The practical payoff of mindfulness is backed by dozens of studies linking it to job satisfaction, rational thinking and emotional resilience...But 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.
To test this hunch, we recently conducted five studies, involving hundreds of people, to see whether there was a tension between mindfulness and motivation...Among those who had meditated, motivation levels were lower on average. Those people didn’t feel as much like working 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...previous studies have found that meditation increases mental focus, suggesting that those in our studies who performed the mindfulness exercise should have performed better on the tasks. Their lower levels of motivation, however, seemed to cancel out that benefit...Mindfulness is perhaps akin to a mental nap. Napping, too, is associated with feeling calm, refreshed and less harried. Then again, who wakes up from a nap eager to organize some files?
Mindfulness might be unhelpful for dealing with difficult assignments at work, but it may be exactly what is called for in other contexts. There is no denying that mindfulness can be beneficial, bringing about calm and acceptance. Once you’ve reached a peak level of acceptance, however, you’re not going to be motivated to work harder.