In conversation with How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes author Maria Konnikova, Arianna Huffington argues that mindfulness meditation is a necessary antidote to the US’ unhealthy work culture, one that rewards long hours and the appearance of hard work over real focus and connectedness
This is the second video in an exclusive video series of today’s brightest minds exploring the theory of genius. Exclusive videos will be posted daily on youtube.com/bigthink throughout 92nd Street Y’s second annual 7 Days of Genius Festival: Venture into the Extraordinary, running March 1 to March 8, 2015.
Arianna Huffington: Unquestionably mindfulness enhances as you’ve said in your book our clarity of thought. Unquestionably. And both anecdotally and scientifically we can prove that point. One of the main reasons is because by allowing us to be in the moment, it means we don’t stay with what just happened. And that’s one of the reasons that Phil Jackson, now the coach of the Knicks has given for making mindfulness mandatory as part of the Knicks training which I love. I love having elite athletes incorporating mindfulness into their training. And the reason Phil Jackson gives is that he said you’re always going to make mistakes, you know, on the field or in the court. The question is can you then move on and be fully present. Otherwise you’re going to carry the mistake with you and your actions and your decisions are going to be impaired because of that.
Well the same applies to life. If I’m still smarting over something that happened that I’m not happy with, when the moment comes for me to make another decision already on to something new, it’s going to affect that particular moment’s decision.
Maria Konnikova: It’s interesting that you mention professional athletes. One of the things that strikes me about the mindfulness research — and you mention a lot of this in your book is just how broadly it’s been adapted. I mean it’s not just athletes. We have the military doing studies with mindfulness. You have hedge fund managers like Ray Dalio saying that that’s part of their success. All of these people clearly have used it after they reach a certain elite point in their career and then they use mindfulness to almost transcend, you know, to get a step further, to be the athlete who’s not just a great athlete, but who can overcome the problems in the moment. Do you feel like there needs to be some work that has to happen beforehand?
Arianna Huffington: Not at all. And I think with athletes definitely we see them integrating mindfulness, meditation, training into their coaching right away. I think the reason why we have so many successful people who’ve accomplished a lot, who’ve burned out along the way, and have not exactly lived very mindfully is because our whole culture is drenched in the delusion that the only way to really succeed is to burn out. Understand when you go back and read Thomas Edison inventing the electric bulb and talking about how sleep is something to be completely contemptuous towards, the whole macho idealization of sleep deprivation and burnout, they are very, very deeply embedded in our culture, in our language, you know. We congratulate people for working 24/7. We congratulate people for being always on and so we have a lot of work to do to unravel that. And I think that a lot of people who’ve succeeded have done so despite the fact that they burned out along the way, not because of it.
And I have included in the book a lot of people who are sort of iconic in our culture like Steve Jobs saying that he came with his best ideas that led to the most iconic Apple products after Zen meditation. And he describes it very well saying this was when he could hear more subtle things. You know the idea that when you are multitasking you are more efficient is a complete illusion. And yet so many of us believe that. That’s why you walk the streets of New York and you see so many people who can’t walk without being on the phone or worse, walking and texting. And I was one of these people. I remember when I stopped doing that I started noticing things that I had completely missed. Like I remember going down the street where I live in SoHo and seeing this beautiful building and telling a friend this is such a beautiful building. And I said when did it go up? And she said 1890. And I wondered what else have I missed.