08.17.12 Career & Finances
Meditation: The Secret Tool of Leaders?
BY Elena Avramov
In a wood-paneled living room at a Harvard Business School dorm, I sat amongst a group of 10 other MBA students, eyes closed and hands on our laps. Outside, the sun had set and many of our fellow students were running at the gym, reading the next-day’s cases or getting drinks at a bar in Cambridge. Inside, we were the only people on earth, floating in a bubble surrounded by light and space. At least that was the image on which we were all focusing.
Several years prior, I set off on a journey that led to me be an avid practitioner and a certified teacher of yoga. Yoga truthfully transformed my life by changing my body, balancing my emotions, and opening me up spiritually. As I became more comfortable with the physical practice, I started to seek out the emotional and spiritual practice and eventually discovered meditation.
What I learned was that every living creature on this planet already knows how to meditate. Meditation is defined as a singular focus on one object or idea and occurs every time we obsessively think about our weight or when a lion stalks its prey. By contrast, the mindful practice of meditation allows us to choose the object or idea of focus, lengthens the amount of time that we can focus, and deepens the level of focus. When we meditate on something such as breathing, we make positive associations so that every time we breathe, our minds are calmed. It is a practice that helps us to better control our own mind, freeing it from daily insignificant thoughts and opening it up to more creative, deeper thoughts. There have even been studies that have scientifically proven that meditation decreases stress, improves awareness and increases happiness (see LA Times Article and Harvard Article).
Back to that room at Harvard Business School. Almost immediately upon enrolling, I began to make the connection between what I had learned through my practice of yoga and meditation and what I was learning in my Leadership and Management classes. As one of my favorite professors, Rakesh Khurana described, successful business leaders have a unique ability to simultaneously delve into the details and step back and see the broader picture that few others see. This allows them to come up with creative ideas, navigate the complex political environment within organizations and steer their organizations with precision. Furthermore, successful business leaders have figured out how to maintain a work life balance that allows them to be successful in the long term.
I am not the first to make this connection. Many CEOs, from Steve Jobs to Oprah Winfrey, have practiced meditation. Many companies, from Aetna to Raytheon, offer meditation classes and training to their employees. There are actually consultants who bring meditation to corporations. But you do not need fancy trainings or celebrity teachers to start meditating- the principles are simple.
Here are the 4 steps that I have developed through my experience and practice.
1. Set aside 5 minutes each day for meditation. Choose the same time each day, preferably when you feel most alert.
2. Sit somewhere comfortable and try to sit at the same place each time.
3. Choose a concentration point to focus on during the meditation – your breath is a great option. You can explore different focus points over time.
4. Don’t judge yourself if you lose concentration, just try to avoid latching onto thoughts that arise. Work on observing any thoughts that come up, as an external outsider, rather than getting caught up in them and just letting them go.