Tag Archives: Mindfulness

Cluttered Mind? Take a Breath

When we’re stressed, beyond busy and our minds are cluttered, it might seem a bit simplistic to take the good old-fashioned advice of stopping to catch our breath. Can this really take the busy-ness away?

My clients and I have had some interesting conversations recently about this. We discussed how helpful breathing can be especially when combined with gently observing what is going on around us. In light of the growing research into the benefits of integrating mindfulness practices and meditation practices into our daily routine, stepping back to pause and to take a breath has much going for it.

This is not a ‘how to’ email. Instead I simply want to share some of the thoughts and reactions my clients and I have had when we stop to breathe and observe:

  • Even when we are at our busiest, 2-3 minutes of calm breathing helps us to gain clarity and perspective
  • I now observe what’s going on with ‘fascination’, it changes things
  • Just a few moments to step back and observe what’s happening gives me distance
  • It’s fantastic: these techniques can bring some clarity
  • What I like about this technique is that I can still be busy – I love being busy – yet I operate calmly
  • I found it interesting to observe objectively what I was doing when I interrupted an important meeting to answer a phone call
  • When I am objective about what is happening in and around me I am clearer about what to do next
  • Sometimes it might be about slowing down, but sometimes it’s not…I like that I can make conscious choices
  • I feel like I can handle so much more, even if the pace hasn’t changed
  • I regularly come back to this technique at many moments in the day. It’s like a mini-regrouping of my internal resources. I get clarity about what to do next

These are timely thoughts as we (here in the southern hemisphere) head into Spring. Let’s remember to stop often, to take a breath or two, and to regain our focus and perspective.

Listening and Leadership

This month is a topic of great interest to me and relevant to my work. Listening is something I’m always practising and trying to improve, so when I saw “The Executive’s Guide to Good Listening” in February’s McKinsey Quarterly I immediately took a look at it to see what I could learn.

From my interpretation of the McKinsey Quarterly article, I observed that good listening is marked by a range of characteristics and behaviours.

The characteristics include:
– Being open-minded and non-judgmental
– Having a possibility mindset
– Being quiet and bringing quietness to the mind, using silence, relaxing
– Being patient
– Being conscious and building perspective
– Being humble (controlling that pesky ego)

The suggested behaviours include:
– Encourage healthy and honest debate.
– Engage with interest and curiosity.
– Show respect.
– Acknowledge others’ unique skills, abilities, knowledge, and contributions.
– Let go of ego.
– Let go of fear (of not knowing, of not having the best idea).
– Slow down.
– Don’t put down or belittle others’ opinions.
– Question courageously.
– Pay attention: notice when your moods impede the flow of the conversation.
– Focus conversations on a bigger purpose and meaning, not on self-interest.

It struck me that if people practised some of these tips they would also experience greater strength, well-being and resilience…some great unintended by-products. For example, being courageous, patient, respectful, open-minded and non-judgemental enhances our positive emotions, which have an impact on both the listener and the speaker. On the converse, practising one of the best well-being ‘interventions’, mindfulness, improves a person’s ability to listen well. If you’d like to read more about my thoughts on the connections between well-being and listening, see this article, “Listening and Health”.

Reference: McKinsey article “The executive’s guide to better listening” by Bernard T. Ferrari

Stomping on Humanity

1. Stomping on humanity

Let’s start this great quote from a McKinsey article by Bob Sutton, ‘Why good bosses tune in to their people’ (Aug 2010): “Bosses who ignore and stomp on their subordinates’ humanity sometimes generate quick gains. But in the long run, such short-sightedness usually undermines their followers’ creativity, efficiency, and commitment.”

