Slow down to go faster
Mindfulness seems to be a term that we are hearing more and more of as of late. However, there are a lot of people who assume it is simply a buzzword or a passing fad. It’s easy to see why. After all, there are always new and exciting fads and trends, which seem to last about five minutes until they are replaced with something else. But this really isn’t the case with mindfulness.
Are you a business leader who works full on, almost non-stop, who thinks that the hustle is some sort of badge of honour for entrepreneurs?
Are you a business leader who is pedalling furiously just to keep up – or even stand still? Do you feel like however hard you work there just aren’t enough hours in the day to get things done, and certainly none of those big, important and exciting projects that you want to start? Would you love to have more time for yourself?
Honestly, the best advice I can give if either of these two scenarios resonates with you is to slow down to go faster. Seriously. For all sorts of reasons.
- Your business needs you. Doing too much over a long period is no good for you, as you know. And the business should support the lifestyle that you want, rather than you giving up your lifestyle for it. If you love the hustle, great, but do build in some downtime too so that you can hustle for many more years to come, should you choose to do so.
- More devastation and damage are done in high speed road accidents that when people are taking a bit more time and paying more attention to what they are doing on the way. The same in business. When travelling too fast, making lots of big decisions on the fly, things are more likely to go wrong, and in a bigger way. Stress is higher and we sometimes don’t communicate with people in the way that’s most considerate or appropriate when we are stressed.
You don’t need to take loads of time out to make a positive difference to how you feel and how you perform, especially when you see what mindfulness can do for your wellbeing AND your performance at work.
In this blog post, I delve deeper into mindfulness, looking at the relationship it has with creativity and entrepreneurship. So, continue reading to discover some great insight, practical tips and to keep going to find out how to use the super simple and powerful Notice, Shift, Rewire technique to get present and move your mind to a more positive state when you’re feeling negative or as if your mind isn’t in the right place.
What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is a state of being aware of conscious of something. It is a mental state that you can achieve by focusing on your awareness in the present moment, while acknowledging and accepting your bodily sensations, thoughts, and feelings. Essentially, mindfulness is all about connecting with and becoming aware of how you are feeling in the moment.
Is it really a “thing”?
When something is not tangible, it is hard for us to determine whether it is really a ‘thing’ or not. A lot of people assume that mindfulness is merely a buzzword that has been over-hyped. However, it really is a ‘thing’ – it is a form of meditation. In fact, there has been research that has proven that mindfulness, especially in combination with other wellbeing strategies, has numerous mental health benefits. These benefits include:
- Higher satisfaction with relationships and quality of life
- Better stress management
- Less rumination (when we have negative, repetitive thoughts)
- Greater ability to focus
- More flexibility in their thinking
- Better concentration
- Improved memory
Not only are these benefits that can help us to lead a better and more fulfilling life, but they are all benefits that have a positive impact on how we feel and how we perform as entrepreneurs.
What is creativity, and why is it important for entrepreneurs?
Now, let’s take a look at creativity. Creativity is the use of original ideas or imagination to create something. It’s an essential trait for any entrepreneur to have of course because we need to be creative to spot business opportunities, work out ways to commercialise our ideas, communicate our offer and find ways to positively stand out and compete in a noisy and busy market.
Creative thinking means that we can look at what’s going on in the world around us and spot similar patterns in different areas, think the apparently unthinkable, come up with novel ways to improve your business and develop a product, as well as strategies that can give you a competitive advantage. Creativity is a fundamental skill for solving challenges, expressing ourselves and working out how to work collaboratively with others.
The synergy of mindfulness and creativity working together for your business
There have been a number of studies that have shown that mindfulness can help us to be more creative. This was something that was shown in research carried out by the Leiden University’s Leiden Institute of Brain and Cognition, in the Netherlands, alongside researchers at the Institute for Psychological Research.
Meditation is, of course, intentional mindfulness.
The two most used forms of meditation are:
- Open-monitoring meditation – this is when the person is open to perceiving, noticing and observing any sensation or thought without focusing on a concept in the mind or a fixed item; therefore, attention is flexible and unrestricted.
- Focused attention meditation – this is when the individual focuses on a particular item, thought, or object. Everything else that might tend to attract attention, such as bodily sensations, environmental noise, or intrusive thoughts, is actively ignored by redirecting attention constantly back on the same focus point.
The research shows that open-monitoring meditation has a positive effect on creativity because it promotes divergent thinking, the thinking that enables the generation of new ideas.
Focused attention meditation seems to help us improve our mood and our focus. So, we can actually select which type of meditation will help us the most each session.
How mindfulness and meditation affect the brain
Mindfulness and meditation are shown to impact the brain in a number of really awesome and valuable ways, especially when combined with a range of wellbeing strategies.
- Preserving the cortical matter as we get older. The cerebral cortex is the largest site of neural integration in the central nervous system. It plays a key role in attention, perception, awareness, thought, memory, language, and consciousness.
- Promoting growth in the hippocampus, which is the part of your brain linked with emotional regulation, memory, and learning.
- Creating growth in the pons, which is the part of your brain that is linked with producing some of your regulatory neurotransmitters. Growth in this area will improve your ability to remain centred, as well as enhancing your sleep and mood.
- Leading to growth in the posterior cingulate cortex (PCC) and the temporoparietal junction (TPJ). The former is the area associated with self-relevance and mind wandering. TPJ is the area that is linked with perspective taking, compassion, and empathy.
- Shrinking the amygdala, which is the part of the brain that is deemed to be the epicentre of the Fight-or-Flight response. When amygdala is activated, it is linked to the emotional and physical symptoms that we feel in our bodies when we are frustrated, frightened, stressed and so on.
