The other day I got a call from a reporter for a women’s magazine wondering if I knew of any new stress reduction ideas, “you know, beyond breathing and meditation.” It reminded me of our tendency in this culture to grasp for the novel and it even caused me to doubt whether to include this piece in the book. You would have to have been living under a rock for the past couple of decades not to know about the benefits of meditation—lower blood pressure, and reduced stress, anger, anxiety, and depression, to name but a few.

But I decided it would be irresponsible of me not to include something that’s so effective in accepting the turbulence of change simply because it’s been around for thousands of years. Plus I found something new that I hope will inspire you to take action if you haven’t yet been convinced to try meditation: you’re actually changing your brain structure.

It turns out that “thinking about your thoughts in a certain way can alter the electrical and chemical activity of a brain circuit,” reports Sharon Begley in Train Your Mind, Change Your Brain. This means that you can permanently alter how you think through meditation, “strengthening connections from the thoughtful prefrontal lobes to the fear- and anxiety-generating amygdala,” writes Begley. And a recent study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science found that you can get meditation’s fabulous effects in as little as three minutes a day! “The brain responds to repetition with more gusto than duration,” says Daniel Siegel, associate clinical professor of psychiatry at UCLA. So you don’t have the excuse that you don’t have time.

The study also found that meditation is more effective than the popular stress reduction technique of guided relaxation in which you consciously relax one part of your body after another. Here’s my speculation as to why, which says something about why meditation is such a crucial tool in AdaptAbility. Unlike guided relaxation, meditation strengthens the “witness self”—the part of our minds that is aware of our thoughts and feelings.

The more we strengthen that part, the more we’re not just living on automatic pilot, at the mercy of our conditioned responses or feelings, but are able to be more deliberate in how we respond. We understand that thoughts are not facts and that we can observe our fearful, sad, or angry thoughts come and go rather than being at their mercy. Dawna calls it holding the kite string to your mind so you can direct where it goes rather than letting it go wherever it’s blown.

This is a crucial capacity during change because it both allows you to register what you are feeling and ask yourself, What is the most skillful way to respond to circumstances right now? With a strong witness self, we’re no longer at the whim of our unconscious behavior, but are behind the wheel of our destiny, more able to adapt and adjust with ease. Next time I’ll offer a basic technique.

Author's Bio: 

A member of Professional Thinking Partners who is recognized as a leading expert in change, M.J. Ryan specializes in coaching high performance executives, entrepreneurs, individuals, and leadership teams around the world to maximize performance and fulfillment. Her clients include Microsoft, Royal Dutch Shell, Chevron, Hewitt Associates, and Frito Lay. Her work is based on a combination of positive psychology, strengths-based coaching, the wisdom traditions, and cutting edge brain research. Her new book, titled “AdaptAbility: How to Survive Change You Didn't Ask For” was recently released published by Random House’s Broadway Books. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband and daughter.