I grew up in a home that was self-sufficient when it came to the objects in the world around us. If something needed doing, we did it. If something needing fixing, we fixed it. I did a little bit of everything: automobile restoration, construction, computer programming, cooking, cleaning, painting, etc. My life was full of problem-solving and the tools to get real things done. These tools were not just objects of utility but objects of personal pride. It was cool to have a well-appointed toolbox.
I learned that you don’t have to use every tool all the time. But trust me when I say that when you need a 10mm socket wrench or needle nosed pliers or vice grips, by golly, you need them. Nothing else will do.
It took me many years of experience in my thinking before I realized that our mental lives have tools as well. Just like little bits of software that run on computers, mental models, metaphors, and certain habits are the tools of the thinker’s toolbox. I now like to collect these tools as well.
Leaders need big mental toolboxes. They need lots of methods to view, analyze, discern, communicate and pivot their perspectives and actions. And when I say “leaders,” I mean everyone who makes the regular—if not daily—choice to live the life of a high-performing individual. These leaders first lead themselves. And then, almost without fail, they will lead others. To be a flourishing human is to be a leader, even if it’s just by example.
One of the go-to tools in my toolbox is meditation. I have meditated for years now, not because it’s popular but because it works. I meditate every morning with my wife. It makes me more aware of my surroundings, of my own mental processes, emotions and relationships. Meditation has made me a better leader of others, a more resilient thinker, more confident in my decisions, and a more compassionate human being.
Resilience is hugely important in times like this. Like a rubber ball, resilient people bounce back. I was again reminded of this by Dr. Bob Quinn from the prestigious Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan, who gave an interview on the topic recently. Quinn is a master in the art of leadership and for the concept of leaders building their so-called “soft” skills. In the interview, referring to the current crisis, he said, look, bad things happen in life. This is just one of them, and there are only a few ways that people can react. They can kind of freeze, which is what many people do when they can’t decide whether to fight or flee. They can ball up their fists and shout curses at the sky, which might feel good but solves nothing. Or they can make a conscious decision to make something better out of all of this. Quinn sees it as a choice between someone who simply reacts to a crisis or someone who contributes to solving it.
To me, it’s an easy choice. I’ll bet you think so, too.
Meditation, I think, is one of the best ways to increase your resilience because, at heart, it is about staying in the moment, seeing the world more clearly and building your reserve of calm.
I am hardly a master at it, but I have practiced for a long time now, so here are a few beginner tips:
- Use an app. There are many out there. Headspace is a good one, but there are many others. You don’t need an app, but a guided meditation is helpful for many in the beginning. It’s not hocus-pocus. It’s just a voice leading you through some breathing exercises. (10% Happier or Calm are also good beginner apps.)
- Find someplace quiet. Turn off all devices that might ding, beep, buzz or ring.
- Be comfortable. I wouldn’t suggest lying down because you’re likely to fall asleep, which is nice but not the point. But you don’t have to sit in the lotus position on the floor. A comfortable chair will do just fine. But I would suggest sitting up straight with your feet on the floor.
- Ultimately, once you are practicing on your own, you’ll simply want a good timer. You can use an app on your phone, although I prefer an Enso timer.
- For those who want to take it a step further, go to a live guided meditation teacher or a short retreat. I can think of very few human activities that improve without coaching. Start with an app, but eventually get some coaching.
That’s it. Don’t worry if you’re doing it “right.” Right will come with practice. Getting started is what matters the most.
Trust me when I say that a regular meditation practice will be one of the greatest tools you ever put in your mental toolbox. In fact, it’s almost like an entire drawer of that toolbox!
Onward and upward …