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Mindfulness As a Route to Being Present in the HBS Experience

Adam Flick (EC), an organizer of the upcoming BioHacking Conference, shares some of what he’s learned about the benefits of mindfulness as an antidote to anxiety, FOMO and stress about money.

[stag_dropcap font_size=”50px” style=”normal”]I[/stag_dropcap] recently grabbed drinks with future members of the Class of 2017 at HBS’s February Admitted Students Weekend. Aside from the usual questions (do you really like the case method? Should I live off-campus?), I was struck by how genuinely excited everyone was to attend HBS. After assuring them that their excitement was justified, I begun to reflect on my own HBS experience. Yes, on the whole, HBS has been an incredible journey. Like most people, I’ve grown significantly, both professionally and personally, I’ve traveled with classmates all over the world, and I’ve developed strong friendships that I hope to maintain the rest of my life.

But ignoring the macro, once-over-the-world description we give to others, how do we talk to ourselves throughout the HBS experience? And is this internal dialogue congruent with the impression that we give to others?

If I’m honest with myself, my day-to-day enjoyment of business school is all-too-often diluted by a background chorus of thoughts that catalogue unfinished tasks, unfulfilled goals, and unease about the future. Pure, unadulterated enjoyment is elusive, and is often cut with feelings of restlessness or self doubt. “Today’s workout was great, but I could have gone harder.” “I got a one in the class, but I’ve already forgotten half of the material.” “I really enjoyed hanging out with friends on the snow day, but I feel bad that I didn’t spend the time on my startup.”

In one sense, this motivation is great – its what drives us toward bigger and better things.  But this mindset of perpetual preoccupation also creates a dim haze of unhappiness that spoils our ability to enjoy what we have right now. If we’re not careful, “I just need to get through recruiting so I can enjoy myself” turns into “I’ll be happy once I make it through two years of banking”, which becomes “when I make partner I can finally relax” and “I can’t wait to retire”. And so it goes.

Everything we aspire to accomplish – be it to learn a new language, find a partner, or land a job in private equity – is predicated on the idea that, if done, we will finally be able to enjoy our lives in the present. The irony comes from the knowledge that once we achieve these objectives, new goals will surely take their place and the finish line will be moved further down the track.

[stag_dropcap font_size=”50px” style=”normal”]S[/stag_dropcap]o what do we make of all this? While goals provide direction and meaning to our lives, we cannot continually let the pursuit of our goals dictate our ability to be happy right now. Soberly setting goals and taking appropriate action need not require we tie our happiness and well being to their achievement. If we do, the finish line will perpetually move outward, and we’ll surely die before ever reaching it.

We can work to improve the relationship between our internal dialogue and wellbeing on two levels. First, we can direct our thoughts toward the expression of gratitude for our current circumstances (expressing thankfulness for what we have and for all the bad things that have not happened to us). Then, through mindfulness training we can learn to better decouple wellbeing from our internal dialogue altogether.

So how do exactly do you meditate? While a guided meditation is outside the scope of this article, I can point you to several resources that I found helpful in getting my practice off the ground.  Headspace is a great app for iPhone and Android that guides you through a series of ten minute exercises, perfect for periods of free time in between classes or coffee chats. UCLA’s Mindful Awareness Research Center also has several guided meditations aimed at beginners. I highly recommend author Sam Harris’s book Waking Up, which I found incredibly helpful in shaping my understanding of consciousness itself, and how the nature of our thoughts largely dictates our subjective experience of the world. If you prefer to attend mediation sessions with others, HBS hosts mindfulness sessions on-campus Tuesdays and Thursdays from 5:00-6:00pm in the Class of 1959 Chapel. Similar sessions are also held weekly at Harvard Divinity School and at the Harvard Humanist Hub.

My mindfulness practice has been inconsistent, (I’ve still only scratched the surface), but every time I’ve come back to it I achieve a mental clarity that is unavailable without it. I encourage you to try it out yourself, and I’m confident through consistent practice you’ll see a decrease stress and increase mental clarity, satisfaction, and emotional well being.

Adam (OJ) is an organizer for the upcoming HBS Biohacking Conference, which will explore wellness themes such as mindfulness, fitness, and nutrition, in an effort to raise awareness of emerging wellness research to the HBS community. The HBS Biohacking Conference is scheduled for February 24th from 3:30-7:00 pm. Register for free tickets to the conference at



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February 12, 2015
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