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Wisdom at Work

Attending Wisdom 2.0 for my sixth time, I was, as usual, impressed by the caliber of speakers, but this year I was more impressed by the attendees and the way in which they are implementing mindfulness in their work. I met people from all industries from all over. Hearing their stories gave me insight on just how many ways we can practice mindfulness and bring wisdom into work. So, I am sharing the highlights with you.

First, just a quick reminder of the definition of mindfulness from industry veteran Jon Kabat-Zinn: Mindfulness is paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.

Second, what struck me through all the stories is how central communication is to implementing mindfulness. That is not a surprise since I look at life through a communication filter, but it makes sense because while mindfulness allows us to pause and gain insight, it is in relations with others that wisdom comes forth. The fruits of mindfulness are evident in our interactions with others at work. Through people’s stories on bringing wisdom to work, we can see this in action. Now, on to the vignettes.

  • Medical devices marketing manager in New Jersey finds that mindful practice helps with coping with a boss who uses an unkind style of speaking to the team. This boss readily admits the aggressive communication style, but expects the team to cope with it anyway. This particular team member uses mindfulness to keep centered and to be able to respond with kindness despite the aggression.
  • Always facing families who are dealing with trauma, rehab worker from Utah uses mindfulness to recharge compassion on a regular basis. Mindfulness helps with staying fully present to families as they go through very difficult times without getting too burned out from the nature of this intense work.
  • Organizational design specialist in San Francisco uses mindfulness in helping entrepreneurs launch their businesses. Staying aware in the present moment fosters creativity and leads to better solutions.
  • Programmer in Silicon Valley uses mindfulness to wisely choose where to place the valuable resources called our attention. People’s attention often goes to the most prevalent and easy-to-access information fed through an application or through online media, even if it is not the best for them or even what they really want and need. By designing more mindfully, programmers can create technology that is both the path of least resistance and in line with what is good for individuals and society.
  • Human Resource manager for consumer goods company in Ontario teaches mindfulness to employees in order to reduce mental health issues, moderating the cost of disability claims for the organization.
  • Onboarder at technology company in Menlo Park uses mindfulness both as part of formal process for new employees and personally as a way to give more spaciousness for making decisions in a fast-paced environment.
  • Business Development Specialist at a start up in Oakland uses mindfulness as core to the business offering and to create meaningful connections with individuals at organizations that are prospective customers.
  • High-profile sales executive in Colorado used wisdom gained from mindfulness to switch careers to be in better alignment with intentions and strengths, giving up prestige for greater well being.
  • CFO of school district in Vancouver uses mindfulness in dealing with fellow coworkers in the district, particularly those who don’t listen well. Practicing full attention in meetings, leaving technology behind and really listening is a way to stay present and model the desired behavior for others.
  • Leadership Development executive from NY uses mindfulness to listen fully and effectively to clients prior to creating development plans.
  • Educator in Pennsylvania finds that Group Think among colleagues is the greatest detriment to productivity at work. Her take is that people want to belong so badly that in the moment they will agree with others even if they don’t actually agree. She uses mindfulness to stay present and true to integrity and will kindly state differing opinions in group settings. When rebutted mindfulness brings forth self-compassion.

All of these individuals inspired me and I hope they inspire you to take a moment to pause and bring yourself into the present moment and see what wisdom is there for you.

 

 

Resolve to Be Mindful

Happy New Year! We are all starting off 2016 with different resolutions, be that improved productivity, reduced stress, healthier body, or more enjoyment. The research is now overwhelming that core to our wellbeing, and the basis for achieving our resolutions, is mindfulness. Mindfulness is the ability to be present moment-to-moment and simply notice new things.

Ellen Langer and Jon Kabat-Zinn have been studying mindfulness for decades and demonstrated myriads of positive effects. Research shows that mindfulness can alleviate suffering associated with physical, psychosomatic and psychiatric disorders, improve your health, slow aging, and improve relationships with others.

A telling overview comes from the review of 52 pieces of research:

“Both basic and clinical research indicate that cultivating a more mindful way of being is associated with less emotional distress, more positive states of mind, and better quality of life. In addition, mindfulness practice can influence the brain, the autonomic nervous system, stress hormones, the immune system, and health behaviors, including eating, sleeping and substance use, in salutary ways.”

With all the evidence, it is clear that making mindfulness the first resolution for 2016 will allow all the other resolutions to fall into place.

Two more recent pieces of research:

1) Mind wandering makes us unhappy

The Greater Good wrote up research in 2013 that Matt Killingsworth conducted in his doctoral program at Harvard University through an iPhone app called trackyourhappiness.org. The study gathered 650,000 real time reports of 150,000 people on happiness. The research found that when people are paying attention to something other than what they are doing in the moment, they are significantly less happy. Unfortunately, except for during sex, people had wandering minds on average 47% of the time. During sex it was only 10% of the time J.

2) Meditation actually changes the brain

Washington Post in May 2015 wrote about Susan Lazar’s et al research using Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (FMRI) out of Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, which showed that long-term meditators have more brain gray matter. Meditation has positive effects on four regions of the brain, as shown in FMRI:

  1. Posterior cingulate, which is involved in mind wandering, and self relevance
  2. The left hippocampus, which assists in learning, cognition, memory and emotional regulation
  3. The temporo parietal junction (TPJ), which is associated with perspective taking, empathy, and compassion
  4. The Pons, where a lot of regulatory neurotransmitters are produced

Meditation also reduces the size of the amygdala, the fight or flight part of the brain, which is important for anxiety, fear and stress.

With all this positive research on mindfulness, here is a quick reminder of ways we can all practice being more mindful:

1) Meditate On Your Breath – the simple process of paying attention to the breath, which is always there and available, brings our focus to now. In-out-in-out. Practicing this for a few minutes in quiet time every day gives us the skill to use the breath as a grounding element throughout our days, especially when tension rises.

2) Simply Notice New Things – keeping a curious mind helps us remember that we don’t actually know what is going to happen next in life. How fun is that? Everything is always changing and everything looks different from different perspectives. We can just observe what arises and be curious about it without judgment.

3) Pay Attention to Your Body – a quick scan of your belly and your shoulders will tell you plenty about your current state in the moment. Pausing and listening to our bodies makes us mindful of what is happening now. It gives us information about our reactivity and makes us aware of the choices we have in our words and actions.

Make as many New Years resolutions as you like, but make sure the first resolution is to be mindful. May your 2016 be filled moments of noticing something new.