Meditating business men

Do this to have a smarter, more productive workplace

Elizabeth Bromstein|

Do you want a more productive workplace? Who doesn’t, right? You should require your employees to meditate.

I’m only sort of joking, because you can’t actually force people to meditate…or can you? You could do it for 20 minutes a day in the mornings. How much of an inconvenience would that really be?

Most people are aware of meditation as a practice for reducing stress. Fewer are aware of its potential for improving brain function, memory and productivity, among other things – though the savvy would point out that stress levels are also a factor in all of these things.

Consider this: a recent study by Andrew Hafenbrack at INSEAD found that meditation helps people make better business decisions. Hafenbrack and his fellow researchers found that those who meditate avoid the sunk-cost bias.

Stephen Dubner explains on Freakonomics.com that the sunk cost bias, or fallacy, is decision making based on time or money already spent. “The sunk-cost fallacy is when you tell yourself that you can’t quit because of all that time or money you spent.”

Well…we waited this long for a table…we might as well wait some more.

Hafenbrack found mindfulness meditation worked by “drawing one’s temporal focus away from the future and past and by reducing state negative affect.”

The result? Smarter decision making.

Business Week reports that participants were asked to make decisions in business-related scenarios.

    “In one, participants assumed the responsibilities of a company executive who has spent $9 million of a $10 million development budget on a new product, only to discover that a competitor has developed a similar product that performs better and costs less.

    “Before deciding whether to spend the remaining $1 million, one group of participants was guided through a 15-minute meditation exercise in which they were asked to focus on the sensation of breathing. The goal was to achieve a state of mindfulness, defined as focusing on the present and clearing the mind of other thoughts.

    “After meditating, 53 percent said they would scrap the project. That’s the rational decision under the circumstances, according to the researchers. Among the group that didn’t meditate, only 29 percent said they would pull the plug.”

That’s a 24 percent difference between people who would make the smart decision and people who would make the dumb decision. Though there’s still a long way to from there to proving causation, but it’s still a compelling outcome. Particularly when looked at alongside myriad other studies showing the benefits of meditation.

A more thorough study at the University of Washington found that people who underwent an eight-week meditation course were less distracted and able to stay on task longer than those who did not.

“[T]hose trained in meditation stayed on tasks longer and made fewer task switches, as well as reporting less negative emotion after task performance … In addition, both the meditation and the relaxation groups showed improved memory for the tasks they performed,” says the abstract.

Though there are those who would apparently argue that these positive results are only there when we are looking for them, there are several studies out there that suggest meditation alters brain structure – implying otherwise.

Not surprisingly, tech companies in California are implementing mindfulness meditation practices in their offices. Google offers “Search Inside Yourself training,” which Wired reported in 2013 had been taken advantage of by 1000 employees, with several hundred more on the waiting list. The company also hosts “mindful lunches” and features a labyrinth for walking meditations. Twitter and Facebook also offer similar practices.

hip hop mogul Russell Simmons, meanwhile, has just released a book Success Through Stillness in which he credits his success to his meditation practice.

You might consider offering meditation practice or training in your own office. If you can’t force it, you can at least make space available and encourage the practice.

Granted, Cali tech companies are the sort of environments where this sort of thing is expected. Yours is likely less so. So, you’d feel silly, right? Maybe you would. But, at the end of the day, if your employees are more relaxed, more focused, making better decisions and being more productive, that’s going to result in bigger gains. And how silly is that?

Not very.

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