Student Resources

Mindfulness and Entrepreneurship

To say that being a student entrepreneur is stressful would barely touch the tip of the iceberg. Especially in the early days of a startup, entrepreneurs manage multiple jobs and responsibilities, all while existing in a state of near-constant uncertainty. Add a pandemic and a year of remote learning into the mix and the stress can begin to feel overwhelming. Chronic stress isn’t only unhealthy in the long-term (potentially leading to issues like heart disease, high blood pressure, and a lowered immune system), but it can also make efficiently accomplishing tasks more challenging, compromise your ability to make decisions and communicate effectively, and ultimately lead to burnout.

As a difficult school year comes to a close, and in honor of Mental Health Awareness month, we wanted to share a tool that student entrepreneurs can add to their repertoire for managing stress: mindfulness meditation.

Mindfulness Meditation

Mindfulness, as defined by pioneer of modern meditation Professor Jon Kabat-Zinn, is “the awareness that arises from paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgmentally.”

In other words, mindfulness is the state of being awake to whatever is happening to you and around you, without judgement, whether the experience is pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral.

By creating a mindfulness meditation practice, you can begin to hone and strengthen your capacity for mindfulness, which can be applied in all activities throughout your day. 

Mindfulness and Entrepreneurship

How much time do you spend thinking about what’s coming down the line? Maybe you’re thinking about a pitch, a product launch, or a financial goal you’re striving towards. How much time do you spend thinking about what already happened? Maybe you’re wondering if you said the right thing in an important meeting or if you made the right decision to pivot your company. 

Most people spend the majority of their time thinking about future, which they can’t control, or the past, which they can’t change, instead of focusing on the present moment. By noticing thoughts and then returning to the present moment, without judgement, entrepreneurs can create a renewed feeling of agency, an increased sense of clarity, and an improved ability to ignore distractions. The ability to notice thoughts and emotions that arise without giving them power can also decrease an entrepreneurs’ reactivity, helping them keep a cool, calm head in the middle of a high-stress situation. A study published The New England Journal of Entrepreneurship additionally suggests that mindfulness helps improve “entrepreneurial opportunity recognition.” Staying open to and aware of the present moment helps entrepreneurs notice customer’s needs and respond to opportunities as they arise.

Tips to start practicing

While there are many ways to meditate, the following practices from UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center’s Greater Good in Action (GGIA) program are a good place to start.

Breath meditation for concentration (see full UC Berkeley GGIA meditation here)

Find a comfortable position, sitting up, lying down, or standing, where you can be relaxed but alert. Notice the sensation of your feet against the ground and of your body against the chair or cushion. 

Let your attention move to your breath, wherever you feel it most strongly. Do you notice your stomach moving up and down, your chest rising and falling, or air traveling in and out of your nose or mouth? Don’t try to change your breath. Just notice how it feels. 

Your mind will wander, and that’s okay! When you notice your attention moving away, gently return to the physical sensation of breathing. 

If you have trouble following the sensation of breath, a few other options you can try:

– Lie down with a pillow on your stomach and watch the pillow move up and down

– As you inhale, say to yourself “Now I’m breathing in” and as you exhale, say “Now I’m breathing out.”

– Count in your head for however long it takes to breathe in, to pause at the top of your breath, and to breathe out.

Meditation for muscle tension (see full UC Berkeley GGIA here.)

Find a comfortable position, sitting up, lying down, or standing, where you can be relaxed but alert.

Starting with your feet, notice the sensations — what does your foot feel like against the ground or cushion? Can you feel fabric or air? Can you feel sensations like tingling, throbbing, heat, or cold? Let your foot relax and feel heavy.

Slowly work your way up from your feet to your hips, letting your legs relax. Let your attention move into your stomach, noticing the way your breath feels. Continue up your torso, into your neck, shoulders, and down your arms, letting your muscles relax and your limbs feel heavy. Move up to your head, letting your jaw hang loose and all the small muscles around your mouth, your nose, your eyes, and your forehead relax.

You can continue scanning your body from foot up to head and back down again for as long as you’d like, giving all your muscles the opportunity to release and relax.

Walking meditation (see full UC Berkeley GGIA here.)

If you have trouble sitting still, you can meditate as you walk. Choose a safe space where you won’t bump into anything and start by taking a moment to feel your feet planted firmly on the ground. Slowly life one foot up and step forward, noticing the way it feels as it leaves the ground, as it moves through the air, and as it lands again. Shift your weight from one foot to the other, noticing where you can feel the motion. Slowly lift your second foot and let it move through the air for another step. When your mind wanders to thoughts or sounds and objects in your environment, gently guide your attention back to your feet.