Mindfulness has been identified as an increasingly critical skill required to navigate the corporate world. But how do you create a mindful workplace?
Our Step by Step Guide to Meditation
Maybe you’ve often thought about meditating but never really known where to start? Perhaps you’ve started and thought that it’s too difficult to continue? Or wondered if you’re doing it ‘properly’. Relax, meditation is easier than it sounds. You don’t need to sit on the floor cross-legged, tie yourself in impossible knots or cut yourself off from the rest of the world. Meditation is deceptively simple and something that you can practice any time, anywhere.
With the science backed benefits of regular meditation ranging from;
Positive effects on immune and brain function
Elevated levels of emotional intelligence
There are a whole host of reasons to set time aside each day and create your own Zen moments. But where to start? Look no further. We’ve created your very own step-by-step beginners guide to meditation.
Start where you are
Forming the habit of meditation can start right here, right now. If the thought of sitting down for half an hour everyday sends you into a cold sweat, you’re not alone. Start by making a commitment to a more achievable goal. 5 minutes is a great place to begin and you can build your meditation practice from there. And if 5 minutes sounds too long, start with 1 minute.
Most people tell themselves that they simply don’t have the time to meditate. The truth is we don’t have time not to. Think of meditation as a workout for your brain. The brain is a muscle like any other muscle in your body. You wouldn’t go to the gym once and expect to be match fit straight away. Meditation is the same, the more you practice the greater return on your time investment you’ll see. Once you start to notice the benefits you’ll naturally want to do more than 5 minutes.
Choose a time
For a formal meditation practice (one that you do sitting down everyday) it can help to choose a daily time and place to embed your new habit. Try and link it to something that you do everyday, waking up, a morning coffee, arriving into work first thing, perhaps your lunch break, getting home from work or just before you go to bed. Linking your new meditation practice to something that you already do will make it easier to create space for it within your day. If you miss a day, don’t beat yourself up, be kind to yourself and remember, tomorrow is another opportunity to practice.
Create your own meditation space
Find a quiet space where you won’t be disturbed. It doesn’t need to be an entire room and you don’t need any special equipment. You can create your own meditation zone in a corner anywhere in your living space. If you prefer to meditate outdoors, try your favourite park or a green space where you can sit and relax. Wherever you choose, make sure it’s somewhere comfortable and right for you.
Rest easy, you don’t need to sit cross-legged to meditate. Whether you’re sitting on the floor or you choose to sit in a chair, there are some really simple rules when it comes to posture. Make sure that your spine is upright, allowing you to sit comfortably without being rigid. If you lean to one side or slump against a chair it’s easy to feel drowsy, lose focus or fall asleep. An upright posture will help you to remain focused. Your head should be slightly lowered, chin tucked in, with your shoulders back and relaxed. Use whatever you need to make yourself comfortable whether it’s leaning against a wall, using a specially designed meditation stool, stacking cushions to sit on or laying down on the floor. Listen to your body and allow it to act as your guide.
This is really down to personal preference. For some people it’s easier to meditate with their eyes open. For others, eyes half closed focusing on a single point in front of them works best. Others find it easier to meditate with their eyes completely closed. It’s different strokes for different folks and the best way to find out what works best for you is by trial and error.
Set an intention
Before you sit down to meditate it can be helpful to set an intention. Doing this for each meditation session can help to guide your practice. As Wayne Dyer said, “Our intention becomes our reality”. If you’re not clear on your intention ask yourself a few simple questions:
Is there something you’d like to explore?
What matters most to you about this particular practice?
What are you grateful for?
What is challenging for you?
What would you like to focus on?
Is there something that you would like to create or build in your life?
Think of your intention as a way of reminding yourself why you choose to meditate.
Now you’re ready to meditate. Relax. There’s nowhere to go and nothing to do. The beauty of meditation is that you’re not trying to achieve anything. There is no end goal. Forget your ‘To do’ list, this is the time for you to stop doing and start being.
