

When you use compassionate communication in your conversations, something quite surprising occurs: both your brain and the brain of the person you’re talking to begin to align themselves with each other. This special bond is a phenomenon referred to as “neural resonance,” and in this enhanced state of mutual attunement, two people can accomplish remarkable things together. Why? Because it eliminates the natural defensiveness that normally exists when people casually converse.

The capacity to deeply relate to others is a key to all forms of relational success–at work and at home. If you find yourself in the position of overseeing others–be they your employees or your children–remember this: leaders who give the least amount of positive guidance to their subordinates are less successful in achieving their organizations’ goals, and the employees are unhappier with their work. Indeed, by not taking an active role in dialogue and teamwork building, they generate more interpersonal conflicts within their groups. Here are 6 steps to work on to become a more compassionate leader:

Step 1: Stay Present

When you focus intently on your breathing and relaxation, you pull your attention into the present moment. When we become completely absorbed in something as simple as breathing or relaxing a specific part of our body, the inner speech of everyday consciousness stops, at least momentarily, and this allows us to become aware of the subtle things that are immediately happening around us. We hear sounds we rarely notice, we feel more sensations in our body, and if we bring this “presentness” into a conversation, we hear more clearly the subtle tones of voice that give emotional meaning to the speaker’s words.

Step 2: Cultivate Inner Silence

Most of us are only able to stay relaxed and in the present moment for brief periods of time. Soon it gets interrupted by our inner speech. Research shows that you can suppress those distracting feelings and thoughts, but you have to practice doing it over and over until you gain control.

The more you consciously think about not thinking–as a formal training exercise–the more you gain voluntary control over the brain’s spontaneous cascade of inner speech and cognition. We especially need to develop the skill to remain silent so that we can give our fullest attention to what other people say. Unconsciously they will know when we’re distracted by our inner speech, and the lack of interest they perceive will make them distance themselves from you. Thus in active communication, silence is not the enemy.
Read more…

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