I’m no different from other CFOs, in that we’ve all experienced that incessant, nagging internal discourse that distracts us and adds stress to the job.
I shouldn’t have said that at the board meeting.
Where does the audit stand?
How great is the chance we won’t hit plan this quarter?
I wonder if a recession is coming soon.
As a strategic adviser to the CEO, a provider of independent perspective to the board, and ultimate steward of a company’s financial well-being, the CFO role can be a lonely place. Alas, enduring mindless internal chatter and stress is part of the deal.
According to 2017 research by Robert Half, 75% of CFOs anticipated that stress levels in their departments would increase over the next three years.
In his book “Waking Up,” bestselling author Sam Harris posits that a solution might exist: “What contemplatives throughout history have discovered is that there is an alternative to being continuously spellbound by the conversation we are having with ourselves; that there is an alternative to simply identifying with the next thought that pops into consciousness.”
So, what is the antidote? How can we become more in tune with the day’s unfolding and give full attention to our teams, colleagues, and work? How can we elevate our moment-to-moment awareness, increase focus and minimize the tension and stress?
This is my message for finance executives: Meditation may be the cure to such ailments.
In fact, a consistent meditation practice is a key success factor for many high performers. Modern-day athletes, businesspeople, and great leaders have chosen this path. The goal of article is to help CFO readers better understand the benefits of meditation as well as how to get started.
That said, I know that as data-driven and inherently skeptical as CFOs are, getting them to buy into the notion of meditation and its benefits could be a challenge.
First, the subjective benefits of meditation are felt, so it is nearly impossible to describe them with any degree of coherency. There is certainly no audit trail.
But, having personally recognized the changes to my daily mindset because of my meditation practice, I can attest to its effectiveness. I’ve become so enamored with the benefits that I led an eight-week meditation program for our organization. I was surprised and pleased by the amount of feedback from participants on their “felt” sense of well-being and calm.
For centuries, philosophers and thinkers have stipulated that meditation provided an alternative path. The Stoics, including Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius, whose writings have been revered by many world leaders, understood the power of mastering the mind.
In a collection of his writings, “Meditations,” he noted: “Choose not to be harmed and you won’t feel harmed. Don’t feel harmed and you haven’t been.”
A regular meditation practice has been shown to not only increase resiliency to stress, but also to sharpen attention, improve mental health, reduce many kinds of bias, and positively impact personal relationships.
In brain scans of a Buddhist monk named Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche, who has clocked more than 60,000 hours of meditation, it was noted that his levels of gamma ray activity exceeded that of lay-people by several orders of magnitude.
For context, our CFO brains emit gamma rays for those split-second moments of insight. Rinpoche’s brain keeps producing gamma rays, even during sleep.
But it doesn’t take thousands of hours of meditation to experience the benefits. Starting is simple and can be five minutes per day.
At the same time, easing into the process of resting the mind can be difficult, especially for Type-A, high-energy CFOs. In fact, beginners are surprised at how active their minds actually are.
Summarized below is a three-step process that, for purposes of this article, I’ve coined the CFO Meditation Method: 1. Calm, 2. Focus, 3. Observe.
Step 1: Calm
- Find a quiet place free of distraction.
- Sit on a chair (or cushion), feet on the floor.
- Sit up straight with your hands placed comfortably in your lap or on your knees.
- Keep your eyes open or closed (closed is usually easier for beginners).
- Relax. Calm.
Step 2: Focus
- Focus your attention on your breath.
Step 3: Observe
- Try to observe when your attention leaves its focus on your breath and drifts off into thought.
- Be OK with this and bring your focus / attention back to your breath.
- Repeat steps 2 and 3.
One of the biggest misconceptions about meditation is that you are supposed to “not think.” That is futile and biologically impossible. Interestingly, the moment we become aware that our focus and attention has drifted (from the breath in this case) is actually a key part of the meditation process. Over time, our mind drifts less frequently.
For those new to practice, finding the time to practice can be difficult. That said, meditation is like going to the gym to workout. Over time, your body changes and gets in shape. The same happens with the mind.
Don’t have time? Consider this Zen proverb: “You should sit in meditation for 20 minutes every day — unless you are too busy. Then you should sit for an hour.”
Jason Godley is the chief financial officer for Fastaff Travel Nursing and U.S. Nursing.