Train Your Mind, Improve Your Game: Meditation for the 21st-Century Leader

Here are two more informal practices you can try this week.

First, periodically check in to feel your center of gravity, which is located in your abdomen, about two inches below your navel. Try it right now. Notice how this brings your energy and attention down from your head, helping you to get in touch with the rest of yourself. You may notice that doing so feels grounding and empowering, and your mind quiets down. You can do this while sitting still at your desk or in a meeting, but it’s also useful to play with while you’re moving; in fact, see what it feels like to initiate your movements from this part of your body. If you’re walking, for example, lead with your center of gravity and have your legs follow.

I also invite you to pay attention to the sensations of and your reactions to heat and cold. Before immediately cranking up the air conditioner or putting your jacket on, check in to see what you’re feeling. What are the actual sensations? Where do you feel them in your body? What thoughts and feelings are arising that are associated with this experience? Are they strong or mild? Return to your sensations. Have they changed? Take some time to be curious about your experience of heat or cold (and do feel free to warm or cool yourself as need be when you’ve finished your exploration).

I’m offering this exercise because unpleasant experiences are inevitable in life, but how we respond to them is up to us. We can make things a lot worse when we push away and react to our experience; when we take a closer look at what we’re actually experiencing (vs. believing thoughts about it such as “I can’t stand this; I have to fix this right now!”), we see that it’s actually bearable and it may not even be as unpleasant as we imagined. This does take practice, however. That’s why I’m having you start with something relatively simple. Truly effective leaders are fully engaged with their world, willing to face inconvenient or painful truths and take sometimes challenging but necessary actions to serve the greater good. Learning to become comfortable with being uncomfortable will give you much more latitude in which to operate and will allow you to have a much greater impact as a leader.

Let’s Create a Learning Lab

I’d like to create a learning lab where we can share what we discover as we engage in these practices, so I invite you to post your experiences and questions below. If you’d like to learn more about meditation and conscious leadership, click here. I provide individual and group instruction and coaching, and I can also point you to numerous resources

Recommended Reading and Video:

Full-Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and Illness, Jon Kabat-Zinn, PhD
Fully Present: The Science, Art, and Practice of Mindfulness, Susan L. Smalley, PhD, and Diana Winston

The Leadership Dojo: Build Your Foundation as an Exemplary Leader, Richard Strozzi-Heckler, PhD
Search Inside Yourself: The Unexpected Path to Achieving Success, Happiness (and World Peace)
, Chade-Meng Tan

Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life, Jon Kabat-Zinn, PhD

A Mindful Nation with Congressman Tim Ryan,” U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan

“Tension is who you think you should be. Relaxation is who you are.” — Chinese proverb

Deborah Knox is a Stanford MBA and CEO of Insight Admissions. Having meditated for the past 20 years, she has become intimately familiar with the benefits and challenges of practice, particularly for Type-A personalities. Devoted to the study of leadership excellence, Deborah has also served as a researcher and editor on numerous book projects for best-selling management author Jim Collins. Recognizing the immense benefits contemplative practices such as meditation could have in the field of leadership development, Deborah has studied numerous practices from the wisdom traditions, and has participated in the secularly oriented Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) Teacher Training taught by Jon Kabat-Zinn, PhD.


In another study, in addition to exploring the effects of meditation on attention, researchers decided to see if meditators demonstrated more telomerase activity, the enzyme that rebuilds and lengthens telomeres. What are telomeres, you ask? Serving a function similar to that of the plastic things on the ends of shoelaces (which are called “aglets”), telomeres are the protective caps at the end of chromosomes. Their length is tied to chronic stress exposure and depression on the one hand (shorter) and cellular longevity on the other hand (longer). The experimental group, which had participated in a three-month meditation retreat, demonstrated one-third more telomerase activity than the non-meditating control group. According to Cliff Saron , the UC-Davis researcher who ran the study, “The take-home message from this work is not that meditation directly increases telomerase activity and therefore a person’s health and longevity. Rather, meditation may improve a person’s psychological well-being and in turn these changes are related to telomerase activity in immune cells, which has the potential to promote longevity in those cells. Activities that increase a person’s sense of well-being may have a profound effect on the most fundamental aspects of their physiology.”