2. Can teams be depressed?

Over the years I’ve sent a few emails about mindfulness and meditation, the earliest being in July 2004 where I quoted: “According to Chin-Ning Chu, in her 1998 book, ‘Work Less, Do More’ both Harvard Business School and the leading European business school INSEAD have concluded from research that the two most effective new business tools for 21st century executives are meditation and intuition.”   (http://www.amandahorne.com.au/pdf/Jul04MediationMedicationMeditation.pdf)

Meditation and mindfulness are clearly topics which are capturing broader and broader attention, not just 21st century executives but everyone. I recently read “The Mindful Way Through Depression” (2007) by Mark Williams, John Teasdale, Zindal Segal and Jon Kabat-Zinn. I became interested in this because I’d heard from many people that the book is one of their recommended reads.  I was curious about this:

“Thus we find ourselves compulsively trying over and over to get to the bottom of what is wrong with us as people, or with the way we live our lives, and fix it. Caught up in this way, how on earth could we possibly contemplate switching our attention away from these pressing and understandable concerns to focus on other topics or approaches, even if doing so might contribute to a lightening of our mood? Sorting things out and forcing a solution will always seem like the most compelling thing to do – figuring out what it is that is not good enough about us, sorting out what we need to do to minimize the havoc that our unhappiness will wreak in our lives if it persists.  But in fact focusing on these issues in this way is using exactly the wrong tools for the job. It simply fuels further unhappiness and keeps us fixated on the very thoughts and memories that are making us unhappy. It is as if a horror story were being enacted in from of us: we hate looking, but, at the same time, we can’t turn away.” (pg 39)

This is written for the individual, yet I couldn’t help but read those words again, this time imagining it’s written about teams of people in organisations, working on day-to-day organisational problems. Can team discussions become too fixated to the point that they are detrimental to the health and well-being of the collective team and its individual participants?

3. Multipliers or Diminishers…. Dream Converters or Dream Killers

At the recent TEDx Canberra event (October 2010), we heard from creative artist and founder of Kulture Break, Francis Owusu, who talked about whether we are dream converters or dream killers.  In Harvard Business Review, May 2010, the article ‘Bringing Out The Best In Your People’ uses different language, but a similar sentiment. Are we a multiplier or a diminisher?

Diminishers drain people, they stifle their intelligence, ideas, energy and capability. Diminishers like to be the smartest person in the room, they hoard resources, create a tense environment, make decisions without collaboration, and micromanage.

Multipliers like to enhance the ‘smarts and capabilities of the people around them’. People feel engaged, energised, inspired, respected and have a desire to stretch themselves. Multipliers use the strengths of their people, create a safe environment where people can flourish, challenge people so they are inspired to stretch, engage in collaborative debate, and give people ownership and responsibility.

4. A reminder for your diaries…..

Put 15, 22 and 29 November 2010 in your diaries, and settle down at 8.30pm to watch a new series on ABC TV: Making Australia Happy.

It’s about the role of mindfulness, physical well-being and positive psychology in enhancing happiness: “In a groundbreaking experiment, the science of positive psychology is put to the test – what does it take to make Australia happy. Eight unhappy people offer themselves up to science – their brains are scanned, their lives examined, their saliva swabbed and their blood tested. Can they improve their happiness and wellbeing in eight weeks? This is not self-help TV. There’s no tree hugging, stargazing or standing in circles singing kumbaya. It’s an opportunity for 8 ordinary Australians to road test the new science of happiness. And to prove that it works.”

This series was created by Heiress Films, the organisation behind the award winning “Life Series” about child development. Some of you might recall the ABC TV series Life at 1, Life at 3.

Little Drops of Quiet

Hi Everyone,

“I was talking with a friend recently who asked me a question. I paused to think for a few moments, and my friend interrupted ‘are you ok? Is something wrong?’.” Told by Jenny Fox Eades, March 2010

Jenny (Note 1), my friend, colleague and fellow traveller in Positive Psychology, has been working in Canberra and Melbourne these past three weeks. She and I had an interesting discussion about pausing, taking time, and using silence to consider what to say or do next.

Jenny is a great supporter of little drops of quiet.

Our chat had particular resonance because I have attended Jenny’s Celebrating Strengths program and experienced first hand how she works with (and more importantly how she role models) pausing, quietness, silence and mindfulness.  Further, I have just returned from a fabulous retreat for executives and leaders: ‘Cultivating Leadership Presence through Mindfulness’ where the facilitators, Saki Santorelli and Janice Marturano (Note 2) helped us to learn the value of pausing and making space.

