Institute Director Janice Marturano, Author at Institute for Mindful Leadership

3 Ways To Jump-Start Your Day With Mindfulness Practices

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Perpetual busyness, which used to be intermittent enough that we could see contrast between chock-full days and the others, seems like it might be the new norm in the 21st century. We get socked in with activity, heads down, forging through a never-ending to-do list, hoping things will work out. No break in the busyness and each day seems to just run into the next. We feel as though we are walking through a fog, and we rarely feel like we are living our best life. Is there anything we can do? Thankfully, the answer is “yes!” We can learn to take purposeful pauses.

A purposeful pause interrupts the fog that gathers when we’re on autopilot, pushing our way through the day.
Janice Marturano

A purposeful pause is a mini break in the momentum and speed of our mind and our days. purposeful pauses give us the space to reset and re-center, and when we do, we’re more likely to make conscious choices about our work and our activities that are productive, creative and compassionate. They are one part of Mindful Leadership training (meditation and leadership reflection are the other two). And, most importantly, they take hardly any time at all.

A purposeful pause interrupts the fog that gathers when we’re on autopilot, pushing our way through the day. It’s not all that hard to bring about a break in the clouds and when we do, we can gain new perspective on each moment. Try experimenting with these three ideas and see if your days begin to feel a little different.

1. Start your day with a drink
When I first described this purposeful pause to a group, I got some pretty strange looks. I had to clarify that I wasn’t advocating alcohol for breakfast! What I do suggest is that the first purposeful pause of the day be a mindful cup of coffee or tea.

What to do:
• Begin with the intention to notice the experience. Whether you make your own coffee or tea, or buy it, you can start by paying attention to its preparation. Notice what your body senses as you prepare for, and drink, your beverage: the sounds in the room, the aroma of the coffee or tea, the warmth of the cup in your hand, the taste as you take that first sip, and the feelings of warmth as the beverage is swallowed.

• Don’t multitask: no phones, laptops, newspapers, etc. Just meet the moment with your drink in hand, and when your mind takes you away, for example, to review your morning to-do list, redirect your attention back to the experience of drinking your coffee.

•When we begin our day with this purposeful pause, we are intentionally engaging in a mini training of our mind to be present. We use our body’s sensations to keep us grounded in the present. And, rather than letting the coffee get cold while we are distracted by texts or to-do lists, or missing the experience completely so that we wonder if we actually had a cup of coffee, when we finish and turn to the next task at hand, our attention is rested and ready to engage.

2. Use the door
Workday mornings can be hectic. Even if the alarm goes off on time and we’ve had our mindful morning drink, there’s always something: a sick child or one with lost homework, a car that won’t start, an unexpected phone call. Even without family or domestic crises filling our mornings, there’s still no predicting how traffic will be or what mass transit delays we may encounter. Such unexpected life challenges can mean we arrive at our workplace feeling stressed. This is the perfect time to use the door.
What to do:

• As you approach the door, check in with yourself. Bring your mind to where your body is, about to transition into a new situation. Let the door handle, if there is one, be your cue. It’s a natural place to pause for a brief moment before you open the door. This time, when you start to reach for the handle, let it remind you to do a quick check: notice whether you are present for this moment of your life.

• Bring your attention to the sensations in your body: the feel of the door handle, muscles tensing to push the door open, the temperature differences between outside and inside, the sounds in the street or the lobby, the feeling of your breath in your body. If it’s an automatic door, or a revolving door, adapt the exercise by watching for the moment when you trigger the opening mechanism, and pay attention to the way you time your entry as it revolves.

• These few moments of deliberately paying attention to your experience of arriving at work, of deliberately noticing whatever is there for you to notice, can help you feel more centered as you begin your day.

3. Resist becoming a Monday-morning quarterback
A Monday-morning quarterback is someone whose critique depends on hindsight. How often, after a string of meeting-filled days, do we Monday-morning-quarterback ourselves, wondering how time slipped away while we attended to the loudest screamers and never managed to get around to what’s really important? In each play, a good quarterback needs to see the big picture and know the best way to allocate resources, using foresight more than hindsight. For us to be good quarterbacks in our lives, we need to become “every-morning quarterbacks”—we have to take a closer look at what’s happening day by day, and keep the big picture in mind. An every-morning quarterback makes conscious choices about the way each day is met.
What to do:

• Begin with a purposeful pause before you head off to that first appointment or meeting. Take a few moments to look—really look—at your calendar for the day. Is there room in your day to attend to what is important? Have you allotted time for taking care of yourself physically and emotionally? Are you attending some meetings simply out of habit?

