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Mindfulness Meditation Impairs Task Motivation but Not Performance [pdf] (sci-hub.tw)
143 points by RangerScience 8 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 75 comments

Meditation, in ancient and present India, is a tool for spiritual development, contemplation on the true nature of self and an aide to allow for detachment from worldly matters.

Its not meant to be a method to calm down workers so that they will produce more profit for a corporation.

I hate this trend where things that exist to help us grow as humans (meditation, arts and humanities, exercise) are repurposed by corporate HR to make us into better (i.e., more efficient) workers.

IMO - Any corporate policy or program aimed at changing employees themselves, rather than the work environment and corporate ethos is doomed to failure. I'm all for incentives, but what you really want are engaged employees in the right seat.

That takes a lot of work on the part of management. If your employees know what's expected of them, have the right tools, have a job that fits their skills, knows their employer cares for them and is invested in their professional development, THAT is what makes productive employees. You won't get that from retreats, meditation programs, etc. As a manager, you get this by changing yourself, not those you manage.

Those 2 things are not mutually exclusive.

I just don't see how spiritual awakening suddenly makes a person working 9-5 in a cubicle more happy. For all it is, it probably makes him wonder if living in a forest outside civilization is actually a way more reasonable choice.

Exactly - spiritual awakening might do just the opposite of making someone a contented worker.

Contentment is a state of mind.

Still it's easier and more pleasant to maintain that state of mind not sitting inside a cubicle with a boss yelling at you to work harder.

I'm now picturing a boss telling an employee "Contentment is a state of mind" and that we also need to that hundredth "TPS" report done today

The IT Crowd's take on it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MZTvMYQSl_w

Correct, but if the goal is to make workers more productive, motivated, etc, then meditation may not be the right tool to use. There are other, more effective methods.

Maybe the goul is to make them happier.

If this is a portmanteau of ghoul and goal you did a very good job.

They are. Not all forms of living are equally valid according to (and compatible with) any religion/spiritual tradition one choses.

The trend is to take a practice completely out of context, and completely out of the spirit of what it was introduced and intended for, and use it a cheap prop to be more efficient in an ill world.

I wish more people talked about this

You and I should swap out filter bubble because I wish less people talked about this.

Have you checked out https://www.reddit.com/r/streamentry/ and https://www.reddit.com/r/TheMindIlluminated/ ? There seen to be more online and physical meetups now (compared to even five years ago) that are attended by people who view practice with awakening and spiritual development as goals.

Not really. I think I am an SBNR investigating Christianity mostly at this point. But, for example, someone told me I should recite the Jesus prayer at work to boost my productivity, I'd probably think there was something wrong with him (even if in some sense it might be beneficial)

As someone who grew up in a western Buddhist community (and skimmed the article), this rings true to me.

I largely credit my success at work to the tools for working with my mind imparted by my upbringing and continued practice. However, mindfulness is just one of those tools.

There are forms of meditation that build upon mindfulness that I would argue can be very helpful to motivation. To put it another way, once you are able to focus your mind on the present moment, there are other things you can focus it on.

For instance, if I've got a meeting coming up where I need to partner with people with whom I know I usually have a combative relationship, engaging in a compassion meditation, such as Tonglen, motivates me to see their problems and want to help solve them.

Mindfulness itself is wonderful, but it is among the most basic of techniques for training your mind. It is remarkably comparable to physical exercise, where a basic level of activity yields amazing results for your overall health, but must be accompanied by specific training if you want to dramatically change your physical capabilities.

Where could you learn it though? Grown up typically Dutch, I learned Tonglen by reading search inside yourself. Other than your comment, I never came across it.

Tonglen is a popular practice in Tibetan Buddhist Schools. There are several other practices like, Eight Verses of Mind Training, Generating Bodhichitta with Equalizing self and others. One won't find such methods in general meditation books, as these are practices specific to Mahayana Buddhism.

On a meaningless task under laboratory conditions. Maybe mindfulness just gave them some perspective on how pointless it was.

I don't see how this is relevant to the real workplace where stress can be paralyzing and burnout is a greater threat to productivity and motivation than being chill is.

> Maybe mindfulness just gave them some perspective on how pointless it was.

"One hundred and one Amazon Mechanical Turk workers whose location was set to the United States took part in exchange for $1.35 each."

Oh, better: under uncontrolled conditions where it was impossible to tell whether anyone actually meditated and there's likely to be some self-selection bias.

Fair point, but meaninglessness of one's job can be quite demotivating too if you're paying attention to the bigger picture.

I'm not sure if I was supposed to laugh at that, but I did.

