Why Mindfulness Matters for Entrepreneurs
Take a big, deep breath. Inhale through your nose and exhale through your mouth. As you continue breathing deeply, check in with your body from head to toe. Feel the sensations in your head, neck and shoulders, then sweep down to your legs, knees, ankles and feet. Notice the feeling of each breath as it moves in through your nostrils and out past your lips.
You’re now in the present moment. Staying engaged with what’s happening, right here and now, is the key to finding greater inspiration, accessing your creativity and living a more meaningful, fulfilling life.
Staying mindful in the midst of business chaos.
The breathing exercise you just finished is one example of mindfulness -- defined by UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center as “maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations and the surrounding environment through a gentle, nurturing lens.”
Mindfulness was once a term reserved for yoga studios and Buddhist temples, but it has recently become a hot topic in Silicon Valley. It’s no accident that even Bobby Axelrod, the brash hedge fund CEO on Showtime’s TV series Billions, has a meditation room in his corporate headquarters.
“Mindfulness is one way that many entrepreneurs choose to combat the toll wrought by round-the-clock emails, long working hours and other aspects of our accelerated business culture,” says Virgin founder Richard Branson. Studies also show that mindfulness meditation can lower blood cortisol levels, which improves our ability to process information and manage stress.
Most importantly, engaging with the present moment reminds us that life is happening now. We may have big goals, but if we’re constantly looking ahead or dwelling in the past, we miss out on the rich experiences available at this very moment.
The high cost of the hustle.
Entrepreneurs are constantly urged to push forward. We chase quick growth and hockey stick sales charts. We see others succeeding and set ambitious targets to earn more money, gain more status and expand our ventures.
As the founder of JotForm, I find It’s rare to meet a fellow entrepreneur who isn’t exhausted. Many have lost close personal relationships, and others hustle like superhumans until their body demands a slower pace.
Even our role models tell us that entrepreneurship is an all-in proposition: “Nobody ever changed the world on 40 hours a week,” tweets Elon Musk, and we all nod in agreement. That’s because Musk isn’t entirely wrong. Achieving ambitious goals requires hard work. Entrepreneurship is not an easy road. But productivity -- even when it’s on our own terms -- is only one part of a great life, especially when the drive to get ahead makes us stressed and sick.
Global studies show that we’re constantly connected, but we’re lonelier than ever before. Our collective anxiety is also reaching record levels: 39 percent of Americans said they felt more anxious in 2018 than in 2017. And our constant pursuit of productivity is making us ill. That’s a high price to pay for “getting ahead.”
Living in mental limbo.
In addition to the physical effects of overwork, hustling keeps us in a state of limbo between the present moment and our idealized future. Eventually, living between these two realities wears us thin.
Søren Kierkegaard, the 19th-century Danish philosopher, once said the pursuit of productivity breeds sadness: “The unhappy person is one who has his ideal, the content of his life, the fullness of his consciousness, the essence of his being, in some manner outside of himself. The unhappy man is always absent from himself, never present to himself.”
As we chase an ideal tomorrow, we think our momentary lack of presence will pay off. We believe it’s worth sacrificing our time, health and relationships for a big launch or key business goal. But if we’re always looking ahead, we miss the joy and inspiration in the present moment, which is what we need to feel peaceful and, ultimately, fulfilled.
Think about it: when was the last time you were truly in the moment? When did you listen to a song without checking your email or drink a cup of coffee without scrolling Instagram? If you can’t remember, don’t worry. My goal is not to chastise, but to gently remind all of us that much of what we seek is already available -- right now.
How to practice mindfulness
The present is concrete and sensory. It’s the first, crisp bite of an apple or the sun warming your face. Connecting with your five senses is the fastest way to stop a buzzing mind. Just as a breathing exercise can bring your attention back into your body, a few minutes of mindfulness can boost your focus and regulate your emotions.
Addressing challenges in the present moment -- versus imagining what should be or what was -- is a powerful way to minimize stress. Developing a culture of mindfulness at work can also strengthen your team. As Squad CEO Isa Watson writes, focusing on the present moment is an important practice when only 34 percent of employees are engaged at work. Mindfulness techniques can also help to decrease burnout and, as a result, minimize staff turnover.
You might also want to consider a group meditation before your next creative meeting. Even 10 minutes can make a difference. In a recent study, students in the Netherlands who completed a short meditation before a brainstorming session generated a wider range of ideas than those who didn’t. The students who meditated also had a more positive attitude, which we know can boost productivity.
However you choose to be mindful, the point isn’t to abandon our goals or our entrepreneurial drive, but to recognize the difference between mindless, future-obsessed productivity and the grounding power of presence. Living in the moment is a choice -- and thankfully, it’s one we can make repeatedly, each and every day.