• When we spend most of our time putting out fires, we can’t attend to what is important—strategically or personally. It’s depleting and ultimately not sustainable.
So, if you haven’t been making time in your schedule for what’s important to you and to your work, or if you have been mindlessly attending meetings with little or no purpose, experiment with making one small change to your calendar each day. This may take some courageous leadership because in the short term, it is easiest to just go along with the craziness. But if there is no catalyst, nothing transforms. And remember, it need not be a big change, just a small step.

• Be disciplined about this practice until it becomes a habit. And never underestimate the ripple effect of those small changes.
Be gentle and patient with yourself. Most of us have lived lives of such constant distraction that learning how to be more present takes some time. Like fitness for the body, however, the reward for training your mind and opening your heart is the potential to live your best life. Mindfulness practices like the purposeful pause can teach you how to bring some sunshine to those gray busy days.

3 Mindful Steps To Better Decision-Making

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Every day we are asked to make decisions. Some are of little consequence while others can literally change our lives and the lives of others. When those important questions arise, we can find it difficult to choose. We might feel paralyzed by an overload of input from others, or we might feel as though there is no clear “right.” So, are there ways a mindful leadership practice can help? Let’s look at 3 Steps to Better Decision-Making:

Stop And Unplug
In a time when we are constantly tempted to divide our attention, it is important to cultivate your ability to focus your mind on the question to be decided. Good decision-making needs us to quiet our busy mind and body so we can open to all the ways of knowing available to us. Removing the external distractions is a good way to start. Turn off the technology and find a quiet place to focus on the sensations of your breath for a few moments. When your mind becomes distracted, redirect it back to your breath. Feel yourself -mind and body-settling into the moment.

Define The Question
It may not be what you think. One way of defining the question is to begin by calling to mind the issue or situation, and asking a more general question first: “what is called for now?” In other words, step back from the specific question to one that is a little broader or more general. More than a few of the clients I work with have said that this reflection often lets them see that the reason an answer couldn’t be found was because they had the wrong question.

Don’t be in too much of a hurry to get to the precise answer to a narrower question. The smaller answer may be just that…small, rather than creative or breakthrough or compassionate.

Reflect

Once you begin to feel your body and mind settle into the present moment and you have defined the question, it is time for the final step-reflection. This is not analysis, or even thinking. It is approaching the question with open curiosity. Allow there to be some spaciousness around the question so the answer or answers can arise, generated by your inner wisdom. No need to go searching, the answer will come to you. This decision-making reflection is also an opportunity for you to practice patience. Sometimes it may take a few dedicated reflections with your question to discover the answer so don’t try to push to a conclusion in your first reflection. You already have everything you need to make those important decisions and the more you practice with this approach, the more confidence you will gain in your capacity to choose.

4 Mindfulness Fundamentals To Transform Your Leadership: The Incredible Myth Of Multitasking

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Once upon a time, there was a myth of epic proportions let loose among working professionals…the Myth of Multitasking. Its origins were unknown but some have suggested that it arose from the mistaken belief that we humans have superpowers and can do many things at one time. In fact, as more and more distractions entered our world, and we wanted to partake of all of them, we became susceptible to believing this myth to be true, and soon we began to try multitasking for ourselves.

At first, multitasking took the form of doing two things at once. Driving and listening to our voicemails, or eating while reading our emails were two early experiments in multitasking. Embolden by these early efforts, we began to pile more and more into each moment of the day until we believed there was really no limit to the number of apps we can have open at the same time, or the number of inputs we can expect our brain to receive. The Myth of Multitasking was morphing into a new Reality and human beings were morphing into human doings. And so it went, until people began to notice that their life experiences were changing, and most began to feel uneasy with the changes. Here are just a few examples:

1. Meals began to lose their value as times to nourish ourselves and to speak with others. In fact, the multitaskers often reported that they were not sure what they ate for lunch, or even if they ate lunch that day.

2. Distracted driving became a hazard akin to driving while impaired. People were driving, texting, checking social media and drinking their coffee all while speeding down a highway at 70 mph.

3. Meetings became places where everyone had one eye on their phone and as a result, no one was really listening and not much was getting accomplished.

