My law school orientation, like most orientations, was a blur of faculty, staff, student and alumni speaking to me and my new classmates about everything from financial aid to note-taking skills. The only thing I remember now from those three intensive days is one student, who spoke to us near the end of the third day. When asked to give us advice, he said, “remember to take care of yourself. Go to the gym. Find time for silence and reflection. Take regular showers.”
This line got a laugh but it stuck with me, and I replayed his advice over and over to myself throughout those three grueling years. I took him seriously. I pulled myself away from studying and writing papers to go to yoga several times a week. I signed up for meditation retreats during each break. The results were unmistakable. The more I took care of myself, the better I did on exams, the clearer my thinking was, the more energy I had. I remember one particular moment before a particularly stressful contracts exam when people on both sides of me were chatting with each other in a panic, furiously exchanging energy bars and guzzling coffee. Someone a few seats down from me was sweating profusely and repeatedly mopping his forehead with tissues. Someone behind me said she felt like she was going to cry. I had all these feelings as well so I began to meditate. I closed my eyes and felt my feet on the floor. I concentrated on following the inhale and exhale of my breath. I noticed all the nervousness and tension and fear in my body and also noticed all the space around it. I relaxed my body and my mind calmed. The exam began, and I felt much more ready to tackle it.
I also notice that classmates, supervisors, and professors who practiced meditation, mindfulness, and regular exercise seemed to be happier, calmer and more productive than their stressed-out, burnt-out counterparts. They also tended to be kinder and more open.
All of the research now points to the fact that mindfulness practices in high-pressure environments boosts productivity and overall well-being. A major London corporation, Transport for London, found that the number of days taken off for stress, anxiety and depression fell by 71% since introducing employees to mindfulness. A University of Washington study of Human Relations managers from 2012 found stress levels to drop and focus to increase after regular meditation practice.
Additionally, there is evidence to show that mindfulness boosts compassion among practitioners and this, too, is better for business. NYU’s own Professor Jonathan Haidt has done research showing that the more kind, service-oriented and compassionate an employer is, the more bonded, loyal and productive the workers become, ultimately translating into bigger profits and less waste.
It’s for all of these reasons that I’m so thrilled about the Mindfulness in Business Initiative at NYU, the successful and groundbreaking collaboration between MindfulNYU and the Stern School of Business. Mindfulness transformed my life and brought me so much sanity during one of the most stressful periods of my life, and I have now met many others with similar stories.
Business school has the potential to swallow you up. Please take my advice: Take care of yourself. Go to the gym (or our free daily yoga classes three times a week!). And please take regular showers. Your fellow students will thank you.
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