Companies on the west coast of the U.S., including Google, Facebook, and General Mills, are starting to pay attention to the negative impact that living in the digital fast lane has on employees. Working online tends to disconnect people from the rest of the world and takes a toll on a person’s creative output. As Justin Rosenstein, co-founder of software company Asana (named after a yoga pose in which the body is both stable and active), explains:
“We’re humans, not robots; we’re engaged in a creative endeavor that requires a lot of energy, and so if you’re constantly involved in the output – in the exhale – then you’ll run out of breath. You won’t have the ability to give your best.”
According to an article in The Guardian, these companies have begun offering “mindfulness training.” Google runs workshops on neural re-programming and even hosted Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh in 2011. General Mills offers corporate mindfulness programs. Medium runs guided meditations. Facebook has regular sessions to teach mindfulness and meditation practice. Asana is run by two guys who believe that mindfulness is “as important for personal well-being and just being a good human as it is for being a good company.” While some of the CEOs may be driven to invest in mindfulness training because they have dollar signs dancing in their eyes and know it will ultimately increase and improve productivity – a necessity in the competitive world of Silicon Valley – it’s still refreshing to see.
We can’t all afford to import Zen masters for personal guidance, so some of us have to invent our own strategies for recharging mentally. Mine is a form of unplugging; I don’t have a wireless connection at home. Instead, I have a hard DSL line that I plug into my laptop manually. I’m aware it sounds practically Stone Age, but it’s the best solution I have for separating my online work from my ‘real’ life. Because getting that connection requires effort, I make a conscious decision every time I sit down at my desk. It’s a personalized, self-imposed version of mindfulness.
The world could benefit from a lot more mindfulness, whether it’s taking out one’s headphones to strike up a conversation with a stranger or not checking text messages while meeting a friend for coffee. The problem is that mindfulness requires challenging things of us device-addicts: disconnection, focus, uni-tasking, etc. A state of meditative mindfulness is the opposite of the common restless state of online anxiety. It is a quest for objectivity, “a way to claw back some of the equilibrium of how we exist in the real world, rather than the hyper-mediated place we create for parts of ourselves online.” That last phrase is key – remembering how to be a whole person, more than just a username.
I think the companies are on to something great, and hopefully others will take note, incorporating an emphasis on mindfulness (and psychological health in general) into business models.