Institute Director Janice Marturano, Author at Institute for Mindful Leadership

The Difference Between Fear And Anxiety, And How A 3-Step Mindfulness Practice Can Help

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First, let me start by stating that I am not offering advice to those who are living with mental illness. This post is offered to those of us who occasionally notice that we are feeling anxious or fearful. And those who have noticed that, in these difficult times, ‘occasional’ may actually have become a little more than sporadic.

Let’s begin with the difference between fear and anxiety.

Fear is an emotional state that arises in response to a perceived, immediate threat. The bus is heading right toward you, fear arises and your body goes into reaction mode. A number of hard-wired physiological changes occur when your body is fearful. Your heart beats faster, adrenaline is released and the most reptilian part of your brain takes over your executive functioning of your brain. All of these changes are meant to support your ability to quickly react. In those moments, we don’t want the executive functioning part of our brain to analyze the situation: maybe the bus will stop, am I really in the way?, what will actually happen if it hits me?. No…we want the reactive part of our brain and body to be focused on just one thing…MOVE! The hard-wiring does just what it was meant to do. It helps us survive when faced with a real threat to our physical well-being.

Anxiety, on the other hand, is a response to an anticipated threat to our well-being-and it can be to our physical, mental or emotional well-being. For example, ‘I just know that I am going to do a mediocre job at today’s meeting.’ All of the same physiological effects that occur when we are experiencing fear occur when we are experiencing anxiety. But, the body does not need it to physically react to the immediate threat (avoid the bus) and so all the extra cortisol and hormones, and the hijacking of our executive functioning of our brain takes a toll in the moment. And when the anxiety becomes common or prolonged, it can cause physical and emotional damage.

How Can Mindfulness Help Me Work With Anxiety?

First and foremost, notice when thoughts are arising that may or may not be true. Notice the anxious thoughts. There is no need to push them away, just notice that they ‘may or may not be true’. That is enough.

Second, pay attention to any sensations that arise along with the thoughts. Do you notice your neck muscles tightening, butterflies in your stomach, or a racing heart? If so, use those body sensations to help you understand what is happening. You might say to yourself ‘this is anxiety, this is what anxiety feels like for me’. This noticing and naming brings the executive functioning part of our brains back into the picture which is what we need to be responsive rather than reactive.

Finally, take a few intentional breaths and ask yourself what one small step you need to take right now to meet this moment with self-compassion and clarity. Be kind to yourself and recognize that working to interrupt the anxious thoughts and resulting reactivity in that moment is often the key to seeing a new way to meet the challenges of everyday life.

My Top 2 Reasons Mindful Leadership is Critical to Today’s Leaders

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My Top 2 Reasons Mindful Leadership is Critical to Today’s Leaders

It has been nearly 20 years since I began to explore the intersection between leadership excellence and contemplative practices — first in my own life as a Vice President at a Fortune 200 company, and then with incredible leaders from around the world when I founded, and began to teach with, the Institute for Mindful Leadership.

These leaders came from different cultures, different professions, and different life experiences. They were influencers in small and large organizations, teams, military, healthcare, academia and community groups. They often came from very different backgrounds. Yet, among the best leaders, there were strong common threads — they had bright minds, warm hearts and were drawn to leadership roles because they wanted to make a difference.

They were also often overbooked, overwhelmed, exhausted and spent much of their life on ‘autopilot’ just to get through the day. Can mindful leadership training cure all the challenges of leading in the 21st century? Of course not, but there are many ways it helps leaders meet the challenges and cultivate resilience.

Here are my top two:

“Why can’t I stay focused?” You know the feeling. You want to pay attention to the speaker in the room, but your mind keeps drifting, sometimes for many minutes at a time. When you lose focus, you miss important information so you are not able to contribute your best thinking, and you may even look foolish when you ask a question answered 5 minutes ago while your mind was somewhere else. At other times, this loss of focus shows up when you are reviewing a document. For example, you need to get through a research report, but you get distracted, not by someone else but by your own thoughts pulling you away from the report. And each time you must refocus, you need to take a few steps back and reread, losing productivity. And what about those times when you want to spend quality time connecting with family or friends but your mind keeps drifting to some problem at work, or you just can’t seem to keep your hands off your phone during dinner? What message do you send to those you love when you look at your phone, or don’t listen deeply because your mind is somewhere else?

When you are distracted and unfocused, your day goes by in a blur. Your body is in the room, but your mind is rarely fully attentive to anything you are doing. As you begin to train your mind, you notice more quickly when it becomes distracted and you learn to redirect your attention. Imagine how much more thoughtful your contributions might be if you brought your full attention to a meeting or a conversation or a project. Imagine how much more efficient and effective a meeting might be if everyone was paying attention. And, what message would you send to a friend if you put away the phone and gave them the rare gift of just listening to everything on their mind? How would you feel if someone gave you that gift?