The breath is a natural anchor to use when meditating. You’re not trying to change your breath, control it, or change it in any way. Simply notice the sensation of the breath as it enters and leaves the nostrils. Perhaps the air feels a little cooler around the nostrils as you inhale? As you breathe out it may feel a little warmer around the nostrils, or you might feel a stream of warm air passing over your upper lip.
Observe the sensations in your body as you breathe in and out. Notice the rise and fall of your abdomen, the movement of your shoulders. If your mind wanders, congratulate yourself for noticing and bring your focus back to the breath. If you become distracted by thoughts, emotions or feelings, once, twice or ten times, it’s fine, just notice that you’re focus has drifted without beating yourself up. Gently bring your awareness back to your breath each time, noticing whatever is here, right now.
Formal or Informal?
For those times when you just can’t fit a formal sitting practice into your day, informal practice is the way to go. By performing these short, simple meditations you’ll still be building your meditation muscles and reaping the benefits.
The Traffic Light
This one is simple and takes just one minute. Think of what you do at a traffic light; STOP! You can do this sitting in your car every time you really are stopped by a red light, sitting at your desk or just sitting in your chair.
Stop: Stop what you are doing.
Pause for a moment.
Take a breath: Breathe, it’s easy, we do it all of the time, we just don’t think about it. Really notice how the breath feels entering your body and how it feels as you exhale. Concentrate your attention solely on your breath.
Observe: Now you’ve had that pause and breathed a little, how do you feel? What’s going on for you? What thoughts are popping into your head? How do you feel right here, right now in your body? Just notice, observe it without judging.
Proceed: Time to continue on your journey.
The one-minute breath
This is another technique that only takes a minute. Set your stopwatch, use one of the many meditation apps or sit in front of a clock and breathe for one minute. Your aim is to focus on your breath for one whole minute. Notice how the breath feels as it enters the nostrils, does it feel cool as you inhale? Or perhaps it’s a little warmer as you exhale? Notice how the breath feels travelling down your throat, filling your lungs and then leaving the body. That’s all you’re doing, focusing on your breath, using it as an anchor for an entire minute.
This is a mindfulness favourite. You can do it with chocolate, raisins, dinner, breakfast, anything you like as long as it’s edible. Get rid of distractions like the TV, newspaper, mobile phone, radio or conversation and sit down to eat, bringing your full attention to your food. Reflect on the following;
Where did it come from? How was it produced?
How does it smell, what colour is it? What are the textures like?
Chew slowly and really savour your meal. Finish chewing before you reload your fork. Notice how your food tastes. What is the consistency like? Really bring your awareness to each mouthful.
This is also a great technique if you are watching your weight, helping you to feel fuller for longer rather than wondering where that bar of chocolate went….
A mindful cup of tea.
It’s a simple task, but there’s a reason it’s a ritual in the Far East. Making (and of course drinking) tea can be a profoundly relaxing experience. Notice the weight of the kettle as you fill it with water, listen to the sound of the water as it runs from the tap, how the light bounces off the endless stream. Notice the sounds of the water in the kettle as it comes to the boil. Stay in the present as you prepare your cup and place the tea bag in it. Watch as you pour the boiling water onto the bag, notice the colour of the water change, how it floats as the steam swirls upwards. Then sit down and reward yourself as you notice the heat, the initial taste of the tea as you sip and then the flavours in the different parts of the mouth until you swallow.
The next time you’re walking, feel the ground under your feet, the weight shifting from one foot to the other, the stretch in your calves and thighs as you move forwards with each step. Perhaps notice how you breathe as you walk, or any changes in the body.
Really notice what’s going on around you. As you walk, observe the light, the sky, the clouds and the leaves in the trees.
Notice the buildings you pass, the architecture.
Who are your fellow pedestrians? How do they move?
Remain in the present moment as you head towards your destination. Bring your attention to the wind on your face, how the sun feels as it shines down, the temperature on your skin, how it feels to move your whole body. Notice how you feel when you finally arrive at your destination.
