Category Archives: Mindfulness

Mindfulness at Work…8 to 5!

iStock_000015423426SmallEmployees who use mindfulness at the workplace have demonstrated lower stress, improved health, enhanced communication, better decision-making capabilities, and increased productivity.   Leaders who incorporate mindfulness into their work lives tend to be more effective in relating to others, motivating employees toward shared goals, building effective teams, and promoting the growth of their employees.  People, like me, see the workplace  as the next great frontier for teaching mindfulness practice to help people enhance their work lives.  There are meetings, conferences, and workshops springing up across the country where discussions transpire about the best way of building mindful organizations.

This all sounds great, right?  But, I recently had two colleagues forward me an article from Huffington Post entitled “Beyond McMindfulness” warning about the possible misuse of mindfulness within corporations and businesses.   The suggestion was that mindfulness could be used to help stressed out employees “work more efficiently and calmly within toxic environments” filled with greed and immorality.  The article does end with the hope that the mindfulness movement will not just be a “corporate fad” but a “genuine force for positive personal and social transformation.”

One of my personality characteristics is “positivity,” so I see the glass as half full most of the time.  Therefore, I believe that mindfulness has such a powerful positive impact on individuals it can’t help but change the environment for the better.  Quite different than the stereotypical images of meditators zoning out with passivity, mindfulness empowers individuals to take beneficial action in their own lives and in the environment they work and live.  Mindfulness helps people respond with greater clarity and wisdom.  It does not make someone a doormat.

But, because I know it is more realistic to see the glass as both half full and half empty, it is important to be on the lookout for the ways the mindfulness can be misused and misunderstood.  It is important to realize the risks, yet imperative to offer this life-saving skill for people who are continuously being asked to “do more with less.”  A lot of us live at least half of our lives at work and it only makes sense to make it more humane and enjoyable.  Mindfulness can help us do both.

Go to my audio/video  tab for recordings you can use to start bringing mindfulness into your workday.

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To Listen and Be Heard – Mindfulness in Communication

Communication should be easy, right?  I say something and you listen.  You say something and I listen.  However, communication in which each person feels heard and acknowledged is actually quite rare.

“Every good
conversation
starts with
good listening.”

In the Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction Program I taught this week, we did an exercise in which one person talks and one person listens for 2-3 minutes. People commented how different this was from their normal conversation.  Many had not ever experienced listening or being listened in this way and decided it would probably really help if they did.  Good communication starts with good listening.

Reflect on your recent communications.  How did they feel?  Did you feel acknowledged, appreciated, and accepted? Do you think the other person did?  If not, then there might be a number of things going on.  Too often we are so busy thinking about how something will impact us, how it relates to our experience, and what we will say when we have a chance, that we don’t really hear the other person.

Another big barrier to communication is we are all VERY BUSY and don’t take the time to really be present for another person.  Today, like most days, I felt very rushed by everything I needed to do for work.  I ran home to meet the Culligan man so he could carry salt downstairs for my water softener.  Instead of being impatient and in my “I’m busy” mode, I decided to be simply present for this other human being who was showing up in my life.  Because I took just a few more seconds to be open, I had the most wonderful interaction.  I found out my Culligan man is a musician on the side and is working on a song for veterans that might be part of a larger project to help veterans.  He found out I was a health psychologist and I gave him tips on how to get running back into his life and perhaps eat a little better.  It didn’t take much longer than if I’d tried to rush him along (maybe a minute or two).  The gift of connection was priceless and impacted how I felt the rest of my day.

Here are some tips for improving your communication skills.

  1. Be present and listen more during the first three or four minutes of any conversation.  This will completely change your relationships with others.
  2. Paraphrase what you heard the other person say so that you’re sure you understood her.  We often only hear our version of what the person said.
  3. In difficult communications, connect with the sensations of your body (feel your feet on the floor and feel your breath) as a way of staying open to what the other person.  Difficult communications often bring up fear in us and staying with the breath and the body can help ground you.
  4. Before giving someone your advice, ask if it is wanted.  We love to help but sometimes people just want to be heard. Generally having a sounding board will help someone tap into to their own internal wisdom about what to do.

“We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.” Epictetus

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Habit Releasers – Mindfulness to Shake Up your World!

Feeling a little frantic lately?  Needing a little peace in your day?  Well, I have just the thing for you. There is a new book out called Mindfulness: An Eight-Week Plan for Finding Peace in a Frantic World.

It is written by Mark Williams, who is a wonderful mindfulness teacher and researcher that I met at a mindfulness conference a number of years ago, and Danny Penman, a writer for UK’s Daily Mail.  Mark has done a lot of work with mindfulness as it relates to depression and co-authored a couple of books on that topic. These are also worth a look if you have any struggles with depression.

