The instrumental benefits of Mindfulness Meditation are widely researched: stress reduction, increase of resilience and creativity, focus and clarity in thinking. This is the reason why many corporations recently are embracing meditation at the workplace. Now new evidence shows the “downside” of Mediation: a comment in the New York Times titles “Hey Boss, You Don’t Want Your Employees to Meditate”.
This article implies that “accepting things as they are”, one of the key “goals” of meditation, would lead to contentment: thus endangering motivation, which the authors define as “striving to obtain a more desirable future”. In their study people felt less motivated after meditation to perform tasks” similar to their everyday workplace jobs: editing business memos, entering texts into a computer and so on”. Thus: “Their lower levels of motivation, however, seemed to cancel out that benefit.”
For us this New York Times category “opinion” piece shows how the “mindfulness as a tool” movement is about to eat up itself , how little people have understood about mindfulness and meditation and how totally wrong people get the concept of “motivation”.
There are some thoughts I want to share:
- Acceptance is NOT the same thing as Resignation or Liking what IS. “Accepting things as they are” does NOT mean contentment, a sense of “I don’t care” or I am happy with what is. On the contrary: it means to look clearly at “what is”, without the bias of “what I want it to be, what I think it should be, what I am told how I would perceive it” and so on. We are resisting to what is, we don’t want it to be that way, thus we are in a constant denial and therefore unable to work with it. We are trying to give explanations and interpretations in order to be able to continue a rather dissatisfying situation. If people or leaders would look at things as they really ARE, they might be really horrified and unable to carry on.
- Meditation is not a SEDATIVE! Yes, you can get calmer and less excited when you sit in stillness and focus on your breath. But the other effect is an increased clarity of mind, you start to see and become aware of your inner dimensions and you get deeply connected with yourself and the world around you. A sense of inner peace, freedom and clarity of the mind will emerge. We would call this a process of WAKING UP TO REALITY and to getting in touch with who you are beyond what you thought you were. It is a process of deep INSIGHT.
- Meditation is not a tool to boost performance instantly – first of all one of the main features of meditation is that it does not have a purpose. In the very beginning of it, Meditation was the default state of being, when there was nothing to be done, said or thought. It was meant to be a higher state than the fully “awake” state. So it was never meant to boost whatever. In the study that is being quoted in the NYT article (and in other publications), researchers compared the impact on “motivation” to do some everyday tasks immediately after meditation – finding out, whether people were less motivated than without meditation. This is the wrong question to ask, meditation has a longterm impact on life and not a short term impact on performance anyways.
- People are not doing bullshit jobs out of Motivation: is not the reason, why people are performing some dumb everyday tasks. It can be out of resignation or an unconscious state of mind that leads people to think, this is what they need to do. Or a simple existential necessity, or at least a belief such as “work or die”. But this is all external motivation and therefore can and will be endangered by meditation: once people get more rooted in themselves they will be less vulnerable to external threats or seducible by carrots of all kind. They might start to wake to a different possibility and the essential question of their real inner motivation: what moves me? From deep inside?
- Meditation and Mindfulness will essentially lead to Compassion. Waking up and seeing clearley what is is the essence of all practices in the arena of mindfulness. In the instant moment of seeing clearly Compassion IS seen as our true nature. From that instant moment on all our activities in the world will be rooted in that deep knowing and therefore they will be informed by a different source of knowing, belonging and non-seperatedness. And then, why would one want to contribute to a world fostering separateness, greed and delusion?
- Mindfulness is not a fashion but a practice developed over many 1000 years in order to help us overcome suffering and become more human, connected and free. There is an articulate, overwhelming and complete science behind, the wisdom within is widely unknown – like Yoga becoming a physical practice in the yoga classes of modern society, completely disconnected from its spiritual and intellectual essence. So when people start Mindfulness Programms in Companies – just looking for its superficial benefits – they have no idea what they are really dealing with. It is like children playing with a nuclear bomb, thinking it is a toy.
- Meditation is NOT a tool to increase performance in a paradigm of more, faster, better. Organizations who embrace mediation as means to an end – better performance – wake up to the “down side”, which is their employees seeing “things as they are”: that they are being exploited and induced to run faster in their treadmill, keeping them dumb & numb. And this is a major breakdown in the mindfulness movement, as it is counterproductive in a way. People who are very unconscious and disconnected from themselves and the world are very vulnerable to external motivators, like career, money, job titles and so on: trained workforce, running for you as an employer.
