Incorporating meditation into daily life could help farmers achieve their goals, become better leaders and cope better with worries outside of their control.
A recent Focussed Farmers study looked to assess how mindfulness – which is already practiced widely in the corporate world – could help farmers.
The trial found the 25 farmers and people working in the agricultural industry who took part in an eight- to 20-week mindfulness course showed a 20% reduction in stress and a 27% improvement in state of mind. They also experienced a 27% improvement in self-discipline.
All too often, “background chatter” in the mind – such as whether there’ll be a drought or whether the milk price will crash – can take over our thoughts, take focus away from what needs doing and cause stress.
However, by meditating, farmers can help train the brain to engage or disengage with a thought and instead focus on important matters.
Nuffield Scholar, Holly Beckett of Focussed Farmers calls it “purposeful focus”. She says: “It’s about recognising a thought and asking whether it serves what I’m doing or is pointless chatter,” she explains.
“It’s recognising that something is a pointless worry and redirecting focus to something to help achieve our goals.”
Participants watched a series of videos on the science and psychology of mindfulness over the trial and meditated regularly.
In a similar way to going to the gym every day to get the best physical results, Ms Beckett advises meditating every day for about 10 minutes.
Meditation involves sitting quietly – maybe on the bed or the tractor cab – and concentrating your attention on senses, such as your breathing or the sound of the birds.
“You will notice your mind wanders and that’s when you train it to come back. Keep repeating that,” explains Ms Beckett. By exercising the brain in such a way, you can develop your ability to engage or not with a thought.
The ability to focus more can also help farmers become better leaders. For example, it can be easy for the mind to drift when someone is speaking to you, so you don’t truly hear what they are saying.
By being present and focused, you are more likely to be connected with the team, thus improving communication and business performance. “It’s about going from good to great,” adds Ms Beckett.
Tips for developing purposeful focus through mindfulness
- Undertake daily, formal meditation.
- Take mindful moments; 60- or 90-second mindful moments throughout the day to be present with your senses. Ask am I doing in my day what I want to achieve? Do I need to do this now?
- Do everyday things differently, such as brushing your teeth with the opposite hand (you will always unconsciously do this in the same order). This is about being present in the moment and focused.
- Handwrite goals from the perspective of your senses, as if it’s already happened (for example, how you would feel if you achieved those goals).
- Watch the free Focussed Farmers video series to understand the psychological principles and research surrounding meditation and how mindfulness can achieve results, effortlessly.
Mindfulness can also help farmers achieve their goals, through the development of purposeful focus.
Thinking positively about what you want to achieve and writing down your goals can be one way to direct attentions. For example, boxer Muhammad Ali used to set goals in his unconscious mind prior to a fight.
He lost five fights out of 61. He would visit the area where he was going to fight in advance and sit and write the perfect moment when he won. He’d describe how he’d feel when he won, including what he saw, tasted and heard.
Ms Beckett believes farmers can adopt a similar strategy to help achieve their goals – be it in their business or personal life. This will help cement it in the unconscious mind.
All of these strategies will help train the brain and take control of thoughts, which will aid mental wellbeing. Ms Beckett adds: “If you don’t manage your mind, your mind will mis-manage you.”
Case study: Ed Towers, Brades Farm, Lancashire
Practicing mindfulness has helped Ed Towers cope better with stressful times on the family dairy farm, sleep better and manage chronic pain.
Mr Towers was one of 25 people working in agriculture who enrolled on the Focussed Farmers mindfulness programme in 2016. His involvement coincided with a poor milk price and his return to the business, which both created stress.
“There were lots of things going round my mind so a tool to help me focus and concentrate on the things that were important was really useful,” he explains.
“They might have been worries about things I couldn’t do anything about – maybe an event in two weeks or whether there might be a drought. The more stress you have, the more likely you are not to be able to focus on what needs doing. It’s a waste of energy and resources.”
Long running pain in his hip was also acting as an unwelcome distraction and was affecting his focus.
The mindfulness programme, funded by the Frank Parkinson Agricultural Trust, involved watching a series of 12 videos that explained the science behind meditation and how to do it.
As a practical farmer, the scientific aspect of mindfulness – rather than just the spiritual side – was of particular interest.
Mr Towers adds: “It explained why it was normal for it to be difficult to focus and get distracted… It was about understanding why you act the way you do, and why it’s not always possible to be positive.”
He started by downloading the Headspace app and using the exercises to train his brain. Although daily meditation is advisable, in reality, Mr Towers did it about four to five times a week for 10 minutes.
He sat quietly in a chair and carried out various exercises, such as a “full body scan”, which involves thinking about a CT scanner going down the body and focusing on different body parts as it goes.
This helped Mr Towers to relax and focus attention away from pain in his hip.
He believes mindfulness has the potential to help with goal setting by encouraging greater focus. Although he has not yet used this to set business goals, he has written down life goals to aid focus.
This includes statements such as: “I now feel comfortable in my own skin, happy and able to sleep.”
Sleep has improved, as has the ability to disengage with negative thoughts. Mr Towers explains: “These [negative] thoughts don’t pop into my head any less, but I’m better able to deal with it. It’s probably changed the way I think or the way I think I think.”
He urges other farmers to embrace mindfulness to help them day-to-day. “I would say give it a go. You have nothing to lose,” he says.