It can increase your attention span, sharpen your brain, and improve your performance at just about anything. It's also free. Still not sure about meditation? The latest research credits it with "measurable changes in gray-matter density in parts of the brain associated with memory, sense of self, empathy and stress," according to a recent chart-topping article in the New York Times. What's the rage about meditation and how can the benefits of this age-old practice include boosting your professional profile?
Here's what I say in my book, Self-Promotion for Introverts®:
"Some people seem to be unﬂappable, as if they were born under the shade of a palm tree on a warm, breezy day. I'm deﬁnitely not one of them. As an introvert and a highly sensitive person living amid the blinking lights, honking horns, and frantic pace of New York City, I need to calm myself down every day to function at my best. And what better way to ﬁnd my own inner palm tree shade than doing a little meditation?
"A marathoner way back when, I've maintained a more moderate lifelong exercise regimen in recent years; yet somehow, despite all that ﬁtness, something inside me was still a jumping bean. So I discovered meditation, which quiets down and refreshes my mind. And as an introvert, I'm particularly well suited for this solitary practice, which primes me to do my best at public speaking - not to mention networking, selling, negotiating, and even just managing the stresses of day-to-day life.
"One of my clients, whom we'll call Harry Samuels, is a portfolio manager for a multi-billion-dollar investment portfolio, and he has been practicing meditation over the past 10 years. He teaches an investment class at a top-10 graduate business school. ‘Whether I'm presenting or having a conversation,' he says, ‘when I am fully engaged, fully present and grounded, I'm totally open to what's unfolding at that moment.' Samuels, who is an introvert, continues: ‘And so there's a real deep connection and a spontaneity that is nourishing internally. It's creative, and it's really at the heart of what's best about life. So if you are presenting, you're picking up naturally on all the subtleties of what's happening in the room, and the energy you're receiving or not receiving from other people.' Samuels describes an additional beneﬁt of meditating: ‘You're enjoying the experience much more than you would if you weren't fully grounded.'
"Samuels practices mindfulness meditation, which focuses on the breath to allow the mind to quiet down: ‘You start to see the thoughts arise and pass, and you don't cling to them as much. And as that process happens, your mind settles down, and you deepen into a more grounded place.' He emphasizes: ‘It's been one of the most life-changing disciplines I've had.'
"Samuels asks his MBA students to try meditating; I do the same at the start of some of my presentation skills classes. I play a 10-minute guided meditation recording by Jon Kabat-Zinn, Ph.D., which helps relax many of my students through breathing and imagery before they present. Samuels says that his students who try meditating for the ﬁrst time - even for 5 minutes - report a profound impact; they often say that time appears to slow down and that their thoughts become clearer. Coincidentally, Samuels recommends a book on guided meditation by Kabat-Zinn that I also adore: Wherever You Go, There You Are.
"So meditation is a valuable tool that will help you enhance your overall well-being and equip you to manage so many of life's stresses, including public speaking. Vincent Suppa, Ph.D., head of the Middle Way One World Company®, a sustainable development organization, notes: ‘As an introvert, you're already inclined to go inward. So instead of ﬁghting this tendency, use it to your advantage by performing one of the most ancient forms of preparation: Meditation!'
"‘One alternative to mindfulness meditation is to meditate with the end in mind,' says Suppa, ‘which makes sense for many people in the business world. Visualize an already successful keynote speech prior to actually giving the speech.' He adds: ‘The mind does not like dissidence, and if it imagines through meditation that you have already succeeded in your presentation, it will calibrate the parts of your external environment that are within your control for success.'
"In addition to heading his sustainable development organization, Suppa, who spent time training as a Buddhist monk in Southeast Asia, is a polyglot who speaks multiple European and Asian languages and is the director of human resources at a major international European conglomerate - all of which he had imagined that he had already succeeded at through meditation and visualization.
"While you don't have to be a super achiever to meditate, the practice might just help you ﬁnd the shade of your own inner palm tree and cause an uptick in your own performance."
For more about meditation, check out what my fellow Psychology Today bloggers are saying: "6 Other Reasons to Meditate" by Linda Wasmer Andrews, "What Can 11 Hours of Meditation Training Do? It can Rewire Your Brain," by Sian Beilock, Ph.D., and "Too Busy to Meditate? Think Again!" which gives you a few tips to get you started, by Ronald Alexander, Ph.D. Lastly, don't miss this talk Kabat-Zinn gave about mindfulness meditation at Google.
Excerpt adapted from Nancy Ancowitz, Self-Promotion for Introverts®: The Quiet Guide to Getting Ahead, McGraw-Hill, 2009, pp. 149-151.
© Copyright 2011 Nancy Ancowitz