Now you’re ready. With just a few simple practices you’ll begin to notice that you can easily and skillfully introduce meditation into your everyday life. The great thing about meditation is that you can use it any place, anytime, anywhere. Practiced on a regular basis, you’ll see that meditation can improve both your mental and your physical health, offering a great return on investment for a few just a few minutes of your time each day. So what are you waiting for?
We love to talk about all things mindful at Positive Change Guru. Check out our forthcoming events or get in touch to find out more about our suite of courses and discuss bespoke mindfulness training for your organisation.
When we set ourselves goals, we know that willpower is going to come into play at some stage of the process. Enthusiasm can fire us into action initially but when the going gets tough willpower may be the make or break of achieving a dream or goal. So is willpower something that we are born with or can it be developed to help us work towards positive change?
Marshmallows reveal a lot about willpower
Psychologist, Walter Meschel, carried out a longitudinal study focusing on cognitive control (or willpower) with 1,037 children born in one year of the 1970s. The research took place in the beautiful city of Dunedin on New Zealand’s South Island. Each child was given a variety of tests to complete, the most famous of which was the legendary marshmallow test.
In the marshmallow test the children were instructed that they could have a marshmallow straight away or they could wait a mere fifteen minutes and be rewarded with two marshmallows. Meschel found the results of the test divided the children into three groups. The first group was comprised of children who ate the marshmallow on the spot. The second group of children waited a while longer but couldn’t resist temptation for the full fifteen minutes and the third group waited the full quarter of an hour before receiving their two marshmallows.
The effects of willpower thirty years on
What makes Meschel’s research even more interesting is that he was able to re-visit the children from the study almost three decades later. Now in their thirties, Meschel discovered something fascinating about the children. The group who waited the full fifteen minutes were significantly healthier, more successful and more law abiding than the group of children who ate the marshmallow straight away. Meschel and his team took these results and factored for social class and IQ. They found that the level of willpower the children had at an early age was a greater predictor of financial success than either IQ or social class.
It’s clear from this study that our level of cognitive control or willpower is a big factor in our ability to achieve our dreams and goals. Even though Meschel’s test involved the small task of waiting fifteen minutes to gain an extra marshmallow, it demonstrates that the everyday decisions we make to resist temptation can build or deplete our capacity to manage challenge or temptation when bigger decisions present themselves over a longer period.
3 tips to develop willpower
The good news is that we are all able to develop our level of willpower. Meschel describes three sub-types of cognitive control that are required to successfully use willpower and overcome instant gratification:
1. Voluntarily remove your focus from the object of desire.
The fact that you are choosing to remove your focus away from temptation is important here. Think about your motivation for resisting and make sure that it’s powerful enough to fire your determination. Write down your main motivations and keep them close to hand so you can remind yourself of the important reasons you have chosen to make this change.
2. Prevent distraction and avoid being drawn back towards temptation.
Draw up a list of activities that you know will be effective in helping you to avoid distraction. The list should contain activities you enjoy, some may have been successful strategies in the past for avoiding temptation. Examples could be meeting with friends, engaging in a favourite exercise, listening to music, playing with a pet, focusing on a hobby. The list should contain plenty of activities that you find fun or challenging in some way.
3. Focus on the future goal and imagine how good it will feel when the goal is achieved.
This future focus is essential to ensure willpower remains strong. Visualise every aspect of achieving your goal, how it will look and feel and the benefits for you and those around you.
Small steps can make a big difference
Research from neuroscientists, including that of Richard J. Davidson, has demonstrated that we are able to develop our level of cognitive control through any activity that prompts us to stop and focus before resisting temptation and concentrating our focus elsewhere. Just making the decision to resist instant gratification and waiting moves our brain processes into the pre-frontal cortex, activating the brain centres required for cognitive control. This means that even the smallest of steps to exercise willpower will have a big impact in the long term by developing the brain circuitry responsible for cognitive control.
So the next time you are presented with a small decision that provides the option to exercise your cognitive control, seize the moment and regard it as an opportunity to strengthen your willpower.