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Why All Leaders Need Mindfulness Practices

Training our minds to be still unlocks the real power of our brains. I learned it the hard way.

When we stop our thoughts, we stop the world. When we stop the world we experience peace and mental clarity.

I know, it’s far easier said than done. You, like most people, are likely bogged down by mental noise. If even 10% of that noise stopped, can you imagine what could you create, understand, and see more clearly?

We have repetitive thoughts because we haven’t trained our minds to be still. When we do train them, the results are quick and powerful.

Sara Lazar and her team at Harvard also found that mindfulness meditation can actually change the structure of the brain: it increases cortical thickness in the hippocampus, which governs learning and memory, and in certain areas of the brain that play roles in emotion regulation. There were also decreases in brain cell volume in the amygdala, which is responsible for fear, anxiety, and stress.

What does this mean for you? Mindfulness can help you:

· Increase your pre-frontal cortex which helps you make better decisions, stay calm and clear under pressure

· Reduce the size of your amygdala so aggression is reduced and a state of calm and choice of emotional state becomes the norm

· Increase the size of your hippocampus to boost learning and memory

· Expand your vision, insights and ability to see more choices

· Expand your ability to enroll, engage, align your team, peers, board members/leader

I also know firsthand how important it is to take care of your brain. Years ago, I nearly worked myself into total exhaustion (if you read Rules for Renegades you know my story). Learning to achieve balance and unleash the full potential of my brain was a life-changing lesson for me, and I have since made it my mission to help many, many leaders improve their business results by slowing down their minds. In fact, the lesson was so powerful, I created an annual mindfulness leadership retreat, Beyond The Brain, to share mindfulness practices with other leaders.

Here is one effective practice I’ve shared with countless executives over the past three decades. To date, it has resonated with every person I’ve met. If you are the exception, let me know, and I’ll offer some more! (Note this practice is great for conquering insomnia, too, simply do the practice in bed.)

Mindfulness Practice: News Feed

1. Imagine a news feed across the bottom of a TV screen. There’s a bit of news, then some white space, then more news, and so on. Your thoughts are like the news. There’s always more! Now consider the white space between the thoughts. In Japanese, the word ma is loosely translated to mean pause–the pause between notes, the pause between breaths, the pause between sentences, the pause between thoughts.

2. Close your eyes. Place your inner focus on the constant stream of thoughts scrolling across the TV of your mind. See the scrolling thoughts floating in space or across a TV screen, whatever image works for you.

3. Don’t pay attention to the thoughts in detail. Let them scroll by, do not cling to them or reject them. Now focus on the space between the thoughts, the ma, the pause. As you focus on the white space between the thoughts you’ll find it getting wider, longer, bigger. In time you’ll see mostly emptiness, with few, if any, thoughts.

4. Focusing on ma, pause, emptiness, is a nice practice during the day, too. Stop and notice open space as conversations pause, as music pauses. We are surrounded by pauses. That’s where some of the best stuff is. We often fill our minds and schedules out of fear of emptiness. Yet emptiness is where true peace, connectedness, happiness, and love can always be found.

Just a few days of mindfulness practice can improve your concentration and attention… imagine what a regular practice can do for your leadership, your business and your life.

Christine Comaford is the best-selling author of Power Your Tribe: Create Resilient Teams in Turbulent Times and SmartTribes: How Teams Become Brilliant Together, and a leadership and culture coach. She hosts Beyond The Brain, a Retreat In Mindfulness and Ancient Wisdom every October. Learn more at SmartTribes Institute.

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People look for retreats for themselves, in the country, by the coast, or in the hills . . . There is nowhere that a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind. . . . So constantly give yourself this retreat, and renew yourself.

- MARCUS AURELIUS

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