The underrated benefits of slowing down

For most of my life, I looked down my nose at the concept of meditation.

I didn’t see it as relevant for me. The kind of thing that applied to eastern religions, or when The Beatles went to shite.

I associated all that stuff with hippies, incense, weirdos and dropouts.

My path was different. Achieving things, receiving acclaim, getting promotions, starting new ventures, being ‘the man’.

My first professional encounter with the concept of mindfulness came when I was studying the field of Executive Coaching at the UCD Smurfit School. My reaction was, “wait a minute, these guys are serious academics, they work off evidence, what’s all this silence stuff?”

I didn’t get it.

In fact, I was like a giddy schoolboy. I tended to giggle at inappropriate moments. I’m sure some people thought I was a right pillock. (Were they wrong?)

Two things completely changed my mind.

Firstly, I began to notice that credible people (in my scientifically-trained eyes) were beginning to make strong evidence-based arguments about the benefits of slowing down. In therapeutic fields, neuroscience, even executive coaching, the conversations about mindfulness were growing louder. My resistance softened. I even developed some fascination.

The second, and more visceral, experience came when life threw me right back on my arse.

All of a sudden, ‘the man’ had a bad run. Over the course of a couple of years, I encountered new things that I had only previously read about: burnout, immune system collapse, depression, bereavement, business f***-ups and failures. Even Cork were going to hell in the GAA…

Now, one day, I found myself sitting in the proverbial comfortable chair, with a person sitting across the room asking me if I’d ever considered mindfulness. I smiled. My time had come.

So the sceptic set off reading books and following guided meditations, and giving it a decent shot.

One day, when something annoying happened, I noticed my reaction was different. For what was probably just a micro-second, I noticed how I was feeling before I responded. “Ahhh”, I said out loud, “now I get it”.

Having spent most of my life in a mode of responding to adversity with “try harder, go faster, and cop the f*** on”, I now began to explore an alternative approach. Stepping back. Slowing down. Cutting myself some slack.

Mindfulness works. But it’s not a cure-all or a magic wand. Both as a philosophy, and as a practice, it has real value to add in our modern world of work. And that’s not just my opinion. The research is there too.

Maybe if you’re a bit like I was a few years back, you might want to explore some stuff that you’ll find helpful.

Here are four books I’d recommend:

Mindful Work by David Gelles. A New York Times reporter’s take on the growing phenomenon of mindfulness. Healthily sceptical, he visits some of the players in the movement and experiences first hand how it’s transforming behaviours in many organisations.

10% Happier by Dan Harris. The title is mock-ironic. Dan is an American TV anchor who tells his hilarious and harrowing story of figuring out how to cope when he suffered a panic attack on live TV. His account of a 10-day silent retreat is one of the funniest things I’ve ever read.

Mindfulness by Mark Williams & Danny Penman. This is the book that most of those ‘comfortable chair’ people will prescribe for you. It covers all the bases, and will get you practicing in no time.

Mindful Walking by Hugh O’Donovan. OK, Hugh is a friend of mine and a collaborator with Smarter Egg. But even if he wasn’t, this would be on the list. This book gives you a different perspective on the importance of slowing down, and yet also moving around. (Btw, we’re working on a new Smarter Egg experience with Hugh, so keep an eye out for that).

And if reading’s not your thing, then I recommend Headspace. It’s a wonderful app that helps you develop, and maintain, a meditation practice and it may also help you make your relationship with your smartphone a bit more useful.

Give it a shot. You might just find that life changes for the better.