Let’s get this out into the open: I bite my nails. Or at least I did. (Kinda gross, right?)
But this past summer, I watched as my then three-year-old son chomped down on his fingernail. That was it. The final kick in the butt I needed to see to finally stop a decades-old bad habit. Little did I know that in my quest to stop biting my nails I’d unlock something much bigger for myself -- both personally and professionally. It was mindfulness.
What's that? According to the folks at U-Cal Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center, mindfulness is about "maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment."
For me, it’s helped me make better decisions, listen more, and above all, be present. Amidst the chaos of our busy, multi-screen, let-me-bookmark-that-because-I-don’t-have-five-minutes-wait-what-was-I-doing? lives, mindfulness helps me return to a more centered self.
And more and more people are getting in on it -- Oprah, Jerry Seinfeld, Katy Perry, Anderson Cooper, and even some companies, too. So what can you do to get in on the goodness? I'll tell you. Here's how I met mindfulness.
Meet Paul: My Meditation Guy
I knew that guided meditation and hypnosis was probably a good bet to kick the nail-biting habit. So, I reached out to Paul Gustafson, a Boston-area consulting hypnotist. Gustafson helps people -- via guided meditation and hypnotic suggestion -- with anything from quitting smoking to overcoming a fear of flying.
I sat down with him for three, 30-minute sessions where he talked me into a deep relaxation and then, as I reached a deep meditative state, he provided guidance and suggestions for me to figuratively cut the cord of my past nail-biting behavior. From there, I kept his guided meditation recording on repeat.
“The immediate benefit of guided meditation is profound relaxation,” Gustafson told me. “It’s impossible to be stressed or to worry while enjoying deep meditative bliss. One of the long-term benefits of meditation is that the relaxation becomes the rule rather than the exception. People who meditate are happier, and often feel less affected by the pace of day-to-day life. They’re healthier and more productive.”
Paul has become an oft-invoked name at my house. My wife, also a marketer, has gone to see him and notes that it’s been entirely transformative in finding her chi, both in and out of work. (After all, anyone with small children can attest to the need for mindfulness.)
How Mindfulness Contributes to Better Marketing
Mindfulness is a terrific asset for today’s marketers ... but you're probably wondering where the data is, right?
Well, a recent study conducted by researchers at INSEAD and The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania found that 15 minutes of mindful meditation could help a person make better decisions. That same study shows that mindfulness “can reduce confirmation bias and overconfidence, allowing decision makers to better differentiate between relevant and irrelevant information.”
Considering the vast information available to marketers, having a filter for the superfluous can let you focus on what’s most important and make decisions accordingly.
Gustafson has helped patients deal with stress related to dealing with a boss, or co-worker, too. “I’ve had many clients come to me because of work-related stress. When someone repeats a stressful response to certain situations it becomes a pattern. Over time, patterns become rooted, and people feel powerless to change the situation. Guided meditation enables individuals to release and become free of unpleasant patterns," he told me.
Some companies are getting on board the mindfulness train, too.
I’m lucky enough to work for a company that values its employees’ approach to work, rather than just the output. HubSpot’s received quite a bit of buzz around our amazing perks, but the one I take full advantage of is the Nap Room in our Cambridge office. For me, it’s a meditation chamber. Just 20 minutes of guided meditation -- or slow, deep breathing as the hammock gently rocks back and forth -- will clear the mind and bring a sense of focus that even the strongest cup of coffee can’t conjure.
A Recipe for Mindfulness: How to Get Started
So, what do you say? Want to give it a try? Here’s your (simple) recipe for mindfulness ...
Wake up earlier. Akin to the adage that a trip to the gym in the morning gives you more energy, a trip to mindfulness early in your day sets your mind up for success, too. You don’t even have to leave the comfort of your bed. Just put on the headphones as you awake.
Let meditation tuck you in at night. At the other end of the day, it’s entirely acceptable and effective to fall asleep as you meditate. If you’re using a guided meditation track, whether you’re awake or asleep, your mind is taking in the information.
Make a meeting out of it. Set up a recurring daily calendar item so that others don’t cut into your “mindfulness meeting." My colleague Steve Haase has written quite a bit on meditation and mindfulness. Haase and other colleagues sit in silence for 20 minutes on Wednesday mornings to clear their minds for the day.
Deep breathing. Sometimes the biggest rewards come from the smallest of actions. Deep breathing falls into that category. Take deep breaths throughout the day when you feel overwhelmed, overstimulated, or just need to top off the mindfulness tank.
Resist temptation. For many of us, our instincts when idle -- in line at the grocery store checkout, in the elevator, at the traffic light -- are to fill the void with a few swipes of the screen. Don’t do it. In much the same way that good ideas sometimes arrive whilst in the shower, lying in bed, or even sleeping, simply being present can be the difference in finding clarity or that elusive good idea you’ve been chasing.
Don’t expect perfection. Are you going to enter a state of deep bliss every time you sit down to meditate? Probably not. Your mind will wander. Just like some runs or workouts feel better than others, so too do meditation sessions. No two are alike.
Open to opportunities. If you expect a lot from yourself, you’ve probably experienced the anxiety of your expectations actually getting in the way of success. With mindfulness, you can open yourself up to the moment. You can focus less on the eventual outcome (though mindful of that goal) and instead be present to new ideas.
Don’t sweat the small stuff. Do I get worked up still? Sure (ask my wife). But more often I can find myself navigating stressful situations with a bit more grace or awareness of solutions rather than focusing on frustrations.
A planful approach. A less cluttered, focused mind tends to provide more room for planful thought. I’ve found myself able to pull together a thoughtful response or tidy plan in less time.
Be here. Take it from Bill Murray. We do our best when we’re present. But it’s not easy.
Has meditation made you a better marketer? Do you have tips to share for being more mindful? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below (or find me on Twitter: @thaneberle).
Originally published Dec 18, 2015 6:00:00 AM, updated July 28 2017