These ideas, which are not new, have also begun to be reported on in a number of positive psychology articles, books and other literature.  For example,

  1. Tal Ben-Shahar suggests that “We are, generally, too busy, trying to squeeze more and more activities into less and less time. Consequently, we fail to savor, to enjoy. To become a life connoisseur, to enjoy the richness that life has to offer, we need to take our time.”
  2. Karen Reivich and Andrew Shatté offer a range of calming techniques to help build strength, health and resilience
  3. Barbara Fredrickson reports on the benefits of meditation and mindfulness to help build positivity
  4. Todd Kashdan writes about taking time to be open and curious: “The more we automatically and mindlessly categorize thoughts, feelings and other people, the more we suffer. Well-being stumbles when we go on auto-pilot.”
  5. Oberdan Marianetti and Jonathan Passmore argue that “only by slowing down, can one be at once more effective and more satisfied.  In fact, it is the engaging in moments of inner stillness that creates opportunities to step out of this overwhelming flow, regain composure, strength and clarity of thought, to rejoin the flow and follow it harmoniously.”

Decompressing Time

Back to my conversation with Jenny, I asked her talk more about her thoughts on pausing and taking time:

“Of all the strengths, I think it is gratitude that most requires us to pause.  We need to stop and think ‘this is good’.  Gratitude is the first casualty of stress.  If you don’t stop, you don’t have time to feel grateful. I am particularly struck by the work of David Steindl-Rast who wrote Gratefulness, the Heart of Prayer and who is behind the wonderful website www.gratefulness.org.  He suggests that if you pause before and after actions it decompresses time. Interestingly, I find there’s a parallel here with an Alexander Technique concept known as inhibition, that before you take an action, you inhibit, you pause, and then take an action mindfully and consciously.  Alexander Technique helps us to embody pausing.

For parents and teachers, applying this with our children is the most important thing we can do: pausing, thinking before acting or speaking, asking and waiting patiently for them to respond.  Children need more time; we need to create space for them.  Pausing opens up that space and results in authentic communication. It shows respect and shows we know they have something worth saying and that it’s worth waiting for.

We can all find moments throughout the day to create little drops of quiet. It changes the quality of the day and it changes the quality of our relationships”.

Changing the quality of our relationships

Jenny’s final thought reminded me of a pleasing experience at the Cultivating Leadership Presence retreat.  A number of us found that it was in the silence and the moments of pausing that relationships deepened and strengthened.  We learnt we can connect deeply in our silence.

