Why Meditation Won’t Improve Your Business (Or Make You Happier)
The real reason meditation doesn’t work at work and how to fix it now.
PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images
Peter sat across from me in my office, slumped over, his face resting in his hands.
He reported that the pressure was crushing him. Although it was successful, the stress of running his business day to day was driving him over the edge.
He couldn't enjoy the money he was making money, he rarely saw his wife and kids and what was more, he wasn't having much fun.
In the course of the last four months, he'd read articles, books, and blogs on the benefits of mindfulness and meditation.
Hoping it to be the key everyone said it would be, Peter took up meditation with great enthusiasm and managed to create a solid practice. He meditated almost every day for 30-40 minutes, more than some articles suggested.
"Why wasn't it working for me like the people in the articles?" he puzzled.
My question to Peter is the same question I ask anyone with a meditation practice; "How is your meditation jumping off of your mat and into your life?"
We've seen the statistics and the studies on meditation. We've read most of the same articles, books and blog posts as Peter, touting the benefits of meditation and mindfulness, especially for entrepreneurs.
Titles like these and articles like the one you are reading are usually accompanied by a picture of a person sitting cross-legged on their desk, eyes closed, thumbs and pointer fingers pressed together.
Let me say I am a convert and I believe mindfulness is the edge every business person needs to take their game to the next level.
Multitudes of studies on mindfulness have shown that it makes you smarter and more creative--it actually grows the size of your brain for god's sake.
As if this weren't enough, the practice of mindfulness can significantly enhance relationships both at home and at work, decreasing stress and anxiety while improving all around health and wellness.
Sign me up for that!
If your meditation practice isn't working for you, it's probably because you haven't been told that meditation is not necessarily mindfulness and mindfulness is not meditation.
I'll admit, it can be confusing because the two practices are similar and they overlap. Do any Google search of both terms and you will find them being used interchangeably.
Speaking generally, because there are a number of ways to meditate, meditation is the act of sitting or lying in a meditative state. Picking one point of reference, often the in and out breath, while becoming aware of the thoughts and feelings that arise, then bringing the attention back to the breath.
Mindfulness, on the other hand, is the act of paying attention to your thoughts and feelings in the moment, I'll add, out in your life, in the world, when you're interacting with others.
Using mindfulness means we stop and push the pause button on our reaction to whatever is happening. Here we can assess our thoughts and feelings for their validity. We get out of knee-jerk responses and start to choose our words and actions more wisely.
Akin to emotional intelligence, mindfulness gives us greater access to compassion, empathy, and equanimity.
Harvard psychologist Ellen Langer has been studying mindfulness since the early 70's and has authored 200 research articles and 11 books on the subject. Langer says you don't have to meditate to be mindful, you need only notice new things to become aware of the present moment.
The idea behind meditation is that if you meditate enough you will become more mindful. Like Peter, the rigors of entrepreneurship can outweigh a meditation practice, especially in the early stages.
To take full advantage of the benefits of mindfulness and meditation, we need to ask, how is my meditation jumping off of the mat and into my life? Am I remembering to practice mindfully in the moments I need it the most? This is the step Peter was missing.
As per my instruction, Peter began creating space between his thoughts and feelings. He slowed down and practiced assessing his ruminations for validity. Taking this mindful pause, Peter was able to stop his body and brain from automatically going into a stress response.
He reported that practicing mindfulness got him out his catastrophic thinking and soothed his anxieties about the future of his business. Once he became more mindful in his life and not just on his meditation cushion, his business got better and his life got happier.