His current book appears to be very close to an outline for the mindfulness-based stress reduction program that was developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn and that is taught at the University of Missouri (among thousands of other places in the world).   So, if you can’t get to a class, you could pick this book up and get a lot of the same exercises.  NOTE:  taking an in-person class will help you understand the material better and help keep you more accountable.  Actually doing  the mindfulness practices on a regular basis is the key to finding peace in a frantic world—not just reading about them.

One of the exercises in the book I really like is called a “Habit Releaser.”  Give it a try.  All you have to do is make a deliberate choice to break out of one (or more) of your usual routines.  For instance, notice which chair you normally sit in at home, at a meeting, in a coffee shop, or at work and then sit somewhere different and new.  Or perhaps you could drive a different route to work or to the grocery store.  Walk a different route than you normally do.

There is nothing wrong with having habits but they tend to put us to sleep and on automatic pilot.  Changing up the scenery, even by just sitting in a different chair, can show you something new and give you a new perspective on life.  Be aware of the sights, sounds, smells, and feel of this new way of doing things.  Comment your experience below and tell me what you discovered!  There is a whole world out there you miss most of the time.

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Mindfulness teaches us how to respond in 1/2 second or less

How many times have you done a particular behavior even though you’ve told yourself just as many times that you aren’t going to do it ever again?  Be honest. You don’t have to tell anyone.  But, you do have to live with the consequences of your behavior.  This morning it was me getting mad and throwing up my hands at the lady in the big red SUV behind me at the stoplight.  The second the light turned green she was honking at me and it really caught me off guard.

imagesCATU9PPADid you know that you have one-half of a second between the time you see something, hear something, think something, or read something before you engage in a behavior.  For instance, you have one-half of a second after you see the chocolate cake with chocolate icing in the break room at work to decide “I’m not going to have any because I’m not hungry” or just mindlessly gobble down a piece (or two).  That’s why you might be on the “see food, eat food” diet.  You’re just not present for that one-half of a second when you could choose the behavior based on your real hunger.

This means that you have to be REALLY PRESENT to catch that one-half of a second.  Just think about how many minutes and hours go by that you aren’t really present and the enormity of this proposition becomes clear.  Cheri Huber wrote, “We don’t lack self-discipline, we lack presence.”   I tell this to people in my classes who are working on not eating when they’re stressed, bored, or distracted. It’s not about self-discipline; it’s about being aware of where you are and what you are doing. Continue reading

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Mind the Body at Work

There are so many ways you can bring mindfulness into your workday.  One of Computer Manthem is to be mindful about your body and feed it, move it, stretch it, and breathe in ways that support your energy, your productivity, and your emotional, mental, and physical well-being. 

At a recent two day workshop the facilitators made sure our energy was high so we could stay focused and attentive to the information being shared.  Besides the interactive techniques the facilitators used, they set guidelines at the very beginning that gave us permission to stand or pace instead of sit.  We have been so conditioned to sit that we often feel like we need permission to stand.   

You can stand instead of sit at meetings, while you’re talking on the phone, while you’re talking to your office mate, and even when you’re typing.  You can get a standing work station or be creative and stack a bunch of books on a table and put your laptop on it.  Of course, if you want to get really fancy you can buy a walking workstation.  Granted, this option is a little more pricey, but well worth the money in terms of your health and well-being. 

Research is demonstrating that “sitting is the new smoking” and that sitting 6 hours or more a day has serious health consequences.  So stand instead of sit whenever you get the chance and take breaks throughout the day to walk for 5- 10 minutes or stretch and breathe.  These small changes can bring new energy to your work and lift your mood.

What you feed your body also makes a tremendous difference in your energy level throughout the day.  In my Eat for Life class this week we talked about the difference between “power” foods and “junk” foods.  Power foods are foods that help you feel energized and keep your blood sugar leveled out.  Junk foods are what the name implies.  (It just occurred to me… why would anyone want to eat something called “junk?”).  Anyway, junk foods drain your energy because you have a quick burst and then you’re down for the count.  At the same workshop I talked about earlier, people commented how everyone became brain dead after eating the large cookies set out mid-afternoon.  A snack like nuts, veggies and hummus, cheese with wholegrain crackers or an apple would be a better idea.  Or you could choose to take a quick walk around the block and you might find that urge you had for a cookie disappears.   Since this type of food is not always readily available at the workplace, bring in your own.  Start a “food bowl” instead of a candy bowl.

For more tips for being mindful about your body at work, read the 22 ideas to lift your post-lunch spirits and energy in the workplace!  It only takes a moment to incorporate some of these interesting ideas and change the way you feel. 

 

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Use Mindfulness To Counter Cravings

If you don’t know what “bliss point,” “sensory-specific satiety,” “mouth feel,” “perfect break point,” and “vanishing caloric density”  are then you should probably read the new book entitled “Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us” or at least read an excerpt in the intriguing article by the author, Michael Moss, in this week’s New York Times.