An invitation

How can we find moments to create little drops of quiet in our days? And, perhaps even more importantly, how can we help others to have their little drops of quiet?

~~~~~~~~~~

Note 1:

Jenny Fox Eades is a UK education advisor, works in schools with students and staff and runs training days and master classes in colleges and schools. She trained as a special needs teacher, has qualifications in counselling, group therapy and a Masters in Psychoanalytic Observational Studies. She is a graduate of Ben Dean’s and Martin Seligman’s Authentic Happiness Coaching Program and is a founder member of Positive Workplace International.  Jenny was in Australia to run her Celebrating Strengths Program, a whole school and community coaching program.

Note 2:

Saki F. Santorelli is Executive Director, Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society, Associate Professor of Medicine, University of Massachusetts Medical School.

Janice L. Marturano is Director of Leadership Education, Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society.  She is also Vice President, Public Responsibility and Deputy General Counsel, General Mills, Inc.

Book references

Ben-Shahar, T. (2007). Happier: Learn the secrets to daily joy and lasting fulfillment. New York: McGraw Hill.

Fox Eades, J (2008). Celebrating Strengths: Building Strengths-based Schools. CAPP Press

Santorelli, S. (2000) Heal Thy Self: Lessons on Mindfulness in Medicine. Three Rivers Press

Fredrickson, B. (2009). Positivity: Top-Notch Research Reveals the 3 to 1 Ratio That Will Change Your Life. Three Rivers Press. Now out in paperback.

Kashdan, T. (2009). Curious?: Discover the Missing Ingredient to a Fulfilling Life. New York: William Morrow.

Marianetti, O, & Passmore, J “Mindfulness at Work: Paying Attention to Enhance Well-being and Performance” (2010) in Oxford Handbook of Positive Psychology and Work edited by in Linley, P.A, Harrington, S, & Garcea. Oxford University Press

Reivich, K. & Shatte, A. (2002). The resilience factor: how changing the way you think will change your life for good. New York: Broadway Books.

Steindl-Rast, D & Nouwen, H.J.M. (1984) Gratefulness, The Heart of Prayer: An Approach to Life in Fullness. Paulist Press

Our Mind and Our Strengths

In this last article for 2009, I bring to you a series of odds and ends, mostly about mindfulness and strengths.

Mindfulness

You know how it is, when you turn your attention to something it appears to be everywhere.

I have written before about mindfulness and meditation:

April 2008  – Wellbeing, Meditation and Mindfulness

May 2006 –  Mindfulness

July 2004 –  Meditation, Mediation or Medication?

There are increasing amounts of information and research supporting this very powerful practice.
Here are just some bits of information which I think will interest you.

1. Time affluence and employee well-being:

There are numerous references to mindfulness research on a Positive Psychology discussion list of which I am a member.  One of the articles concerned “Time Affluence”.  The researchers, Tim Kasser and Ken Sheldon, two well-known names in the Positive Psychology world, suggest that time affluence is a topic worthy of consideration by business executives when considering how to improve employee wellbeing. Time affluence is an important predictor of subjective well-being.  This is not simply about the time needed to just ‘chill out’, it’s the time required to invest in meaningful work, to do a job well, and to cultivate meaningful and supportive relationships.  These are essential to our wellbeing. Time affluence enables us to stay in the present (“a psychological characteristic demonstrated by past research to benefit well-being”), to be mindful and to be fully aware of our experiences.  Time poverty affects “physical health, civic engagement and family involvement” and can lead to cognitive overload.

The authors conducted studies and found that time affluence related positively to subjective well-being, job satisfaction and satisfaction with life. They reported that “individuals who experienced more time affluence apparently report higher levels of subjective well-being in part because they experience more mindfulness and greater satisfaction of their psychological needs”.  They also found that “the benefits of time affluence also occur for people who want to be busy”.

“People higher in time affluence reported experiencing more autonomy, competence and feelings of intimacy with others and reported spending more time pursuing activities related to personal growth, connections to others, and physical fitness; such experiences and activities apparently helped to satisfy people’s psychological needs, to the benefit of their personal well-being.”

(Reference: “Time Affluence as a Path Toward Personal Happiness and Ethical Business Practice” by Tim Kasser and Ken Sheldon, published in Journal of Business Ethics, 2009, 84:243-255)

2. Mindful Leadership:

