How Meditation Can Help You Make Smarter Decisions in Business and Life

Turning meditation into a habit is scientifically proven to improve your concentration and creative thinking in business.

Billionaire Marc Benioff does it every day. So does Russell Simmons, Jeff Weiner, and even Arianna Huffington. It's meditation, and these successful people (and many other CEOs just like them) swear that spending a few quite moments with their mind makes them better thinkers and leaders.

Meditation is also a way to promote neuroplasticity -- your brain's ability to grow, expand, and improve -- by forming new neural connections so you can keep your gray cells healthy and functioning at a high level.

Sometimes people feel that meditation is too hard to try, but it really isn't the quantity of time you spend doing it, it's the quality. It can be as little as five minutes of your day. How meditation works is still somewhat of a mystery to science, but initial research has found that the practice can help in many ways that are key to business success.

Here are just a few examples:

1. It keeps you focused.

Our minds tend to wander about 50 percent of the time during the day, according to a Harvard study. And once you are distracted, it can take time before you refocus again.

In fact, it can be as long as twenty-three minutes before you get back to the work you were doing before the interruption, according to research by Gloria Mark, PhD, a professor who studies digital distraction at the University of California, Irvine. However, studies show that mindfulness training can significantly reduce your mind from wandering and the temptation of distractions.

2. It lowers stress.

Stress is no doubt the top businessperson's ailment. When stress strikes your body goes into a protective fight-or-flight response when the hormones adrenaline and cortisol are released in full force.

Stress can disrupt how neurons connect with each other and affect your ability to learn and memorize (which may explain why you have trouble concentrating when stressed). A review of 47 trials on meditation programs found that meditation could have moderate effects on lowering stress.

3. It improves thinking.

Meditation also may have a direct effect on the brain. One study found that people who did eight weeks of a mindfulness meditation program increased thickness in the hippocampus, the brain region linked with learning and memory. Meditation can improve divergent thinking--the process of generating many new ideas at once, otherwise known as brainstorming.

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Here's how to meditate.

What is ideal about meditation is that you can do it anytime, anywhere, and without any real formal training. (If those top CEOs have the time, so do you.)

Here's a simple, ten-minute meditation I often share with other executives when I speak at conferences. You can try to do this at least once a day, especially during moments when you need to tame the "monkey mind" as yoga and meditation practitioners call it.

  • Sit in a comfortable position at your desk or close off an office door. Set a timer on your phone so that you don't worry about going too long and missing a meeting. That way you can focus.
  • Close your eyes. Let yourself settle and be free of distractions for the moment.

  • Slowly breathe in and out so one full cycle lasts about six seconds. Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth.

  • Let go of your thoughts. Don't think about your to-do list or pending projects. Simply let thoughts rise and fall of their own accord and be at one with your breath. You may find you have a lot of thoughts you can't settle, that is fine. Your brain is always on, the work here is to not judge the thoughts but just observe what comes up for you.

  • After each full breath, count "one" to yourself and then "two" up to ten and then back to one and repeat. This focuses your mind on the present and helps keep it from wandering.

  • Stay here for five to ten minutes, depending on how long you can spare in your workday.

Your brain is possibly your most valuable business asset, so make sure you don't overwork it. Give it time to breathe and rest throughout the day so you can re-energize and be ready for your next meeting.

Spending just a few quite moments with your mind every day can give you the insight you need to be more productive, keep your energy levels more balanced, and find creative solutions to everyday business situations.

This post was originally published on Inc.com on October 19, 2017.