It has always intrigued me, ever since college, that when you are inspired by a new idea or a new field of study you begin to see references to it and related ideas all around you, everywhere you look; ideas and references that were there all along but have suddenly moved from the realm of the invisible to the realm of “in your face.”
I had a brand new experience last week: I attended a meditation retreat in Peru. I learned about transforming fields of energy, both within me and around me, in order to lead a healthier, happier, more enlightened and more caring kind of life. Suddenly everything I read, even about business, seems to connect to what the retreat taught me. Case in point: in the Harvard Business Review blogs from last week, there are two great articles that reinforce my new perspective.
1. Can Light Make You More Honest at Work? by Francesca Gino explores studies done on the impact of more light on criminals and workers. Gino began by examining university studies of the impact of daylight savings time on crime rates; the studies found that crime rates reduced drastically during daylight savings time, presumably because the chances of being witnessed and caught during daylight hours increased. She ran her own studies to see if these findings would extend to workers placed in well-lit and dimly-lit rooms who were given the opportunity to cheat in scoring a math test, and she got similar results. But she was curious; was it the actual lighting, or the perception of light? She ran another series of tests using dark sunglasses and clear glasses, and found that it was the perception of light that mattered. Her results give real teeth to the pursuit of light, both actual and metaphorical, that I was taught to engage in during my meditation retreat. Seek the light and you shall be inspired to do good things, for yourself and for those around you. Stay in darkness and you may inadvertently do just the opposite. Gino concludes, “…we should probably pay more attention to the many ways in which we are in the dark. Our work life is full of such situations: we may feel anonymous when we communicate via e-mail, when we post information online without revealing our identity (hello, internet trolls!), or when we work remotely rather than in the office.”
2. A Simple Ritual for Harried Managers (and Popes), by Chris Lowney, explores a Jesuit concept called the “examen,” which means to examine your day and take stock. Lowney suggests that for busy managers, a five-minute, twice-daily examen should involve three things:
- Remind yourself why you are grateful as a human being
- Remember your purpose and the values you stand for
- Review the last few hours and extract any insights you might gain from them
During the meditation sessions on my retreat, we were always asked to start by reconnecting with our purpose and expressing our intention for the session. Then it was hoped that during the meditation, we would find ourselves reinvigorated with insights about our current lives, and a sense of love and gratitude for what we have. A successful session was one in which we deepened our self-awareness and became more present in the moment. I came home from the retreat feeling completely re-energized by what I felt during those meditations.
Lowney sums up the business benefits of a daily examen thus:
“The genius of this simple practice becomes obvious when we consider the environments that executives (or Popes, or parents) must navigate every day: we surf a tide of emails, texts, meetings, calls, day-to-day problems, and distractions. We never find time to step back. The fallout is obvious: I’m stressed about a bad meeting an hour ago and end up lashing out at a subordinate who had nothing to do with it; I finish the work day without attacking my number one priority, because I was swept along by lesser day-to-day concerns; I never focus my best thinking in a concentrated fashion on any one issue, because three or four issues are always rambling around my head; or, we slowly drift into an ethical mess of a transaction because I never stopped along the way to ask myself, “Hang on, is this the kind of thing we really should be doing?” The Jesuit tradition is giving us (and the Pope) a very simple tool to cope with these varied business problems, which all happen to be rooted in self-awareness lapses.”
The logical Western mind does not have to struggle with elusive Eastern concepts, but instead can translate those concepts into more accessible (for our left-brained society) language. For me the message of these articles is to infuse your work day with more light and more self-examination and you will have a better day. It’s really just that simple.