A lot of type As want to know why they should spend their precious time meditating. I should know—I’ve had type A tendencies my entire life. I always need to see proof before dedicating time to a new practice.
Over the last decade, top-notch researchers have been working hard to prove that meditation is chock full of positives. Scientists are now spoon-feeding us statistics that make even the biggest skeptic stop to take a deep breath.
This post discusses what I feel the top 10 benefits of meditation are to me—a type A overachiever. The list is NOT a scientific ranking of the top 10 benefits of meditation, it just includes what I feel have been the greatest gifts meditation has brought me over the years.
#1: Meditation Improves Focus, Concentration and Productivity
We have at least 50 thousand thoughts every day. 90 percent of them are the same thoughts as yesterday and the day before. As busy people doing important things, we have better things to do than spend our time with the same 50 thousand thoughts and worries—over and over.
When you practice focusing on one thing at a time in meditation, you become more adept at focusing on one thing at a time in all areas of your life. With practice, you’re essentially re-wiring the mind to not pay attention to things that don’t deserve your attention.
#2: Meditation Improves the Quality of Sleep
When you don’t get enough sleep, or the quality of your sleep is not restful, it takes a giant toll on your mind and body. It probably comes as no surprise that even short-term sleep deficiencies can negatively impact your health, mental and performance state, memory, and weight. Battling chronic sleep deprivation can cause a host of more serious health issues, including diabetes, hypertension, depression, obesity, and a host of other health issues.
Yet an estimated 50-70 million Americans have some type of sleep disorder. Why? Surveys done by the Center for Disease Control and the National Sleep Foundation noted that most people are too busy concentrating on thoughts to fall asleep. Another popular reason people don’t get enough sleep? They are too busy, and sleep isn’t the priority.
Studies have shown that meditation and mindfulness practices have resulted in improved sleep quality for those who reported trouble sleeping, without the side effects of medications often used to treat insomnia and other sleep disturbances. Improved sleep through mindfulness meditation also meant less depression and fatigue, and therefore a better quality of life during waking hours.
#3: Meditation Reduces Stress
Everyone knows that stress is incredibly destructive in many ways. It’s the cause of many diseases and inflammation of all kinds. For the purpose of this post, I’m just focusing on the consequences of stress when life gets too busy at work.
Stress inhibits creativity and courage—two things very important in the workplace—and increases confusion and indecisiveness (not so helpful at work). As leaders, innovators, and type A hard workers, the byproducts of stress will kill our ability to be productive and successful.
Stress causes health issues (which we’ll go touch on in next benefit), resulting in lack of clarity. Who is clear and able to be the best employees, parents, friends, and leaders when they’re stressed out and don’t feel well physically?
Stress also increases feelings of self-consciousness, self-doubt, and insecurity, all unhelpful things when we’re trying to be efficient and play many different roles in life. Meditation lowers cortisol levels, the stress hormone, and has the power to reverse the byproducts of stress.
#4: Meditation Improves Health
I’m not going to get into all of the health benefits to meditation—that would be an entire section of this website. But it’s important to note that most illnesses are at least in part stress-induced and since meditation is such a powerful antidote to stress, it helps prevent and cope with most illnesses.
One interesting tidbit though, is that meditation has been found to actually boost the immune system. A study with the University of Wisconsin, Madison research team, found that those who meditate are able to produce significantly more antibodies to the flu vaccine than those who do not meditate.
Research also found that after a mere eight weeks of consistent meditation, research participants were 76 percent less likely than the controlled group to miss work due to sickness.
#5: Meditation Changes the Brain
Research is becoming more available as the subject of meditation and mindfulness rises in neuroscience. Sara Lazar, senior researcher at Harvard led a series of studies that looked at MRI scans of participants who introduced daily doses of meditation. What they found was that gray matter grew in key areas of the brain having to do with self-awareness, compassion, learning, memory, emotion regulation, sense of self and perspective taking.
Even better? Gray matter shrunk in the area of the brain associated with stress.
Harvard neuroscientists have reported that brain structures change after only eight weeks of meditation practice, 27 minutes each day.
#6: Meditation Increases Compassion for Yourself and Others
Compassion is a beautiful antidote for insecurity, and working with our inner struggles. When we’re mindful, we’re observing instead of judging. Self-judgment causes insecurity, while self-compassion is one way to overcome insecurity. And when we let go of insecurity, we build confidence.
For research on the top 10 scientific benefits of practicing compassion, check out this infographic from the Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education at Stamford University.
#7: Meditation Boosts Creativity
Creative and innovative ideas are often born in spaces between moments, not during actual activity itself. Meditation settles and calms the mind to then spur creativity.
When’s the last time you had a creative idea or solution in the middle of a busy day?
#8: Meditation Brings Clarity
If you find yourself indecisive about your next step in life, meditation will support you with a dose of clarity. Practicing meditation helps you settle your mind so you can tune into your intuition and purpose, and get clear on that grandiose vision for your life.
Many times us type As put a lot of effort into trying to get answers: searching for rationale or advice on which job to take, whether or not to move, whether to move forward in your relationship, and other big life decisions. But often it’s just the opposite that will help us arrive at the next step in life. Getting quiet allows the clear answers to come to you, instead of forcing them into your life.
#9: Meditation Helps You Stay Present
If you aren’t able to be present, you won’t be able to work effectively, connect with coworkers, or get clear on what you actually want in your life.
There was a study done at Yale that discussed the default mode network of the brain. The research showed that the human mind is conditioned to spend the majority of its time in the past and future, when science says that the present moment is when we’re happiest. The study at Yale showed that meditation is a valuable tool to transform the default mode network of the brain so you can spend more time in the present moment—not just during meditation, but during life activity outside of meditation, too.
#10: Meditation Improves Happiness as a Skill
Yes, it’s true … happiness can be trained in the same way we practice sports, video games, or cooking. It doesn’t mean that external circumstances aren’t going to impact your happiness. It just means you’re going to be able to navigate them with more ease.
In the Harvard study where researchers looked at grey matter in the brain, they noted that “Although the practice of meditation is associated with a sense of peacefulness and physical relaxation, practitioners have long claimed that meditation also provides cognitive and psychological benefits that persist throughout the day.” So, those feelings of calm, present-moment awareness, contentment, ease, and joy that you feel during meditation won’t stop when your meditations are over.
*This post was adapted from the book, The Type A’s Guide to Mindfulness: Meditation for Busy Minds and Busy People.