CPAs frequently work extremely long hours and often are under a tremendous amount of stress, which can take a physical and mental toll. Accordingly, developing beneficial habits is always a good idea for both short- and long-term health, especially during times of elevated stress. Though busy season is now coming to a close, it's always a good time to develop new and beneficial habits — plus, it will help prepare for next busy season.
Even seemingly minor changes, practices, and adaptations can be the difference between merely surviving and thriving. Adopting a regular meditation routine can make that difference.
While it is well known that taking good care of oneself — healthy eating, exercising, and developing good sleep habits — is necessary for good health and mental well-being, meditation's importance to self-care is less widely accepted. Yet some studies have concluded that meditation is to the brain what regular exercise is to the body: In order to achieve peak physical and mental performance so you can bring your best self to colleagues and clients, exercising both the brain and body is necessary.
Sara Lazar, Ph.D., assistant professor of psychology at Harvard Medical School and a leading researcher on the cognitive and neurological effects of meditation, found that meditation changes our brains by strengthening areas that control our attention span and emotions, among many other benefits. Just imagine how tackling work with a stronger-than-ever attention span and control over your emotions could impact your performance!
Plus, studies show that incorporating meditation into your daily routine — even in small amounts (as little as five minutes per day) — significantly decreases anxiety, stress, insomnia, impulsive reactions, and the desire to satisfy unhealthy cravings.
Furthermore, meditation has many potential long-term benefits such as decreased likelihood of heart disease, improved management of diabetes, improved cognitive function and reduced symptoms from panic disorders. By incorporating meditation into your daily routine, you could increase your life expectancy and, perhaps more importantly, the quality of your remaining years.
Meditation does, of course, take some time to practice, and when time is in short supply, especially during busy season, there may be reluctance. The benefits, however, will be worthwhile. In fact, regular meditation typically increases the ability to focus and stay calm so significantly that it more than offsets the time spent on meditating — i.e., it provides a significant return on investment. Meditation can be incorporated into a lot of things that you're already doing. For example, you can meditate while drinking a cup of coffee, showering or bathing, brushing your teeth, walking your dog, or just lying in bed.
Lots of busy people from a variety of fields and backgrounds find the time to practice meditation every day, including hedge fund managers, C-level executives, entrepreneurs, doctors, athletes, authors, actors, musicians, artists, and comedians, just to name a few. Even one of the most successful hedge fund managers in the world, Ray Dalio, stated that "Meditation has probably been the single most important reason for whatever success I've had."
So, what is meditation and how does one meditate? According to a recent Vox article, at the most basic level, meditation is conceptually simple: "You sit down, close your eyes, and focus on feeling your breath go in and out. When you feel your attention drifting to the thoughts that inevitably arise, you notice, and then gently bring your attention back to your breath."
There are, however, many types of meditation, including transcendental, spiritual, visualization, movement, loving-kindness, and so on. The good news is that no matter which type you choose to practice, all of them have similar benefits. In many ways it's much like having a favorite cuisine — there is no universal "right" or "best" one, and there are advantages to incorporating variety.
In fact, varying meditation practices is a great way to stay interested, explore which ones work best for you, and/or discover styles that are more impactful in certain situations. For example, I frequently enjoy sound meditation when I first wake up in the morning, while just before going to sleep in the evening, I prefer a body scan meditation, which involves starting with the toes and slowly but intentionally noticing sensations in each part of the body until reaching the head.
There are many great ways to begin meditating. One way to start simply is to use a guided meditation. There are a number of very good guided meditation services available through various apps, YouTube, TED Talks, Netflix and other streaming sources, and workout/training programs. When looking for a meditation source or service, there are many things to consider, such as:
- How much does it cost?
- Does it have a variety of meditation types, lengths, and levels?
- Does it include courses and/or other helpful information about why meditation works, how it works, and how to use meditation in certain situations?
- Does it offer live and/or personal coaching? Or the ability to ask a coach questions?
- Does it have the ability to set meditation reminders?
- Does it record your history and track progress?
- Does it incorporate "challenges" and/or social media?
While there is no "best" way to start, or "best" method or tool, my recommendation is to just try something — immediately. Start small with meditations that are simple and only a few minutes long. Experiment with different types and techniques, and also different guided meditation tools to see what resonates and works best for you. Also, make sure you set your expectations appropriately — meditation is not self-help, nor is it a miracle cure. Instead, like most things in life, the more one practices, the better one gets, and the more benefits one obtains.
As Dalio stated, "[Meditation] is the greatest gift I can give anyone," and, here, this gift is being passed to you. I have no doubt that if you give meditation a chance, you will also see and feel the same benefits as many world-class businesspeople, entrepreneurs, athletes, entertainers, and artists. Don't just try to survive difficult periods like busy season: Make it a goal to thrive, and start with meditation.
— Jesse R. Morton, CPA/CFF, J.D., LL.M., is a director in Stout's Disputes, Compliance, and Investigations (DCI) practice and has professional experience as a consultant, lawyer, accountant, investigator, and auditor since 2002. He leads Stout's Paycheck Protection Program services for lenders and borrowers, and is co-leader of the DCI practice in the Southeast and Financial Crimes & Regulatory practice nationally. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Chris Baysden, a JofA associate director, at Chris.Baysden@aicpa-cima.com.