4. Connections between colleagues, friends and family began to amount to no more than a few words in a text. Real conversations without technology as a distraction or limiter was becoming a thing of the past.
Sound familiar? How do you feel about the new reality? Maybe you are OK with these changes, or believe it is simply the way things are. But, before you accept the changes that come from believing the Myth to be true, there is one more change that is perhaps the most worrisome. Multitasking decreases the mind’s ability to stay focused. And focus, the ability to aim and sustain attention, is a critically important attribute for leadership, whether you apply it to leading your own life or to leading an organization of thousands.
The mind can only attend to one thing at a time. When you think you are multitasking, you are really just switching from one thing to another. The effort to multitask conditions the mind to quickly flit back and forth. The mind never fully attends to anything which is why things get missed. And, when there is a desire to sustain attention on a single task or an important conversation, the mind struggles to do so. It often is pulled away from the task at hand in just a few minutes, necessitating a constant need to redirect. Each time it needs to be redirected, there is a loss of efficiency and productivity and human connection. This loss is compounded when the task has any degree of complexity because the mind cannot simply pick up where it left off, it needs to back up a couple of steps and then reengage.

The mind is not, contrary to the thinking behind the Myth, the same as a computer. A computer has multiple processors so can do multiple things at one time. Multitasking is what a computer does with its multiple processors. Human beings have a single processor, a single brain. The ability to multitask is truly just a Myth, and living your life with the belief that you can multitask has real consequences. Fortunately, you can begin to take some steps to recondition your brain to be more focused by lessening your multitasking habit.

See for yourself: Here are some ways to put the Myth into perspective and begin to retrain your mind to be more focused:

1. For this week, choose to mindfully eat your lunch. No computers or phones, just have lunch. When your mind is pulled away to other thoughts or apps, bring it back to the experience of nourishing your body.

2. Set aside specific times when you will check your email or look at your apps. In between those times, they are off limits so you can pay full attention to getting things done. See if you begin to notice that you are more efficient if you don’t allow yourself to be distracted every few moments.

3. Look for other places where you typically multitask. What might you learn if you choose to do one thing at a time, and then move on?
Keep working on this and soon you, too, will abandon the Myth and the life of the multitasker, and begin to bring your full attention to every moment of every day. In the process, you will become more efficient and effective, and you will begin to more fully embody the moments of your life.

This was part four of a four part series. Links to the other blogs can be found below.

Part 1: See Past Your Filters

Part 2: Are You a Compassionate Leader?

Part 3: Training Your Mind’s Ability to be Creative

Part 4: The Incredible Myth of Multitasking

4 Mindfulness Fundamentals To Transform Your Leadership: Training Your Mind’s Ability To Be Creative

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Today, we will explore the ever-elusive Creativity.

As human beings, we have an innate capacity to be creative, to put things together in new and novel ways. And yet, this capacity is often weakened or hard to reach because the mind is over-taxed with internal and external distractions.

You have probably had a situation when you couldn’t see the answer to a problem that required a new approach. You thought about it, did some research, and chatted with colleagues and friends but no answers came. The problem was still unresolved and weighing on your mind as you went to sleep. In the morning, as you were in the shower getting ready for a new day, the idea popped into your head. AHA! There is the perfect answer and it is so simple. And you wonder, “Why didn’t I come up with it earlier?”

Sound familiar? What happened? Here’s a hint: It wasn’t the magic of shower water. In those early minutes in the morning, before your mind becomes overloaded, there is some space. And in that space, your brain has the chance to access its innate ability to be creative.

A constant stream of thinking gets in the way of the creativity and wisdom that lies deep within you. The good news is that you can train your mind to be in a more spacious relationship to those thoughts rather than letting them overwhelm your brain.

See for yourself:

  1. Identify a situation or an issue that could benefit from greater creativity. See if you can formulate an open-ended question that, if answered, might lead to an innovative solution or approach.
  2. Then, set aside some time with no distractions (e.g. turn off your phone and close your laptop), and allow your mind to focus on the question you developed. Pay attention to the stream of thought and let go of thoughts that are distracting or judgmental or critical. This letting go practice is analogous to noticing the thoughts arising and saying ‘not now’ to help them dissolve. See if you begin to notice some spaciousness in your mind.
  3. Repeat your question silently and notice if some possible answers begin to arise. Try not to edit what arises, just let any and all possibilities be known. Is there a creative solution that feels right? If not, try this practice again later in the day or tomorrow. Be patient and consistent.

