It’s time to come clean. I have long been dedicated to eating well and exercising but for many years I have been downright incompetent at balancing my life to enable adequate recovery and renewal, to my own detriment. A sea change has been required for some time and having just returned from a three month adventure in Italy , it really could not have been a better place to recover and work on changing unhealthy working habits. I know that so many of you will relate to this and there is no doubt that our daily performance is greatly affected by how we design our work and daily routine. I know mine has been.
The past three months have enabled me to reflect on how I conduct my combined professional and personal life at a speed that is simply unsustainable. For this to occur I needed distance and quiet time to do this but reflection comes in many forms. Meditation and yoga are two very popular forms of reflection and stilling the mind and I have tried a handful of times over the past 20 years to embark upon both of these. I have tried introduction courses several times and each time finished the course feeling no more competent than before. So far, the well- known benefits of this age-old practice have well and truly eluded me. Mostly, because I didn’t allow myself the time and space to do so.
It is obvious to me now that one does not tackle meditation like an exercise program and that it is a ritual or routine that requires time and practice. Considering that people have been meditating for thousands of years, perhaps it’s not surprising that I haven’t been able to master it in a couple of decades.
The definition of meditation depends on the form you are practising, however, many forms involve training your mind to focus and achieving a state of being and awareness. The Australian Teachers of Meditation Association says, “In its broadest and most universal definition, meditation is a discipline that involves turning the mind and attention inward and focusing on a single thought, image or feeling.”
It is well documented that many successful people (including Ros Worthington and many others in this book) make meditation part of their day and find it essential to their health and for developing their ability to focus on the truly important things in their personal and professional lives. Meditation helps develop skills in:
- Knowing what your mind is paying attention to
- Working out where your mind’s attention needs to be focused
- Maintaining attention on what you want your mind to be focusing on
The difficulty with developing focus is not just the external distractions in our lives but also the internal chatter in our minds. It is very difficult to sit and keep your mind focused on a single thing when automatically your attention is often drawn to replaying the past, worrying about the future and other negative thoughts. Feeling relaxed and focused is an immediate positive side effect of meditation but it can also help develop mental strength, resilience and performance. Experts in this centuries old practice have various methods of meditation including focusing on the breath, counting and mindfulness. Although many people may associate meditation with spiritual practice, in a practical sense it is attentional practice.
If, like me, you have found meditation to be challenging, there is good news. In my research and practice over the past three months I have discovered that meditation doesn’t need to be lengthy. Sitting quietly admiring a view can do the trick nicely. Many have suggested that simply focusing intensely in a concentrated way for 30-60 seconds is better than trying to maintain focus over a long period of time, while your mind wanders here, there and everywhere.
Interest in maximising performance has been gaining momentum for a while but there is no doubt that times are changing. Amidst the incessant demands that we are subject to each day, people are more interested in things that bring balance, focus and harmony. Meditation (and reflection) is one of those things.