If You Don’t Know How to Set Boundaries, You’ll Lose More Than Just Sleep

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If it was nearly impossible to distinguish work time from personal time before the pandemic, now it truly seems like an unattainable dream. The demands of the new ways we are working, the pulls to care for family and ourselves, and our attempts to stay connected with friends can make the day and night seem like a blur of computer screens and smartphone notifications. Our body and mind begin to feel under siege and, without setting some boundaries, we can feel isolated, exhausted and overwhelmed.

In this complex, rapidly changing world, is it possible to really set some boundaries between work and non-work time? Can we find the courage to put down the demands and distractions so we can recharge and more fully inhabit our life? Before you believe that inner voice reactive answer: ‘there is no way I can change this chaos!’, try this simple experiment in mindful leadership:

1. Transitions between segments in your work schedule

Look for the natural breaks in your scheduled day and create an intentional boundary. Boundaries require intentional, disciplined choices. For example, your 10 am conference ends at 11 am. When you leave that meeting, take a few minutes to stand and stretch at your desk. Take a few deep breaths and exhale with a sigh each time. Invite your mind to let go of the interactions in that meeting and pay attention to how your body feels as you stand up and stretch. These few minutes belong to you. Use them to care for yourself and re-center your mind and body so it is ready for the next segment of your day.

A second example involves making the choice to really nourish yourself during the day. When it is time to have lunch, it is also time to transition away from work. Close the computer, put away your phone and walk mindfully to lunch. Feel your feet on the floor of the hallway and redirect your attention to those steps every time your mind begins to pull you back to work. If you are home with other family members, invite them to join you as you prepare lunch and connect with one another over a meal. If you are at work, invite a colleague to join you.

These short breaks are important ways to help you cultivate resiliency in a hectic schedule. Look for other mindful breaks that support you and make a conscious choice to integrate them into your schedule. For more ideas, see my article on Purposeful Pauses at work:

2. Transitions between tech time and no tech time

Although it may seem strange to even think about it, your smartphone and laptop have off switches. Choose to use them. At some point in your day, at least 1 hour before bed, and ideally more, turn them all off. And keep them out of your bedroom. If you have been relying on them to wake you up in the morning, consider investing in an alarm clock. Having tech right next your head while you are trying to sleep often interferes with deep, restorative sleep because a part of your brain is waiting for the technology to buzz. And a failure to get a good night’s sleep affects your physical and mental health. You are not only feeling tired, lack of high quality sleep affects, among other things, your immune system, memory and creativity.

You take great care to keep the technology recharged. Do the same for yourself by disconnecting from technology for set periods every day. This choice to create a boundary and leave tech behind for a while will allow you to connect to yourself, family, pets or friends. Trying to authentically connect with one eye on a screen is disrespectful and guaranteed to be noticed by others. Think about it, when you are speaking with someone and they keep glancing at their phones, how does it make you feel?

Create a ‘no tech zone’ for your house, and set aside ‘no tech hours’ for your entire family. You may soon find that tech connections are no substitute for human connections.

Bringing Mindfulness To Work In 5 Easy Steps With Purposeful Pauses

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Mindfulness training is about learning to be awake for the moments of your life. This sounds easy, but is it? For most of us, our daily lives are so jam-packed with meetings and constant distractions, that we are more often on auto-pilot than awake. We just put our heads down and plow through the day as best as we can.

 
 

When we begin mindfulness training, we usually learn to practice while sitting quietly. This is an important part of the training but it is not enough. We also need to learn to bring our training right into the midst of our day. And the good news is that you can explore this aspect of the training without adding anything on to your ‘to-do’ list. I call this part of the training Purposeful Pauses and it has been an integral part of the Institute for Mindful Leadership’s training for more than 15 years.

 

Purposeful Pauses invite you to notice what is here to be noticed when you intentionally bring your attention to a moment in your day. For example, you notice that you are drinking a cup of coffee-the warmth in your hand, the aroma, the taste on your tongue, etc. Your full attention is on the experience of drinking that cup of coffee. And, it is also about redirecting your attention when it takes off into the future or the past while you are taking a Purposeful Pause. For example, while you are paying attention to your coffee, you notice that your mind starts to worry about tomorrow’s presentation. In that moment when you realize you are no longer paying attention to the experience of drinking your coffee, you redirect your attention back to the taste of the coffee on your tongue, or the warmth of the cup, etc. A Purposeful Pause only takes a couple of minutes but it breaks the autopilot way of living and helps to train your mind to be focused. Each time you redirect your attention, you are building the ‘muscle’ that keeps you focused and present.

These mini-trainings are a continuation of the attention training you experience when you are practicing meditation on your cushion or in your chair. Purposeful Pauses allow you to turn off the autopilot and find some spaciousness in the day to make conscious choices…when you are awake, you are present for your life. When you need to make important choices, you want your full focus to be on the task at hand.

 

Here are a few other examples to get you started:

  1. Choose to start your day rather than letting the day start you-begin each day be noticing the sensations of the breath for a few breaths before jumping out of bed. What is your intention for the day?
  2. Use transitions wisely-choose to drive to and from work without listening to music or phone messages. Just drive-pay attention to what you see, hear, smell and touch. What do you notice about how you arrive?
  3. Nourish yourself-mindfully eat your lunch without looking at your computer screen or phone. How are you taking care of your body’s needs today?
  4. Just walk between meetings-no emails or texts. If you are telecommuting, use the time between meetings to take a few breaths, stand up and stretch or walk down your hallway. In just a few moments, you can let go of the last meeting and feel more centered and ready for the next meeting.
  5. As you turn off your computer for the day, ask yourself What Went Well? We have a tendency to focus on what didn’t go well so we need to be intentional about bringing our attention to what did go well.