Training your mind to be more focused and clear is critically important and it doesn’t just happen on its own. It takes training. You already know that training your body brings about specific results, the same is true with your mind, training makes a difference to your ability to focus. And staying focused is critically important to leadership excellence.

“Something is missing…the win-win-win” The project is over, the expectations were met, and you are moving on to the next assignment. You take a moment to think about the finished project. Everyone says you did a good job, but you feel as though something is missing…it wasn’t your best work. If you had a little more ‘space,’ you could have brought more of your expertise, creativity, or compassion to the project. Simply rushing through projects just to meet expectations doesn’t fuel inspiration or purpose so it often feels as if something is missing. You want to work in a way that makes you want to get up in the morning. But when your day is triple-booked, where can you find some ‘space’ needed to bring your whole, inspired self to a project or colleague? I have heard this complaint from virtually every person I have worked with…they often liked their position but were frustrated because they rarely felt they brought their best-self to work.

Cultivating this spaciousness in your day is another part of mindful leadership training. As you train and step out of ‘autopilot’ mode, you begin to see the things that are creating clutter. Sometimes those things are in your environment (e.g. culture of too many meetings, redundant assignments) and sometimes those things are within you (e.g. tendency to over-analyze, the inner critic). As you learn to lessen the clutter, you are opening the space needed to be more reflective, and you are more likely to find the ‘win-win-win’ solutions that are ‘good for the organization, good for the employees, and good for the society/community.’ You find the direction for the project that gets the job done but also benefits the employees and/or the community. Or, you take an approach to a challenge that comes from a place of compassion and creativity rather than ‘check the box’. In the process, you also often find what is ‘missing.’

There are many, many more advantages to mindful leadership training. They range from mindful communication and mindful meetings to leading with inspiration and purpose. And they apply to every aspect of your life-whether you are using them to lead your team, your organization or your own life, mindful leadership training allows you to lead, and live, with excellence.

Interested? Contact us to learn how we can bring a custom workshop to your organization. Or explore Finding the Space to Lead: A Practical Guide to Mindful Leadership, an international best-seller that includes guided practices and real-world examples from professionals from every aspect of society-business leaders, teachers, doctors, nurses, military professionals and non-profit leaders.

Why Becoming A Mindful Leader = Leading And Living With Excellence

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Why is becoming a mindful leader so critically important to your ability to lead and live with excellence? Let’s begin to answer that question by returning to the basics. What is a ‘mindful leader’?


A Mindful Leader embodies leadership presence by cultivating focus, clarity, creativity and compassion in the service of others.


If we look more deeply into this definition, we will notice that these four innate abilities-focus, clarity, creativity and compassion- are fundamentals of leadership excellence. And yet, even though these abilities are innate, we often fall short of our potential to embody leadership presence. Why?


For most of us, we fall short because we live in a world that surrounds us with unlimited distractions. These distractions pull us away from the present moment and keep us from listening to our own wisdom. We find ourselves mindlessly rushing from one appointment to the next, reacting to situations rather than responding to them, and often feeling as though we have missed entire days, weeks, even months of our lives. Is it really September already? Wasn’t it just May?

We fall into bed each evening, exhausted from our busy lives and yet feeling as though we don’t attend to what is really important, at work or at home. Whether you lead a global organization, a classroom, a firm, a clinic, a community group, a family, or yourself, training the mind through mindful leadership training will help you find the space to lead and live with excellence.

Let’s return to our definition. A mindful leader is someone who embodies leadership presence by cultivating focus, clarity, creativity and compassion in the service of others. These innate capabilities of the mind — focus, clarity, creativity and compassion — can be trained and strengthened. Just as there are innate capabilities of our body that we can train to become stronger, more flexible and more resilient, we can train the innate capabilities of the mind through mindfulness meditation, Purposeful Pauses© and leadership reflections.

When we do so, we begin to cultivate the ability to pay attention, to see when our own conditioning and filters may be clouding our ability to see what is actually here, to tap into the reservoir of creativity that often gets drowned out by our busyness and to embody the compassion that helps us to fully open our mind and our heart. We discover, or rediscover, our principles and our values. And we move toward developing into ‘more of who we really are.’

As a beginning, spend a few minutes each day this week exploring the question of excellence. What does it mean to you? Have you experienced leadership excellence? What made that leader someone who excelled? To help you with this introduction to leadership reflection, listen to my free reflection on Leadership Excellence from my book, Finding the Space to Lead: A Practical Guide to Mindful Leadership

4 Major Reasons For Burnout And How Mindful Leadership Can Help

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What are your symptoms of burnout? The Sunday night blues? Feeling as if every day is Ground Hog Day? Noticing that you ‘space out’ for periods of time in every meeting and conversation? Realizing that your whole life is your job?


