From my experience, the gender that is overwhelmingly attracted to mindfulness is women, men aren’t quite as attracted to it. Why is this? In the early days, the man’s greatest responsibility was to protect the tribe. Our brains have been crafted over thousands and thousands of years to guard against vulnerability. The problem with mindfulness for men is that the practice of it asks us to look toward and open up to vulnerability because that is where the gold is. We are also asked to relate to it in very feminine language like with “warmth,” “tenderness,” and “gentleness.” However, the physical threats that men were guarding against in the past, in most cases, are no longer the threats of modern day. But the brain hasn’t figured this out yet and treats emotional vulnerability as a threat, keeping men from truly reaching our highest human potential.
But things are changing! There is an evolution afoot as more men are starting to see the benefits of integrating mindfulness into daily life.
If you’re a man or you know one, here are five reasons why I think men should give mindfulness a try.
1. Increase Focus: George Mumford taught the Chicago Bulls and the Lakers mindfulness en route to their string of championships. Sports psychologist Michael Gervais stepped in to the Seattle Seahawks locker room and taught them mindfulness giving them a boost to their first Super bowl victory. AETNA embraced the Mindfulness at Work program that thousands of employees have taken because Mark Bertolini, the CEO, knew the value it could bring to their organization and corporate clients. Other companies including Google, Apple, Edmunds, McKinsey, Yahoo and so many others now have meditation rooms in their offices). Now the military is on board to stay calm and focused out in the field.
This shouldn’t come as a surprise, when we intentionally practice and repeat paying attention to an intended object of awareness, of course, it would follow that we would get better and better at paying attention to what matters.
2. Improve Performance: Usually if we’re able to focus better this would increase our performance as is evident by the integration of mindfulness into business and sports. A study in the Journal of Occupational Health showed that the Mindfulness at Work® program saved employees 69 minutes per week in productivity. In a world where we’re trained in multitasking with a continuous fractured attention it’s a slippery slope to get confused between what is urgent and important and what’s not. What’s more important, the Facebook notification on the phone or the project in front of me? Is it the recent sports score update or listening to my coworker? My brain seems to side with the updates, but in reality it’s likely the least urgent and important.
There’s nothing mystical about why we can be more effective at what we do if we’re training our brains to pay attention to what matters over and again.
3. Build Emotional Intelligence: Emotional intelligence has been shown to be a cornerstone of effective leadership (not to mention an essential component of mental health and healthy relationships). If we’re constantly guarding against vulnerability, guess what? We’re also guarding against the most critical decision maker in our brains – our emotions. The brain makes decisions based on our emotional state most of the time, so we don’t want to be in the dark about what is happening in our internal world. Our brain goes particularly haywire when it comes to uncertainty and fear. Mindfulness teaches us how to approach these triggering emotions in a particular way so that we not only no optimal responses, but the emotions themselves become our greatest teachers. It’s incredibly important to lean in and start to get curious about our emotional lives, understand the information they are conveying and develop the courage to embrace vulnerability.
In doing this we start to feel more grounded, stronger and ignite a sense of trust and self-reliance.
4. Be a Better Lover: The practice of paying attention, on purpose, also has to do with getting increasingly better at tuning into other people in our lives. There is a lot of dissatisfaction that occurs in relationships because people are not tuned into the needs of each other. As we learn to focus and cultivate emotional intelligence we also build the strength of empathy. This is the ability to put yourself in your partner’s shoes and better understand his or her needs. You can learn to be less defensive, more receptive, a better listener and more physically present and responsive which also makes for a better sex life. The insula is a part of the brain that makes us more able to tune into the sensations of our bodies. We learned a long time ago (9 years to be exact) that mindfulness is correlated with a larger insula. In this case, bigger is better.
As we learn how to tune into our bodies and are more present for our partners, everyone is more likely to get their needs met emotionally and physically. If you’re not in a relationship, this is good for the future and a fantastic reason to start practicing.
5. Train Confidence: It feels good to get increasingly better at something. We’ve all experienced this with walking, talking and driving a car (to one degree or another). This a part of the brain that records procedures in life and it gets stronger as we practice. This is no different. In Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell noted it takes 10,000 hours to experience true mastery. What if you could get increasingly better at all of the benefits of mindful awareness? We can learn to experience more confidence with our focus, performance, emotional intelligence and in our relationships. Of course as we intentionally practice and repeat all of this, the changes that we experience begin to open up a much greater gift than any of this. We start to realize that mindfulness is about far more than this, it’s about experiencing the insight into who we truly are and a sense of freedom arises.
As we practice, something else wonderful happens, we begin to inspire others and this continues to have ripple effects across all the people around us. This may even be the most important motivation to practice.
There are so many ways to begin