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 becoming an entrepreneur.
Five years ago I created Mindful in May, a global online meditation campaign that teaches people how to meditate and inspires people to raise money to provide access to clean water in developing countries.
The idea came to me one day while 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.
Companies are getting on board with an understanding that mindfulness is a necessary tool for supporting leadership and innovation. Last year Google signed up for the challenge and was the top Mindful in May fundraiser.
Mindfulness has helped me along the path to becoming a social entrepreneur. Here are six ways it can help you.
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 business 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 behaviors, thoughts, or actions that are at odds with your goals or values. With mindfulness you are more able to stay on task.
6. Practice self-care
The energy required to run a business can make burn out 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 practice regularly, which can be a challenge with so many demands competing for your time. That’s why I’m inviting you to join thousands of people around the globe who are taking the Mindful in May challenge this year and learning how to meditate — practicing just 10 minutes a day, every day for a month — and at the same time doing their best to make a positive impact in the world through getting sponsored to stay accountable to their challenge.
When you join the challenge, you’ll receive a daily meditation reminder that contains audio guided meditations and exclusive video interviews with some of the leading global experts in the field of meditation and the brain. It’s all proven by science, but your results will speak for themselves.
Here’s to creating a clear mind for you and clean water for others.
I’d love for you to leave a comment below telling us why you’re taking the Mindful in May challenge and any questions you have about mindfulness meditation.
For a limited time join the Mindful in May campaign and learn from the world’s best mindfulness and well-being experts. Discover more mindfulness transformative tools in my new book The Happiness Plan