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THE INC. LIFE

This Simple Technique Can Help You Raise More Confident Kids, According to Neuroscience

It takes just a couple of minutes, but studies show this mindfulness exercise can boost compassion, resilience, and positive emotions. And it’s not just for kids.

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BY Elisa Boxer - 28 Feb 2018

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Say you get a nasty email from a client. Or you have to fire an employee. Or you're pitching to investors on zero sleep.

Entrepreneurs face no shortage of stressful interactions, and many are turning to one particular form of mindfulness for help. Warning: It feels counterintuitive, and might sound like a bunch of baloney.

I'm taking about Metta, also known as "loving-kindness meditation." Studies show it helps you become more confident, more positive, and cope more compassionately with difficult situations.

It's the practice of sending well-wishes to yourself and others, including people with whom you're having extreme difficulty.

I couldn't get past that last part. It felt like selling out.

But then I found myself in a legislative hearing with other moms, passionately advocating for safer chemical policy against a cadre of stone-faced industry attorneys, lobbyists and executives. I felt anxious. Out-numbered and out-spent. Powerless.

I decided to give this Metta thing a try. Despite tons of internal resistance, I harnessed my heart. One by one, with as much authenticity as I could muster, I said slowly and silently to each opponent:

"May you be well."

And in that moment, I got it. All we have is our will; our energy. And using it for good, especially when we feel like doing the opposite, is an incredibly empowering choice. I was flooded with positive emotions when I least expected to be.

How to try it

I shared that experience with my teenager recently, in explaining the concept of Metta. I've seen this practice transform the mindsets of even the most hardened cynics, and I wanted to teach it to my son.

He was skeptical.

But he likes science, and perked up when I told him about the studies indicating that Metta can increase positive emotions, make it easier to get through tough times, and help you feel happier and more fulfilled.

He agreed to give it a try. I told him the first step. "Okay, take a deep breath," I said. "As you exhale, first send the healing wishes inward. Say to yourself silently: 'May I be well.'"

Next, the second step: "Visualize a friend or loved one standing in front of you, and send the good wishes to them: 'May you be well.'"

You can phrase the well-wishes differently: "May you be peaceful," "May you be happy," "May you be at ease." Find the one that resonates.

My son chose "May you be happy," and sent that silently to his friend.

He liked this step. He smiled as he did it. Many people report it's even easier for them to send well-wishes to a friend or loved one than it is to direct them inward.

If you have a visual child like I do, it helps to check in and ask if they're picturing anything specific when they send the well-wishes. My son said he pictured a pulsing beam of light going between him and his friend.

Then, the third step: "Now think of someone you don't have great feelings about," I said. "Who's frustrating you right now?"

He mentioned a teacher who'd just given the class an overwhelming assignment.

"Imagine she's standing here. What would you like to say to her as you send her that beam of light?"

"Get out of my room."

This step tends to bring up some initial resistance.

I asked him to stick with it over the next couple of days, and try sending the teacher that beam of light when he saw her or thought about her.

Your energy is your power.

Metta is a reminder that while you can't control other people or circumstances, you're always in charge of the energy you send out. And that can make a big difference in how you feel.

My son reported back that he was able to beam some happiness toward his teacher, and that "she's a nice person inside, even though she gives too much homework."

I geek out on this stuff. This made me giddy.

"You saw her light!" I exclaimed. "You were able to separate her outward actions from her inner being!"

"I wouldn't go that far. It just felt good to wish her happiness. Sorry, mom."

It was still a win. So give it a try yourself, and/or with your kids: First, direct the well-wishes inward. Next, direct them toward a friend or loved one. Finally, send the well-wishes to someone who's frustrating you. I use this one a lot in traffic.

Try it during a stressful business interaction and notice how you feel.

Your energy is your power.

Oh, and in the legislative hearing room that day, we moms trounced the chemical industry and helped put one of the nation's toughest toxics policy laws on the books. Just saying.

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