Working at a startup, or any job, can be extremely stressful. There are a lot of things to worry about, and with our phones by our sides 24/7 and dozens of apps sending ping notifications, trying to focus on just one task at a time can be practically impossible.
Kim Nicol, a Silicon Valley meditation teacher, calls this phenomenon the “infinite scroll” and is working to bring a sense of calm, or mindfulness – coming into stillness and gathering your attention into just one place – into tech houses, startups, and Fortune 500 companies.
A former lawyer and marketing professional, Nicol felt the effects of a stressful job first hand. Originally reluctant to try meditation, she soon found that meditation and mindfulness were becoming a useful tool for her in helping to manage the demands of her job.
“There was this huge lightbulb moment for me, like meditation is something that makes me better, not something that pulls me away from my life. It’s not about detachment; you hear them talk about detachment all the time, so I thought that meant escape, or running away to live in your happy bubble in denial of what’s happening in the world,” Nicol explains.
“I was working in a very large organisation and had a team of people distributed around the country. It was stressful and there were challenges, so I thought, how do I as a manager bring a mindful approach to my team?”
Nicol decided to leave her corporate career to teach meditation, reaching out to the people in her professional network to find potential clients. Having worked in law, her initial outreach was to lawyers and attorneys. Of course, being in the Bay Area, many were connected to people in tech.
Nicol says tech’s embracing of meditation reflects the innate curiosity of the people who work in the field.
“There’s this tremendous desire for achievement and moving very quickly [in tech], but at the same time people really want to learn anything they can to help them be better. I think it’s such a growth mindset place, and people are so curious, so there’s been an increased desire to learn about meditation and mindfulness,” she explains.
Nicol’s work fits into the concept of well-being practices, which are becoming increasingly mainstream at companies around the world as managers see that their employees are working harder than ever – and are more stressed than ever. Though there are often employees who choose not to come to her sessions when she goes into a company, Nicol says some sceptics have left a session pleasantly surprised. However, she acknowledges it’s not for everyone.
“I never want to approach an organisation or individual saying, this is the thing that will solve all of your problems, because that’s a really unrealistic and arrogant attitude to have. My approach is, this is a tool that has helped a lot of people in a lot of different ways, and if you want to learn more about it, I can help you to learn, but if you’re not interested, that’s also totally cool,” Nicol says.
For participants who do find something in her sessions, Nicol says one of the main points she stresses to them is that the key to achieving mindfulness is to practice.
Nicol explains, “Meditation is like lifting weights; it’s a very specific technique, and mindfulness is the strength you get from doing that practice so that you can be mindful in whatever you do. Meditation is something you can do in small bites every day. When you have a 3 or 5 minute practice you can do it every day, and it’s better to do 3 minutes every day rather than half an hour at the end of the week.”