Meditation in the Workplace: A Competitive Edge To Thrive in Business
6 Minutos de Leitura
“Meditation is essentially training our attention so that we can be more aware, not only of our inner workings but also of what’s happening around us in the here and now.”
- Sharon Salzberg
By now we all understand we need to take care of our physical bodies so that we can have the energy and health to lead productive and meaningful lives. We know we need to keep learning and growing in our chosen careers if we want to stay active and contribute significantly to our field of expertise. But, how many of us, truly acknowledge the importance of training the most important tool every one of us possesses?
Meditation is mind training that has been scientifically proven to be associated with numerous benefits. The most visionary and inspiring leaders of organizations worldwide are turning to this ancient practice for modern time living and working.
Once upon a time
A few years ago the word meditation would probably awaken in most people's minds images of Buddhist monks sitting in uncomfortable positions in a mountaintop. Today, top CEO’s of fortune 500 companies claim meditation as one of their foundations for success. Everyone from lawyers to accountants, to teachers and marketeers are doing it.
Yoga and meditation first reached the United States in the early 20th century with the work of Swami Vivekananda and Paramahansa Yogananda. In the 1960’s the interest spread and there was a hype around Transcendental Meditation.
But it was Jon Kabat-Zin, Professor of Medicine and writer who introduced meditation practices to the mainstream public in the early 1990’s. His book “Full catastrophe living: using the wisdom of your body and mind to face stress, pain and illness” became a best-seller and sparked the interest of people around the world.
The stress epidemic
It’s not stress that kills us, it is our reaction to it.
- Hans Selye
In our fast-paced work life, it’s easy to think we don’t have time to meditate and view it as a luxury only a few get to have. Here’s the thing, most working Americans experience stress and anxiety in their daily lives. There’s a common belief in today’s society that stress is an enemy we have to tackle.
However, not all stress is bad, in fact, a certain level of stress can motivate and challenge us to develop our skills and work towards our goals. Psychologists refer to the good kind of stress as “eustress”.
“Eustress is a positive and adaptive response to stress that can lead to a sense of fulfillment or other positive feelings.”
A group of scientists lead by Abiola Keller decided to test how the perception of stress mediates its effects on our health in a study conducted by the University of Wisconsin. They brought in participants to their lab and asked them this:
How much does stress affect your health?
- People who reported stress to have a big toll on their health had 43% increased risk of dying.
- People who perceived stress to have little or no impact on their health had the lowest risk of dying and were the healthiest.
It seems that people who view stress as somewhat of a challenge are able to quickly recover from it. And people who perceive stress as a serious threat have longer recovery times. So how we think about stress matters and it matters big time. With that said, persistent anxiety can interfere with normal functioning and our ability to work.
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America:
- 72 percent of people who have daily stress and anxiety say it interferes with their lives at least moderately.
- 40 percent experience persistent stress or excessive anxiety in their daily lives.
- 30 percent with daily stress have taken prescription medication to manage stress, nervousness, emotional problems or lack of sleep.
- 28 percent have had an anxiety or panic attack.
More than 70% of companies in the US describe stress as one of the top problems in their organization. This is a problem in China, Japan, South Korea and all over Europe. It’s a global epidemic we’re talking about. And meditation can play an important part in helping us manage stress and how we think about it.
“Meditation is not just for relaxation. Its primary purpose is to develop the capacity to respond skillfully and gracefully to life’s difficulties as well as its joys.”
- Shyalpa Tenzin Rinpoche
One of the things that prevent people from starting a meditation practice is the belief that meditation is about stopping all thoughts. They think they have to find the "off button" in their minds. Which is basically defeating themselves from the onset. Meditation is not about the cessation of thought. It’s about training our minds. And a lot of the times that involves focusing on a particular object like the breath or a word, for example.
Our minds naturally create thoughts and images. But before we establish some sort of meditation practice, we’re overidentified with those thoughts and images. Meditation allows us to tune into our inner world, and observe those thoughts and images, allowing them to be whatever they are, acknowledging them as the transitory experiences that they are.
Here’s a short video and insightful video about meditation.
- I’m not doing it right
- I will fall asleep
- I’m too wide awake to meditate
There’s no wrong or right way to meditate. Some strategies and practices might be more effective to some people than others. So it’s really a matter of trying out different techniques, sticking with them long enough to determine whether or not they’re a good fit for you. It’s perfectly ok to fall asleep, and it’s normal, in the beginning. Meditation is about bringing more compassion to how we relate to ourselves, so if you’re beating yourself up for falling asleep it defeats the point. Forgive yourself, acknowledge it happens to everyone and keep practicing.
Inevitably it will be harder to focus on some days, that’s also a normal experience of every meditator, even the most experienced ones. That’s exactly why we meditate.
There are two ways to think about it:
- I have a hard time focusing so I can’t meditate.
- I have a hard time focusing, that’s why I need to meditate.
Dan Harris clarifies common misconceptions about meditation in this short video.
There are thousands of scientific studies backing up the benefits of meditation. That doesn’t mean it’s the cure to all things and works for everyone. However, the scientific literature suggests it can have significant benefits for most people.
Some of those benefits include:
- Increased compassion and social bonding (associated with loving kindness meditation practices)
- Decreases fear, stress, loneliness and depression
- Enhances self-esteem and self-acceptance
- Increases optimism, relaxation & awareness
- Improves mood and emotional intelligence
- Increases mental strength and focus
- Increases memory retention and recall
- Better cognitive skills and creative thinking
- Better information processing
- Better decision making and problem-solving
- Improves immune system
And these are just a few, but more than enough to seriously consider starting a meditation practice.
How does it impact our work lives?
We’re living in the "information era", and a lot of our work depends on our ability to focus and respond to challenges in effective ways. The organizations that recognize that their human capital is their greatest asset will have a competitive edge by investing in training their human capital.
A lot of business leaders think their clients are their most important assets. They have it backwards. Their employees are their greatest assets, if they take care of their employees, they will go the extra mile for their clients and contribute to the growth and profit of the business. Happy, healthy and focused employees are productive employees. And the most important training you can facilitate them is mind training.
Wrapping it up
“The best way to meditate is through meditation itself. “
- Ramana Maharshi
We’re living in times where most people are overworked and overwhelmed with stress and anxiety, which makes it hard if not impossible to focus, prioritize and perform optimally at work.
Meditation training literally changes our brain and thickens the regions associated with: learning, cognition, memory, emotional regulation, perspective, and compassion and decreases
the size of the areas associated with fear and stress responses. Doesn’t it make sense that, before investing in sales, or marketing training, business leaders invest in training the minds of those who help them grow their business so that they can do just that?
In today’s world meditation training is no longer a luxury, it’s a necessity for any company that’s serious about thriving.
And to finish it off, here’s another video of Dan Harris explaining the scientific research behind meditation.
ADAA. Highlights: Workplace stress & anxiety disorders survey. Retrieved here.
An overview of meditation: Its origins and traditions. (1991). Retrieved here.
Giovanni. 76 scientific benefits of meditation. Retrieved here.
McKinsey. (2017). Arianna Huffington on the link between leadership and well-being. Retrieved here.
Schulte, B. S. B. (2015). Harvard neuroscientist: Meditation not only reduces stress, here’s how it changes your brain. Washington Post. Retrieved here.