Meditation is a common practice of many extremely successful people, and with good reason: CEO Ray Dalio, for instance, has said he uses meditation to check his ego; Steve Rubin attributes his “laser-like focus” to the practice.
Related: Why Meditation Works and How it Benefits the Workplace
What exactly is meditation? And how has mastering it helped so many CEOs to master their business?
When you run a business, your most valuable asset is your mind. Any practice that involves relaxing that mind in order to regain control of it is meditation.
And that control was something I craved myself: As 2016 came to a close and I noticed that I was becoming more easily distracted and my writing had begun to suffer, I enrolled in a ten-day silent meditation course to help me kick off 2017 on a fresh note.
Before beginning this free course run entirely by donations from previous students, I surrendered my books, electronic devices and access to the internet to focus on studying the Vipassana meditative technique. Taught since the time of the Buddha, this technique has students observe their breath and bodily sensations in order to train their minds to be nonreactive.
By not immediately reacting to feelings of pain and pleasure, we not only toughen our minds and boost our sense of inner peace, we also broaden our perspective and capability to understand things a stressed out, self-absorbed mind would miss.
Below are some of the ways that meditation can change the way you run your business in the New Year.
Meditation keeps you disciplined.
Most things in our life are outside of our control. We cannot control the world around us, or what other people say and do, but through meditation and hard work, we can control our own minds. A trained mind can be the best friend you’ve ever had, and with it, you can accomplish things you never thought possible.
During my first few days of the Vipassana meditation course, I found my mind racing nonstop, never giving me a moment of peace. Even closing my eyes for a few moments seemed painful, but our instructor, the late S. N. Goenka, was very encouraging in the daily lectures we watched on videotape.
“Patience and persistence is the secret to success,” he said -- a truism in both meditation and business. So I pushed myself as much as I comfortably could, and slowly but surely, saw the results; my mind became clearer and more focused.
Subhash Chandra, the billionaire chairman of Essel Group, is also a Vipassana meditator, taught by S. N. Goenka. Chandra has even donated a 13-acre plot near Mumbai for a new ashram location. Former Monsanto CEO Bob Shapiro and New York Times bestselling author Keith Ferrazzi are among those who have attended Goenka’s meditation workshops.
They've realized meditation's benefits: Staying focused and resilient can be difficult, especially for overworked CEOs who live stressful lives; however, research has shown that mindfulness meditation can boost long-term mental health.
As Chandra told a business publication, “Vipassana taught me how to maintain equanimity in all situations of life. This has helped me tremendously in business, more so in the tough times.”
Meditation helps you maintain a positive mindset.
It’s easy to stay positive when our careers are on a roll, but to be able to find happiness within, even during times of turbulence, is something else again.
Because the Vipassana philosophy emphasizes the concept of time, I had a lot of it to reflect on its nature and how it brings about change. Everything we experience, both good and bad, will come to an end. Vipassana taught me to enjoy the present moment to its fullest without worrying about the future or dwelling on the past.
With a cool, calm mind, you'll be better able to appreciate life’s simple pleasures because you are unconcerned by thoughts of when the moment will end or whether or not you will have a similar experience again. While our circumstances are finite, our positivity is something that can be endlessly harnessed.
This is all part of creating an abundance mindset. When your happiness comes from inside, and you have an infinite well of positivity that you can tap into at any time, the way that you run your business is markedly different.
A related story: Christopher Hawker has said that when he began his company, he wanted to hire a salesperson but couldn’t afford one.
Rather than give up, he thought, “What I need is an amazing sales person with a ton of experience who also happens to be willing to work on a commission-only basis for a hardly existing company.”
Shortly after, he connected with a VP of sales on LinkedIn who wanted out of the 9-to-5 world, and the match was perfect. Had Hawker not cultivated his positive outlook, he never would have engaged with this person.
Meditation teaches you to be nonreactive.
When practicing Vipassana meditation -- sitting still and silent as your physical and mental sensations come and go -- you learn to observe, rather than react. By adding this layer of distance, we train our minds to respond rather than react, which helps us to gain a more thoughtful and holistic understanding of our situations. As the Association for Psychological Science reported, meditation increases compassionate responses to suffering.
And the result is an increase in tranquility. I was pleasantly surprised to discover this sense within myself after I returned from the meditation course. Without putting active effort into curbing my anger, I found I could reduce it naturally through meditation: I became a calmer, kinder person. I noticed an internal shift manifesting externally.
As we become more compassionate, we are better able look beyond ourselves and our own immediate business interests, helping us to understand long-term implications and the unique positions of all stakeholders. We stop thinking in terms of winning and losing, and friends and enemies, but instead feel the commonnality that we share with all of humankind.
In this context, seasoned entrepreneur and venture investor Chirag Patel told the Harvard Business Review that meditation had made him feel more connected to clients, colleagues and staff: “You start connecting to your customer as your family rather than merely a business transaction,” he said.
By increasing our capacity to empathize and decreasing our stress levels, meditation helps us thrive in all aspects of life, both personal and professional. Mental fortitude, insight and empathy are invaluable assets in any business, and meditation helps these qualities flourish. Perhaps this is why Goenka also created a Vipassana course specifically designed for business executives.
Of course, you don’t need to set aside the time to complete a ten-day course to put meditation on your agenda this year. All you need is five minutes and a (preferably quiet) place to sit, lie down or even stand. Your mind -- and your business -- will thank you.