Matt Tenney served more than five years in prison for attempting to embezzle government funds. During his time in jail, his approach to life changed — leading him to live as a monk for three years and then share his experiences with the world (chronicled in his popular book, Serve to Be Great: Leadership Lessons From a Prison, a Monastery, and a Boardroom). One of his biggest influences is his mindfulness practice; here’s why.
Wouldn't it be nice if there were a pill we could take that would improve nearly every area of our lives? In a way, there is. It's called mindfulness.
Mindfulness is a subtle inner shift from being identified with thinking and emotions, to being objectively aware of thinking and emotions, which frees us up to be more present with what we're doing and who we're with. Being mindful takes just about as much effort as taking a pill, but it's something we can do as often as we like. And, when practiced correctly, there are no negative side effects. Although practicing mindfulness can't solve every problem in our lives, it can solve the most important ones.
It very well may be the ultimate habit for success in life; here's why:
1. Increased productivity
Mindfulness training boosts productivity in two key ways.
First, the practice helps us filter through the chaos of the mind so that we can have better clarity on what's actually important. By improving clarity on what's truly important, it's possible to do less, using less time, and actually be more productive than ever before.
Second, mindfulness training allows us to transform all of the simple, mundane moments of our lives — moments we usually think of as "downtime" or "wastes of time" — into some of the most productive moments of the day.
2. Greater influence
A key element of our success, both personally and professionally, is our ability to effectively influence others. There are no better ways to build influence with other people than to understand their needs and help them meet those needs. Mindfulness training changes our brains in ways that help us do just that.
One of the earliest studies on mindfulness training showed that mindfulness practitioners had measurably thicker insula than do non-practitioners. The insula is a part of the brain associated with empathy.
3. Better decision making
Although we might not like to admit it, we all have biases wired into our brains. These biases often cause us to make decisions that are less than optimal.
Mindfulness training helps us develop the refined levels of self-awareness that are necessary to see our biases objectively, before they influence our decisions. Equally important, mindfulness helps us develop the mental agility required to be able to make decisions that are outside of our comfort zone.
4. Improved health
There is now decades of research showing how mindfulness improves physical health in a wide variety of ways. Based on this research, one could make a good argument that practicing mindfulness might be the healthiest thing we can do.
The most robust methods of mindfulness training were originally constructed with only this purpose in mind: to realize unconditional happiness. This is actually how I first discovered the practice, while spending five and a half years confined to military prison. About one year into my sentence I learned about mindfulness and began practicing very diligently.
After about six months of practice, I noticed something that really surprised me. I was happier right there in a military prison, with nothing, than I'd ever been in my life.
This is one reason I consider my time in confinement to be the most valuable gift of my life. I now know that the only thing I require to be happy in life is to be alive and breathing and free of biologically created mental illness. My happiness is essentially unconditional.
Unconditional happiness is something that you can train to develop by making the effort to be mindful during as many of your daily activities as possible.
It doesn't really matter what your motivation is for beginning the practice of mindfulness. You may want to be more successful, or you may want to realize unconditional happiness, and you're okay with becoming more successful as a side effect. Fortunately, if you practice mindfulness correctly, you can realize both greater success and greater happiness.