Mindful Work Month

Resilient Well-Being: Mindfulness Is a Superpower

"The proposition here is not that you should be rendered by mindfulness into some lifeless non-judgemental blob. The proposition is that you should learn how to respond wisely to things that happen to you rather than just reacting blindly.
And that, my friends, is a superpower."

According to Rick Hanson in his new book, Resilient, we can develop inner mental resources for resilient well-being. Rick recently gave this talk at Google covering the key concepts from the book. He has identified twelve pillars of resilient well-being that can be mindfully developed. The three fundamental pillars are:

  • Self-Caring: Be on your own side and have self-compassion

  • Mindfulness: Steady your mind and learn about the brain

  • Learning: Tap the hidden power of positive experiences

As our mindful work month is coming to an end, I invite you to explore one of these free offerings from Rick Hanson to assist in your growth of an unshakable core of calm, strength, and happiness:

  • You can sign up here for the “Just One Thing” free newsletter that offers a simple practice each week that will bring you more joy, more fulfilling relationships, and more peace of mind.

  • You can sign up here for access to the Resilience Summit materials. Free online content from Rick Hanson that includes interviews with Elissa Epel, Kristin Neff, Nadine Burke Harris, Peter Levine, and Shawn Achor.

This first #MindfulWorkMonth organized by the Mindful Workplace Alliance will be ending soon *and* it is just the beginning of our efforts to fuel a game-changing movement of mindfulness in the workplace that promotes human flourishing. Going forward, we hope you will join us on LinkedIn and/or Twitter as first followers in the mindful workplace movement.

Van Riper
Advisory Board Member - Mindful Workplace Alliance

Stress, Self-Care and Resilience

We all know that work can be stressful at times. But did you know that stress has a big impact on your health and well-being? In fact, it’s estimated that 70% of all doctor visits are stress-related.  Unfortunately our lives are probably not going to get less stressful anytime soon. So learning how to manage stress and cultivate resilience are critical skills.

It’s also important to remember that getting stressed is a natural and normal part of life. Stress is simply the body’s natural response to situations that we see as challenging. It is designed to get us ready for action, and to protect us from harm. In fact, moderate stress can help us to focus and to overcome setbacks. The problem arises when we stay stressed for days or weeks, or even longer. Our bodies begin to wear down from being on constant alert.

Mindfulness practice can help us to manage stressful situations more skillfully, and to get out of ‘fight or flight’ mode and back to ‘rest and digest’. By bringing our attention back into the present moment, mindfulness helps us to break the mental cycle of rehashing the past and rehearsing the future. It helps us to focus on what we can do right here and now, to meet our challenges with a clear mind and an open heart.

Here are three mindfulness tips with you that can help you to manage stress more skillfully.

Notice your stress reactions
When I get stressed, my foot starts to tap. I stop listening, and start getting impatient. When stress persists, I start waking up at night, and I have a hard time getting back to sleep. These are signs that stress is taking over, and that I need to do something about it. What are your signs? Learning to recognize when you’re stressed is a critical skill. It’s not hard to develop, yet many people would rather deny or hide their stress than face it.  

Build a resilience toolkit - and use it
Think about what you’ve done in the past that has helped to de-stress you or bring you back into balance. Then identify three tools that you will commit to use.

  • One that you can do daily, such as exercising or meditating

  • One that you can do during the work day, like going for a walk or doing a 5 minute mindfulness practice

  • One that you can do in the moment, like taking a deep breath or turning away from your monitor and looking at the ceiling

Practice self-care
Many people take good care of themselves when things are going well - but when times get challenging, self-care takes a back seat to ‘getting things done’. We stop going to the gym, we eat whatever is convenient, and we can’t spare even ten minutes to meditate. This is backward. In order to thrive, it is at these times that we need to take better care of ourselves - to eat better, be more physically active, and get to bed earlier.

When things get challenging, we need to bring the same level of focus and energy to our own well-being that we bring to our work and our other responsibilities. This means that you may need to cancel social plans, or work projects, or even family time to make it happen. It’s that important.

I do this by dedicating a half-day or more on the weekend, just to self-care. I call it a ‘spa day’. I spend the time meditating, exercising, reading, and catching up on sleep. It’s amazing what a difference it makes.

Stress is a natural and normal part of life. By learning to notice our own stress reactions, building a resilience toolkit, and being laser-focused on our own well-being when we need to be, we will have the tools be prepared to manage the ebbs and flows of stress with skills and ease.

Andy Lee
Chief Mindfulness Officer - Aetna

The Art & Science of Focusing in a Distracted World

Have you ever had a day where you came in to work, said hi to a few folks, answered some emails, taken a call or two, chatted with a colleague on a coffee run, knocked off a few tasks, and suddenly realized that not only has the day passed you by, you have no idea where your time went?  