These are all terms widely used in the food industry to describe how food is scientifically constructed  to bring the “greatest eating pleasure” (in other words, the strongest craving).   Mr. Moss’s interviews with food industry insiders tell a story that appalls as much as the food addicts.  Yes, the food industry spends billions of dollars developing food that addicts you, designing psychologically-appealing products, and creating advertising that catches your attention—all in the ongoing campaign to keep you coming back for more.  That “coming back for more” has resulted in the alarming rates of obesity and the associated health problems such as diabetes and hypertension.  Basically, if you are eating processed food you should take note and beware.  This is not “real food” but a “food like substance” (as Michael Pollan would say,) and it is designed to set up cravings in your body. The limbic brain loves sugar, fat, and salt and the food industry knows it.  It isn’t your fault you crave their carefully constructed food.  It’s just the way we are designed. 

In my estimation there are two solutions to this problem.  Continue reading

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“What did you say?” — The Practice of Mindful Listening

iStock_000006304060XSmallHow often have you found yourself in a conversation at lunch or dinner; sitting in a meeting at work; or talking to a friend or partner and realize you have no idea what was just said?  If you are anything like the average person, it happens every day (probably more times than you are willing to admit).  You might even be interested in what’s being said but your mind has carried you off on one of its wanderings–into the past or future, to something that’s bothering you, or to your to-do list.

Our minds are often scattered and unruly, which is why the practice of mindfulness can be so important in meaningful, attentive conversation.  You have to be present in order to listen and take in what is being said.  You also have to be listening without your own agenda and without being busy formulating what you will say next. 

Try this simple Mindful Listening Practice:  Mindfulness—the act of being fully present in each moment with kindness and without judgment—is a wonderful skill to practice when you are in any situation that requires listening.  In any conversation, you can use the person that’s speaking as your “object of mindfulness.”  Pay full attention to what he or she is saying.  When your mind wanders away from what is being said, immediately and without judgment bring yourself back to the words of the person speaking.  Repeat those instructions as many times as necessary.  You will eventually strengthen your mental musculature to stay more focused and aware.  

There are valuable personal rewards for practicing mindful listening.  Being listened to is so much like being loved that most people don’t know the difference.  (For the life of me I can’t find the person’s name that said this. My apologies).  I had a wife of someone whom I had taught mindful listening to years ago come up to me at a local restaurant.  She introduced herself and told me that the mindful listening exercise her husband had learned in my class had saved their marriage.  Try it for yourself and see what happens.  I have a potentially difficult conversation coming up tonight and I have determined to listen to everything the other person wants to say before I say anything.  When you give someone the opportunity to get everything out of their system, they are much more willing to listen to what you have to say.

There are valuable business rewards for practicing mindful listening.  Your colleagues will be more collaborative because everybody’s opinions get heard.  It will take less time to complete your work because you have listened to what needs to be done.  If you are anyone’s boss, listening to your employees will make them feel  appreciated.  When employees feel appreciated, research indicates they are happier and more productive at work.  When I saw clients in individual therapy, I was constantly practicing mindful listening.  I mean, really, there is nothing worse than having your therapist ask you, “what did you say?” 

Try the mindful listening practice for one day and come back and comment about what you discovered.   I would love to hear what you learned. 

The promise of listening:

We do not believe in ourselves until someone reveals that something deep inside us is valuable, worth listening to, worthy of our trust, sacred to our touch.  Once we believe in ourselves we can risk curiosity, wonder, spontaneous delight or any experience that reveals the human spirit.               ~e.e. cummings       

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Search Inside Yourself – A Great Idea and a Great New Book

Wouldn’t you know a Google engineer would write one of the clearest, most straightforward, easy-to-compute books on mindfulness that I’ve read in a long time.  Actually it’s a book on mindfulness and emotional intelligence based on the seven week course being taught at Google called “Search Inside Yourself.”  Mindfulness is like having a search engine for your body, feelings, and thoughts, as well as for the ability to understand and relate to other people.   

Mindfulness, once again, is proposed as the key for harnessing your ability to respond to your life instead of react to it.  In this book , the response you make to your life is one predicated on an increase of your emotional intelligence.  Daniel Goleman, who pioneered work on emotional intelligence, broke it down into five domains:  self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and social skills.   Not hard to see how competencies in these areas would be useful.

Chade-Meng Tan (more informally known as Meng) who wrote Search Inside Yourself and developed the course by the same name had the good fortune of working with and learning from Daniel Goleman (who wrote the book on Emotional Intelligence),  Philippe Goldin (a Stanford University scientist), Norman Fischer (Zen Buddhist priest and poet ), Mirabai Bush (co-founder of the Center for Contemplative Mind in Society), Marc Lesser (CEO and Zen Teacher), and Yvonne Ginsberg (meditation teacher and professional coach ).  That’s a pretty impressive line-up.  And, I have to say, the results are FANTASTIC.


Buy the book and go to the Search Inside Yourself website and listen to Meng and his colleagues as they introduce the seven weeks on video. 

I’d give you a money back guarantee (but I didn’t write the book).  Darn!

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