Improve resilience and emotional intelligence by doing nothing

18th June 2014

There is a growing body of research which shows clear improvements in performance for businesses that invest in resilience and emotional intelligence (EQ) programmes. Much of this training is expensive, complex and time consuming. Crucially, it is often delivered ‘context-free’, without taking into account the real needs of the business.

Yet what could be the most cost effective approach to resilience/EQ programmes comes from an unlikely source. Professor Sara Lazar spoke at a TEDx Cambridge recently about her neuroscience research into how meditation can change the structure of our brain. This is the link;

The key findings are impressive. As little as two months of regular meditation produces measurable improvements in essential leadership skills, such as;

  • Executive decision making, through increased grey matter in the prefrontal cortex
  • Emotional regulation, through increased grey matter in the Hippocampus
  • Resilience to stressful events/environments, through reduced grey matter in the Amygdala
  • Attentional focus – ability to concentrate
  • Working memory – ability to call to mind relevant information
  • Perspective taking – ability to remain objective under stress
  • Empathy and compassion, through increased grey matter in the Tempero-parietal junction
How it works

Regular meditation increases neuroplasticity, which enhances our brain’s ability to adapt to new situations, and control our behaviour. Contrary to popular belief, neuroplasticity does not stop when we reach adulthood, but can continue throughout our lives. Professor Lazar’s research in relation to the prefrontal cortex – the CEO of the brain – shows that fifty year olds who meditate have a similar prefrontal cortex to twenty five year olds who don’t. Regular meditation can help us maintain peak mental performance well into our fifties and beyond.

So why doesn’t every company have regular meditation sessions for staff at all levels?

Here are some obvious objections and how to overcome them;

  • ‘Meditation is flaky’ Only if you’re still living in the sixties.
  • ‘Our senior people are against the idea’ Your senior people are the ones who will benefit most!
  • ‘We can’t justify paying someone to get our people to do nothing’ It’s not nothing, and the biggest risk is not to act when the evidence is there. You may not like the idea, but your staff might love it.
  • ‘Our people are too active to sit still and meditate’ In that case you need to use a form of ‘moving meditation’ such as T’ai Chi.
  • ‘Our people don’t need it’ That implies you’ve asked everyone and they’ve all said no – unlikely – or everyone is performing at peak all the time, and you have no HR issues anywhere in your business. In that case you could save a lot of money by getting rid of your HR department.
What are you going to do now?

There’s no real reason, commercial or otherwise, not to try meditation, but before you rush out and hire a guru consider the big picture. The main reason training interventions fail, whether they are meditation or anything else, is that the trainer does not have a proper understanding of the needs and objectives of the business. If you engage someone who ‘gets it’, you will be able to evaluate the return you’re getting for the money you’re spending. You don’t even have to call it meditation. And get someone who your people can relate to. Let us know if you want to give it a go: We’d be happy to help.


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