People often ask why they should meditate. And sometimes people even say they already meditate—but “while they’re running.” That always makes me smile.
But what are the reasons you should take a few moments each day to sit down, close your eyes and meditate? Meditation makes you better at both working and not working. Here are a few reasons to start today.
1. It makes you more productive and efficient
On days when I meditate, I’m five times more productive than when I don’t. If I miss a morning meditation, I’ll still work all day, but often in a responsive mode. I might answer emails for hours rather than proactively accomplishing the tasks that are important for advancing myself and my company. When I meditate, I gain the power to ask myself throughout the day, “What’s the most impactful thing I can do in this given moment?” I also gain the clarity, focus and fearlessness to get it done.
2. You’ll react better to situations throughout the day
When you meditate, you gain space between something happening and how you respond to it. On days I don’t meditate, I often say something I end up regretting. I’ve been at the airport, learned a flight was delayed and engaged in long, unhappy conversations with the gate agent explaining why I needed to get to my destination on time. Now that I meditate, I sometimes just laugh if something doesn’t go as planned. If it’s truly out of my control, I’ll smile and think, “This is my Buddhist test.” Then maybe I’ll pull out my laptop and work on an article I’ve been wanting to finish—or call a friend. I might feel a bit annoyed, but that usually passes quickly. Often the inconvenience turns out to be for the best. I’ve learned to give up my attachment to how I thought things would or should go.
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3. It makes your relationships better
After you meditate, your mind settles down. You can focus. I listen better on the days I meditate, and people can definitely tell the difference. It helps to deepen your connections to people if you really focus on them, what they want and what they’re saying to you.
4. It helps you notice more
When I’m on a silent retreat, meditating 10 hours a day, I start seeing things I never paid attention to before. On my last silent retreat, I walked to the meditation hall on the fourth day and was stunned to see butterflies all around me—more than a dozen! They had always been there, but my mind had been so cluttered with thoughts that I hadn’t had the bandwidth to notice. In New York, after I meditate, I’ll often notice sun rays hitting the top of trees in Washington Square Park or the vivid colors of clothing as people walk past. This is important in business. When you meditate, you pick up people’s nonverbal signals, which often tell you more than their words. This is one of the reasons people can become more successful in business when they start meditating.
5. It makes you more compassionate
When you meditate, it becomes easier to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. You might not agree with what they’re saying or doing, but meditation gives you the clarity of mind to be compassionate. I often think, “Maybe this person is acting badly because they’re in pain.” When you can turn anger into compassion, you start living your days with more ease. Your interactions with people become smoother, whether it’s your boss, a colleague, an investor, a friend or a loved one. You tend to laugh and smile a lot more, too, because why not. The French author and Buddhist monk Matthieu Ricard says happiness is a choice, and I agree!
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A simple way to begin is to sit comfortably with your back straight. Focus your attention, your entire mind, on the sensation of the breath as it comes in and comes out of your nostrils. Don’t change your breath in any way, just notice what the breath feels like as it comes in and comes out of your nose. You’ll notice thoughts popping into your head, but just smile to yourself and imagine watching them float away like a cloud. Then, bring your attention back to your breath.
Start with five minutes each morning or afternoon, before you eat. (Your body will be distracted by the food digesting in your stomach if you meditate just after eating.) Then, slowly increase the amount of time if possible. If you can get up to 20 minutes, you’ll notice a real difference in your day.
If you feel you simply can’t “turn off” your brain, another great meditation is to practice “loving kindness.” Repeat to yourself silently, “May you be happy, may you be peaceful, may you live today with ease.” Research shows that meditation can lead to people becoming more compassionate—I’d say that’s worth taking some time to practice it each day.
Dina Kaplan is founder of The Path, a community of modern meditators. Previously, she cofounded and was COO of blip.tv, as well as an Emmy award-winning TV reporter.