Are Meditators Unmotivated Slackers?

Does meditation turn good employees into the listless masses? Editor-in-Chief Barry Boyce weighs in on a recent study.

Working Title Films

Ah, clickbait. It draws you in but so often disappoints. All hat, no cattle, as the Texas saying goes. To wit: A recent New York Times headline blared, “Hey Boss, You Don’t Want Your Employees to Meditate.” 

The piece is by two business school behavioral scientists, Kathleen Vohs and Andrew Hafenbrack, who conducted research to test, among other things, whether “the mindfulness condition would reduce task motivation.” In other words, because mindfulness practice asks you to bring your attention to the “current moment” and “accept things as they are,” you’ll be less likely to “strive to obtain a more desirable future.”

It might cause someone at work to be less motivated to do a lot of the stupid stuff that can make work a ludicrously stressful place that most people don’t want to go to now. 

When you look under the hood, you find that the subjects in their initial experiment, about 100 people, were divided into two groups and paid $1.50 each. One group listened to a 15-minute guided breath meditation, while the other group was guided to just think of whatever came to mind. A variation of this initial experiment included a body scan. After listening to the recorded instructions, participants were told they would be asked to complete 10 anagram word puzzles. The key question: How motivated were they to perform the task?

Apparently, fewer of the “meditators” were enthused about it. 

Proof positive: Meditators are slackers after all!

Wait a sec here, though. I have no idea why fewer of the “meditators” jumped at the chance to do word puzzles, but I ask myself: If I had never meditated before in my life and was paid a buck-fifty to sit and listen to a guided meditation for 15 minutes, would I then want to do some word puzzles? 

Hell, no!

After trying repeatedly to bring my attention back to my breath—without a super-clear reason for why I would do so—I would be exhausted, and maybe not a little irritated. I would probably want to curl up in a ball and berate myself for how incapable I was at paying attention to my own damn breath. When you start learning to meditate, it takes a loooong time to learn this simple lesson: Stop trying so hard. 

These authors treat a guided meditation as some kind of magic formula: Fifteen minutes and you’ve entered “The Mindfulness Condition.” Not bloody likely. What activity worth doing achieves instant results when you do it once?

Whatever the relationship between meditation and motivation might be awaits serious study by qualified meditation researchers following established protocols for this kind of research. Will it possibly show that the slow buildup of awareness resulting from regular mindfulness practice might affect one’s motivation? You bet. 

It might cause someone at work to be less motivated to do a lot of the stupid stuff that can make work a ludicrously stressful place that most people don’t want to go to now. 

Hey Boss, Why Are You So Addicted to Stress?

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