Looming deadlines. Never-ending to do lists. Being creative on-demand. Dealing with constant change as well as an overflowing inbox. This is reality for most marketers and entrepreneurs.
It’s also the cause of burnout, fatigue and anxiety. This is why good ideas die before they see the light of day. Our minds are too busy dealing with these stressors, to muster enough power for creative thought and meaningful action.
I don’t talk about it much, but I often battle anxiety, fear and melancholia even after 8 years of running a pretty successful business. Just two weeks ago, we had another bout.
I spent almost a week worrying about my business for the next year, finishing the basement before our baby arrives, why I haven’t published a podcast in a while, my dad’s health, my chances of getting cancer, and on and on… And it crushes me.
It’s hard to function at a high level, when you bring all of that with you, every day. So productivity suffers, new article ideas weren’t coming, not to mention poor gym performance and overall sense of exhaustion.
Turning The Tide On Stress And Anxiety
But now I know how to turn the tide. There is one thing that always brings me back to balance. Even though it may not be immediate, a simple meditation practice is indispensable in my arsenal of life tools.
And there is plenty of medical evidence to support it.
Get anxiety under control
Earlier this year, researchers from John Hopkins University analyzed almost 19,000 meditation studies and found 47 clinical trials that passed very specific criteria for well-designed studies. They found a direct correlation between mindfulness meditation (similar to 5 minute meditation below) and reductions in anxiety, depression and pain. These findings were published in JAMA Internal Medicine Journal.
Dr. Elizabeth Hoge, a psychiatrist at the Center for Anxiety and Traumatic Stress Disorders, says that mindfulness meditation makes perfect sense for treating anxiety. “People with anxiety have a problem dealing with distracting thoughts that have too much power,” she explains. “They can’t distinguish between a problem-solving thought and a nagging worry that has no benefit.” (source)
That is definitely something I’m guilty of.
Turn up creativity
How about if you wanted to give your creative muscle a shot in the arm? Well… a 2012 study by cognitive psychologist Lorenza Colzato found that meditation has long-lasting influence on cognition, how we think and how we experience the world around us.
The study, published in Frontiers of Cognition, found that different types of meditation had direct impact on convergent and divergent thinking – both of which are essential elements of creativity.
“Open-monitoring” meditation helped participants perform better in divergent thinking, generating more ideas than previously. In open-monitoring, the participants would use breathing to “open the mind”, and let any thought, sensation or emotion arise naturally. The participants would then observe and acknowledge the experience without judgement.
The method used was based on Transformational Breathing, developed by Dr. Judith Kravitz.
Build a bigger, better brain
It turns out your brain acts like a muscle… and it grows given the right stimulation. Which (you guessed it) is meditation.
In 2009, UCLA researchers used high-resolution magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to scan the brains of people who meditate and compare their scans to a control group.
Using three-dimensional MRI, researchers measured the differences in brain structure and found “significantly larger cerebral measurements in meditators compared with controls, including larger volumes of the right hippocampus and increased gray matter in the right orbito-frontal cortex, the right thalamus and the left inferior temporal lobe.”
The test group included various types of meditation (Zazen, Samatha, Vipassana, etc.), and most meditated between 10 to 90 minutes per day.
5 Minute Meditation
So, how do you get started with meditation?
I have been practicing Soto Zen sporadically for about 6 years — big part of which is Zazen, or seated meditation. I found the traditional 45 minute sittings hard to incorporate into my daily life, so I fell off the wagon many times.
Recently, I came across a wonderful book by Kelly McGonigal which included a very simple meditation practice anyone can incorporate in their life and still reap the benefits outlined above. It goes something like this:
1. Sit still
Sit comfortably with your feet on the ground or with crossed legs on a cushion. Try to sit as still as possible, without fidgeting. (This also helps build your willpower, as you learn not to chase every impulse, like an itch for example).
2. Focus on your breathing
Close your eyes or focus on a single spot, like a blank wall. Notice your breath. In your mind, say “inhale” as you breathe in and “exhale” as you breathe out. When your mind starts wandering, just bring your focus back to the breath. (This stimulates the prefrontal cortex).
3. Empty your mind
Allow yourself to experience the breathing, and the thoughts and emotions that arise without judgement. Just notice them. After a couple of minutes, try focusing on the sensation of breathing, without thinking inhale/exhale. If you mind wanders, bring it back to the breath. If you have to refocus, think inhale/exhale again.
I currently do this for 5 minutes, once or twice a day, keeping time with an app called Insight Timer. As the habit starts forming, I will eventually increase it to 15 – 25 minutes a day. If it ever becomes too much, I’ll drop back down to 5.
After years of failing, I learned that a consistent 5 minute practice is much better than none at all.
Copyblogger COO on meditation
While I was preparing to write this article, I asked my social circles if they knew any business professionals or entrepreneurs who meditate. Through a Twitter introduction, I was able to connect with Tony Clark, the COO of Copyblogger, an awesome marketing platform that offers Synthesis WordPress hosting, Genesis WordPress Themes, as well as a ton of free digital marketing advice.
Here is what he had to say about his meditation practice:
1) How and why did you get started with meditation?
Around 2003 the consulting practice I built (and later sold) before Copyblogger got pretty stressful. So I thought some type of meditation might help. Someone recommended I try the Sedona Method for stress reduction, and it worked well.
Then after a few months of it, I had an experience that changed my perspective on everything. I realized that I had a glimpse of what these guys were *really* talking about, and it sent me on a search to cultivate it. I moved into Vipassana and mindfulness, then later to Dzogchen and emptiness/no-self/awareness practice.
2) What does your meditation practice look like?
My current practice is an Awareness practice. I only do a formal sit for about 20 minutes in the morning now, because most of my practice is focusing on Awareness and bringing my attention back to it throughout the day.
3) How do you make time to meditate?
I get up pretty early, so I always have time in the morning. But once I had the realization that mediation isn’t something you do on a cushion at a specific time, but an ongoing practice to return to throughout the day, it made the practice much more fruitful.
4) Have you noticed any benefits or changes due to meditation practice?
Only everything! :)
Seriously, it completely changed how I see, act in, and experience the world. And as an entrepreneur, it has made me much more successful, productive, and effective, with less stress and angst.
5) Do you ever “fall off the wagon” and forget to meditate for a while? If so, how do you get back into it?
I used to way more than I do now. Meditation is a lot like building a muscle. It’s harder in the beginning, but gets easier. And when you lose your center, it becomes easier to get it back over time.
When I’m in the throes of anxiety, when creativity suffers and work is overwhelming, I do my best to create time and space for myself. To breathe. And regain balance.
I hope it helps you as well :)