Mindfulness Meditation, Emotional Intelligence and Success

By Desmond YSC

Many of us would have heard others say that those who are at the top of the corporate ladder or who run successful businesses must be ruthless and cunning to survive. They say that the good guys who waste their precious time on spiritual practices will never make it in this dog eat dog world. Well, Chade-Meng Tan (“Meng”) in his book “Search Inside Yourself” says exactly the opposite. He has been running the Search Inside Yourself (“SIY”) course at Google for many years and there is always a long waiting list to attend the SIY course. It was so popular that Google started a separate training organization to make the course available to other external corporations.

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I will try to summarize the main points in this article but you will still need to read the book because the exercises in the book are not reproduced here.

Meng knew that a course on ‘meditation’ will not get people excited unless he can show that the course can help them be successful in their careers. He struck the nail in the head when he worked together with Daniel Goleman and many other big names to show that mediation and mindfulness can improve a person’s emotional intelligence and thus, ensure their success.

Meng highlighted studies after studies that showed that emotional competencies are twice as important in contributing to excellence as compared to pure intellect and expertise. Even in a study done on individuals in the tech sector where we would expect intellect to be the most important factor; emotional competencies were shown to be more important. Not convinced yet? A study on the US Navy showed that the most effective US Navy commanders are “more positive and outgoing, more emotionally expressive and dramatic, warmer and more sociable (including smiling more), friendlier and more democratic, more cooperative, more likeable and fun to be with, more appreciative and trustful, and even gentler than those who were merely average”. Meng does not hold back punches when he wants to proof a point!

Meng taught that mindfulness has two parts in it; attention and meta-attention. Attention is the process of being conscious of an object such as our breath. Meta-attention is attention on attention; the ability to know when our attention has wandered away and then to bring it back to the object of meditation.

Mindfulness meditation trains our mind in the same way we train our muscles. Every time we flex our biceps by lifting dumbbells, our muscles get a little stronger. Similarly, every time our attention wanders away and we bring it back to the object of meditation, we are flexing the muscles of our mind. Therefore, there is no such thing as a bad meditation because every time our mind wanders, we are given the opportunity to exercise our muscle of mindfulness. The more it strays away from the object of meditation, the more exercise we get. William James, the father of modern psychology, said that ‘the faculty of voluntarily bringing back a wandering attention over and over again is the very root of judgment, character and will’.

There are many studies that showed the positive benefits of meditation. Antoine Lutz showed that adept meditators are able to generate high-amplitude gamma brain waves (even when they are not meditating) which are associated with high effectiveness in memory, learning and perception. Jon Kabat-Zinn revealed that mindfulness can accelerate the healing of a skin condition known as psoriasis. Sara Lazar found that meditators have a thicker cortex in the brain regions associated with attention and sensory processing; and the longer the meditation subjects have been practicing, the thicker those parts of the brains are.

Here is the good news: Richard Davidson and Jon Kabat-Zinn did a study which was conducted in a business setting that showed that after just eight weeks of mindfulness training, the anxiety level of the subjects were measurably lower. When the electrical activity of the subjects’ brains was measured, those in the meditation group showed significantly increased activity in parts of the brains associated with positive emotions. Near the end of the study, the subjects were given flu shots, and those in the meditation group developed more antibodies to the influenza vaccine.

What all these mean is that a person can reap significant benefits within eight weeks of mindfulness meditation. The tests were done on ordinary persons like you and me and not on meditation masters. All of us can benefit significantly from mindfulness meditation without the need for years of practice. There is no need to escape deep into the forest or high up in the mountains to benefit from meditation.

After showing the benefits of mindfulness meditation, Meng needed to explain how mindfulness actually works to increase our Emotional Intelligence. This will be covered in my next article. For now, the following articles may be useful gain an understanding about meditation:

The Gap between Thoughts

Be Friends with your Emotions

Practicing Awareness


Here is the link to the PDF version of Search Inside Yourself

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