This is the name of a book written by Michael Carroll who was in Australia recently.  The Australian Financial Review’s Boss Magazine attended his mindfulness workshop in September 2009 and wrote about this experience in last week’s Boss Magazine  “Carroll talks of mindful meditation as “another different muscle altogether; one that has grown profoundly flabby in the modern world”. Carroll argues that we should meditate because it can preserve our sanity”.  (Nb – Boss Magazine, free with the Fin Review, is published on the second Friday each month from Feb-Nov, and the first Friday in Dec.)

I attended a workplace well-being conference in Sydney in September 2009 at which Michael Carroll also spoke. He had much wisdom to share, and many reminders of the dangers of speed, busy-ness and the pressure to achieve things fast. “Busy-ness suggests importance and relevance”; we want to get somewhere fast and we want to be someone fast: “in the effort to get somewhere we overlook the need to just be somewhere and to be who we are. Mind training helps to remember and learn how to simply be”.   “The speeding mind is the essence of fear, it’s just a form of panic”.

Carroll mentioned that mindfulness is taught in many professions including law and the military.  The military uses meditation to manage post traumatic stress disorder and “a diplomat in US Defence is combining Martin Seligman’s positive psychology practices and mindfulness”.

Carroll also mentioned that just 2-3 mins of silence and sitting quietly in the classroom radically improves childrens’ attention spans.

3. Jon Kabat-Zinn in Australia:

Another very well-known figure in mindfulness.  Dr Jon Kabat-Zinn & Dr Saki Santorelli visited Sydney in November 2009 and led 7-day Professional Training Retreat. Kabat-Zinn also conducted dialogues with clinicians and health-care professionals at Westmead Hospital, Sydney and delivered a public talk. I know a number of people who attended the retreat or talk, and were very impressed.

For more information and for a recent radio interview, see: http://www.abc.net.au/rn/spiritofthings/stories/2009/2735241.htm

The ABC page includes links for the Center for Mindfulness and for Kabat-Zinn’s homepage.

4. The Dalai Lama and Martin Seligman:

It was a great joy last week to attend the Mind and Its Potential conference in Sydney week and to see the Dalai Lama, Martin Seligman, B. Allan Wallace and Marc Hauser on stage together for almost three hours, conversing about their areas of interest.  The discussion was moderated by Natasha Mitchell from ABC Radio National. No pun intended…it was a definitely a meeting of minds. This was the first time Seligman and the Dalai Lama had met each other.

5. Loving Kindness Meditation and Positive Emotions:

This is not so new.  Barbara Fredrickson, very well-known and highly respected in the positive psychology world, is famous for her research on positive emotions.  Over the recent years she has tested the ancient practice of loving kindness meditation.  She has found that it leads to improved happiness, enhanced positive emotions and enhanced personal resources. (Reference: “Open Hearts Build Lives: Positive Emotions Induced Through Loving-Kindness Meditation, Build Consequential Personal Resources” by Fredrickson, Coffee, Peck, Cohn, Finkel, published in Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 2008, Vol 95)

Strengths and Acceptance

Here are two articles which you might like to read when you have a spare (!) moment.

Holiday Strengths”: http://positivepsychologynews.com/news/amanda-horne/200912035888

“Tis the Season for Acceptance”: http://positivepsychologynews.com/news/denise-quinlan/200912086227

Permission to be an Optimalist

Think about your workplace:

  • Is there a climate of psychological safety in which workers are allowed to learn from mistakes, and there is an acceptance of human fallibility?
  • Is there a suffocating climate of fear of failure?
  • Is there micromanagement to eliminate possibility of mistakes being made?

“The perfectionist manager loses out, as do his employees and the organization: the best people leave, and those who remain fail to learn.” (p140)

The Pursuit of Perfect

Perfectionism at work is just one of the many areas Tal Ben-Shahar addresses in his latest book “The Pursuit of Perfect”.  Whether you’re a perfectionist or not, this book is highly recommended. Tal interweaves his wealth of knowledge of well-researched concepts with compelling personal experiences. The result is a very readable analysis of the dangers of perfectionism and an outline of a healthier alternative that he calls “optimalism.” In Part 2, he applies the ideas to specific areas of life that are dear to his heart: education, parenting, relationships and the workplace. Throughout Tal interjects practical suggestions and advice for how to reduce perfectionist tendencies. In Part 3, he offers ten meditations on specific topics.

The central idea is that being an optimalist, in the state of positive perfection, is adaptive and healthy, while negative perfectionism is a maladaptive and neurotic state. Tal draws a link between healthy optimalism and the goal of Positive Psychology, the scientific study of optimal human functioning.

Continuum between Extreme Perfectionism and Optimalism

At one end of the continuum, extreme perfectionists reject reality, failure (and success) and painful emotions, and are rarely satisfied. At the other end of the continuum are the optimalists. They accept the realities of being human and the inevitable, mixed results that come with purposeful action. They’ve learned to appreciate “good enough.”