After our workshops and retreats, our clients consistently tell us how bringing Purposeful Pauses into their lives makes an immediate difference in how they show up-for their colleagues and for their families. What other Purposeful Pauses can you find? Look closely, where would a break in your day serve you?

You Can Take 2 Simple Steps To Bring Gratitude Into Your Life

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This has been a difficult, stressful time for most of us – adults and children. It is easy to understand why the uncertainty and dangers we hear about each day generate feelings like fear, anxiety, frustration, isolation and sadness. And these are precisely the times when 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. We begin by understanding the difference between gratitude and 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.

How do I begin a daily gratitude practice?

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 fall leaves or the delicious crunch of a newly-picked apple today, you can not use them again tomorrow. 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? Emotions? How might gratitude change your community, organization or family?

Why Am I Feeling Isolated? A 4-Step Mindfulness Reflection

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Connections feed our well-being. And it seems as though we are connected via technology 24/7 to something…our phones, computers, watches, social media. Why then, do we still feel more isolated than ever? Could the answer have something to do with what human beings really need to feel the kind of connection that is nourishing and meaningful? Or, could it be that many of the most popular connections via technology are draining and upsetting, rather than nourishing and meaningful?

 

Rather than presume to tell you the answer to questions like this, I’d like to offer you a mindfulness reflection that might help you discover what is true for you, and then discover what I call a ‘small step’ to begin to experiment with living differently.

 

A mindfulness reflection on connections:

  1. Find a quiet place to sit comfortably and bring an intention to be open and curious about whatever arises for you during your reflection.
  2. Allow your eyes to gently close and bring your attention to your breath for a few minutes.
  3. When you are ready, bring to mind a person who you feel, or have felt, close to in a positive, nourishing way. Pay attention to thoughts, emotions and body sensations that arise. Perhaps you notice a warmth in your body, or a lightness in the center of your chest. Allow yourself to stay with the sensations for a while. Now bring to mind others to whom you feel, or have felt, a positive connection. Again, allow yourself to notice what arises.
  4. The final step is to open your eyes and, with these feelings present in your mind, heart and body, make two conscious, small steps to bring more of these kinds of connections in your life. Specifically, what is one small step I will take today to lessen the ‘connections’ that are draining (e.g put down all tech when I am eating a meal, limit social media to 15 minutes per day) and one small step I will take today to strengthen the nourishing connections (e.g. make a call rather than send a text, plan a lunch, take a new class). Be courageous! Experiment with small steps-what do you notice? When you are ready, choose to take another step.

One small step changes the dance!! Enjoy!

Is Pausing The Key To Becoming A Mindful Leader?

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There is no shortage of advisors, consultants and books that have a system to improve your leadership. And yet, for most of the professionals we meet at the Institute, the most powerful single skill to acquire continues to be the ability to take a Purposeful Pause.

 

When your mind is incessantly busy, it can trigger a ‘fight or flight’ reaction to everyday moments. And that reactivity shows up in ways that does not support you or those around you. Rather than bringing your best self to these moments, you react with impatience, poor decision-making, anger, forgetfulness, exhaustion or sadness. These reactions are understandable but you can begin to meet the stresses of the day more skillfully when you learn to incorporate Purposeful Pauses into your day.

So, what is a Purposeful Pause? It’s a moment in the day when you notice the internal and external chaos and choose to intentionally pay attention to the present moment. Often, a Purposeful Pause is supported by bringing your attention to a physical sensation like your breath or the feeling of your feet grounded to the floor. Pausing the busyness and the distractions allows you to see more clearly what is happening, and how to respond, rather than react.

Here are a few examples of intentional Purposeful Pauses to get you started:

 

  1. Start your day from a place of clarity. Rather than beginning your day by reacting to the alarm by jumping out of bed and indulging your runaway brain from the moment you awaken, try being intentional about the start of your day. Check in with how your body is feeling as you head to the shower-are you still tired, well-rested, achy? And check in with your mind-are you already rehearsing for a meeting before you even get to the shower? Instead, bring your attention to the physical sensations of awakening and getting ready for the day. Let your mind and body feel connected and grounded. When you are ready, see if you can form an intention for the day. What is truly important for you to attend to today?
  2. Stop at midday to reassess. It is important to stop at midday to reassess and to reconnect with your body and mind. When we are in fight or flight mode, reacting to the mind’s runaway train of thoughts, we are likely to begin to live on autopilot. So, at lunchtime, even if you have only 10 minutes, stop and reassess. Unplug from all technology and sit quietly or go for a short walk. How are you doing with your intention for the day. If needed, make some modifications to reset your course.
  3. Transition from work to home by setting boundaries. Leaders often have a hard time setting boundaries so being very intentional about the transition from work to home can be very helpful in getting them set. Whether you work from home or you commute, make the transition from work to personal time clear and routine. Turn off the computer, stay away from the desk, drive home without listening to voicemails, or whatever makes sense for you. Defining a transition helps you to take the needed break so your body and mind get a chance to relax and reset. These boundaries are at the heart of maintaining your resilience.

Practice with these 3 Purposeful Pauses each day to train the runaway brain to be more focused, clear and compassionate.