How did you get here? You used to be excited about your work and you used to enjoy the people you worked with? Didn’t you? In my 15 years of working with professionals during my mindful leadership retreats, we often speak about the major reasons for professional burnout. Many participants remark that they are ‘successful’ but they are so exhausted that it feels as though they are missing months, or even years of their lives. On retreat there is the space and support to look closely at where they are, and how they got here.


Here are 4 of the most common culprits and some mindful leadership tips:



  1. Saying ‘yes’ to everything -volunteering to be part of every team or project is a great way to learn and be seen as a helpful colleague but, it can also become such a strong pattern for you that you may not even notice that the ‘to-do’ list is now a mile long. Learning how to take a pause before saying ‘yes’ is a necessary skill. In that pause, ask yourself your reason for agreeing to this new task. Is it aligned with your planned career path? If not, experiment with saying ‘my plate is overflowing right now, I won’t have time to do a great job’.
  2. Believing that taking care of everyone’s needs is the mark of a good leader – understanding your team members is an important part of leadership, as is helping each member develop to their full capacity. But understanding does not equate to solving all their problems. Often the greatest gift we give to someone is letting them find their own way. Taking on the burden of solving everyone’s problems deprives them of a great learning opportunity and drains your resources. Be supportive, not controlling.
  3. Failing to understand when ‘good enough is good enough’-not everything has to be excellent! As we mature into our careers, and our responsibilities continue to increase, we no longer have the luxury of getting everything to the highest level possible. We need to learn to differentiate those items that truly need excellence from those things where ‘good enough is good enough’.
  4. Believing self-care is selfish or, at the very least, a luxury-there are two common threads among the best leaders I have had the privilege of working with for the past 25 years-they are all people with bright minds and warm hearts. They are also people who have everyone else’s needs on their t0-do list before they get to self-care. Taking the time needed to attend to your physical and mental well-being is not a luxury, it is a necessity! It took me many years and a diagnosis of early heart disease before I learned this lesson. We want people to care about others but if they deserve care, why don’t you?

Burnout takes a physical and emotional toll on you as an individual and on those you serve-colleagues, patients, clients, students, and family members. Take some time to review this list and look for one small step you can take to begin to alter what you see in your own life. Each mindful leadership step will begin to pave the way to greater resilience and happiness. What step will you try right now? Are you ready to go further, why not invest in a mindful leadership retreat with other professionals?

How Can A Simple, 2-Step Mindful Gratitude Practice Change My Life?

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Our everyday lives are often sources of difficult, stressful challenges. It is easy to understand why those challenges, and the uncertainty and dangers we hear about each day generate feelings like fear, anxiety, frustration, isolation and sadness. And these are precisely the reasons why starting a daily practice of gratitude can make a big difference in our quality of life, and the peacefulness with which we meet each day.

Gratitude Is Not The Same As Thankfulness

Gratitude is not the same as thankfulness. Gratitude does not come as a response to something you have been given or earned. That is “being thankful.” Gratitude is a much deeper way of living that comes from an awareness of being in the moment. For example, think of the millions of moments and people and circumstances that have come together for you to simply be here, right now, alive in this moment. Stop and consider this for a minute. Look back at this last year and recall a memorable moment. If just one event was slightly different, or one person made a different decision, or one storm had a different trajectory, how would that moment have changed?

And, of course, you can go back even further. What if one ancestor made a different choice, or was received by their new country in a different way? Or what if an illness or injury occurred?

It really is quite an amazing miracle that we are who we are, where we are, and doing what we are. Gratitude is the deep feeling we get when we acknowledge that things are pretty amazing, and in response, we choose to meet our life with an open-heartedness and presence that comes from that recognition. A formal gratitude practice helps us cultivate those qualities and pay attention to the many sources of joy and peacefulness that are all around us, even when the day is chaotic.

The practice steps below are simple and can be done individually or as a family:

  1. Choose a time each day to sit quietly and write down 3 things for which you are grateful. Whatever you notice that day is fine. There is only one rule-you cannot repeat anything. If you notice the beautiful colors of a summer flower, or the delicious crunch of your favorite apple today, you can not use them again. Keep looking. How many days/months can you keep this up? If you are using this practice with your family, create a Family Gratitude Journal and leave it on the table. It may become a treasured keepsake over time!
  2. Pay close attention to your body sensations while you are writing. What are you noticing as you bring your moment to mind? Warmth, lightness, tingling, openness, softening etc.

After you have been practicing gratitude for a few weeks, what do you notice about the way you are meeting your life? Has it affected your choices? Thoughts? How might gratitude change the world?