For the last 12 months, my life's been pretty full tilt. After a stint at London Business School, I juggled a couple of jobs and then jumped head first into the start-up of the business which I currently run. As anyone whose started their own business will testify, all the clichés ring entirely true - they appear to be inescapable. While there's a hell of a lot of fun, I think the intensity is unmatched and trite phrases like 'roller-coaster' certainty don't do it justice. It's been a simple and discrete division between the very best days of my life and the worst! My mind is a whurr of thoughts, responsibilities and ideas.
It's tempting to ride this wave of adrenaline, to see where we get to and hope for the best. Running at everything you can until you either; conquer the world, go bankrupt or drop down dead. But, it seems like quite a risky game, even for an entrepreneurial type.
About six months ago, I saw a pretty astounding piece of research by Killingsworth and Gilbert (2010) from Harvard Medical School about meditation and mental health - I'm not a professor, but I guess they know what they're talking about. The crux of it was simple and I hope I do it some sort of justice, our minds are manic with uncontrolled thoughts and this has a pretty enormous impact on our health, our happiness, our stress levels and our ability to perform. Mental health and mindfulness is something that is still very much under-researched, but this article highlighted two extraordinary facts that really changed my thinking and indeed possibly my life.
1) In an average person, around 50% of our thoughts are unintentional thoughts - or wandering thoughts.
2) There is a very strong inverse correlation between the amount of wandering thoughts we have and how happy we are.
In essence, our chaotic minds, full with thoughts we don't even mean to be having, are making us sad. Or less happy, certainly less useful and in fact possibly less creative. Everyone likes a day-dream once in a while, but this is daydreaming on speed and pretty much permanently.
Now, while this is all quite depressing, thankfully the solution doesn't have to be a move to Dorset for a few years although that'd be nice. After reading this study by Benson and Denniger currently being undertaken at Massachusetts General Hospital, it quite simply demonstrated that for most people this uncontrolled frenzy of thoughts is amazingly easy to rein. It showed that ten minutes of meditation a day can have a profound effect in a very short time, be it through yoga, guided meditation apps such as Headspace or indeed your own self-disciplined stopping of the mind.
Meditation doesn't need to be mystical or difficult. It's quite simply a way of purposely calming your mind from the manic around you and simultaneously training your mind to actually think the way you want to think and be aware your thoughts, even when you're not meditating. It's this two-fold impact that to your average man on the street like me is pretty enormously appealing. That it's proven to significantly impact, creativity, energy, sleeping well, your mood and indeed how nice you are, is all a pretty significant bonus.
Evidence shouldn't have to be called upon when it's something so easy just to try, but it certainly helps it hit home - that something like this isn't for a small group, inside the circle, but instead that looking after your mind, is pretty essential. It's had a huge impact on me, kept me going and kept my sanity.
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