If you’ve worked in the corporate world for the past few years, you have possibly noticed a new buzzword around the office (or these days, as you work remotely) -- “mindfulness.” You might hear co-workers talk about their meditation practices, or how they’re going on retreats, or maybe going so far as to break down the differences between transcendental and Vedic meditation while chatting over coffee or Slack.
Making meditation part of your working life might seem a little bit weird, or maybe like a passing fad. But take it from me: When I talk about the habits that have made me successful in the corporate world, a meditation practice is close to the top of the list. And this is here to stay.
“It can be especially helpful to bring a mindful disposition to your job, which can be the source of significant stress,” wrote David Gelles, the New York Times business reporter and author of the book Mindful Work: How Meditation is Changing Business from the Inside Out. “And workplace stress is becoming only more consuming, with email, intra-office chat tools and social media constantly competing for our attention, and often bleeding into the hours that historically gave you a break.”
My meditation journey was a bit of a reverse: I was a meditator long before I started working in the corporate world. After getting really interested in psychology and development while in college, I applied to graduate programs in spirituality. The one I initially hoped to enroll in would kick off with a 40-day silent meditation retreat, which I’m glad I ultimately didn’t do because it would have been too much too soon. Instead, I eased into a path of spirituality and meditation more gradually, and in a way that I could fit into the life I would ultimately lead. Now, I kick off every day with 45 minutes of meditation, I keep a journal of my intentions, and I make sure I stay in close touch with a meditation coach as well as other like-minded people to help keep me accountable. You can do this no matter what your career path is, or your home or family structure is like.
Let’s break down a couple of the benefits of a meditation practice for your professional life.
You’ll free your mind for creativity. By getting involved in a meditation practice that helps your mind “drop out” of thought, even if it’s just for ten minutes a day, you’re freeing up space in your brain for some unexpected things. It’s not a coincidence that Steve Jobs used to credit his meditation practice as the birthplace of some of his groundbreaking ideas at the helm of Apple.
You’ll likely be more productive. The American Psychological Association (APA) has found that a regular mindfulness practice -- like meditation -- can improve focus and memory. You may find that your workdays are ultimately more productive not when you try to power through everything, but when you take regular 10-minute breaks to give yourself some mental space and quiet.
You’ll be less reactive. Being able to use the tool of breathing deeply or even just pausing for a few minutes when you sense a tense situation coming on means that you’ll be able to confront situations as an observer, rather than playing defense. This can keep you from short-term reactions that you may regret, or (if you keep things bottled up) the buildup of long-term stress in your body that will affect your ongoing performance on the job.
When I talk to groups about meditation as a powerful success habit, I sometimes get pushback from people who wonder whether it’s somehow superstitious, or in conflict with their faith, or something too spiritual to bring into the workplace. I counter that pretty quickly. First, nearly every major religious tradition has some form of a connection to a meditation practice -- and if you don’t adhere to any of them, mainstream meditation apps like Headspace are totally secular in nature. And, know that making meditation part of your working life doesn’t mean that you have to meditate at your desk or talk about the practice with your co-workers. Your daily practice, whatever it is, can take place at home before you start your workday, or in the evening before you go to bed, or during your lunch break.
Ultimately, it’s about taking the time to discover what’s right for you rather than trying to fit something into your life rigidly. Habits for success, after all, work best when they’re adapted to you -- not the other way around.