Free your mind - how an ancient meditation technique can give you an edge
Performance coach Jack Black has been using mindfulness as a transformational tool for 25 years. He tells Katie Byrne why the ancient meditation technique gives his clients the competitive edge
There are many misconceptions about meditation, but perhaps the most persistent one is the idea that it softens our competitive edge and slows us down. It's a misconception that motivational speaker, Jack Black, meets head-on. For the last 25 years he's been teaching harried executives how to harness the practice to become harder, better, faster, stronger. Slow coaches need not apply.
"There is a notion that mindfulness is a very passive thing," he explains. "My approach is very dynamic. It's about getting into a relaxed state and then using the mind in a whole range of ways."
The Glasgow-born performance coach, who is leading a seminar in Dublin this upcoming weekend, calls these tools and techniques "mind gymnastics", and he believes they are critical in today's workplace.
Black's approach is solution-based. "It's always within the context of tools," he explains. This toolbox includes everything from honing intuition to mapping goals.
According to Black, there are four characteristics that define successful people. These include futurism, or how you see your future ("most people limit themselves"); the ability to access the creative side of the brain and an attitude of positivity.
"Someone who is really mindful of their own thoughts doesn't contribute negative comments because they know it takes away the drive, passion, clarity, creativity and resourcefulness of colleagues and people around them," he adds.
The final characteristic is the capacity to manage stress - this one he learnt the hard way.
During his early 20s, Black (inset) lost three people close to him from what he believes were stress-related illnesses.
"It all happened within a fortnight," he recalls. "I realised it was the stress that killed them and that really shook me up."
During the same period, he collapsed in a hairdressers. He was running a side business alongside his work as a social worker on Glasgow's council estates and it wasn't unusual for him to work 60-70 hours a week.
"Nobody talked about stress back then," he explains, "especially in the macho culture of Glasgow. But I realised this could be my first and last warning so my motivation to find out how to manage stress was absolutely massive."
His research was largely out of the local library. This was, after all, the 1980s - pre-internet and decades before the mindfulness movement.
As he searched for relaxation techniques that would help him manage stress and cope with demanding schedules, he came across the Silva method, a self-help programme designed by José Silva.
The mental training method employs relaxation techniques to rewire the subconscious mind and access higher brain functions.
"I discovered that the only way to create a state of homeostasis, or complete balance, comes from a relaxed body and a relaxed mind," he explains. "This is what we now call mindfulness."
Black went on to work for the Silva group before setting up his own organisation, Mindstore, in 1990. He now has 50pc of UK FTSE 100 companies on his client list.
He's also a regular visitor to Ireland and here he reveals some of the tools he'll be sharing at his course next weekend.
Jack Black's took kit
HOW TO ACCESS INTUITION
First you have to bring the body into a relaxed state. In the East they have something called 'mudras', which is placing the fingers into certain positions. Another ancient relaxation technique is to place the tip of the tongue behind the front two teeth.
These practices will slow the brain down into an alpha rhythm and this state will lead to expanded awareness during which the left and right brain are more integrated and your creativity and intuition increases.
To access intuition, once you've relaxed the body, just ask yourself the question and ask for a clear 'yes' or 'no'. The other option is to imagine a traffic light - green is go and red is stop. Ask yourself 'Should I do this?' and then imagine looking at the traffic light.
The other option is to feel the palm of the hand - usually the left hand is very good for this. Ask yourself the question and see if you can detect a warm feeling or a cold feeling. Cold is no, and warm is yes.
HOW TO ENHANCE CREATIVITY
There is usually an increase in anxiety as a deadline approaches so be careful not to tell yourself that you can't do it. Make sure the conversation you have with yourself is a positive one.
Say to yourself 'I'm going to do this and I'm going to do it to the best of my ability'. A week before the deadline, go somewhere private and get into a seated position and become aware of the body. Think about what it is that you want to create and see what comes into your consciousness. Then gently open your eyes and write down whatever comes up.
HOW TO NEGOTIATE WITH EASE
Find a quiet space, become very calm and then imagine the meeting going the way you want it to go. Start doing this a few days beforehand.
On the day itself, it's absolutely critical to turn up early and find a place where you can get into a relaxed state. You have to talk yourself into it rather than dreading meeting your boss and thinking 'he's not going to give me a raise'. People often talk themselves into asking for less than they really want so the first thing is to stop processing the fearful thoughts and tell yourself that you're going to ask for what you are worth.
After all, your boss can only say no. People run scenarios - little rehearsals - in their minds. We need to stop running the ones where it goes wrong and start running the ones where it goes well.
HOW TO EASE MONDAY MORNING ANXIETY
Here we need to change viewpoints and become mindful of thoughts. A client recently told me that he doesn't like Sundays because he associates the day with his childhood and bad television like Songs of Praise and not doing his homework.
People build up these negative associations with Sundays and it's even worse if they are in a job that they don't enjoy.
So we need to work out in advance what time on a Sunday that the anxiety comes and how we're going to deal with it. It's also helpful to review the high points of the week on Friday evening - not the low points.
HOW TO COMBAT A LACK OF FOCUS ON A FRIDAY
Employees are checking out from lunchtime on Friday, in their work flow, conversations and thought patterns. On the other hand, leaders in the organisation, such as CEOs and accountants, tend to have really bad patterns of behaviour and are often at their desks until 7pm.
Here I would suggest that on Friday, at a given time, everybody stops and gets together. Have a glass of wine, a bottle of beer, a tea, a coffee and just wind down and talk about the working week. If your work force are having amazing weekends, then you will have extraordinary weeks.
* Jack Black's course, 'Extreme Mindfulness', takes place on May 28 in the Westbury Hotel Dublin: 9am to 5.30pm. For information see Mindstore.com
Health & Living