There is one thing that bankers are good at doing, better than most organisations in fact – making money. The whole industry is geared towards it; borrowing it in order to lend it and making a big fat margin in between. Profits can reach astronomical levels in good times and we all know the usual story about bonuses.
So it was to my great surprise (and delight) that I saw in my Twitter feed the other day a tweet proclaiming that the venerable and elite financial institution, Goldman Sachs, was offering mindfulness classes to its employees – finally all the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle were coming together. An ancient spiritual (and religious) practice infiltrating its way into one of the most prolific money-making machines the world has ever seen.
On the one hand, I can understand why such institutions are starting to offer classes in mindfulness and meditation – the benefits seem obvious. Less stressed workers means less absenteeism, higher productivity and a happier work environment. It can also optimise work performance. However, on the other hand, to be successful in the work place you are probably being mindful already – without you even knowing it.
Let’s then take a look at this practice called ‘mindfulness’. In simple terms, it means paying less attention to your thoughts and being more ‘in the moment’. It means consciously choosing how to react to the stimuli in our environment, not judging, and accepting all aspects of our daily lives in a compassionate way.
Different techniques and meditations can be used to be ‘mindful’ – the simple breathing meditation, the ‘body scan’, even the ‘eating the raisin mindfully’ meditation are associated with this practice, and much more. However, each of these practices requires some time spent consciously away from our daily lives, and to this extent, any mindfulness teacher will tell you that in order for the practice to work, it’s not something you can simply switch on in the given moment.
Which leads me back to my original question – Goldman Sachs is undoubtedly a successful institution. Every aspiring Finance graduate sees them as the echelon of the world of Finance. Why then do they need ‘mindfulness’ classes?
The thought experiment goes further – I would postulate that every successful working professional is already practising mindfulness in some way, without them even knowing it.
Shock, horror, you may feel the leaders and CEOs of the corporate world are secret closet practising Buddhists? Is there some conspiracy or elaborate “jihadi” meditation in boardrooms around the world? I wish it were as revolutionary as that. I wish that CEOs and managers around the corporate world would start their meetings with pujahs, prayers and meditations in my wildest fantasies; but no, it’s actually more profound than that. Nearly all of them are already practising mindfulness, without them even knowing it.
To perform at a high level in any organisation requires the skills and abilities that a mindfulness practice will teach you. In days of 24/7 email overload, regular international travel resulting in jet lagged bodies and minds together with the constant and competing demands and pressures upon the modern CEO’s precious resource – time, somehow at the end of the day, they keep performing, day in day out, and impeccably, too.
In order to process all this stress, some form of ‘mindfulness’ must be going on at some level; otherwise they simply would not be able to cope. I am constantly amazed at my own senior management’s abilities to cope with all the pressures they face on a daily basis, for me they seem super-human. Prioritising, delegating, planning and organising are all traits of a successful manager. Not being impulsive and overly reactive, accepting of a particular situation, and knowing when to let things go are others too – the comparison with the qualities of mindfulness are striking.
Of course, there are others who do not cope – who resort to drugs and alcohol, or more simply do not perform at all, for which training in mindfulness would be incredibly helpful; but I firmly believe they are in the minority. The high-achievers, rather, are natural mindful practitioners. They just don’t realise it. Is it really that simple?