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Monday
Apr022012

1. Mindfulness meditation - What is it?

Written by Rachel Green. Director, The Emotional Intelligence Institute.

Mindfulness is one of the key techniques used for developing emotional intelligence and EQ, and it is advocated as such, by Daniel Goleman.

Be watchful of everything that is happening right nowMindfulness meditation helps people to find greater peace and calm and to reduce anxiety, stress and tension.

It can thus be an aid in emotional self-management which is the fifth emotional intelligence competency on the Genos emotional intelligence model, and the second of the four main areas of emotional intelligence detailed by Daniel Goleman.

Mindfulness meditation has also been found to boost the immune system and produce positive changes in the brain.

Being mindful when eating can even help in producing weight loss. It has a lot going for it!

Emotional intelligence: What is meditation?

The basic technique of meditation is to train yourself to focus over time on a single object.

Once you've chosen your object and focused on it, if you drift away or become distracted by something else, you gently return to the point of your focus.

The aim is to keep doing this over and over again.

As you repeatedly do this the mind can calm down and settle.

This is meditation.

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Emotional intelligence: What posture do I need?

Meditation can be done while sitting, standing, walking or lying. You do not have to sit cross-legged on the floor.

What is important is for you to choose a posture that helps you to be alert and not sleepy, but which is also comfortable, so your body does not distract you too much.

For example, sit in a straight chair with your spine and head erect, feet flat on the floor, hands held loosely in your lap, and your eyes gently closed.

Emotional intelligence: Is meditation just a relaxation technique?

 It is possible to become confused between relaxation techniques and meditation techniques. However, both can help you develop your emotional intelligence and manage your emotions but in different ways.

Meditation trains your mind to find a healthy and restful state to be in throughout every day and across the challenges you face in life.

In addition you learn what your mind is doing, when it is restless and when it is angry, upset or distracted.

You also learn how to refocus and calm it.

  • Over time it becomes easier and easier to stay calm and focused. This in itself is relaxing and energising.
  • It can help you get into the habit of greeting stressful situations with greater calm and leaving them with less tension.
  • Its benefits accumulate over the long term.

In contrast relaxation distracts your mind, so it can relax temporarily, e.g. by using music or visual imagery. The mind takes a break from the worries of the world for the duration of the exercise so you come out of it feeling more relaxed.

However, it doesn't necessarily train your mind outside that time to respond differently, whereas meditation does.

Emotional intelligence: What is mindfulness meditation?

Mindfulness meditation is one of many types of meditation. The main meditation object is focusing on the sensations that occur in the present moment. Thus, I may notice sounds, smells, tastes, and so on. These will vary according to the context I am in and the activity I am engaged in.

When you practise mindfulness meditation you are developing high levels of self-awareness that you can take to any situation or task. Self-awareness is a key emotional intelligence competency and is dimension one on the Genos emotional intelligence model.

Jon Kabat-Zinn is the person attributed with bringing mindfulness meditation into mainstream medicine in the USA. He defines mindfulness meditation as a way of "paying attention 100%, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgementally".

This means that the focus of your mindfulness meditation is whatever is happening right here, right now in the present moment.

Research by Dr Richard Davidson has found positive changes in the brain after only 8 weeks of mindfulness practice.

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Emotional intelligence: Mindful eating

One of my favourite mindfulness meditation exercises is an eating meditation. In this meditation I pay full attention to what is happening whilst I am eating slowly. I am not commenting on what is happening I am simply noticing and observing.

  • I may notice what the food looks like on my plate, fork or spoon.
  • I may notice the texture, shape, size, smell and colour of it.
  • I may notice the action of my hand and arm as I put food on my fork and lift it to my mouth.
  • I may notice the food in my mouth, when saliva arrives, what my tongue does, and so on.
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In mindfulness meditation I am simply watching everything that happens, as if it is in slow motion. In other words, I am being "mindful" of what is going on. I am not being critical of what happens, I'm simply noticing it.

What does mindfulness have to do with emotional intelligence?

If you want to develop emotional intelligence you also need to develop your self-awareness. Meditation helps you do exactly that.

Being emotionally intelligent requires you to notice what is happening with your emotions. You need to be able to notice when an emotion arises and when it fades away. You also need to be able to notice the kind of thoughts that trigger or calm your emotions.

These skills of self-awareness can be developed through the practice of mindfulness meditation and other types of meditation. Emotional self-awareness is a foundation skill of emotional intelligence, and thus your emotional intelligence can be developed too.

Specific emotions may also be helped with mindfulness meditation. For example, emotions such as anxiety or worry may occur when you are focusing on a negative future, on what may happen next, or on what you think may go wrong. Mindfulness meditation brings you into the present moment, and thus it can help you reduce emotions such as anticipatory anxiety, anger and regret.

Managing your emotions is a key emotional intelligence competency and thus mindfulness meditation is very relevant to this.

Similarly, emotions such as regret, bitterness or anger can arise when you focus on events that have occurred in the past or on things people have said or done to you. Again, by bringing you into the present moment you can let go of the past and the accompanying emotions. That's being emotionally intelligent!

Emotional intelligence: Being mindful on a daily basis?

Outside an actual mindfulness meditation exercise it is possible to practise being mindful in daily life. For example, you can pay attention to the sensations involved when you do the dishes, pick up a telephone, walk to the car, speak in a meeting, disagree with your stakeholder, or talk to your staff.

Mindfulness is not about sitting on a cushion. Being mindful can become a way of life. It takes practice.

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