Can meditation help you become more creative? Will this practice also improve your leadership skills? Dr. Megan Jones Bell says yes. She's chief science officer at Headspace, the company behind the popular meditation app of the same name.
Founded in 2010 by Andy Puddicombe and Rich Pierson, Headspace claims over 60 million members across 190 countries. The app offers meditation courses in everything from creativity to better sleep, many of which can help creatives, leaders and executives perform more effectively.
Those new to meditation struggle with finding time to practice. I was talking to a friend about meditation, and he complained he couldn't find time to squeeze another 10 minutes into his already overloaded morning. Bell suggested people like my friend layer meditation onto an existing habit or routine instead.
"If you walk for 10 minutes, you could take a mindful walk. It doesn't need to start with eyes-closed meditation," she says.
"You could try a wind down exercise that has a short mindfulness-based activity and technique that helps you turn your mind off for the evening. It could be taking a mindful run with one of our audio guided runs that we've made with Nike. There's multiple front doors into this practice."
Meditating by focusing on the breath or a mindful run could help my friend and many others perform more effectively at work. Headspace worked with the College of Policing in the United Kingdom and conducted a study of approximately 1,300 participants in five different police forces. The study found that meditation is associated with improved job performance, increased well-being and resilience.
"We know that when we are stressed, when we have a feeling of being burned out, that's associated with difficulty in productivity or decreased focus," says Jones. "It's really this combination of being in a healthier overall emotional state, which comes from a practice of meditation as well as this training in attention and awareness that is really core to meditation."
Leaders of large teams or within busy companies often juggle competing priorities, frequently without clear-cut solutions. For example, how should a leader react if a key team members quits in the middle of a product launch? While meditating won't provide the immediate answer, it'll help a leader manage challenges with more authenticity.
"[Mindful leadership means] our stress doesn't spill out on those around us, on our team. We can reduce it and manage it more effectively. We can be more intentional in every kind of micro-interaction that we have with our teams throughout the day," Jones says.
"If you're in a company where you believe in the mission, or you're working towards a big goal together, being able to hold that in your present moment awareness is really helpful for navigating challenges."
In the case of an entrepreneur, a key client quitting at short notice might cause him or her to react negatively and even lash out at other team members. Instead, practicing meditation for just three weeks could help this entrepreneur learn how to step back rather than react to business setbacks emotionally.
"You can more easily toggle between putting out the fire of the moment and the bigger picture," says Jones. "That dual focus is really important for a leader, and to guide the team, help people through the day-to-day challenges while anchoring to that bigger goal."
The teams at Headspace regularly meditate together at the start of the day and before meetings. That culture is understandable considering Headspace's product.
When a writer, musician or artist turns up in front of the blank page, canvas or in a studio, they're under pressure to perform. It's no wonder many complain about feeling blocked or uninspired. That pressure is hardly conducive to open-minded expansive thinking.
"When you are better able to distance yourself or set aside those pressures, those expectations, the stress that might come along with needing to produce something for a deadline, you're better able to create the right conditions for creativity to occur," says Jones. "When we're better able to notice our thoughts to kind of quiet the mind, we can create the right conditions for creativity to happen."