Mindfulness has become quite the corporate catchword over the last decade. Employee perks often include meditation, yoga, and mindfulness training. This trend has affected small startups all the way up to the largest companies and organizations, including Google, Apple, and the US Army.
Google provides yoga and meditation in hopes of increasing worker productivity and decreasing employee stress levels. From afar, such initiatives seem like win-win situations: workers learn how to deal with mounting anxieties and packed work schedules while executives harvest the fruits of an ancient discipline with teams of productive employees.
But if your product is distraction, who really wins?
Who does mindfulness benefit when the goal is to drain customer attention, not replenish it?
The practice of mindfulness is rooted in Buddhism. The goal is to bring your attention to the present moment in a nonjudgmental manner, which is usually accomplished through meditation or breathing practices. Since the term “meditation” classically means “contemplation,” it’s possible to be mindful by focusing your mind on one thought or activity as well.
That’s what psychologists picked up on in the 1970s. Various therapeutic modalities were designed to help people manage anxiety, depression, and addiction. The mindfulness model has since been adopted in prisons, hospitals, schools, veteran’s centers, addiction clinics — you name it. As stated, numerous companies have wrapped mindfulness classes into employee wellness packages.
Mindfulness affects your nervous system by reducing your mind’s habit of ruminating on various (and often negative) thoughts. The benefits range from stress reduction to decreased inflammation, which has systemic effects on your immune system. There’s even evidence that mindfulness practice reduces your risk for dementia.
The development of attentional capacities is an important aspect of mindfulness. Companies predominantly latch onto this feature.
Mindful employees are productive workers, which returns us to the question: Is corporate mindfulness merely a means for forcing employees to churn out more work?
In his classic work on distraction technologies, The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains, journalist Nicholas Carr explains how the internet is endangering our chances of getting into Flow States. Carr wrote this book after noticing how hard it was for him to read any books (or much text at all), which had previously been his favorite pastime.
Technology is morally neutral; its application is determined by the algorithms, coded by human engineers, and decided upon by C-level leaders.
Google training mindful employees while stealing attention from consumers is rich.
Google joins companies like Facebook, Twitter, and other distraction platforms, where exploitation of attention contributes to elevated rates of anxiety and depression, as well as instigating political tension. Protecting the in-group while taking advantage of customers is no way to run a business.
As Carr writes,
Every click we make on the Web marks a break in our concentration, a bottom-up disruption of our attention—and it’s in Google’s economic interest to make sure we click as often as possible. The last thing the company wants is to encourage leisurely reading or slow, concentrated thought. Google is, quite literally, in the business of distraction.
Technology isn’t inherently bad. In fact, some CEOs imagine better uses for mindfulness. For example, in an interview with Sriram Krishnan on his podcast, The Observer Effect, Spotify CEO Daniel Ek argues that spending more time focused on a task ultimately results in more free time.
That’s my role as leader: to coach others on how best to make use of their limited time. Not only is time the most precious resource the company has, it’s also the most precious resource they have! It’s crucial that they approach the use of their time with a holistic perspective.
Productive time is a mindful pursuit.
Given how often we’re interrupted at work—by meetings, calls, notifications, and social media—focused time is slim. It’s impossible to enter Flow when you’re constantly distracted.
Research shows that people who Flow feel like they’ve accomplished more and, by extension, spend less time actually working.
Here we find the paradox of the productivity-mindfulness debate: by being more mindful you’ll be more productive, freeing up time to pursue other endeavors.
When Ek discovered that a director hadn’t taken a vacation in six months, the Spotify founder argued for him to take two weeks off. His employee needed time to recharge. Ek recognizes optimally functioning at work means more time away from work.
That’s a foundational principle at Centered. By turning off distracting notifications and unnecessary apps, you devote more mindful time to the tasks in front of you. When you Flow through those tasks, you have more time to enjoy the rest of your life.
Mindfulness and productivity go hand-in-hand when you free yourself from distractions.
It’s not about being more diligent workers. Just more effective—and happier about it.