A new secret weapon is being unfurled in the offices and trading floors of the world’s major commerce hubs. Titans of industry from Central to Wall Street are turning to meditation to unlock one their biggest assets – their minds and those of their staff.
“Meditation can lower stress levels, stimulate creativity, sharpen intuition and develop emotional skills such as sensitivity. We have had global Fortune 500 CEOs and chairmen attend our retreats and they view it as an investment, not a luxury, as they are learning the tools of self-mastery,” says Crystal Leahy, founding director of Hong Kong’s Legacy Retreats.
It seems incongruous at first but using meditation to sharpen the mind and your competitive edge is not new – the Chinese Shaolin and Japan’s Samurai warriors used it as part of their basic training. “Almost all professional athletes do visualisation or meditation before performing because of its effectiveness, and as business people, we can use meditation to bring our game to a higher level,” she adds.
On the trading floor a short mental time out can lead to better decision making and a more rational approach. “I’ve had a very powerful banker tell me that when the financial markets get too crazy, he tells everyone that he is going on a three minute holiday. He pops on his headphones, listens to one of our guided meditations with his eyes closed and when he’s done, he says that it’s like he’s been on holiday for a week. He says that it’s made him work much smarter, and with much better intuition and less self-doubt.”
Perhaps it is too much to suggest there is a wave of calm sweeping big business, but there is certainly a distinct shift in the corporate approach. Goldman Sachs has special meditation pods for staff, Steve Jobs gave Apple employees 30 minutes each day to meditate at work and provided a dedicated space for it. American hedge fund giant Bridgewater has hired film director David Lynch, a keen advocate of meditation, to teach the practice to its employees, while management consultant firms such as McKinsey now recommend many of their huge corporate clients develop their own meditation programmes. Google has a dedicated head of mindfulness training (official title Jolly Good Fellow) and thousands of employees have signed up for the classes.
But this isn’t a new altruism – yes the evidence so far suggests there are health and well-being benefits to staff, businesses can see a return on this investment too. Absenteeism in the Hong Kong workforce is 1.5 percent according to 2013 government statistics, while in the US and Europe it is around 2.5-3 percent. The Meditation Foundation says having dedicated classes can help firms: “lower absenteeism, improve staff’s cognitive function, creativity, and productivity, as well as reduce staff turnover”. Denise Lim, associate director at a global human resources firm, who is an acolyte of the Kadampa Meditation Centre of Hong Kong explains: “When employees are focused, they become more engaged in their work and business productivity will increase, bringing significant returns to organisations. With meditation, the mind is clearer. Without a clear mind, it’s very difficult to make rational decisions on business deals.”
There is some science to back up the theories. Research by the INSEAD Business School found doing just 15 minutes of meditation can lead to increased rational thinking, and in turn better decision making in the work place. A study published by Harvard Medical School in 2005 showed meditating boosts and develops the prefrontal cortex of the brain. “That is the part of the brain that has to do with attention and executive thinking and decision making. Your prefrontal cortex also regulates the amygdala. The stronger you are in this part of your brain, the more you can regulate anger and feelings of powerlessness,” Google’s head of mindfulness training Chade-Meng Tan explained in a recent speech at the University of Pennsylvania.
Research by the University of Washington found meditation can help people stay focused, improve their memory, and reduce stress. Leahy adds: “In Hong Kong, we worship the cult of speed and efficiency. People talk fast, walk fast, think fast, eat fast. But efficient is not the same as effective. In order to be truly effective as a person and a leader, we need also to master the skill of slowing down and listening to the needs of ourselves and others. “Think of your mind like a glass of muddy water. If you let it be, the dirt will settle to the bottom and the water will be clear again. The noise and stress of daily life will always be there, just like the mud in the water, but meditation gives us the opportunity to go into a state of stillness and see clearly again.”
By LTThomas, originally published in RAISE YOUR GAME | The Reserve