The very meaning of mindfulness is to detach from the self, and to do each and every task no matter how mundane it is as if brand new at each and every moment. Kind of like to see a world in a grain of sand and heaven in a wildflower hold infinity in the palm of your hand And eternity in an hour --so to say. So though the mundaneness of everything is quite real, the absolute newness of every moment is just as apparent. It's as if nothing has changed, yet everything has -jus all at once. At least w/o sounding too new age-y about it.

Which sounds great to CEOs but there’s one problem:

When you use mindfulness while the CEO is talking and realize his or her problems are their own making and why should you kill yourself to make a lie true?

I don't see why this is a problem. However, sometimes you can't escape your situation and sometimes you have to do things you don't like to support yourself and others. This is not incompatible with mindfulness.

No, you don't want to detach from the self. The point of mindfulness is to see that concept of an independent, separate self, separate from everything else is an illusion and we are interconnected. You are still you, but part of a bigger system.

What if it's the other way around: what if the feeling of everything being interconnected is an illusion?

When Cartesius said his famous "Cogito ergo sum" that's pretty much what it meant - you can be sure that your mind exists, but not much else beyond that.

And, if you think about it, why would everything in the world be interconnected in some meaningfull way? For what we know universe is just a big bag of energy and particles interacting with each other in the random way. "It's all connected" is a cry from the human mind desperately trying to make sense out of chaos.

That's the point. It's the mind that separates objects out from the global mess, from the single process that unfolds. It's a good thing in a sense that it allows humans to function in the world and create more humans. Downside is that it leads to lots of unnesessary suffering when things change. And they always do, all the time.

My experience is that concentration directed meditation is more like a tool. You can use concentrative skills to advance towards direction you want in the life. You are in control.

If you do awareness oriented practice long enough, it starts to work on you. You are on the ride 'to the unknown'. Motivations change and unless you make nessesary changes in your life, you lose motivation and have life chrisis. Usual solution is to quit meditation or do so little that you don't change. Many people have romantic notion of transcendence and enlightement, but when meditation starts to really work they realize that's not what they actually want. Change is scary.

>Many people have romantic notion of transcendence and enlightement, but when meditation starts to really work they realize that's not what they actually want. Change is scary.

Interesting. Would you care to share an example of this?

I see it like being aware of impulse timings in you, for example, I now and then feel the waves of both happiness and sadness, when they come and leave and I understand it's temporary, I realize the mood it leaves and that it will end and as I'm focusing on the effect of it on the body I don't quite take so much place on happiness/depression, more like observe and let it be. This state of acceptance is strange for me when it comes to searching for success/praise at work, it is stranger when remembering new/better job/car/app/travel is needed and it's strangest when searching for a significant other.

This sounds familiar. For a long time, I didn’t know how to internally straddle the line between “acceptance” (as you put it) and nihilism. Now, while I feel I have a grip on it internally, I still struggle to communicate with others in a relatable way.

When my opinion is requested, I usually find it most natural to come to the conclusion of “inconclusive”, which people around me find to be evidence of either weak character or lack of trust.

I find it difficult to be outraged about anything for more than a few seconds, after which I’d prefer to either talk about solutions or stop bathing in self-congratulatory angst that has no action justifying it. I also find it very hard to talk negatively about anyone, even those whose actions are abhorrent. Refusing to participate in lambasting a group target usually results in becoming visibly less-accepted within that group.

I don’t really do social media, not out of moral superiority but because I don’t have a large enough network of friends to get value out of it (especially relative to the large perceived cost of giving away heaps of information about myself to untrustworthy megacorps). People usually assume I’m trying to sound better than them when we talk about it, despite my disclaimers that I don’t judge anyone who does use these products.

So, by giving up values that seem unhealthy, and picking up some that seem better, I’m still alienated from the people I wanted to more fully enjoy the presence of in the first place. When I’m by myself, I’m pretty balanced, “riding the waves” as you say. Then the loneliness and hunger for validation set in, and I’m right back to square 1.

I don’t know how to reconcile this.

I resonate with many of the things you, if not completely , at lest in direction i'm heading.

>> Then the loneliness and hunger for validation set in,

I'm thinking about getting a dog. It's suppose to be great for validation and against loneliness, and also, taking care of a dog seems really compatible with the spiritual path - a caring, compassionate relationship - but a silent one.

Not directly mindfulness related, but I've been doing EMDR to try to break some self destructive reactions / anxiety. The first major part of processing that got to the core of my panic reactions left me with a 'gaping hole in my brain' where my panic reactions were... I'm still working on what's refilling that void, but I'm not as weirded out as I was those first couple of days.

Felt like when something triggery came up, I knew how I was going to respond and then I didn't... and haven't always been sure what else was appropriate. Relearning who I want to be is interesting / challenging / confusing.

> Relearning who I want to be is interesting / challenging / confusing.

