Q&A with David Gelles author of Mindful Work

Hiker meditating

In today’s world of hyper connectivity, it seems particularly easy to lose site of the present and allow stress to take over. It doesn’t matter your job or where you live, there’s a good chance you’re logging a lot of time on social networks and have probably experienced a little FOMO as well, which is the strange irony of technology. Even though we’re more connected then ever, sometimes it seems we’re actually more disconnected from ourselves than ever.

I started delving into the world of meditation a few years ago and have found it to be an important touchstone in my life, especially during especially stressful times. It helps me maintain some sense of grounding and balance. And I’m not the only one who it’s working for.

A new book by New York Times Reporter David Gelles, “Mindful Work,” explores how business leaders are embracing mindulfness practices. It was once possible to pass off mediation as a kind of crunchy-hippy thing, it’s not anymore. As Gelles’ book shows, the people who are usually obsessed with productivity and profit have found great personal value in it. Like who? Maybe kick off the article with their names to draw guys in?

This is not to say that “Mindful Work” is a how-to-get-rich-quick book. It’s not. It’s a lens with which to view our modern life and a way to understand the tools people are using to live and thrive.

I caught up with Gelles to find out a little more about his book and mindfulness.

David GellesLet’s start off by saying this, meditation is not just for hippies. That’s sort of the big takeaway from your book for me. This is mainstream now. If a stressed-out reporter whose tied to his mobile device can practice mindfulness, it seems like just about anyone can. Was that the message you set about conveying in writing Mindful Work?

Mindfulness is for everyone. It’s not specific to any one culture, tradition, religion or profession. Instead, it’s a universal tool that can help us become less stressed, more focused, happier, healthier, and maybe even more productive. What’s so amazing is that professionals in a whole range of industries — from finance to sports to healthcare — are understanding this, and bringing mindfulness practices into the office. And it makes sense: the office, for so many of us, is the source of a ton of stress.

Without giving away too much of the book, what’s a good example of the benefits of mediation that you found during your research?

At Aetna, a big health insurer in Hartford, Conn., the CEO rolled out a mindfulness practice after it helped him personally overcome a really nasty skiing accident. It wasn’t so much a surprise that employees liked the program — getting the chance to slow down in the middle of a busy work day can be pleasant. But the data was amazing.

After taking the mindfulness course, employees’ self-reported stress went down, their sleep quality improved, and their productivity increased. What’s more, the biometric measures of stress — heart rate variability and cortisol levels (what is this?) — also went down. Finally, Aenta’s CEO was reviewing his books after the first full year of rolling this out to thousands of employees and saw something extraordinary: healthcare costs at the company on a per employee basis were down 7.3 percent. At a company as big of Aetna, that meant a $9 million savings.

You’ve been practicing mediation for years, is there anything you found out during your research about yourself or mediation that surprised you? That you were not expecting? I’m thinking of the part in the book when you get a promotion at the Financial Times and recommit yourself to mindfulness.

On the one hand, practicing meditation is one of the things that has helped keep me grounded, even as I’ve made some pretty stressful career choices. The flip side is that at times, I want to walk away from it all and just live much more simply. What I saw when reporting the book (reporting the book? Do you mean wrting the book?) is that there’s a really enormous middle ground, where people are able to incorporate mindfulness and meditation into just about any profession. The stories of the people who are really doing this are what inspired me to keep at it myself. I’m not perfect by any long shot, but if folks at Goldman Sachs, Google and General Mills are giving it a shot, I can too.

Mindful workOne of my favorite lines in the book is “Stress isn’t something imposed on us. It’s something we impose on ourselves.” I think this is brilliant in today’s world where it’s really easy to take a passive approach to accepting the “stress of modern life”. Can you expand on that a little bit?

What’s going to happen is going to happen. There’s only so much we can control. What we can control, however, is how we respond. This is the whole game, in some way. Mindfulness training helps us be more present minded, more capable of choosing a deliberate and considered reply instead of shooting from the hip. A great way to think of it is the difference between reactions and responses. So often, we just react out of habit. With mindfulness, we can move from reaction to response, taking a moment to consider the appropriate course of action before charging ahead.

