The media is abuzz with talk about mindfulness and meditation of late. Once you get a Huffington Post slideshow featuring eight CEOs who practice meditation you know you are in the midst of a full-blown trend. There is even a Congressman who is  advancing legislation to get meditation integrated into school curricula. However don’t dismiss it as a fad just yet.

First let’s define some terms. Maria Gonzalez, author of Mindful Leadership: The 9 Ways to Self-Awareness, Transforming Yourself, and Inspiring Others, writing at HBR notes:

Mindfulness has become almost a buzz-word. But what is it, really? Mindfulness is, quite simply, the skill of being present and aware, moment by moment, regardless of circumstances.

For some time now researchers have shown that meditation does in fact change the way the brain itself works. Research shows marked changes in the anterior cingulate cortex and hippocamus in meditators. Congleton, Hölzel and Lazar at HBR write:

Recent research provides strong evidence that practicing non-judgmental, present-moment awareness (a.k.a. mindfulness) changes the brain, and it does so in ways that anyone working in today’s complex business environment, and certainly every leader, should know about….Mindfulness should no longer be considered a “nice-to-have” for executives. It’s a “must-have”:  a way to keep our brains healthy, to support self-regulation and effective decision-making capabilities, and to protect ourselves from toxic stress.

Any one involved in the financial markets, on either a short or long-term basis, can see how better self-regulation and effective decision making can be useful. Dr. Brett Steenbarger at TraderFeed notes three benefits of meditation for traders:

  1. Enhanced self-control;
  2. Enhanced access to intuition;
  3. Enhanced well-being.

Steenbarger notes how a mid-day meditation break can help calm our brain and forces us to step back from the markets. One need not commit large chunks of time meditation. Maria Gonzalez at HBR talks about how “micro meditations” can be done a few minutes at time during the day to become more “calm and focused”. Or as Gonzalez writes:

Micro-meditations can put you back on track, an help you develop your mindfulness muscle.

Jeff Carter at Points and Figures relates how historically his decision making as been affected, for the worse, by being fearful. He is trying to use meditation to find a way to “step back” from the craziness of modern life. Jeff notes that I recommended to him a book by ABC anchor/reporter Dan Harris, 10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works–A True Story. (If you don’t want to invest in the book on my recommendation you can check out a podcast with Dan Harris on The James Altucher Show.)

In closing I would also urge you to check out this talk by Jason Voss of the CFA Institute and author of The Intuitive Investor: A Radical Guide for Manifesting Wealth. In his talk Voss discusses how investors and analysts need enhance their left brain skills with right brain skills like intuition and creativity. Meditation, Voss argues, is a good way for investors to do exactly that.

The markets are almost by definition, anxiety-inducing. Pursuing a practice that helps put things into some better perspective should be a good thing. However if you approach mindfulness and meditation as just a means for greater business and/or investing success you will likely be disappointed. Mindfulness is about putting your mind in a healthier, more balanced state, and that is a recipe for living a richer, less anxious life.

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