Men are now starting to take more of an interest in mindfulness but are still heavily outnumbered by women as shown by a recent survey from the US which found that men were half as likely to engage in the practice. But why?
On the whole, men tend to be less motivated towards introspection having been socialised to give off an air of confidence and invulnerability. It follows that for some, even trying mindfulness can feel like an admission of weakness. There may also be a fear, that to look within could open a pandora’s box of emotions and baggage that we feel ill-equipped to deal with. If mindfulness asks us to turn towards the difficult, to embrace our challenges and discomforts such that we might know them a little better, this can be a tricky proposition for guys, particularly if they have adopted the role of macho Superman.
Mindfulness in its modern format comes from a clinical setting, steered by doctors and psychologists motivated to help their patients with anxiety and mental health ailments. As a result, it tends to be hailed as a cure-all for the mind (which largely it is) but this doesn’t come close to telling the whole story. Improved mental-health is just the tip of the mindfulness iceberg, but those sticky clinical associations, which are tied in with the mindful message, can be off-putting for men, who might consider that there is nothing wrong with them, so don’t need a fix.
So here’s the thing. Mindfulness is not just about stress, anxiety and counting your breath, it is also about strength, performance, and excellence.
My motivation for over 20 years of mindfulness practice was not sorrow or despair (although when those came along, it helped hugely) it was to further explore my two passions: witnessing the unfolding of human potential, and the pursuit of excellence. I wanted to be both powerful and peaceful at the same time. I didn’t see many role models for this in the world. It was mindfulness that showed the way.
So for all the guys who have not yet found a place for mindfulness in your day, allow me to tempt you…
1 Mindfulness improves your performance in the sack
Let’s face it, we would all like to be better lovers. The ability to satisfy both yourself and your partner during sex plays an important role in happiness and wellbeing. But before we can hope to achieve ecstasy in the bedroom, we need to understand that sex is more than a mere physical experience. Our minds and emotions are key in developing and maintaining intimacy, and establishing a deep connection with our partner.
So how can mindfulness help? Well, mindfulness teaches us to be 100 per cent present to our senses, all of which are stimulated during sex. Medical research also suggests that relaxation, one of the well-known benefits of the practice, is essential for our sex drive and ability to achieve orgasm.
Last year, a study by leading psychologist and sexual arousal expert Dr Lori Brotto, of the University of British Columbia, Canada, found mindfulness helped those who felt “sexually disconnected”. The report revealed mindfulness skills increased detection of sexual sensations, desire and arousal.
2 Mindfulness can make you smarter
Researchers at UCLA studied the brains of people who had meditated for years comparing them with those who never meditated or who only did it for a short period of time. They took MRI scans of 100 people, half meditators and half non-meditators. They were fascinated to find that long-time meditators showed higher levels of gyrification (a folding of the cerebral cortex believed to be associated with faster information processing). In a study published in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience in February 2012, they shared that, the more years a person had been meditating, the more gyrification their MRIs revealed.
3 Mindfulness can take you to the Olympics
Don’t worry, competitive mindfulness meditation is not yet an Olympic sport! But you might be surprised to find out how many of your sporting heroes have turned to mindfulness to increase their ability to dive better, sprint faster, hit harder and jump higher! From Team GB’s Tom Daley to the US sporting heroes Michael Jordan and Derek Jeter, meditation is giving sportsmen the edge over their rivals. A short, simple, daily practice helps athletes build focussed attention, manage their stress, see their opponents clearly, and treat failure as feedback.
4 Mindfulness helps you make better decisions
A 2014 study by researchers at INSEAD in Singapore and The Wharton School at the The University of Pennsylvania led by Andrew Hafenbrack found that just fifteen minutes of mindfulness practice reduced subjects’ vulnerability to the sunk-cost bias (the human tendency to throw good money after bad once an initial investment has been made). This is a well-known error in the world of finance where traders with a heavy sunk-cost bias can lose large sums of money fast, by compounding the situation with further bad decisions.
This supports the theory that without mindful awareness, the human brain tends to ruminate on past losses and potential future embarrassments, leading to poor choices. Mindfulness meditation, on the other hand, increases the capacity to remain centred in the now from which we have better chances of making the next right move.
5 Mindfulness builds true strength
If you are still wondering whether mindfulness has anything to offer you, consider also that even the U.S. Marines have implemented and studied the effects of mindfulness training. As expected, Marines who received Mindfulness-Based Mind Fitness Training (MMFT) prior to deployment reported a significant decrease in stress-perception in the field.
For me this is where true strength arises, the capacity to meet both good times and adversity with resilience.
I honestly believe that mindfulness is as fundamental as food to a human being.
To be the best I can be, I wouldn’t start the day without it.
By Neil Seligman, Founder of The Conscious Professional
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