If you were asked “what is a habit that many successful people share”, what would your response be? Perhaps grit? Tenacity? Persistence? The ability to clearly define a goal and execute a plan to make it happen? Maybe leadership ability?
All of these traits are important, and they are often shared by successful people, but there is another habit that is equally powerfully, although sometimes overlooked, and it is also often present when you inquire into the factors that influence many successful people’s lives:
Many successful people practice some form of daily mindfulness or meditation.
Here is a (short) list of successful people who have publicly stated, in print, that they practice some form of daily meditation or mindfulness:
Russell Simmons, Co-Founder, Def Jam Records, Sir Paul McCartney, Ray Dalio, Founder & Co-CIO, Bridgewater Associates USA, Rick Rubin, Arianna Huffington, President & Editor-in-Chief, Huffington Post Media Group, Kobe Bryant, Hugh Jackman, David Lynch, Rupert Murdoch, Chairman and CEO, News Corp, Padmasree Warrior, CTO, Cisco Systems, Tony Schwartz, Founder & CEO, The Energy Project, Bill Ford, Executive Chairman, Ford Motor Company, Michael Jordan, Moby, Oprah Winfrey, Chairwoman & CEO, Harpo Productions, Inc., Lebron James, Howard Stern, Russell Brand, Clint Eastwood, Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff, Derek Jeter, Panda Express Founder Andrew Cherng, Former Monsanto CEO Bob Shapiro, Bill George, Professor Harvard Business School, Legal Sea Foods CEO Roger Berkowitz, Green Mountain Coffee Roaster Founder Robert Stiller, Phil Jackson.
There are undoubtedly many, many other examples.
Meditation has many positive benefits. It calms your nerves, helps bring clarity and focus into your life, and teaches you to be present in your engagements (which undoubtedly increases your level of performance). It helps you to detach, to release stress and anxiety, to think clearly, and it increases your creativity.
Researchers at the University of Wisconsin, including neuroscientist Richard Davidson have conduced studies showing that meditation increases neuroplasticity – which is the brain’s ability to adapt, structurally and functionally. It also increases the grey matter in your brain which slows the aging process. It can help you have better sleep, and also decrease your blood pressure, and it has even be shown to be effective in managing pain.
I can attest to many of these, having firmly entrenched a daily habit of meditation and mindfulness practice in my own life. I am such a believer in it that I will meditate daily for the rest of my life.
Through meditating I have experienced the following benefits:
- A greater ability to focus on a specific task (without feeling compelled to check email, or social media) until the task is completed;
- An ability to “detach” from my emotions of what I want out of an action, and instead just be present to the moment of what is happening. This allows me to perform better in what I am doing;
- An ability to do things (like public speaking) without fear, because I am completely present to the moment without attachment to outcome;
- An ability to control my own anxiety, my breathing, and my internal state, when I encounter things that are outside of my control (which happens every day);
- A greater appreciation for life in general;
- A greater sense of gratitude for the little things in life.
Some people are reticent to start a meditation practice because they (incorrectly) associate it with a religious or dogmatic tradition that is part of their belief structure. This is an unfortunate mistake as mediation or mindfulness as a practice, although it can be associated with religious tradition, doesn’t have to be. This incorrect association causes many people to miss out on the many positive benefits of meditation in their life. For a great book on a “non-religious” perspective on mindfulness and meditation practice read Sam Harris’ Waking Up.
All people, of all believe structures, and religious or non-religous inclinations, can benefit from a daily practice of mindfulness. Here is a very simple way to get started. Take ten minutes in the morning, before you start your day. Comfortably seat yourself in an upright position (you don’t have to use lotus pose either, this is also a common misconception, a comfortable chair will do just fine).
Take several deep breaths, in through your nose, and out through your mouth, as you centre yourself and get comfortable in your surroundings. After you are comfortable gently close your eyes. Then, as your breath moves into a steady flow, scan and observe your body, notice the pressure points, and “observe how you are feeling” without trying to change anything. Then move to a focus on your breath. Observe the rising and falling sensation, again without trying to change anything. Then count your breaths up to ten and repeat, until the ten minutes are over.
This is just a simple technique to start your practice. There are many, many others. Over time, you can adapt your practice, make it longer, bring in other techniques from other traditions and teachers. There are also really good apps, such as Headspace, which can guide you in your practice as well. There are really no “rules”. But start today, and in a very short amount of time you will come to embrace the incredible benefits that having a daily meditation habit bring.