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July 25, 2018

Does Meditation Really Kill Motivation?

Hey Boss, There’s a New Type of Motivation in Town (Don’t Kill your Meditation Program Just Yet)

Recently a friend sent me an article from the New York Times entitled, “Hey Boss, You Don’t Want Your Employees To Meditate”. The assumption the researchers wanted to test was:

“. . . on the face of it, mindfulness might seem counterproductive in a workplace setting. A central technique of mindfulness meditation, after all, is to accept things as they are. Yet companies want their employees to be motivated. And the very notion of motivation — striving to obtain a more desirable future — implies some degree of discontentment with the present, which seems at odds with a psychological exercise that instills equanimity and a sense of calm.”

The Findings

Among those who had meditated, motivation levels were lower on average. They didn’t seem inspired to focus on the assignments, nor did they want to spend as much time or effort to complete them. Meditation was correlated with reduced thoughts about the future and greater feelings of calm and serenity — states seemingly not conducive to wanting to tackle a work project.

The premise they validated was that motivation for a more desirable future requires a degree of discontent with the present.

My experience personally and my observation in coaching many leaders is that this assumption is true for most people in most circumstances. In fact, this is what led us to write the last chapter of The 15 Commitments of Conscious Leadership on The Change Formula...

The Change Formula

(V x D) + F.S. > R = C

If Vision x Dissatisfaction + First Steps is greater than your Resistance, you'll create Change. (Learn more here).

What is key here is that the motivation to change either comes from vision, pain, or a combination of both. For most people the motivation to change comes more from pain and dissatisfaction with the status quo than it does from vision, a desire for a preferable future.

In the Absence of Discontent

If there is little to no discontent or dissatisfaction with the status quo or pain, why would anyone change or work, or do anything for that matter? If meditation and the practice of the 15 commitments of conscious leadership brings more peace and equanimity, what will motivate us to do anything?

What we observe is that vision—a picture of a preferable future—replaces discontent and dissatisfaction as a motivation to act.  Below all discontent is fear. As meditation and other consciousness practices begin to loosen the grip of fear, leaders can experience a period of time when their motivation begins to wane. All of their lives they have lived off the fuel of believing that something is missing or lacking. As they begin to experience that they and others are whole, perfect and complete, that nothing is missing, the question can arise, “Why do anything?”

Conscious leaders who free themselves from reacting from fear and lack act because they have a vision, a desire, a dream.

For example, one can create a new marketing campaign from a belief that something is lacking (below the line), or from vision, a desire for a preferable future (above the line). The facts may be the same: we’ve lost market share, we haven’t updated our campaign for over a year, and our CEO is angry when faced with the results we’re experiencing. From below the line, we create the campaign motivated by fear of losing good favor (control), reputation (approval), and perhaps our jobs (security). When one practices meditation and conscious leadership over time, fear as a motivator slowly drops away. What emerges is the ability to develop a marketing campaign—responding to the very same conditions—fueled by a desire for a preferable future, as an expression of one’s genius and creativity, from a playful mindset, and for the pure love of the thing.As fear based motivation decreases, so do the symptoms of living from fear: fatigue, stress, and drama. Vision based motivation has other symptoms: joy, energy, and connection. It’s a choice.

For example, to the best of my knowledge and self-awareness, I’m writing this article from creativity, playfulness and love. I’m not motivated by discontent or dissatisfaction with the way things are.  I’m not motivated by fear of disapproval or a loss of security. I’m not writing because something is missing or lacking in me or you. That’s right. From my perspective nothing is missing in you. However you’re leading and living in this now moment is perfect. You lack nothing. I’m not writing this to change, fix or improve you.

I’m writing because I love to create, to look at a blank piece of paper and see it fill up with words and ideas. I delight in being surprised by the next idea or image that shows up. I’m writing because it’s playful and fun (It’s actually fun for me to type) and because it’s in my zone of genius to communicate transformational ideas clearly. I’m also doing this because I love to play with Diana and Erica; that looks like me writing a draft and then all of us co-creating a final product.  

From this place of peace and equanimity I don’t lack motivation. No one, including myself, has to prod or incentivize or scare or punish me to get me to act.

Imagine your team or organization filled with people who act, create, do and accomplish and are motivated to create, play and cooperate because it’s fun, it’s their natural state, and for the joy of creating a preferable future together.

To bosses who read the above article from the New York Times I say:

1.   Meditate and have your people meditate.

2.  Expect that over time (usually a long time) people might lose their old forms of motivation: fear, discontent and dissatisfaction.

3.  Trust that a new motivation, one that is much more sustainable, will emerge in you and your team.

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Jim Dethmer
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