Related: Work and Relaz with this high-tech Gravity Balans chair

Did you see this Bill Murray story: 7 steps to living the Bill Murray Life?  My favorite part is when he says, “Someone told me some secrets early on about living. You have to remind yourself that you can do the very best you can when you’re very, very relaxed. No matter what it is, no matter what your job is, the more relaxed you are, the better you are.” That to me seems really relevant to mindulfness. What do you think?

There is so much wisdom in comedy. That said, I’d posit that mindfulness is something very specific — paying attention in the present moment, on purpose, in a particular way, and nonjudgmentally. It’s not just being relaxed, and it’s not a passive activity. Mindfulness is actually a very active process that requires us to notice things in real time, without getting carried away by them. That said, Bill Murray seems to embody a lot of noble virtues, so I don’t doubt that he’s tapped into some higher order stream of consciousness.

Mindful Work also has a bit of “how to” in it, which I really appreciate. What’s your advice for someone who is intrigued by mediation but might be a little hesitant to try it?

There are tons of great and easy ways to get started. Headspace is an awesome app featuring my buddy Andy, a former monk, juggler and surf-loving Brit living in L.A. And if you’re up for it, courses like Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction are on offer in just about every city these days. However you get started, I do encourage people to seek out instructors who know what they’re talking about, rather than just forging ahead on their own. Most importantly, be kind to yourself and others. That’s always a good place to start.

Food & Drink

Kona Brewing Celebrates 25 Years of Local Brewing in Hawaii

It's time to say "Mahalo" for 25 years of craft beer goodness at Kona Brewing.

10 Best History Books You Will Ever Read

We're featuring a three-part history of WWII as one book because an article about 10 books sounds much more neat and tidy. But you know what wasn't all that neat and tidy? Human history.

What Kind of Motorcycle Should I Get? A Comprehensive Guide to Motorcycle Types

Been thinking about getting into motorcycling? One of the first questions you'll need to answer is what kind of motorcycle is right for you.

20 Things Every Man Should Own

Stuff seen as classically manly — cigars, fast cars — may be enjoyable, they are hardly necessities. What a man really needs are items that will improve his quality of life.

Tranquil House Is a Brutalist Home with a Distinctly Japanese Twist

This all-concrete home will surprise you with its fresh style and calm atmosphere.

Is Swedish Death Cleaning the Next Marie Kondo Method?

No, it’s not a heavy metal band, and initially the concept may even seem a little depressing, but if you’re looking to live a minimalist life, you need to give Death Cleaning a go.

Escape From It All with a Solitudinous Stay in The Range at Dovecote

A secluded spot, rugged style, and never-ending views of the rolling hills of New South Wales.

The Best Pillows for Back Sleepers With Neck Pain

Sleeping on your back leaves you prone to both snoring and neck pain. To combat those issues, you need a pillow that provides the proper support and offers relief for your pressure points.

Rustic Meets Modern in this Innovative Barn House

Unexpected features abound, including a classic car garage, in this unique Wyoming home.

Casper Drops a Discount on Its Signature Memory Foam Mattresses

This weekend Casper is running a daylight savings sale. Our clocks spring forward and what better way to celebrate than with a new mattress.

Pond House Shows Us Just How Beautiful Imperfection Can Be

From weathered steel to rough concrete to raw wood, Pond House fully embraces the wabi-sabi philosophy, showing off all of its beautiful flaws.

Wave House Carries the Log Cabin into the 21st Century

If George Jetson took his family on a vacation, it would definitely include a stay Wave House
Fashion & Style

Adulting 101: How to Wash Your Clothes the Right Way

Doing your own laundry is an important rite in the transition from childhood to adulthood, but few of us are properly guided through this transition.

This Frank Lloyd Wright House Actually Sold for a (Relatively) Affordable Price

And by “affordable” we mean the lucky buyer snagged the home for under $1 million.