One thing that adds to the challenge is figuring out how to socialize as your newest self, balancing the new internal constraints with the external ones (some of which you may not have been aware of). What have you learned in that regard?

I've definitely gotten more assertively talkative, not as concerned if I say something out of tune or that falls flat.

I've found a reservoir of resentment/anger that is my next focus... and I've been on the verge of random crying breakdowns here and there.

I've been advised that "fake it until you make it" doesn't just apply to startups, and there are lots of times that I put on the "same me" mask while my head spins inside.

I can see myself making some waves amongst family and friends at some point as I change, but I can't see any big issues, just adjustments.

I'll add that normal people act mostly out of desire to have something or to not have or experience something. After completion of 1st "path" Self is seen to be an illusion, after 2nd path craving and aversion are greatly reduced. Saying that it affects motivation is a bit of understatement, since it completely changes frame of reference.

About people getting unwanted outcome, dissolution of self is known to be unpleasant (aka "Dark Night"), but it's a temporarily unpleasant stage. I've not heard of anyone regretting completing 1-st path after it's done.

As a former mindfulness case study, I'm sad to hear it was not helpful to this study. While the report does cover a number of experiments, the limitation to their research is the use of self-reports. While you can attempt to frame questions in a way to reduce priming, self-reporting is not a good metric because people can begin to respond with what they think you want to hear. Furthermore, the granularity of the timeframes for the experiments seems pretty small. In the case study I was involved in, we were tracked over months/years and showed higher "mindfulness scores" (granted, self-reported, so same limitation). A better approach (though time and cost expensive) would be to perform a longitudinal study on participants and measure their performance overtime. This removes the "answering with what you want to hear" issue while strengthening the study's validity.

As an aside, I like to look towards the Tao of Pooh (or I suppose general Taoism?). The idea is to not let things get you down, but to appreciate the here and now. Mundane activities exist and sometimes you have to do them, but if you can "get over" its mundanity, you can return to enjoying other things.

These are very weak results. High p-values, and no mention of correction for multiple sampling. There is no reason to trust this paper's conclusions.

Mindfulness is (for me) very helpful for inter-personal tasks. Someone might say or write something that might normally provoke a task-devolving-reaction where I enumerate why they're wrong or maybe go with something snide or passive aggressive - which might make me feel better but predictably isn't very constructive. After practicing mindfulness I can usually catch myself and divert energies to more constructive routes.

This is probably one of the few cases where mindfulness truly applies.

That having been said it isn't solving the root problem. You can't fix stupid... you can fix a lack of knowledge, experience and practical understanding - but that has to come from culture not individuals.

makes sense, mindfulness meditation changes the perceived value of rewards. Maybe someone stops ranking social status as high on their list and will not be motivated to do tasks that are only rewarded with social points.

I don't think motivation decreases for tasks that are meaningful to the individual, it can be good if the workplace goals are aligned with those of the individual, or bad if they are disconnected.

Mindfulness helped me single out most of the meaningless BS that I did in my life and work, and so I subconsciously started eliminating a lot of them.

Might make me "less productive" but did make me "more satisfied".

“These effects explain why mindfulness does not alter performance”

Isn’t it some kind of crime against statistics to offer explanations for the null hypothesis?

It looks to me like it worked perfectly. The subjects increased their ability to recognize that they would better do something else meaningful. If my colleagues became less interested in pointless busywork, that would improve my life as well as theirs.

Most engaged yet least attached.

As soon as one attaches themselves to the way things should be, it can be easy to lose sight of the way things are.

But honestly, it takes a very creative and devoted mind to be able to do that constantly for things like coding. You can appreciate the bugs for what they are (problems to solve and validate skill), but that doesn't mean lose awareness of the problems they can cause in the future.

Appreciating a broken bridge in an artsy way is one thing, letting people drive over it because 'death is a natural part of life' is entirely another story.

I'm singularly glad someone did this research. Anecdata: Mindfullness never worked for me, and I suspect even harmed me some. I noticed that I became more nihilist and depressed when I used to meditate. Meditation basically made me start realizing the pointlessness of everything, the little value of emotions, which is great if your goal is to become unemotional and destressed. However, stress and emotions are how humans do great things. It's what motivates us to overcome nihilism, and desire to do something, be someone, etc. I hope more research is done, and we prescribe Mindfullness only contextually and not as a panacea.

Emotional detachment is not the goal of mindfulness practice as I understand it. The point of mindfulness practice is to become more of aware of your body, mind, feelings, and develop insight to things as they really are (see Satipatthana).

Devaluing emotions is exactly the opposite of the point of practice. Instead you want to get in touch with your emotions, deeply. The trick with not going off the rails emotionally is karma. Positive actions (e.g. generosity, patience, truthfulness) produce positive emotions, negative actions (e.g. speaking ill of others, lying, stealing) produce negative emotions. Karma can also help overcome nihilistic thought. Your actions actually do mean something to yourself and others (at least subjectively) and you can see and feel the results in real life.

