There has been an explosion of interest in meditation among the business community over the past several years. What most in the finance industry do not realize, however, is that meditation provides unique benefits that directly address many of the obstacles we all face each day.
More on that in a moment. But first, just who in finance and business pursues the practice?
Who in Investing Meditates?
Several well-known investors are public advocates of their practice of meditation. These include Ray Dalio of Bridgewater Associates, Paul Tudor Jones II of Tudor Investment Corporation, and Michael Novogratz of Fortress Investment Group. Additionally, BlackRock, Deutsche Bank, and Goldman Sachs each have meditation programs in place for their employees. A number of important business schools also encourage meditation among their students, including Georgetown, New York University, Claremont Graduate University, and Oxford.
CFA Institute surveyed its members in 2014 and found that globally 59% wanted CFA Institute to develop a meditation program. The study also found that approximately 16% of CFA Institute members currently meditate. A more detailed follow-up survey among the latter group found that even though one in six meditate, none of them knew others in finance who did so. This means one of your co-workers likely meditates and you just don’t know it.
One of the reasons that meditation carried a stigma for so long is that there are many popular fictions about the practice. By far the greatest of these is that meditation is only for shaven-headed cave dwellers. In truth, the states of consciousness achieved while meditating (as measured by brain waves) are innate to human consciousness. Each of us has experienced these states, but few of us have developed the focused awareness necessary to achieve them at will, despite the benefits to doing so. What this means is that meditation can be practiced in a secular fashion, divorced from any religious trappings. There is no need to go out and shave your head!
Another common misperception is that there is only one way to meditate. In fact, there are hundreds of different meditation styles and practices. Though this can make the subject seem daunting, by focusing on the mental and physical benefits of individual meditation methods, you can reduce the vast majority of styles down to just four varieties: focused awareness, open monitoring, visualization, and compassion.
Lastly, if you have heard about or tried to meditate, you likely believe that it is hard to do. Nothing could be further from the truth. Just like walking is innate to human beings, so are the states of consciousness attained by a meditation practice. But just like walking, it takes time and practice to learn. Because our modern culture is obsessed with the quality of our intelligence, meditation can make many of us feel foolish as it quickly demonstrates that most of us cannot control our thoughts. But gravity also makes those learning to walk feel foolish at first. With practice and a sense of exploration and fun, just like walking, meditation gets easier.
Investment Industry Obstacles
Meditation should interest investment professionals in particular because we:
- Face an enormous amount of stress.
- Have an unceasing quest for alpha.
- Have difficulty overcoming behavioral biases.
- Face ethical dilemmas.
Science demonstrates that meditation is a potent antidote to each of these obstacles. What is more, meditation is a portable activity, and it’s free!
What Science Says
Stress reduction is by far the most widely known benefit of meditation, and it has been exhaustively tested in this context, with several thousand related research papers published in peer-reviewed journals. A recent massive meta-analysis found significant evidence that meditation lessened anxiety, depression, and pain. Stress is implicated in cardiovascular disease, osteoarthritis and osteoporosis, Alzheimer’s disease, stroke, and diabetes — all big killers. Not only are meditators able to reduce their stress, they can alter the makeup of their own DNA.
Increased Mental Functioning
If you believe that alpha generation is doing something that your peers are not, then it requires increasing your creativity. Meditation is scientifically demonstrated to do just that. Additionally, studies have shown that meditators have better memory and awareness and are more decisive.
Ability to Overcome Behavioral Biases
With several Nobel prizes awarded to behavioral economists for their work in identifying persistent human biases, you would think that each of us is improving our investment performance. Sadly, behavioral finance is essentially a diagnosis without a prescription. This is confirmed by a 2014 survey of CFA Institute Financial NewsBrief readers that found that 56% of respondents had failed to successfully implement behavioral finance in their practices. In fact, when asked what could be done to overcome behavioral biases at the 65th CFA Institute Annual Conference in 2012, the grandfather of behavioral economics, Daniel Kahneman, replied, “Very little; I have 40 years of experience with this, and I still commit these errors. Knowing the errors is not the recipe to avoiding them.”
Yet meditation can help practitioners overcome even racism and ageism. Furthermore, several direct tests show that meditation can counteract many of the biases identified by behavioral economics and can improve performance tremendously.
Dan Ariely and other researchers have demonstrated that there are few egregious liars and cheaters in society. Instead, most of us cheat just a little bit. Of course, in the aggregate, this amounts to a far greater problem than that created by the proverbial “bad apple.” Our business frequently presents us with ethical dilemmas that we attempt to address through codes of ethics. Sadly, codes of ethics have been shown to be of limited benefit in preventing the very violations they are designed to protect against. Yet meditators, studies show, tend to behave more ethically — not because they are told they should, but because they want to.
It Is Time to Start!
Given meditation’s many proven benefits for investment professionals and its exceptionally low cost, the question isn’t, “Why aren’t you meditating?” It is, “When will you start?” To that end, CFA Institute has spent the last three years comprehensively researching and developing a program for our members. Look for it in the next several months.
If you would like more information on meditation for investment professionals, join the new CFA Institute Members Meditation Group on Linkedin.
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All posts are the opinion of the author. As such, they should not be construed as investment advice, nor do the opinions expressed necessarily reflect the views of CFA Institute or the author’s employer.
Image credit: ©iStockphoto.com/Kaligraf