Mindfulness meditation is the practice of resting the mind calmly in the present moment, rather than getting caught up in fears, worries, and stories. For thousands of years, people have practiced mindfulness and experienced the well-being and mental clarity it offers.
More recently, scientific studies have confirmed that even small amounts of mindfulness practice can reduce stress, enhance mental functioning, and improve physical health. Recognizing these benefits, many Fortune 500 companies are offering mindfulness training to their employees.
As meditation and mindfulness become more widely studied and embraced, some of the most accomplished people in the world are speaking about their own meditation practice and crediting it as a major contributor to their success.
The Scientific Evidence
A growing body of scientific research has found that mindfulness practice yields powerful benefits. These benefits include reduced stress and anxiety; better work performance; improved memory, creativity, and focus; and even lower blood pressure. Please see below for some of these remarkable findings.
Mindfulness Changes the Brain in Beneficial Ways
- In 2005, neuroscientist Sara Lazar of Harvard found that meditation increased cortical thickness. Dr. Lazar explained her findings to the Washington Post: “It’s well documented that our cortex shrinks as we get older – it’s harder to figure things out and remember things. But in this one region of the prefrontal cortex, 50-year-old meditators had the same amount of gray matter as 25-year-olds.”
- Dr. Lazar found in 2010 that eight weeks of mindfulness practice increased brain volume in areas relating to:
- emotional regulation
- She also found decreased volume in the amygdala — the part of the brain responsible for anxiety, fear, and stress — and a corresponding reduction in stress levels.
- A 2016 study found that just three days of mindfulness practice caused brain changes that improved stress management and executive control. These brain changes also reduced the levels of a biochemical correlated with inflammation.
Mindfulness Reduces Stress and Anxiety
- A 2012 study found that mindfulness practice is effective for stress reduction.
- A separate 2012 study confirmed the efficacy of mindfulness-based therapies in reducing anxiety symptoms.
Mindfulness Enhances Focus and Productivity
- Distraction carries an enormous cost in time and productivity:
- After three or more distractions, it takes the average worker 23 minutes to return to the original project.
- The average worker shifts computer windows 566 times a day.
- A 2010 study found that meditation training can “enhance the ability to sustain attention.” The training also “significantly improved visuo-spatial processing, working memory, and executive functioning.”
- A 2012 study found that “a brief period of mindfulness meditation may serve as a quick and efficient strategy to foster self-control” and improve attentional skills.
Mindfulness Improves Physical Health
- A 2015 study found that mind-body interventions like mindfulness result in reduced healthcare usage: fewer hospital visits, medical tests, and trips to emergency care.
- A 2013 study found that mindfulness practice is effective in lowering elevated blood pressure.
Mindfulness Cultivates Happiness and Well-Being
- Two Harvard psychologists found in a 2010 study that mind-wandering results in unhappiness, even when the mind wanders to something pleasant. They noted that certain traditions train people “to resist mind wandering and ‘to be here now.’” Mindfulness is such a tradition.
- In the 1990s, neuroscientist Richard Davidson of the University of Wisconsin-Madison scanned the brain of Buddhist monk and meditator Matthieu Ricard, with remarkable results that earned Ricard the informal title of “happiest man alive.” During meditation, Ricard’s scans “showed a degree of stimulation in areas associated with positive emotions and impulses that was previously unrecorded in scientific literature.”
Mindfulness Hones Interpersonal Skills
- A 2013 study found that compassion meditation — similar to one of the practices taught in the Mindfulness for Lawyers workshops — increases empathic accuracy, the ability to read people’s emotions from their facial expressions.
Mindfulness Promotes Creative Thinking
- A 2012 study found that mindfulness practice reduced cognitive rigidity, a psychological trait that involves resistance to change and a tendency to overlook novel solutions.
- Another 2012 study found that a certain form of mindfulness practice enhances divergent thinking, the ability to generate many novel ideas, even in new meditators.
Mindfulness on the Rise
Many Fortune 500 companies already offer mindfulness training to their employees:
- Google has offered its employees a popular mindfulness course, “Search Inside Yourself,” since 2007.
- General Mills has provided mindfulness programs to its employees since 2006 and has a meditation room in every building on its campus.
- In 2010, Aetna created a mindfulness program for its employees.
- Also in 2010, Target began its “Meditating Merchants” employee program.
- Other companies that have implemented mindfulness programs include:
- Deutsche Bank
- General Electric (Jon Krop, the founder of Mindfulness for Lawyers, led this program)
- Goldman Sachs
- Lloyds Banking Group
- McKinsey & Company
- Procter & Gamble
A number of accomplished businesspeople have spoken about the benefits of meditation and its role in their own success:
- Bill Ford, chairman of Ford Motor Company, is an avid meditator and a student of mindfulness teacher Jack Kornfield.
- David Ford, co-founder of hedge fund Latigo Partners, is an avid meditator and has said, “I react to volatile markets much more calmly now. I have more patience."
- William George, former CEO of Medtronic and member of the board of Goldman Sachs, has said, “The main business case for meditation is that if you’re fully present on the job, you will be more effective as a leader, you will make better decisions, and you will work better with other people."
- Padmasree Warrior, former CTO of Cisco Systems, former CTO of Motorola, and U.S. CEO for electric car company NIO, meditates daily and has compared the practice to “a reboot for your brain."