Many individuals begin meditating as a way of coping with stress in their personal lives; however, several don’t know that meditation can positively affect their professional lives. As it turns out, there are many business owners, such as Founder of Bridgewater Associates, Ray Dalio, and co-founder and CEO of Salesforce.com, Marc Benioff, who practice meditation daily as a means of improving their focus and reducing their stress at work. Learn how meditation increases focus and reduces stress with this article by Stephanie Denning:
One of the most unexpectedly rewarding practices in my life has been the practice of meditation. The benefits have been equally pronounced in my personal and professional lives. I had expected the former; I picked up the practice primarily because I was feeling the spillover effect of work stress. I had largely unforeseen the latter.
Many people who don’t meditate write the practice off as New Age hoo-ha. And you can’t blame them. But after almost two years of consistent practice, I found meditation to simply be a mental model like any other, but one that comes through daily practice. The practice focuses on key principles and the consistency turns those principles into second nature. Every decision and action you take becomes more and more rooted in those principles.
Marc Benioff, co-founder and chief executive officer of Salesforce.com Inc. Photographer: Jason Alden/Bloomberg
Meditation offers a rubric for how to deal with most situations thrown at you and nowhere has this been more useful for me than in business, an environment fraught with uncertainty, risk, and a lot of stress. Which is why over the years, I haven’t been surprised to find so many successful and well-known business practitioners who adopted and maintained the practice in their own work, crediting it for much of their success:
Ray Dalio, founder of Bridgewater Associates, wrote in his book Principles: “I came to meditation in my own life during a very stressful work period that then turned into a very stressful personal period. But it freed me from so much pain. It completely inverted my entire point of view on life. I’ve been meditating consistently….and I’ve seen an exponential impact. In terms of scale, the more you do the greater the reward. More than linear.”
Marc Benioff, co-founder and CEO of Salesforce.com, mentioned in an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle: “I am very interested in keeping a clear head. So I enjoy meditation, which I’ve been doing for over a decade – probably to help relieve the stress I was going through when I was working at Oracle.”
Fred Wilson, a successful venture capitalist and co-founder of Union Square Ventures, wrote in his newsletter: “I’ve been meditating for ten to fifteen minutes every day for the past two months….I am experiencing a number of benefits but the one I am most cognizant of is an increased ability to avoid distraction in a conversation or some other situation where I need to be focused. I’ve always been good at being focused, sometimes to a fault. But I also find my mind wandering in situations where I am losing interest and that’s obviously very bad….Meditation is like repetitive exercise of the focus muscle in the brain. So if you are having trouble being present in situations you want to be but can’t, I would strongly recommend trying meditation. It’s helped me with this and I imagine it will help you too.”
In trying to understand the science behind the widely reported benefits of meditation, I briefly asked Elizabeth and Sukey Novogratz, authors of the book Just Sit: A Meditation Guidebook for People Who Know They Should But Don’t (HarperCollins, 2017) to get their point of view. As a former meditation skeptic, I was particularly interested in the benefits for business and work.
Stephanie Denning: There is an increasing body of research on the scientific evidence regarding the benefits of meditation. In your book, you mention meditation impacts the prefrontal cortex, the hippocampus, and the amygdala. Could you explain in more detail how meditation affects each and how that impact can benefit different aspects of our work life (e.g., around decision-making, confidence, control, awareness, clarity, competition.)
Elizabeth and Sukey Novogratz: Hippocampus: Meditation increases the cortical thickness in the hippocampus, which runs the memory as well as the ability to learn new things. It helps with long term memory, which aids you with everything from giving a presentation to closing a sale to remembering your boss’ husband’s birthday. This part of the brain is also where Alzheimer’s wreaks havoc, so a daily practice will do much more than assist you at the office.
Amygdala and prefrontal cortex: The amygdala is the part of the brain that houses fear and tells us how to respond to anything we might think of as scary: our boss, asking for a raise, giving a talk, firing someone, or leading a group. The amygdala is also the fight or flight part of the brain. It has less grey matter in meditators than in non-meditators. When the grey matter shrinks in the amygdala, it thickens in the prefrontal cortex – which controls awareness and decision making. Long term meditators are not only more courageous but also have much slower reaction time to emotional situations because they have time to respond to the situation and not react. They are better and more efficient decision makers.
Stephanie Denning: I know Ray Dalio credits meditation as a critical part of his success. Do you know of any others in the business world?
Elizabeth and Sukey Novogratz: Sukey’s husband, Mike Novogratz, is a meditator and also runs Galaxy Investments. Meditation plays a large role in his keeping it together in the crypto world where the markets are open 24/7. He did a ten-day silent retreat this past June and says that it gave him the mindset and resilience for starting a new fund.
Jack Dorsey, who founded Twitter and Square, also recently completed a ten-day silent retreat. He says it completely reset him for the new year. Meditation is becoming a daily habit for many of the most successful people in the creative and business worlds.