This is paying attention on accident, and it’s how many of us move through our days, but it doesn’t have to be like this.  We can use mindfulness meditation to build the skills we need to pay attention on purpose.  Here are two ways mindfulness builds our focus.

Strengthening Our Internal Capacity to Focus

Mindfulness is about being fully present in the moment. Meditation is the exercise that builds our capacity to be mindful throughout the day.  When we meditate, we focus the mind on something, often the sensations of the breath. Every time it the attention wanders – and it will wander! – we bring it back.  Because mind wandering is the default state of a normal human brain, what we’re really doing when we meditate is cycling through these three states:

  1. Paying attention for some period of time, however brief.

  2. Noticing that the mind has wandered.

  3. Returning the mind to the meditation.

With practice, we will begin to spend less time in steps 2 and 3 and more time in step 1.  Just like the physical strength we gain at the gym, the mental strength we gain in meditation will be available to us in our daily lives. Harvard psychologist Ellen Langer explains, “Meditation is a tool that sets you up for post-meditative mindfulness.”

Responding Wisely to Distractions

Now that you’ve taken first steps in training your attention, you may become highly aware of anything that distracts you.  Learning to respond to these distractions in helpful ways is a valuable mindfulness practice that we can adopt.

When faced with distractions in the workplace, wise responses could include using headphones to cancel out noise, minimizing open tabs on our computer, or blocking out time in our calendars for strategic and creative thinking. Sometimes the wisest response is to eat a good meal, go for a walk, or even to take a nap, knowing that the mind is a muscle that needs rest to function at its best.

This week, take an audit of the distractions in your workplace.  Which ones are non-negotiable? Are there some that you have influence over?  How might you change your normal responses to distractions with the goal of improving focus?  How can you champion the cause of wisely responding to distractions?

Sarah Kai Stowers
Senior Scientific Researcher & Mindfulness Lead - Genentech

“Working” Mindfulness into your Workday

Research has proven that mindfulness provides a plethora of benefits.

But how beneficial are 30 minutes of meditating if you spend the next 8 hours a ball of stress between back to back meetings, running on black coffee and one email away from a meltdown.

The fact is: we aren’t present. We aren’t even aware that we aren’t present.

We multitask in meetings (over 70% of people bring other work to meetings), we wolf down food at our desks, we can’t remember how got to work let alone the conversation we just had and we are distracted (47% of the day our mind wanders).

Here are a few ways you can stay in the present moment to do your best during a busy day:

  1. Monotask– focus on one activity at a time. Science and research have proven that we don’t actually multitask, we switch between tasks and we aren’t very efficient at it.

  2. Mindful Meetings- During your next meeting, put technology away and outline the goal and agenda. Next focus on staying present and focused on the conversation. When you get distracted, acknowledge it and come back to the discussion.

  3. Mealtimes- Try eating away from your desk, only eat when hungry and deliberately sense the taste and texture. Mindful eating means you only eat when you are hungry and stop eating when you start to feel full.

  4. Notifications- turn off all notifications on email, cell phone, chats etc. Schedule specific time to check and reply to messages.

Join us this week, while we focus on how to integrate mindfulness into your workday.

Alexis Pokorny
Founder and Chief Mindfulness Officer - Open Deltas


Two Truths and a Lie (Myth) About Mindfulness

In a team environment, have you ever played the game “Two Truths and a Lie” to get to know each other better?  Let’s try that with Mindfulness, though I won’t make you guess which one is the lie (myth). What is Mindfulness?  Simply put, it’s being aware of the present moment in a non-judgmental way.

While we’re at it, we’re sponsoring a Mindful Workplace Month (the artist formerly known as the 30-Day Mindfulness Challenge) to help support individuals that want to build a healthy mind-fitness practice.  You can follow along by coming back to this page, where we’ll have weekly updates during October or get daily updates from @MindfulWorkMove on Twitter.

Truth:  The science backs up the benefits

There are now over 6000 scientific studies about how mindfulness affects us, like reducing stress, increasing our ability to focus, and increasing our emotional intelligence.  Here’s a simple way to think about what’s happening to our bodies and why meditation or breathing consciously helps…

We have two nervous systems that control our bodies.  The sympathetic system, often called the “fight or flight response” has been finely tuned over time to keep us alive during danger.  During our caveman days if we heard a stick snap in the dark, we’d better assume it’s a saber tooth tiger. We instantly get a burst of energy - our pulse increases, and the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol flood our body. This is great if we need to run or fight.  It’s not so great when our bodies are constantly responding to perceived threats in our everyday life. Traffic. Email. Meetings. Stress at work or home often trigger this same response from our bodies.

