“Don’t Meditate at Work.” When I read that headline in the print version of last Sunday’s New York Times I was stunned. The online version of the article’s title went even farther by asserting, “Hey Boss, You Don’t Want Your Employees to Meditate.”
“Mindfulness meditation, a Buddhism-inspired practice in which you focus your mind entirely on the current moment, has been widely embraced for its instrumental benefits—especially in the business world,” write authors Kathleen Vohs and Andrew Hafenbrack.
“A central technique of mindfulness meditation . . . is to accept things as they are [emphasis mine]. And the very notion of motivation—striving to obtain a more desirable future—implies some degree of discontent with the present, which seems at odds with a psychological exercise that instills equanimity and a sense of calm.”
To support their view, the authors share that they conducted five studies to see whether there was “a tension between mindfulness and motivation.” They report in a forthcoming article in the journal Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes that they found strong evidence that “meditation is demotivating.”
But as a mindfulness meditation advocate and business turnaround specialist, I simply could not disagree more with that generalization. Here’s why:
Apple, Google, Nike, and other leading companies encourage brief meditations during the day to increase mindfulness. The authors do acknowledge that fact. They also acknowledge “the practical payoff of mindfulness is backed by dozens of studies linking it to job satisfaction, rational thinking and emotional resilience.” These factors all increase the important factor of employee engagement. They have also been proven to reduce health care costs.
Additionally, along with all of these proven benefits, the author’s studies conclude that meditation had no impact on performance.
The study participants were less motivated simply because they weren’t concerned with the future or the past. They were engaged in the moment. In fact, the study “showed that mindfulness enabled people to detach from stressors, which improved task focus.”
Essentially, the study participants still got their work done, and under a state of calm and serenity.
The crux of the issue seems to come from differing views on the word acceptance.
In the view of many mindfulness experts, acceptance of “what is” allows individuals to channel their energy toward the change that they are committed to creating, as opposed to wasting energy on the needless frustration of whatever led to the current reality or what might result from it.
In my experience, with mindfulness people can both accept the reality of any situation and at the same time be totally motivated toward action to change the future.
My counsel: Don’t be misled by a headline. Mindfulness and meditation are both great tools that can lead to better health and greater productivity. While the scientists figure out exactly how and why mindfulness works (and the media continue to misconstrue those results), just know that it does work and is worth the effort.