Mindfulness has some side effects, like a workforce awakening to the reality of what is and therefore losing interest in some pointless bullshit jobs. If you think this is “losing and low motivation” you are right, but for the wrong reasons.
But, maybe, something different will be possible now: creating organizations and products that might make more sense to people and which are inclined to unlock new energy and inner motivation, rather than needing people to stay asleep and unaware, so they don’t see what´s going on. If you are afraid of people waking up and need them stay asleep so they can stand the job, you can either fight Mindfulness or see it as an opportunity to go beyond what is happening today and, first of all, wake up to yourself, your own true nature.
Best, Julia & Christian
Here you can find the article I am referring to:
Hey Boss, You Don’t Want Your Employees to Meditate
By Kathleen D. Vohs and Andrew C. Hafenbrack
Dr. Vohs and Dr. Hafenbrack are behavioral scientists.
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. Companies like Apple, Google and Nike provide meditation rooms that encourage brief sessions during the workday. Chief executives publicly extol its benefits. And no wonder: The practical payoff of mindfulness is backed by dozens of studies linking it to job satisfaction, rational thinking and emotional resilience.
But on the face of it, mindfulness might seem counterproductive in a workplace setting. A central technique of mindfulness meditation, after all, is to accept things as they are. Yet companies want their employees to be motivated. And the very notion of motivation — striving to obtain a more desirable future — implies some degree of discontentment with the present, which seems at odds with a psychological exercise that instills equanimity and a sense of calm.
To test this hunch, we recently conducted five studies, involving hundreds of people, to see whether there was a tension between mindfulness and motivation. As we report in a forthcoming article in the journal Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, we found strong evidence that meditation is demotivating.
Some of the participants in our studies were trained in a few of the most common mindfulness meditation techniques. They were instructed by a professional meditation coach to focus on their breathing or mentally scan their bodies for physical sensations, being gently reminded throughout that there was no right or wrong way to do the exercise.
Other participants were led through a different exercise. Some were encouraged to let their thoughts wander; some were instructed to read the news or write about recent activities they had done.
Then we gave everyone a task to do. The tasks were similar to everyday workplace jobs: editing business memos, entering text into a computer and so on. Before embarking on the tasks, the participants were asked about their motivation: How much effort and time would they put into the assignment? Did they feel like doing it?
Among those who had meditated, motivation levels were lower on average. Those people didn’t feel as much like working on the assignments, nor did they want to spend as much time or effort to complete them. Meditation was correlated with reduced thoughts about the future and greater feelings of calm and serenity — states seemingly not conducive to wanting to tackle a work project.
Then we tracked everyone’s actual performance on the tasks. Here we found that on average, having meditated neither benefited nor detracted from a participant’s quality of work. This was bad news for proponents of meditation in the workplace: After all, previous studies have found that meditation increases mental focus, suggesting that those in our studies who performed the mindfulness exercise should have performed better on the tasks. Their lower levels of motivation, however, seemed to cancel out that benefit.
Mindfulness is perhaps akin to a mental nap. Napping, too, is associated with feeling calm, refreshed and less harried. Then again, who wakes up from a nap eager to organize some files?
By some accounts, motivation is just as important as intelligence and personality when it comes to an individual’s success, and has the advantage of being largely under an individual’s control. Companies benefit, too, when workers are motivated: A 2013 worldwide survey by Gallup found that companies with more engaged employees outperform other companies in growth and productivity.
Management theorists and organizational leaders often think about motivation in terms of financial incentives. So as part of our research, we studied whether offering a financial bonus for outstanding performance would overcome the demotivating effect of mindfulness: It did not. While the promise of material rewards will always be a useful tool for motivating employees, it is no substitute for internal motivation.
Mindfulness might be unhelpful for dealing with difficult assignments at work, but it may be exactly what is called for in other contexts. There is no denying that mindfulness can be beneficial, bringing about calm and acceptance. Once you’ve reached a peak level of acceptance, however, you’re not going to be motivated to work harder.