Aside from serving in CEO roles at major companies, what do Rupert Murdoch (News Corp), Bob Shapiro (Monsanto), Oprah Winfrey (Harpo Productions), and Rick Goings (Tupperware) have in common?
Each of these executives uses meditation to improve their concentration and productivity. And it’s no wonder why: Meditation is a centuries-old practice of honing one’s attention, concentration, and mindfulness. Although popular culture typically portrays meditating as an activity primarily pursued by yogis or Buddhist monks near calming bodies of water — a quick Google image search will confirm those suspicions — meditation practices have received more mainstream attention in recent years.
We all get overwhelmed at work from time to time. Dealing with stress in a healthy way is essential for maintaining mental acuity.
What is meditation, and how can it be useful in the workplace?
If you’re worried that I’m going to advise you to spend your lunch hour sitting on the floor of your office in lotus position, don’t click away just yet. You don’t need to lug a yoga mat into work in order to reap the benefits of meditation and other “Zen habits.”
You don’t need to lug a yoga mat into work in order to reap the benefits of meditation and other “Zen habits.”
At its core, meditation is a method of cultivating mindfulness and quieting the hundreds of thoughts constantly flooding through one’s mind. In today’s workplace, consciously working toward a clearer mind is a necessity: Most employees multi-task and juggle several assignments at a time, shift between several open tabs on their browsers and pause whatever they’re doing to respond when they hear an email “ding!”
Additionally, studies show that meditation training can help keep stress in check. Taking a brief mental pause can make all the difference in an otherwise hectic day.
Several executives of global corporations have developed a meditation practice to help them regain focus, and some of them have encouraged their employees to become more mindful as well. At Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, one of the fastest-growing companies in 2013, founder and former CEO Robert Stiller teaches courses in a dedicated meditation room.
“If you have a meditation practice, you can be much more effective in a meeting,” Stiller told Bloomberg News.
A few minutes of silence and concentration can also help business leaders develop solutions to difficult problems in the workplace. Roger Berkowitz, CEO of Legal Sea Foods, told Inc., “Sometimes, I’m wrestling with an issue before meditation, and afterward the answer is suddenly clear.”
How can companies and employees integrate principles of meditation into the workday and workplace culture?
Many people naturally take a few meditative moments throughout the day without even noticing it. Have you ever taken a few deep breaths to relax in the middle of a stressful day? Or taken a walk around the office to clear your mind? The next time you find yourself getting tense or feeling overwhelmed, take just one minute to meditate: Turn off your phone and computer monitors, and focus on only your breath. When your mind starts to wander, direct your concentration back to your breathing. Sitting for a period of 60 silent seconds may seem easy, but our minds naturally drift into making a to-do list or thinking about dinner plans.
“Sometimes, I’m wrestling with an issue before meditation, and afterward the answer is suddenly clear,” Roger Berkowitz, CEO of Legal Sea Foods told Inc.
As Peter Bregman wrote for Forbes, “Meditation teaches us to resist the urge of that counterproductive follow through . . . . Meditating daily will strengthen your willpower muscle. Your urges won’t disappear, but you will be better equipped to manage them.”
Honing your concentration and self-discipline can allow you to face the rest of your work day with a calmer, more balanced approach.
Aside from brief meditation breaks, a few other techniques can help reduce feelings of burnout and improve productivity. One productivity trick that many people swear by is a concept called “flow,” which is “a state of mind you achieve when you’re fully immersed in a task,” according to the blog Zen Habits. In my experience, achieving flow is easiest when I tackle one task at a time, as opposed to jumping around and multi-tasking. In that vein, while some emails require immediate replies, setting aside a specific time for checking email can help with focusing on the task at hand.
Some companies are even going the extra mile to help their employees feel more centered. Airbnb, Twitter, Apple, Google and Yahoo all offer yoga classes to help their staff feel balanced — both physically and mentally. Promega’s chief marketing officer, Ashley Anderson Jr., endorses the biotech company’s yoga perks because “a healthy workforce is a productive workforce.”
Integrating meditative practices into one’s workday isn’t easy: While I was writing this column, I found myself jotting down additions to my to-do list, shooting off a few emails and editing website content. Like any other healthy habit, sorting through the chaos of the day requires practice, but it’s worth it for both employees and employers.
Natalie San Luis is marketing and communications associate at The Alexander Group.