It seems fashionable at the moment to propose mindfulness as a solution to many of the ills of business. However, whilst mindfulness may help with managing distraction and finding inner peace, a focus on only the present is anathema to a successful business. So what is its place in a business environment?
I became interested in meditation some years ago, I’ve never been the kind of person who could take a nap, nor do I usually suffer from a lack of energy, however it seemed to me that it would be helpful if I could relax more, especially during regular travel trips and calm my mind when I was under pressure.
I studied the techniques of meditation and mindfulness, read some books, attended a couple of courses and practiced a lot. Some of the exercises were a revelation, I realized that most of my mental activity was about planning for the future. Of course, if you are always in this mode you will never be truly happy and satisfied as you are always thinking about the next thing. I found it very useful and quite relaxing to be able to spend more time in the moment.
Most of my working life is spent in very complex matrix, virtual and global environments. These environments are characterized by very high levels of change and the potential for constant disruption and distraction. A period of quiet and mental relaxation is definitely needed from time to time.
However, in business constant dissatisfaction and a striving to improve and develop are essential. Accepting how things are right now would not get you very far in most organisations or careers.
At this point, some of you may be thinking that this is the whole problem with capitalism, we create and then satisfy needs that may be unnecessary. You may be right, but this striving to improve and to create a different future has also brought incredible progress.
It’s notable (if not particularly politically correct to point out) that the cultures that gave us a focus on mindfulness tended to exhibit lower rates of social change and economic progress until they were “infected” with capitalism. Whilst we may argue that their newfound obsession with consuming handbags and bigger cars is largely negative, we have to accept that improved education, nutrition and living standards are good things that come along with this.
So how do we square this circle? I’m sure that where you choose to begin will be influenced by your culture and personality. Some will pursue mindfulness first in the search for happiness and inner peace.
Speaking personally, I quite like dissatisfaction. As George Bernard Shaw said “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man.”
In business, we need to keep our eye on the future, to be unreasonably dissatisfied with how things are today and compelled to improve. Within this environment, I continue to think that the practice of meditation as a mental exercise can be helpful in maintaining balance and gaining enjoyment from the present – just don’t take it too far.