Meditation is not what you think it is.
I admit that I was under the impression that it involved completely turning off my brain; That I had to sit quietly and not think for an extended period of time. That task seemed daunting and unachievable.
Michael Balchan is here to set the record straight. “Meditation is not about turning off your thoughts,” he told me. “It’s about taking the time to recognize what you are thinking.”
Through his management consulting company, EFive, Michael helps inspired leaders learn to navigate the complex challenges that come with managing in today’s world. Developing a higher quality relationship with your mind is a key component, which is where meditation comes in.
Michael understands the pressure of a demanding environment. “I was trading in commodity markets and found myself increasingly stressed out,” Michael said. “For some reason, meditation kept coming up. I discovered how just 5 minutes of focusing my attention on breathing could completely transform how I experienced the world.”
Simply focusing on your breathing, as I discovered, can act as a salve. For Michael, focusing on his breathing during meditation – rather than trying to turn off his thoughts – helps him to work on being positive in an increasingly pessimistic and negative world.
And here’s the thing: our mind dictates the way that we interact with the world. “Most people aren’t aware that they have the ability to choose the way that they respond to something,” Michael explained. “We have the ability choose whether or not to listen to our thoughts, to follow the path they take us on, and to make the choice to replace them with more empowering thoughts.”
Taking the time to listen to your thoughts doesn’t have to be an overwhelming exercise that requires a special meditation pillow and incense. In fact, all it takes is 2 minutes. What is important, however, is that you take the time to do it every day. “Recognize that you need to take a little time each day to cultivate a relationship with your body and your mind,” Michael told me. “It can be as easy as focusing on 8 breaths, but you need to make that commitment to yourself. We brush our teeth every day, so we should clean our mind every day.”
It’s a message that Michael feels strongly about getting out into the world. That’s why he focuses his energy on sharing this knowledge through his 1-on-1 performance coaching and leadership consultantcy.
On his website, michael.coach, you can find free downloadable workbooks that people can use to help plan their year. “Picking an intention to embody over the course of the year is the goal of the workbooks,” Michael said. “I prefer this approach to the traditional new year’s resolutions because you can use these intentions over and over throughout the year. They remind you how to be bold in any situation.”
Michael has also launched a daily cartoon series called +1’s, which he shares on his Instagram and, soon, on his website. “Each day, I draw a little cartoon with a big idea that has an actionable takeaway,” he explained. “The concept is that each day you get a little better and get a +1. Over the course of the year, you can look back and see all the small ways that you were able to improve.”
Whether you decide to use a free app like Headspace or join a class, you can unlock these small improvements simply by meditating. Michael’s ultimate goal, in fact, is to have 5% of people in the world practicing daily meditation. “If half of our interactions with each other were coming from a place of increased consciousness, it might help to reduce conflict and disagreements,” Michael told me. “We need to recognize that we’re all on this planet together, and we’ve only got one of them, so if we want to keep it we need to have better dialogues with each other.”
Don’t turn off your brain. Tune in to it. As Michael reminds me, “No one can shut their brain off. Not even the Dalai Lama.”
About Michael Balchan
Michael Balchan is a coach to executives and inspired leaders. A Harvard trained behavioral economist and psychologist with a master's in Optimal Living, he helps his clients feel and perform at their best. He is the founder & CEO of efive.co. Previously, he spent seven years in the commodity option markets, where his calm presence under pressure earned him the nickname "zen trader." Michael is the author of Meditation: What, Why, and How to Meditate, part of a commitment to see 5% of the world's population develop a daily mindfulness practice. He is also the artist of Plus One Pic Notes, daily illustrations that make personal growth playful, practical, and accessible. He is a top 10% Ironman finisher, a world-class learner, a master practicer, and a committed partner.