Dr Elise Bialylew explains the practical benefits of the mindfulness movement and how meditation can enhance your agency’s, as well as your own, performance.
My path to becoming a social entrepreneur was an accidental one.
As a doctor specialising in the field of psychiatry, I turned to meditation to manage the stress of my work. It took a while before I was sold on it though.
Like many people who are driven to create and make things happen, I used to wonder why anyone would ‘just sit there’ doing meditation. As a compulsive doer myself, sitting down to meditate was profoundly challenging. Where was the productivity in that?
But as much as I loved being creative and working on new projects, I began to realise that without a way to tune in and calm down, I was going to burn out.
As meditation became part of my regular mental fitness regime, it redirected my life and catapulted me into an entrepreneur.
Five years ago, I created Mindful in May, a global online meditation campaign that teaches people how to meditate and inspires them to raise money to provide access to clean water in developing countries.
The idea came to me one day when I was sitting in meditation. I imagined there were many people in the world who wanted an easy, accessible way to learn how to meditate.
My program has inspired thousands of people from around the world to learn how to master their minds and make a huge difference by raising funds to build clean water wells, to help the one in nine people on the planet gain access to one of life’s most basic needs.
Mindfulness has helped me along the path to becoming a social entrepreneur. Here are six ways it can help you too:
1. Tap into deeper creativity and innovation
Meditation creates an oasis of quiet, which gives the mind space to decompress at a time of information and technology overload. Although meditation is not about actively trying to make something happen, ripples of thought, sensation and emotion can creatively collide and result in innovative ideas and solutions.
As Einstein said, “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them”. Mindfulness meditation cultivates a different state of mind, which can support an alternative perspective in everyday life.
2. Communicate more effectively under stress
Under stress, the fight or flight response, driven by our amygdala, kicks in to protect us from perceived threats. Nowadays, rather than the threat of physical predators, we face psychological stressors, like an argument with our partner or a looming deadline.
It requires mental power to solve issues effectively, but when we’re hijacked by the amygdala response, our prefrontal cortex goes offline and our communication skills take a nose dive. This isn’t very helpful when you’re trying to lead a team or share your message with the world.
Regular mindfulness meditation has been shown to increase the thickness of the prefrontal cortex, which is associated with such higher-level brain functions as calming ourselves down in the heat of emotion and being able to communicate and problem solve more effectively.
3. Manage self-doubt
Running your own agency involves constantly pushing yourself out of your comfort zone. For most of us, this inevitably comes with moments of fear and self-doubt.
The inner critic can become quite loud and persistent in its attempt to protect you from failure and without training we can be fooled into believing this negative, and useless, mind chatter.
Mindfulness gives you a completely new way of relating to your thoughts through helping you discover that your thoughts are real but not necessarily true. This helps you unhook from unhelpful self-doubt that would otherwise get in the way of you taking action towards what you really desire.
4. Manage the discomfort of uncertainty
As an entrepreneur, when you invest all of your energy working relentlessly to bring your vision to life, there will be moments of uncertainty that can trigger self-doubt, anxiety and confusion.
Mindfulness teaches you to make room for difficult emotions and find more effective ways of managing. Increasing your self-awareness allows you to tune in to what is going on, find effective solutions and make wiser decisions, rather than react on automatic pilot.
5. Sharpen your focus
With invisible umbilical cords connecting us to our mobile devices, staying focused is an increasing challenge.
Our attention buzzes around with the restlessness of a mosquito fluttering between emails, Facebook, Twitter and text messages. In order to meet the demands of an increasingly complex and technologically sophisticated world, we need to upgrade our ‘inner technology’ as well.
A regular meditation practice helps you to develop an inner witness that monitors your attention. Over time, it becomes like an inner coach who points out behaviours, thoughts or actions that are at odds with your goals or values.
With mindfulness, you are more able to stay on task.
6. Practise self-care
The energy required to run an agency can make burnout a very real risk. Mindfulness meditation is a powerful practice that supports us in bringing our bodies back into a balanced, healthy state, protecting us from the long-term impact of stress.
Studies have shown that mindfulness meditation can positively impact our bodies down to the level of gene expression, in ways that counter the effects of stress and inflammation.
To reap all of the benefits of mindfulness, you have to practise regularly, which can be a challenge with so many demands competing for your time.
Here’s to creating a clear mind for you and clean water for others.
Dr Elise Bialylew is an Australian psychiatry-trained doctor and mindfulness meditation expert.