How meditating for 15 minutes a day could improve your life
When actress Emily Fletcher became overwhelmed with stress and anxiety, she turned to meditating. She tells Liz Connor of its transformative effect
Do you ever wonder why a work task that should take 20 minutes ends up taking over an hour? Between emails, WhatsApp groups and general distractions, honing your concentration to get something done can be easier said than done.
Yet mastering the art of single focusing is a common trait among high performers and business leaders - and could likely benefit us all when it comes to levelling up in the workplace and recouping more free time.
A new book called Stress Less, Accomplish More: The 15-Minute Meditation Programme For Extraordinary Performance suggests that just 15 minutes of daily meditation could be the strategy you need to unlock your focus.
Its author, Emily Fletcher, founder of Ziva Meditation (zivameditation.com), says learning how to meditate didn't just help her tackle stress and insomnia, but also transformed her into a productivity ninja.
"I was an actress on Broadway for 10 years, before I became a meditation teacher," she adds. "My last job was to understudy three of the leads in A Chorus Line, which means you show up to the theatre with no idea of which character you're going to play that night.
"Some people thrive in that type of role, but I'm not one of them. It was causing a lot of stress and anxiety, leading to endless nights of sleeplessness. I ended up having insomnia for 18 months. I started going grey aged 26. I started getting sick and injured. It was very confusing to me - while I was living my dream, doing the thing I'd wanted to do since I was a child, I was miserable."
A chance encounter with a fellow actress led Fletcher on a path to discovering meditation. "She had a harder job than I did, yet she seemed to be effortless and effervescent," she recalls, laughing. "Every song, every dance every bite of food seemed to be a celebration. I asked her, 'What do you know that I don't know?'"
When Fletcher discovered that her colleague's backstage serenity was down to meditation, she snapped up the chance to learn the practice from the same teacher.
"On the first day of the first course, I was in a different state of consciousness than I'd ever been in," she says. "That night, I slept through the night for the first time in 18 months, and I have every night since." That was 11 years ago - and Fletcher's life hasn't been the same since.
"If curing my insomnia was the only thing meditation has done for me, it would have been worth it, but I stopped going grey, I didn't get sick for eight years, I started enjoying my job again and my performance got so much better," she says. "I thought, 'Why doesn't everybody do this?'
"I left Broadway, went to India and I started a three-year training programme. After graduating, I opened up a studio in New York, created the world's first online meditation training and now have written this book, all with the aim to make these powerful practices accessible to a mainstream audience."
Fletcher's 'Z Technique' is a trifecta of three Ms: mindfulness, meditation and manifesting. "Once you learn it, you do it for 15 minutes, twice a day," she says.
"We recommend it in the morning, before coffee, breakfast or computers, and then at some point in that mid-afternoon to early evening slump, where most of us would have a tea or coffee or a nap. It's a beautiful time to peel away to a coffee shop or a hotel lobby, or steal away to your car - wherever you can find to meditate."
The three Ms constitute different mental exercises and guided meditations. "First, we move through the mindfulness, which is a little bit more focused and gives high performers, who tend to have busy minds, something active to do," Fletcher says. "That way, there's an appetite into the main course that is the meditation. We end the practice on manifesting. To me, manifesting means constantly creating a life you love. We get disciplined about taking those few minutes at the end of the meditation to ask better questions, like 'What does my dream job look like? How much money do I want to make? What does my dream relationship look like?'"
Fletcher, who believes everyone should try meditation at least once, has taught her technique at global companies such as Google, Barclays and Viacom to help improve company performance. She has seen huge changes when a workforce gets behind the idea.
"People report fewer migraines, increased productivity, and less time they actually spend at work - they just get things done faster," she says. "There's an increase in team morale and sick days are down, so it's hugely impactful for the company."
When asked whether she thinks more UK businesses should be offering meditation to employees, she replies: "A thousand percent, yes. Millennials want to work at a company that they believe in. They expect to be treated as a human, not a robot. I think this is a tool that can feed the humanity of the employee and increase productivity for the company in one fell swoop.
"If you look at the companies who were voted the top 25 to work for, all of them are teaching meditation. I think smaller companies have to start to get serious about their employee benefits if they want to compete and get the top-tier talent."
For anyone who says they'd struggle to find the time, it can be helpful to re-think your work coffee break.
"I like coupling coffee and meditation in the same category because ultimately we're coming to both for productivity, and I would argue that they take up the same time," Fletcher says.
"By the time you go to the coffee shop, order it, drink it and then come back to work, that's probably 15 or 20 minutes. Why not close your eyes right at your desk and do meditation instead? You have this hit of productivity and energy, but in a much more sustainable way than caffeine, which is just masking your brain's ability to feel tired.
"Try it and see what happens - even if you're allergic to the word 'meditation'. What have you got to lose?"
- Stress Less, Accomplish More: The 15-Minute Meditation Programme For Extraordinary Performance by Emily Fletcher, published by Bluebird, February 21, £14.99