In an increasingly busy and distracted world, heightened levels of focus and clarity of thought are becoming ever more important for success. Our demanding workplaces and lives require adaptation, creative thinking and ability to constantly make decisions quickly and under pressure.
Dr Fred Travis, director of the Center of Brain, Consciousness and Cognition at Maharishi University of Management, has written numerous papers investigating the relationship between natural human development and lifestyle choices on brain functioning and personal and professional success.
Addressing a recent Gordon Institute of Business Science (GIBS) Forum, Travis explained that a certain level of mind-brain development underlies excellence in all fields of life. Having studied a number of top-level managers, professional athletes and professional classical musicians, he found that they all have higher levels of brain integration, which is associated with higher emotional stability, more openness to experience, greater creativity, and greater problem-solving ability.
Brain integration, Travis explained, allows the brain to function simultaneously on local and global levels, quieten the ‘noise’ of everyday life to find focus and rely on intuition. “Higher mind/brain development is the basis of higher performance. The brain is the interface between yourself and the world.”
Brain integration means that the brain can function as a unit, Travis explained. Levels of integration are associated with anger and reckless behavior. “If the brain is not integrated, it will lead to dysfunction and mistakes, whereas you should see the measure of integration growing in successful people.”
Travis found that of the top performing individuals in the business, sporting and musical worlds he studied, all had a broader vision of the world around them. The top executives were found not to have advanced intellectual capability, or worked harder than others, but “They have more inner clarity that they are able to rely on. They can take the available data, analyse it and then rely on their inner impulses and intuition to make decisions,” Travis said.
The athletes and musicians also reported instances of ‘peak experiences,’ where an inner clarity meant intuition takes over and the body responds automatically.
Travis’ studies found that classically trained musicians, both amateurs and professionals, had higher levels of mind brain integration. This is because music requires simultaneous focus on the point and on the whole, and musicians were therefore able to integrate localised brain function, with a global result.
Music training as a child would essentially “rewire the brain to integrate, and would continue as an adult. Music for children is very powerful as it is a non-cognitive or felt experience,” he explained.
Achieving excellence through meditation
In an effort to help employees function optimally, many organisations have begun to adopt meditation and holistic healthcare activities to improve concentration and focus. Meditation and mindfulness have become increasingly accepted practices in global workplaces as long hours and constant deadlines take their toll on executives.
Travis advocated for meditation as a means to enhance the level of mind/brain integration, and develop peak experiences and psychological development.
“Meditation assists us to make connection with the inner silence that is always there, underlying our experiences. It is where your intuition comes from. Some people are able to create spontaneously, but meditation helps to sharpen the knife,” he explained.
Vipassana meditation focuses the mind on one object; while open-monitoring meditation encourages the individual to notice the process between themselves and their environment. Transcendental meditation asks “Who are you when the noise stops?” Travis explained, and teaches how to deal with the world by changing the individuals’ perspective of themselves. Transcendental meditation is the one meditation that develops the three aspects of mind/brain development, Travis argued.
During meditation, blood flow to the frontal lobes, or decision-making centre of the brain, is increased. Brain stem blood flow is lower and the physical body is at rest. Mental chatter settles down so that the brain can achieve a level of “restful alertness.” Meditation develops greater coherence across the brain and aligns the flow of information to the brain.
Travis explained that the brain is a self-adapting organ: “Your brain is a river, not a rock. It is changing throughout your life, not just in childhood. The brain can adopt an entirely new method of functioning, simply by learning to use the natural tendency of the mind.”
Meditation assists in bringing a character of awareness to everything that you do, Travis said. This coherence allows for better cognitive performance, creativity and concept learning. “When you need to, you can go into the silent, expanded part of yourself and increase your focus.”
Those proficient in meditation are able to better manage stresses as a challenge: “Greater levels of brain integration mean you can become more resilient and deal with greater challenges without them contributing to stress,” Travis concluded.
“Meditation adds another engine to being successful. It brings broad awareness with inner focus, creating a basis for excellence. It makes the mind more whole and less busy - the aim is to be focused, creative and emotionally centered.”