- Helping growth in the prefrontal cortex. This is responsible for a higher-level thinking process, personality expression, decision making and social behaviour.
These are tangible, measurable and real physical benefits. Undoubtedly a great investment of just 10-20 minutes each day.
Mindfulness, creativity and mental health
Mindfulness has also been proven to have a positive impact on our mental health. In fact, it is widely used as a tool to manage mental health and wellbeing. With good mental health, you are going to be able to play a full part in your community, workplace, and family. You will also be able to cope with life and make the most of your potential. Research into the area of mindfulness and mental health is growing all of the time. There has been evidence that has suggested that mindfulness assists with a number of different conditions. These include addictive behaviours, depression, anxiety, and stress. It has also assisted with a number of physical conditions too, including chronic pain, heart disease, and hypertension.
How creative flow helps you to achieve more
The concept of creative flow is something that Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi made famous in his book ‘Flow’ – you can watch him speak about it in his TED talk here. He observes that the best moments in our lives are not the relaxing, receptive, and passive times. Instead, the best moments happen if our skills are stretched to try to accomplish something that is worthwhile and challenging, and we become super-absorbed in the task at hand, almost losing our sense of time and space. This is being in the state of flow.
Csikszentmihalyi describes flow as being so involved in an activity that it is the only thing that matters. The experience is so enjoyable that you will continue to do it just for the mere sake of doing it. Getting into the state of flow is something that entrepreneurs can do in order to achieve more. Let’s look at how that works.
From my little sketch in the photo below, you can see that how we feel when we are engaged in a task as a strong dependency on two things:
- The level of challenge
- How well we feel we can rise to that challenge, our perceived skill level
The magic happens when we feel that both the challenge and the perceived skill level are high – the ideal space for flow. Sometimes the challenge needs mastery and advanced skill, but sometimes it doesn’t, so please don’t think you can only achieve flow in things that you already very good at and knowledgeable about. If that were the case, we wouldn’t enjoy learning, would we?
I am a beginner piano player. I can get into flow trying to master a simple version of Jingle Bells or Morning Has Broken because the technical content is not super advanced, just the right level for me to learn from with a little stretch to make me work at it. So, a top tip for when you’re learning is to pitch the activity you’re doing at the right level for you – not too easy, and not too advanced for where you’re at.
If you’re struggling to get into a task and get it done, use the sketch I’ve created here to identify what you are feeling about the task, identify why you’re feeling that way and then fix it. For example, if you’re feeling anxious, it’s because you’re concerned that the task is too challenging for you. Things you could do about that include just making a start, to see if it’s as bad as you think, asking for help, or even outsourcing or delegating it, depending on what it is of course.
If you’re experiencing boredom, build in an element of additional challenge that keeps you interested. Walking on a treadmill for an hour is boring for some – spice it up with some target times, hill inclines and trying to keep up with some music and the experience becomes much better. It’s the same principle for work tasks.
Understanding “negativity bias” and how to overcome it
Mindfulness is all about being in the moment and so it helps us to achieve a state of self-awareness. Self-awareness is critical in the workplace because you need to be aware of how what you are feeling is affecting your behaviours, communication and decision-making – i.e. it is fundamental to working with emotional intelligence. And being mindful helps us to recognise when we are demonstrating negativity bias.
Negativity bias is a term that is used to describe the asymmetrical way we tend to perceive both the positive and the negative, such as when we dwell on the one bad thing that we did rather than looking at all of the good things we achieved. Some researchers assert that negative emotions have an impact close to 3x stronger than positive emotions. Events we perceive to be bad have a stronger impact on us than events we perceive to be good.
Catching ourselves when we are overly focusing on the negative is important for general balance in decision-making, as well as mental health and self-confidence. In order to overcome negativity bias, you need to start by looking at the positive aspects of every experience, at least as much as if not more than the negative ones. Take active, mindful measures to notice the good in yourself and your work. And if you still find yourself ruminating, which means going over and over past events in your mind, try the “Notice, Shift, Rewire” technique.
The “Notice, Shift, Rewire” technique
In their book Start here: Master the lifelong habit of wellbeing, Eric Langshur and Nate Klemp share a really practical and effective way for us to rewire our brains. It is called the Notice, Shift, Rewire technique and it’s very simple.
- Notice your negativity by being mindful and checking in with your thoughts and feelings at least a few times a day.
- When you’ve noticed that some negativity has crept into your thinking deliberately shift it to a moment of gratitude. Find something you’re thankful for – for example, something that could also have gone wrong that didn’t, some support or kindness from a colleague, supplier or customer, or just that it’s fixable.
- Finally, rewire your brain. The more you notice and shift, the more automatic and natural this process will be for you because you will have trained your brain to respond this way. The Notice, Shift, Rewire technique becomes a healthy, natural and habitual part of your thought processes, backed by neuroscience, known as Hebb’s Law or Hebbian Theory. Neurons that fire together, fire together. How cool is that?
So, what next?
Hopefully, you now have a better understanding of mindfulness and the relationship that it has with creativity and entrepreneurship, and you’ve decided to use one or more of these strategies and tips to not only improve your performance in business, but also to sustain and maintain your high performance over the long term. In addition, you will use these tips to help you enjoy work even more and be more effective at prioritising and finding some time for you.
If you’ve enjoyed this article and would like some one-to-one tailored support and resources to help you and your business to achieve high performance now and in the longer term, come and join my Idea Time Membership for bespoke coaching, consultancy and resources.