Over time, repeated activation of the stress response takes a toll on the body. Research suggests that chronic stress contributes to high blood pressure, promotes the formation of artery-clogging deposits, and causes brain changes that may contribute to anxiety, depression, and addiction. More preliminary research suggests that chronic stress may also contribute to obesity, both through direct mechanisms (causing people to eat more) or indirectly (decreasing sleep and exercise).

The parasympathetic system, often called “rest and digest”, acts as a counter.  The two systems are binary, meaning only one is activated at a time.  In the forest after the stick snaps and we realize it’s our cousin, not a tiger, it takes our bodies a long time to calm down. The opposite physical experience takes place.  Our bodies, and our minds, start to relax.

We naturally activate the parasympathetic system when we sleep, take a leisurely walk around the neighborhood, or engage in a hobby that is pleasing and relaxing to us.  And…those things are often not available to us when we’re at work. We can, however, take a few deep breaths and learn to actively calm the body, which helps us calm the mind, getting back into a state where we can be at our best.

Truth:  At work we’re talking about mindfulness in a secular way

I sometimes get the question about mindfulness and its origins with eastern religion.  At work we’re not talking about religion, though we’re respectful about everyone’s personal path and journey.  We’re breathing, we’re spending some time looking inward, taking a short break from the outer world so that when we enter it fully again we are more and better prepared to be healthy and successful.  Think of it like the gym and the exercise equipment there. We work out, so our bodies are well prepared for the rest of our lives. When we meditate, it’s like a gym for our minds.

For what it’s worth, I’ve found that nearly every spiritual tradition has a practice of meditation.  They may call it something else, but the practice of going within is as old as time. What’s new is that we’re finding a way to have a dialogue about it in the workplace that is neutral and accepting of all belief systems.  We’re keeping it secular and inclusive.

Myth: To be successful, I need to “remove all thoughts from my mind”

One time, after a meditation session, I asked a newer participant what his experience was like.  He said, “It didn’t work.” “Oh” I said, curious and a bit surprised “Tell me about it.” “Well, I wasn’t able to completely clear my mind of all thoughts.  I still found my mind to be very active.” He looked a bit frustrated and concerned. “OK” I said, “And how do you feel now compared to when we started?” He said “Oh, I feel great.  I feel so relaxed. I haven’t felt this relaxed in years!” We all laughed together.

Yep.

It worked.

We sometimes have funny ideas about what success looks like.  I like to keep things simple. For me, if I feel better after practice than I did before I started…it worked!  Also, it's totally normal if there are times that you don't feel better or more relaxed. Having a busy mind and practicing bringing your attention back to your breath is actually a good mind fitness workout, like resistance strength training at the gym. Just practicing this "bring back muscle"  is a successful meditation. You are never failing at trying to still your mind, which is basically impossible. It's called practice for a good reason, and you can't really do it wrong.

Here’s a deep secret.  Very advanced. Do you want to know the type of meditation or practice that is the most powerful?

It’s the one you’ll actually do.

In other words, try different things.  Find what works for you. Customize it to fit your lifestyle and belief system.  Do it. Make the practice fit you, not the other way around.

Have a great day.

Scott Shute
Head of Mindfulness and Compassion Programs - LinkedIn


A Mindful Workplace Starts With You!

This website is the result of an ongoing collaboration among leaders of mindfulness programs from a growing number of companies. Our vision is to fuel a game-changing movement of mindfulness in the workplace that promotes human flourishing. Our mission is to create mindful workplace cultures by developing and connecting leaders of mindfulness programs in the workplace to share best practices and build community.

To that end, we have joined together in a Mindful Workplace Alliance and organized a Mindful Work Month for October of 2018. There is a mindful work theme for each week in October. Check back here on this blog for weekly posts starting on Sunday, September 30th, and on each Sunday after that in October. You can also follow @MindfulWorkMove on Twitter for daily tweets associated with the theme for the week. Finally, we invite you to share on your social networks using the #MindfulWorkMonth hashtag about your experiences bringing more mindfulness into your own workplace.

Starting a movement is not easy. Let's watch a movement happen, start to finish, in under 3 minutes, and dissect some lessons:

It was the first follower that transformed a lone nut into a leader. There is no movement without the first follower. We're told we all need to be leaders, but that would be really ineffective. The best way to make a movement, if you really care, is to courageously follow and show others how to follow. When you find a lone nut doing something great, have the guts to be the first person to stand up and join in.

Join us for Mindful Work Month!

Van Riper
Advisory Board Member - Mindful Workplace Alliance