How The Pope Does Mindfulness

Can a 500-year-old, 5-minute technique help you manage your day (Catholicism not required)?

How The Pope Does Mindfulness

Are tweets, statuses, pins, pokes, and pixels dominating your life? This week, as part of our #unplug series, we’re re-posting some of our favorite stories from the archives, with a special focus on the beauty of a tech break, the power of analog, and how a little quiet can kickstart creativity.



While we can’t quite peer into the papal enclave, we can infer a little bit about Pope Francis’s management style by looking into his spiritual tradition. The new head of the Catholic Church is a Jesuit, a sect that emphasizes education and awareness. Their 16th century founder, Saint Ignatius of Loyola, had a twice-daily mindfulness practice called the examen, which is, as the name suggests, a quick examination of your state of mind.

Chris Lowney, who went from being a Jesuit seminarian to a managing director at JP Morgan, writes about the practice for HBR. It’s simple enough: You just make five minutes in the middle of your day and again at the end for a quick check-in with yourself. Lowney describes the practice in three steps:

  • First, remind yourself why you are grateful as a human being.
  • Second, lift your horizon for a moment. Call to mind some crucial personal objective, or your deepest sense of purpose, or the values you stand for.
  • Third, mentally review the last few hours and extract some insight that might help in the next few hours. If you were agitated, what was going on inside you? If you were distracted and unproductive, why?

The practice has a genius to it, Lowney says, because it counterbalances our humdrum hyperactivity: between emails, texts, and meetings, we rarely find the time to step back. Though it does help when you have company-wide yoga or hourly exercise breaks, the person responsible for your state of mind is you.

For Lowney, not taking a break from all the stimulation has telling consequences:

I’m stressed about a bad meeting an hour ago and end up lashing out at a subordinate who had nothing to do with it; I finish the work day without attacking my number one priority, because I was swept along by lesser day-to-day concerns; I never focus my best thinking in a concentrated fashion on any one issue, because three or four issues are always rambling around my head; or, we slowly drift into an ethical mess of a transaction because I never stopped along the way to ask myself, “Hang on, is this the kind of thing we really should be doing?”

If you recognize any of those exhaustion points in yourself–like this writer does–two daily doses of this practice is like giving acupuncture to your schedule. Be grateful, zoom out, and get your sense of context–it will help you reach your potential.


About the author

Drake Baer was a contributing writer at Fast Company, where he covered work culture. He's the co-author of Everything Connects, a book about how intrapersonal, interpersonal, and organizational psychology shape innovation.