The workplace can be stressful, demanding, and full of unexpected change. Meditation is a practice with the potential to ease our workplace stress, allowing us to perform our best regardless of the energy around us.
Meditation works through the science of neuroplasticity, it physically changes our brains, especially in the prefrontal cortex. Long-term meditators have an increased amount of grey matter, which is involved in memory, emotions, decision making, sensory perception and self-control.
Meditation changes us. Those who meditate experience the positive effects of meditation in every area of their lives, and these benefits are equally suited to improve workplace performance.
1. Meditation Increases Mindfulness
Meditation is the process of practicing “mindfulness,” otherwise defined as the ability to give our complete attention to the present moment. Those practiced at meditation are able to better hold their attention on one single thing and hold their focus on that item for longer periods of time. Meditators are able to recognize the wandering mind sooner, and pull it back to the task at hand faster.
This has positive implications in the workplace where we’re often distracted, interrupted, and dealing with multiple issues at once. Meditation helps us to stay focused by increasing our capacity for mindfulness.
2. Meditation Improves Self-Awareness
During meditation, we spend time simply watching the mind and noticing the mind’s habits. Through this process we get to know ourselves better. We begin to recognize our own habits and tendencies. By becoming a witness to these processes, rather than a victim of these processes, our relationship to the activity of our mind changes.
Through the process of meta-awareness, we become aware of the process of cognitive function, without becoming experientially fused with that which we are experiencing. Depression, anxiety, stress, and even ADHD are all states of being that are related to an inability to step back and observe our cognitive processes.
In the workplace, meta-awareness, or decentering, allows us to act less out of habit, and more out of intention. We become less enmeshed with workplace drama, we make better decisions, and we process change with greater clarity.
3. Meditation Makes us Less Emotionally Reactive
As mindfulness, self-awareness, and clarity increases, we become less emotionally reactive. This is an asset in the workplace where tight deadlines and pressure to perform can make emotions run high.
Meditation reduces activity in the amygdala. This is the area of the brain associated with our fight or flight response, which deduces information from our environment and dictates emotional response. Studies show that meditation particularly reduces activity in the amygdala in response to negative stimuli. So when we get bad news at the office? We’re less likely to fly off the handle, and more likely to respond mindfully, and professionally.
Not surprisingly, related studies show that meditators excel in conflict resolution over their non-meditating peers. What’s more, the effects of meditation on improving conflict resolution are not limited to a temporary post meditation state, but appear to be lasting, long-term traits connected to meditation-induced changes in the brain.
4. Meditation Improves Workplace Relationships
Improved awareness, mental clarity, and emotional self-regulation naturally improves workplace relationships. As we change, our relationships with others changes too. When we become less entangled in our own emotions, fear, or frustration, we’re able to treat those around us with more patience and kindness.
In the workplace, the ability to get along with others is especially beneficial when we work together in teams, or if we find ourselves in positions of interacting with clients and partners. Meditation makes us better team collaborators by improving our situational awareness, and awareness of the emotions of others.
Empathy is the ability to be aware of the emotions of others without becoming consumed by those emotions, or taking them on ourselves. Certain types of meditation are specifically geared towards increasing our capacity for empathy and compassion. Contrary to what some people might think, compassion makes us more successful, not less.
5. Meditation Enhances Creativity
Those who meditate are less cognitively rigid, and more apt to be creative. Creativity allows us to problem solve by acting in several ways. Some types of meditation, such as focused attention mindfulness, help us identify a singular correct answer to a problem. Other types of meditation, such as open monitoring meditation, activate areas of the brain that help us generate new ideas.
Meditators demonstrate lower cognitive rigidity scores, meaning they have less of a tendency to be “blinded” by past experience, and instead see things with fresh eyes. This enables those who meditate to find new and adaptive solutions to problems, versus responding solely based on past experience. If you’ve ever worked with someone who loved the unfortunate phrase, “but this is how we’ve always done things,” perhaps they should meditate!
The potentially high stress environment of the workplace will showcase either the best of us, or the worst of us. Through focused attention on increasing mindfulness, self-awareness, and compassion we reap the benefits of emotional regulation, creativity, and skillful problem solving, traits which are sure to lead to success.