For hundreds of centuries, mystical Hindu sages and modest Buddhist monks have understood the immense health benefits one receives from a regular meditation practice. Only more recently, however, have the life-affirming affects of meditation been scientifically verified in the western world. Over the past two decades, in particular, an ever-expanding base of research has shown how individuals can experience beneficial changes at every level of their being. At the psychical level, for example, Noble Prize winning biologist Elizabeth Blackburn has shown how meditation has the potential to actually slow the aging process. At the emotional level, John Kabat-Zinn, the founder and director of the mindfulness-based stress reduction program at the University of Massachusetts, has repeatedly verified the practice’s ability to decrease individuals’ levels of stress. And at the cognitive level, University of Harvard researchers have determined that regular meditation increases cortical thickness in the area of the brain that handles memory and learning.
If you are having trouble starting and/or maintaining a regular practice, findings such as these can certainly entice you to prioritize meditation with more resolve. If, however, you have been previously made aware of the scientifically proven benefits and still aren’t motivated to practice, don’t worry because there is more good news.
While most meditation research and data justifiably focuses on health and wellbeing, it doesn’t take away from the fact that meditation is a great personal development tool that can help us achieve our individual goals.
We can explore a wide range of reasons that show why meditation is a potent tool for personal growth, and by recounting wisdom from the previously mentioned sages and monks, in addition to modern-day meditation experts, we can verify these truths:
- Meditation Improves our Concentration & Productivity: To achieve your personal goals, you will have to have the concentrative powers to stay focused on both short-term objectives and your long-term vision. Fortunately, one of the two main components of meditation is concentration, and by regularly practicing, you can improve your abilities to focus on finding the solutions needed to achieve your desired outcomes. Furthermore, with an improved ability to focus your attention on the most important tasks, your levels of productivity will certainly be enhanced. Swami Vivekananada, the celebrated Hindu monk who brought the world’s oldest religion to America in 1893, understood this meditation benefit and told us, “The flow of this continuous control of the mind becomes steady when practiced day after day, and the mind obtains the faculty of constant concentration.”
- Meditation Improves our Mindful Awareness & Flexibility: The second component of meditation is mindfulness, or present-moment awareness, and it can similarly help us achieve our goals in important ways. By taking the time to practice meditation, you will certainly improve your mindful awareness, and once this happens, you will have an improved ability to discover and change the faulty cognitions and behaviors that are acting as roadblocks on the path towards success. Without improving your mindfulness capabilities, many of your debilitating thoughts and behaviors may continue to hinder your progress because they remain hidden outside of your basic conscious awareness. Additionally, by gathering information without associating your deeper self with your thoughts and emotions, you can become more flexible in your personal development approach and more easily make changes to problematic beliefs, behaviors, and ways of thinking. A famous Zen Buddhist proverb tells us that by meditating regularly, we can, “Be the master of mind rather than mastered by mind.”
- Meditation Improves our Creativity: Oftentimes when chasing success, individuals will become overly rigid in their approach which counterproductively stops them from achieving their goals in the most effective and efficient ways possible. Not only does the practice of meditation increase an individual’s ability to locate problems in their achievement strategies, as we just discussed, but it can also put them in touch with creative resources that were previously untapped. Studies have shown how individuals who regularly practice enjoy improved problem-solving capabilities and are able to conceptualize new and novel ideas. Moreover, meditation naturally reduces our habitual ways of relying on ingrained mental patterns and opens our mind to new ways of being. Eckhart Tolle, one of the most influential spiritual writers of modern times, tells us that, “True intelligence operates silently. Stillness is where creativity and solutions to problems are found.”
- Meditation helps us Develop and Cultivate Relationships: Rarely, if ever, can an individual, aiming for achievement, succeed without the help of others. Along the road towards success, it is inevitable that each of us will have to develop and cultivate relationships by means of open and honest communication. Fortunately, meditation allows us to improve our abilities to communicate with others and helps us find a natural connection to all. Since meditation is widely known to increase present moment awareness, individuals who regularly practice are better equipped to wholly communicate with others in the present. Furthermore, research has shown how meditation improves emotional resilience, helps to develop important communication skills such as empathy, and increases feelings of joy, peace, and happiness which are all vital components of developing and cultivating relationships. Renowned spiritual teacher and author Deepak Chopra tells us, “Meditation takes you beyond the mind’s noisy chatter into the pure awareness that is the source of all your happiness, inspiration, and love.”
- Meditation Decreases the Amount of Sleep we Need: The unfortunate reality of chasing one’s dreams is that they often neglect sleep by either working towards their goals or worrying about the progress that they have made. While sleeping less then recommend isn’t prescribed, meditation has been shown to improve individuals’ sleep and even lessen their need for it. By using advanced brain imaging technologies, scientists have been able to show how brain waves of individuals meditating display similar neural activity of individuals who are in deep sleep. Additionally, it is widely believed that meditation naturally increases alertness and energy. Osho, the great Hindu guru and leader of the Rajneesh movement, tells us, “Meditation means: remain as relaxed as you are in deep sleep and yet alert.”
- Meditation helps us Decide upon Truly Meaningful Goals: Probably the most important benefit that comes from using meditation as a tool for success, is that it helps us distinguish our most meaningful objectives from our surface level desires. By exploring spiritual wisdom, found within the religions of Buddhism and Hinduism, as a supplement to a meditation practice, one can break free from goals that were created through social conditioning and advertisement. By doing so, they will instead be able to aim for the things that will bring them true happiness. Assuredly, when one fully understands important spiritual concepts, such as the ego and impermanence, they will naturally begin moving down a path that brings them what it is they truly want: fulfillment. None other than the Buddha himself told us, “If you are quiet enough, you will hear the flow of the universe. You will feel its rhythm. Go with this flow. Happiness lies ahead. Meditation is the key.”
For decades, there has been a great misperception in the worlds of self-help psychology and personal development that tells us meditation is the least productive thing we can do. Many success coaches ignorantly and falsely assume that only by late nights and sheer determination can one create their ideal life. ‘Why would someone trying to achieve great things be willing to spend 20, 30, or even 60 minutes a day just sitting?’ they may wonder. Well, the truth is that for success seekers and not, meditation can be used as an unmatched tool for not only improving one’s mental, physical, and emotional wellbeing, but also for achieving great things. If you are serious about being successful, you should listen to the Meditation Masters and start using your time in the best possible way: Meditating. Now, I leave you with a quote from the celebrated Tibetan Buddhist Lama Sogyal Rinpoche, “The gift of learning to meditate is the greatest gift you can give yourself in this lifetime.”
Patrick Zeis is a certified meditation instructor, author, and the primary contributor at Balancedachievement.com, a website ‘Where Ancient Spirituality meets Modern Self-Help Psychology.’