Choosing your reactions just takes a little mindfulness.
My dad used to say, “I hope the day I die is the best day of my life.” When I was a kid, it was upsetting. When I was in college, we would have philosophical arguments about whether this was possible – or even a good thing. As an adult with grown children, it all makes sense. A life well-lived is a journey of continual learning – of continual improvement.
In my work, I design programs to help global organizations improve how they perform in specific areas: protecting trade secrets, preventing corruption or meeting international labor or environmental standards. I always talk to companies about the journey of continual improvement. Of course, companies are made up of people who need to embrace the journey, each with their own goals and fears and beliefs. One of the keys to sustainable change is improving the process – the way you do things. One of the hard parts of this is getting people to change their attitude and beliefs toward learning something new.
Medical technology now allows us to see how the brain reacts to information that challenges our belief system. If I tell you something that supports your current beliefs, your brain has a low level of activity. The information has confirmed your belief. If I tell you something that contradicts your current belief, your brain has a high level of activity. It goes into a danger mode. Fight or flight. Your brain is busy developing a defense instead of listening and, perhaps, learning. Politics, climate change, sports, religion, corporate change or maybe just learning a new skill – they all work the same way. The academics studying this phenomenon call it “confirmation bias.”
Now I’ve always been an opinionated person and a bit of a rebel. When I started to read about confirmation bias it made me stop and say, “I don’t want to be like that.” I had to rebel against falling into this trap – the natural tendency to become more and more entrenched in my opinions. I wanted to find a way to consciously keep an open mind and embrace lifelong learning.
Well, through coincidence or fate, my daughter introduced me to Headspace. I did theFoundation series. Absolutely perfect. I learned that thoughts are transient. And if thoughts are transient then beliefs can be changed. I learned to quiet my mind and really listen to others. I was hooked. Headspace provided me with a process to follow, a way to open up my mind to continual learning and new perspectives. It allowed me to take more control of my thoughts and to understand how my opinions were formed – the antithesis of confirmation bias. After a couple of months of meditating, I could see the exact point at which, during conversations, my thoughts would trigger certain emotions and lead to me develop a counter-argument. Headspace allowed me to recognize when I was developing a counter-argument – rather than listening and learning.
Over the past year I have done 215 20-minute sessions. Far from daily, but an achievement I am proud of, given my work and travel schedule. As I started going through the series packs I was really impressed by the way they connect to each other in a holistic way, yet each pack breaks the journey into a separate small step. A clear path and small steps are hallmarks of an effective change management program, and I could feel my mind changing with each session.
I typically meditate early in the morning, and then exercise if I have time. I love the mental clarity I get and have learned to carry it into the day. Visualization is something that I have become intrigued with and I’m working to try and improve my technique. I always want there to be more clarity – like a movie. Another new part of my life-long learning.
Each person has to decide when they are ready to really embrace the journey of lifelong learning and the role of meditation. I wasn’t troubled or having particular difficulties before Headspace. Yet it’s been an amazing addition to my life. It has helped me to enrich every aspect – my relationships with my wife and kids, work, physical fitness – you name it. Those closest to me have seen the biggest difference. Through Headspace, I’ve found a way to rebel against the natural tendency to become more and more set in my ways as I get older. In some ways, it’s now the opposite. I have reconnected with some of the curiosity and receptivity of childhood.
Being able to quiet the mind and listen and learn every day for the rest of my life is a blessing – a blessing that is within everyone’s reach.