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Our minds are filled to the brim these days, with to-do lists for tasks at work and at home, and we are inundated with information at every turn – from the TV or our smartphones or e-mail – and we face constant interruptions.
Our minds can get overloaded and we lose the ability to focus and to manage our emotions with this mental chaos in our heads. But there are ways to allow time for our brains to find a few moments of quiet and it can have a huge impact on our mental health.
This micro skill promotes meditation, an activity that continues to gain attention as an effective strategy for promoting mental fitness. In fact, there are many apps available for learning and practicing daily meditation.
If you don’t meditate or haven’t thought about trying, it may be because of some stereotype impression you have about what meditation is, and the kind of people who meditate has turned you off.
Rather than focusing on the process of meditation or judging people who meditate, it’s beneficial to focus on the science. Growing evidence supports how regular meditation – even as little as three minutes a day – can have a cumulative benefit on our long-term mental health and happiness. Ideally, getting three to four three-minute sessions a day is best. But doing some is better than none.
Committing to three minutes of meditation daily requires intent and action that over time will result in benefits such as reduced stress and anxiety and improved sleep.
Research shows that meditation can influence the brain’s neuroplasticity, which can increase a person’s ability to focus and manage emotions.
Many CEOs, athletes and top performers meditate daily. The first step is to not over-think the commitment to meditation and to start with just three minutes. This can lay the foundation so that after about 90 days you can increase it to six, nine, 12 and 15 minutes. When you get to this level, you’re able to realize the benefits within a few months.
What stops many people from trying or adding a new activity to their life, even something as simple as three minutes of meditation is the illusion that we’re just too busy. No matter how busy we are, we can choose to take three minutes to engage in a simple and powerful activity that’s scientifically proven to support mental health.
Meditation can be done anywhere and at any time, provided it’s a safe time to disengage from the world. For example, just before you settle into bed at night you can take three minutes to quiet your thoughts and meditate.
Adapting meditation to your daily routine starts with a commitment to practice.
Action – There’s no training or mastery needed to begin the process of mindful meditation – just a desire to create more mental space by practicing. You need to only follow a simple process as outlined below. When you’re practicing meditation, you’re not thinking about yesterday or tomorrow. You’re just being in the moment, which is allowing your mind to rest and to train your brain to focus better and cope with the demands of the world once you stop meditating.
Following is a simple three-step model for practicing a three-minute meditation:
1. Learn – One easy meditation to practice is called focused-attention meditation, where all you need is to find a quiet, safe spot where you don’t need to be focused on anything other than your meditation for three minutes. The practice requires you to focus on a single object, breath, sound or visualization. Clear your mind of all thoughts and just focus on the one thing you’ve picked. When your mind wanders, which it will, don’t judge. Be patient and bring attention back to your focus.
2. Set daily expectation – For the next 90 days, set a goal to meditate three minutes a day and commit to when you will do it (for example, when you wake up or just before going to sleep).
a. Choose a safe spot and prepare yourself to meditate.
b. Open your stop watch on your smart phone.
c. Pick your focus point (for example, a spot on the floor, an item in your room).
d. Before you begin, remind yourself that if your mind wanders you’ll pull your attention back to your focus area. Repeat this process as needed.
e. Start your stop watch.
f. Move your attention to your focus point and begin meditating.
g. When you think you’ve done at least three minutes, stop.
h. Look at your watch to see how you’ve done.
i. The more you practice, within a short period of time three minutes will fly by and you may find you go longer, which is fine.
Bill Howatt is the chief of research for work force productivity at the Conference Board of Canada, and former chief research and development officer of work force productivity with Morneau Shepell.
You can find other stories like these at tgam.ca/workplaceaward.