In some recent work I was doing with a leadership team, we were trying to break through a dry period where the team was not coming up with good answers to a strategic question. The low hanging fruit had been taken and they needed some new ideas. The team had been working in small groups and were reporting out what they had uncovered using a mindful leadership approach when the senior officer stood up and announced that ‘I get what you are saying, we couldn’t find the answer because we weren’t asking the right question.’ Sometimes, creativity isn’t only needed for the breakthrough solution, sometimes you need spaciousness in your mind so you can be sure you have the right question!

Practicing in this way begins to strengthen your ability to access your own creativity and your capacity for innovation. You can try this practice while sitting in a quiet place, or perhaps while taking a walk around your building or in some nearby open spaces. Remember to be patient, your mind may take a little time to get used to this newfound openness.

This was part three of a four part series. Links to the other blogs can be found below.

Part 1: See Past Your Filters

Part 2: Are You a Compassionate Leader?

Part 3: Training Your Mind’s Ability to be Creative

Part 4: The Incredible Myth of Multitasking

4 Mindfulness Fundamentals To Transform Your Leadership: First, See Past Your Filters

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What is the definition of a mindful leader? A mindful leader embodies leadership presence by cultivating focus, clarity, creativity and compassion, in the service of others.

I developed this definition about 15 years ago when I began teaching. The definition is both inspirational and instructive. Inspirational because it will take a lifetime to hone your innate abilities to embody leadership presence. And instructive because it identifies the four fundamentals of excellence ( focus, clarity, creativity and compassion) that are developed and strengthened through the practices of mindful leadership training. During my 30 years in leadership roles, these four attributes were shown again and again to be the bedrock of great leaders. And, they are also the most likely to be weakened or lost in the realities of overwhelmed professionals in today’s workplace. Let’s begin with a closer look at the role of clarity.

You know how it is. You go to a meeting and you have a clear idea of what you want to happen there. So, you are likely to see what you want to see, and hear what you want to hear, even if it is not actually what is being shown or said. We all do this, especially when we are stressed or hurried. And we have all had the experience of seeing another person attend the same meeting that you attended and come away with a completely different interpretation of what was said in the room. Our conditioning and our biases are strong components of our lives and they act as powerful filters. If we want to be strong influencers, and inspiring leaders, we need to begin to learn about those filters. How clearly am I seeing and hearing what is all around me? Can I begin to be intentional about questioning the thoughts and conclusions and judgments that I am carrying around with me?

Our conditioning and our biases are strong components of our lives and they act as powerful filters.

One way to do so is to begin to understand that your thoughts are not “you.” They are simply thoughts. One of my mentors referred to thoughts as “nothing more than secretions of the mind.” I love that expression! The ability to see your thoughts with that kind of spaciousness and lightness allows you to begin to realize that there are times when your thoughts are fallible, biased, exaggerated, etc. And this realization opens the door to new possibilities, innovations and connections. We really can’t have breakthrough leadership without this. We all need to see things clearly and to do that, we often need to challenge the thoughts that arise in our own mind. If you want to experiment with this for yourself, try the following:

See for yourself: Is there a situation that appears to be at an impasse in your life or in your work? Try making a list of the “facts” of the situation and see if you can challenge the veracity of each fact. Is it true? Try asking yourself some questions

Are there places where I have taken a small truth and written a “full length feature film” about it filled with some truths and some unknowns that I am treating as truths?

Am I bringing an unhelpful history into this situation?

Do I need to let go of some ‘conclusions’ and look at it with fresh eyes?

It can be helpful to do this experiment with a trusted friend or colleague. What did you discover?

In my own life, I have found many instances where I was making assumptions and writing stories about things and people. When I stop and look at them with fresh eyes, I often see places to try something differently, or make room to hear something with more openness, often with surprising and positive outcomes. At times, I also was able to see the places where I was giving too much weight to thoughts that were nothing more than the internal critic creating worry and anxiety and self-doubt. Remember, you need not dismiss the thoughts that you notice arising. You are simply learning to notice them with some spaciousness so you are able to have the kind of clarity that supports conscious choices and transformational leadership.

This was part one of a four part series. Links to the other blogs can be found below.

Part 1: See Past Your Filters

Part 2: Are You a Compassionate Leader?

Part 3: Training Your Mind’s Ability to be Creative

Part 4: The Incredible Myth of Multitasking