There are shades of grey between these extremes on the continuum. People can experience varying degrees of perfectionism and optimalism in different parts of their lives.

Reality for Extreme Perfectionists

  • Perfectionists reject the reality, constraints and experiences of the human condition.
  • They believe it is possible and desirable to be perfect, and constantly strive and expect to get there.
  • They set impossible goals and standards.
  • Unwilling to accept themselves, they are destined never to feel good enough.
  • In effect, they rarely give themselves permission to be human.

Failure/Success for Extreme Perfectionists

  • To the perfectionist, a good life is completely without failure.
  • Hurdles are unwelcome, mistakes are catastrophic, and criticisms are devastating.
  • So focused are they on the destination, they are unable to enjoy the journey.
  • Even though they might succeed, they never feel successful.
  • Since accomplishment is never perfect, they even reject success when it comes.

Emotions of Extreme Perfectionists

  • Because feelings can be so volatile and unpredictable, perfectionists do not permit a range of human emotions. They seek a constant and perfect tone, whether it’s positive or negative. There is no pleasure in accomplishment, and no pain allowed in failure.
  • Because perfectionists want to look good, they fear exposing their mistakes
  • They can be beset by procrastination and paralysis (“if I don’t try, I won’t fail”).
  • With high expectations they are hard on themselves and can be as hard on others.
  • They tend to be fault finders and pessimists.

Reality for Optimalists

  • They set high standards and ambitious goals that are attainable and grounded in reality.
  • Their goals are flexible and adaptable. They are willing to experiment, take risks, seek feedback, and see the benefits in criticism.
  • They are curious with a genuine desire to learn.
  • Optimalists value the journey, expect detours, and seek to learn from (not fear) failure: “learn to fail or fail to learn”.

Emotions of Optimalists

  • They permit a full range of emotions, accepting both the pleasant and unpleasant experiences.
  • Optimalists appreciate and savor success, and can find satisfaction in a less then perfect performance.
  • The “good enough” mindset results in more energy. Coping and learning increases self-confidence, encouraging optimalists to take on more challenges.
  • A rich emotional life of high self-esteem and self acceptance is the reward for being an optimalist.

Psychological health

In a recent email Tal explained to us, “Where we are on the continuum between optimalism and perfectionism is one of the better predictors of mental health. It doesn’t explain everything, but it explains a lot.” On curiosity and intrinsic motivation, Tal offered, “Optimalists tend to be more intrinsically motivated, and curiosity is a form of intrinsic motivation. Perfectionists are usually driven by their need to prove themselves, not by their desire to learn.”

Acceptance and mindfulness

Amongst the many practical ways to become an optimalist, Tal advocates active acceptance and reminds us of the importance of mindfulness:

“Active acceptance is about recognizing things as they are and then choosing the course of action we deem appropriate and worthy of ourselves.” (pp. 51-57)

“Accepting myself, sensitivity and all, is more likely to help me become more resilient. When I accept the emotion – when I accept myself – that’s when I am in the best mindset and heart-set to change.” (pp. 51-57)

“Permission to feel, to experience the experience rather than to ruminate on it; it’s about accepting emotions as they are, being with them rather than trying to understand and ‘fix’ them” (p. 68)

Finding peace

Tal’s practical “Time In” exercises, reflections, and meditations help the reader lessen the grip of perfectionism. However, Tal does not set up unrealistic expectations. No quick fix, no silver bullets. It takes time, hard work and regular practice.

This book reminds us to allow ourselves to have a good enough life and to give ourselves permission to be human. So begins the journey of moving towards optimalism, and to a place of peace, satisfaction, and happiness.

Acknowledgments:

Many thanks to Tom Weirich, colleague, friend and fellow member of Positive Workplace International (PWI). Tom is an Advisor with Wells Fargo Advisors, and helps people thrive and prosper by working at the intersection of money and happiness.

After recently reading and reviewing Tal’s book for our PWI team, Tom and I co-wrote this article for Positive Psychology News Daily (PPND): [Book Review] Permission to be an Optimalist .

A big thank you to Kathryn Britton, PPND Associate Editor, Consultant and Coach.  Kathryn refined and improved the final version of the PPND article.  More about Kathryn >>

Finally, thank you Tal for the great book, and for also conversing with Tom and me over email and answering our questions.

Reference:

Ben-Shahar, T. (2009) The Pursuit of Perfect: How to Stop Chasing Perfection and Start Living a Richer, Happier Life. New York: McGraw Hill.