It is no secret that meditation is a practice shared by high performers from a wide variety of industries. Arianna Huffington, Oprah Winfrey, Jeff Weiner and Ray Dalio are all reported to practice regularly. Top performing firms like Google, Nike, Procter & Gamble, General Mills and Apple are said to have meditation programs embedded into their HR initiatives.
Can we say that meditation is these top performers’ secret to success? Maybe, but that would likely be oversimplifying things. There is no secret sauce to high performance (if there was, we’d all be Oprah), but there are undeniably several traits that many productive people share. Developing a mindfulness practice can help us sharpen these tools.
William George, Goldman Sachs board member and former CEO of Medtronic once told the Financial Times: “The main business case for meditation is that if you’re fully present on the job, you will be more effective as a leader, you will make better decisions and you will work better with other people.” “I tend to live a very busy life. This keeps me focused on what’s important.”
Here’s an evidence-based look at how meditation can improve performance and productivity in the workplace:
Focusing in on priorities and shutting out external distractions is arguably one of the most important tools for productivity. How can one produce if they don’t keep their eye on the prize? In his article entitled “Focus Is the Gateway to Business Success,” Jim Taylor Ph.D. says that “focus is the gateway to all thinking,” in which he includes “reasoning, problem solving, and decision making.” Research has demonstrated that meditation can improve focus. One 2009 study published in Consciousness and Cognition found that mindfulness and meditation “increase attentional performance.” Another study published in 2011 found that meditation can actually change the brain structure, increasing matter in areas that control mind wandering and reactions to anxiety, stress and fear. These changes can also increase skills such as learning, cognition, memory and emotional regulation.
Many experts would agree that Emotional intelligence (EI) can be a predictor of workplace performance. One important component of EI is emotional stability. Less emotional reactivity in the workplace can show up as: staying calm during stressful situations, being open to constructive feedback and making thoughtful decisions. Meditation supports a healthy emotional detachment that can curb reactivity. One study likened a mind without mindfulness training to “an amalgam of busy thoughts and feelings and automatic reactivity and habitual responses.” The mind of a meditator simply notices thoughts, emotions and experiences as they come and go.
Creativity & Innovation
In today’s highly competitive, technologically-inclined world, creativity in the workplace is more important than ever. In fact, a survey of creativity and business results conducted by Forrester found that companies that foster creativity have larger revenue growth, market share and a high-performance work environment. How can mindfulness help create this kind of productivity? Researchers have found that cultivating observation skills through mindfulness practice can lead to greater creativity.
Though it is true that a little bit of stress can actually improve performance, too much stress can lead to performance destroying symptoms such as headaches, anxiety, lack of motivation or focus, depression, anger, fatigue and more according to the Mayo Clinic. Stress reduction is one of the most common reasons people take up meditation and mindfulness because they have been demonstrated to be effective time and time again.
Our society tends to celebrate burning the candle on both ends, so it is no surprise that fatigue is fairly commonplace, especially at the office. Once fatigue enters the workplace, it can be catastrophic. Not only does it induce tiredness, fatigue has also been shown to impair task performance and alertness and to create a psychological state of reluctance to continue work. Research has shown that even a brief meditation practice can help reduce fatigue.
A common misconception about meditation is that it is only a tool for relaxation. Calming the mind and body can be a major advantage of the practice, but the benefits of mindfulness and meditation extend far beyond rest and relaxation. Science has shown that incorporating meditation into your daily routine can sharpen our minds, emotions and energy. By bringing these improved qualities into the workplace, we set the foundation for increased performance, productivity and success.