The Link Between Mindfulness and Systems Thinking

Nov 11, 2015

Mindfulness is the choice to become aware of something by shifting your focus towards it. I’ve been working on this for the past few months, and it’s amazing how many new details and patterns I’ve discovered about my life that have been in plain sight all along.

Albeit useful, mindfulness has felt somewhat foreign, like something you would learn from a Zen weekend escape in the foothills of Marin. It’s felt like teaching my brain to run a new process, a new way of thinking about the world that focuses on ‘being’ rather than ‘doing’.

Recently, though, I’ve discovered that mindfulness does in fact carry over to the analytical side of the brain, manifesting itself in the common systems advice of “you get what you measure.”

“You get what you measure” is aptly described in Paul Graham’s 13 Sentences essay (see #7):

Merely measuring something has an uncanny tendency to improve it. If you want to make your user numbers go up, put a big piece of paper on your wall and every day plot the number of users. You’ll be delighted when it goes up and disappointed when it goes down. Pretty soon you’ll start noticing what makes the number go up, and you’ll start to do more of that. Corollary: be careful what you measure.

My discovery for today (and the import of this post) is that, while these two thoughts are different ways of thinking, they’re actually saying the same thing, just from opposite hemispheres of the brain. The former is the right-brain, the latter is left-brain.

Put differently, to measure something is to give it a quantitative consciousness, thus achieving mindfulness.