I agree with you said about context. I think opportunists are extracting these techniques out of their original context and selling it as a panacea to all of your problems. This is wrong and can only lead to harm.

That’s a wonderfully practical and non-mystical definition of karma.

I think this is why like most things in life, meditation is yet another thing that should be done in moderation.

when engaging in this sort of meditation, is it not the goal to not focus on any such thoughts or any thoughts at all and just become an observer of your mental state?.

I cannot see how too much introspection can be a bad thing and lead to unhappiness when the alternative means you are just fooling yourself into being happy.

It will be interesting to see how reproducible this is. Meditation can contribute to clarity of thought. If the task is an experiment or work that helps people and pays or something a child needs may effectively all be different cases.

Right, why don't we all just keep eating Modafinil or whatever new stimulants, drugs or meds are en vogue, in order to be able to keep doing meaningless jobs in the most efficient manner.

Related HN discussion from two days ago, linking to a NYTimes article by the authors of this paper: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=17329396

Could someone with experience in both comment about the difference between mindfulness meditation and progressive muscle relaxation? I suspect there is an overlap in mechanism of action between these two methods, but I could be wrong.

How are people still trying to drive utility out of this

I used to wonder why Buddhist monks seemed to do so little productive work despite all the productivity their meditation was supposed to bring. Why aren't they generating awesome works of science or philosophy or literature or something with all that clear-headedness? This might explain it.

One thing is that monks usually exist inside religious organizations. Religions are highly traditional, do not concern themselves with western science and are slow changing.

The other thing is the question of what do they think is worth doing. Imagine a person who's been enlightened. He/she may have been miserable, depressed and suicidal in the past, but now has reached state of no suffering and is completely happy. Very likely goal of such a person is to reduce unneeded suffering of others. The most straightforward way is to help others reach enlightment.

You're not wrong about science, but I think you're selling Buddhist monks short if you think none of them generate awesome works of philosophy. For example:




you can only better understand yourself through meditation, its not a divine state where the secrets of the universe are revealed to you.

I think he was being sarcastic...

Maybe. Maybe not.

>Why aren't they generating awesome works of science or philosophy or literature or something with all that clear-headedness

Maybe they don’t want to? Maybe their motivation is towards intrinsic goals, while science/literature/etc. are all extrinsic.

Just because they aren’t doing X doesn’t naturally and obviously mean it is because they cannot do X. e.g. I can readily be a manager, and have more of certain (in)tangible things, but choose not to, because that line of work interests me less than other kinds of work. Just as, by the same token, just because somebody wants to do X doesn’t mean they can do it. e.g. I really want to be a talented rockstar with mad guitar skills, but I cannot becuse I am largely tone deaf.

> Maybe they don’t want to? Maybe their motivation is towards intrinsic goals, while science/literature/etc. are all extrinsic

Douglas Adams comes to mind.

“For instance, on the planet Earth, man had always assumed that he was more intelligent than dolphins because he had achieved so much—the wheel, New York, wars and so on—whilst all the dolphins had ever done was muck about in the water having a good time. But conversely, the dolphins had always believed that they were far more intelligent than man—for precisely the same reasons.”

No doubt they are successful pursuing their intrinsic goals. But the disconnect I saw was between monks who don't work and workers meditating to become more productive. Maybe the meditation is actually the cause of their not working and is harmful for productivity. It might lead you to do as little work as possible, even if you do what you do do really well and feel very personally satisfied.

Whose productivity?

The individual’s? If my needs are simple, and easily met by working 2 hours a day, what reason do I have to toil 18 hour days? To enrich someone else? My skills and talents are for me to decide what to do with. What right does someone else have to dictate how much I ought to work?

I'm thinking of the advice you sometimes hear about meditating so that you'll be better at your job. Maybe it makes you better at your life but not at work.

Yes, and it lets you be better at whatever you want to be better at. It also lets you figure out what you really want to be better at, rather than arbitrarily pegging that down to be one's job. And isn’t one’s work really part of one’s life?

All it does, really, is put people in a more focussed, balanced state of mind, and shut down much of the incessant internal monologue. Someone focussed is generally better at their job than someone distracted.

So as one of the comments mentioned about monks not producing works of art or science - if an artist/scientist really did get into meditation, and if they were innately passionate about their art/science, they would get better at it. But it is presumptous to assume that the average monk wants be do art/science.

In medieval Japan, Zen produced so many philosophers, poets, writers and painters that some monasteries where almost seen as a places for training to became an artist.

before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. after enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.

I think this begs the question: how are you defining productivity?

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