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Is Your Story-Telling Derailing Your Career? Two Mindful Steps To Get Back On Track

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Is Your Story-Telling Derailing Your Career? Two Mindful Steps To Get Back On Track

Near the end of his life, it has been reported that Mark Twain was asked to look back and offer an assessment. He noted that ‘my life has been one tragedy after another but thankfully, most never happened’. If you stop for a few moments and consider this observation, you might also note the many times you told yourself a story that something terrible was going to happen, but it never did.

We are creative beings and so we can imagine many outcomes or scenarios. Our minds can write full-length feature films and we can become certain that the worst is going to happen. Or we can limit our potential by telling ourselves that we will certainly fail, or not be good enough. Too many careers stall before they need to, solely because of the stories we create in our mind.

I’m not talking about full assessments that look at all possibilities. I’m talking about the much more common assessment that only looks at all the things that might go wrong, or that might make something challenging, often with little or no facts to support those conclusions. These are the thoughts that can keep you from soaring, or reaching your full potential.

Here is a simple approach to cultivating a more skillful approach to moments when your own thoughts may be holding you back:

1. Write down the thought that seems to be holding you back or cultivating anxiousness or fear, and then read it aloud. What do you notice?

2. Now, intentionally choose to hold the thought with some spaciousness and note that ‘this may or may not be true’. There is no need to push the thought aside or try to bury it. Just hold it lightly. In the spaciousness you have created around these thoughts, they begin to loosen their grip. How do you want to meet those words now? What is the skillful choice to live your best life?

This simple practice takes just a few moments but it can be a powerful way to interrupt the thinking that has limited your career and your life.

Did You Put On A Mask Long Before CoVid19?

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Did You Put On A Mask Long Before CoVid19?

In 2020, the word ‘mask’ has taken on some new meanings. It can be divisive, patriotic, germ-fighting, or even a ‘fashion statement’. But long before masks took on today’s meanings, ‘wearing a mask’ meant you were not fully showing up as yourself.

You might wear a mask to hide your true feelings, or what you believe are your weaknesses. You might wear a mask to ‘fit in’ or to ‘get ahead’. Some wear masks to carry on the façade that they always know the answer. The problem is that masks are not real, and what they are hiding does not stay out of sight. Instead, wearing a mask is a kind of self-delusion, it weighs you down, and it hides from you what is often an undiscovered strength or a source of pride.

Let’s look at an example. In a recent mindful leadership workshop, one of my clients shared that he often feels as though ‘I am wearing someone else’s clothes’. When I asked him what part of him does not show up, he said ‘my vulnerability’. And he then proceeded to explain how tiring it was to continue leading in this way. He felt like an impostor.

Vulnerability is a common reason for donning a mask. Rather than seeing your vulnerability as a leadership strength, you see it as something to keep out of sight. What if you change your perspective and look at vulnerability another way? When you, as a leader, show your vulnerability, you invite others into the decision. You make room for others to feel empowered.

You also show your strength by modeling that it is OK to not have all the answers, to be uncertain, or to need help. All of those vulnerabilities are part of being your most authentic self. It allows you to show up fully, to connect to others more deeply and it invites others to grow.

So, rather than putting on another mask today, take a risk and be who you really are!

When You Are Feeling ‘Untethered’, Try This Mindfulness Grounding Practice

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You awaken with a sense of uneasiness, you notice tightness in your neck or a persistent sense of impending trouble. With so much change and uncertainty all around us, you can begin to feel as though you are just going through the motions of living, just floating through life un-tethered, rather than really living it. In these times, it is very important that you find a way to return to a place of feeling grounded. It is from this place that you are most likely to see things clearly and make conscious choices about your work and your personal life. Try this simple practice each morning, or any time when the swirl of life begins to carry you away from your best self:

Step 1: Find a comfortable place to sit. Settle into the chair fully, allowing your body to feel supported.

Step 2: Bring your attention to the soles of your feet. Gently press down and release, noticing the touch-points between your soles and the floor. Without moving your feet, notice any sensations-warmth, coolness, slight pressure from the weight of your legs, etc.

Step 3: Move your attention to scan your entire body, paying special attention to the ways your body is being supported and the touch-points between the chair and your body. Take your time with this scan.

Step 4: Any time that your mind wanders or becomes distracted, redirect your attention to your body sensations. Allow your body sensations to bring you back to this moment, grounded to the present moment. Do you feel more centered? Present?


This simple practice is very powerful because it is based on the fact that you can only notice your body sensations when you are in the present moment. When you intentionally focus on the feelings of being grounded, to the floor and the chair, the practice brings you back to the only place where you can affect change or make conscious choices to live your best life…the present.

Do You Know The 6 Simple Mindfulness Steps To Make Meetings More Useful?

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Another day filled with back to back virtual meetings, no breaks in sight. With all those meetings, your productivity must be through the roof, right? Or are you among the vast majority of professionals who believe that there are too many meetings and very little actually gets accomplished in many of them?

The most common meeting complaints we hear from our clients at the Institute for Mindful Leadership are:

a) no one is listening, they are all on their phones or other apps on their laptops,

b) the same people monopolize the meetings,

c) people often talk over one another which feels disrespectful,

d) too many people are in the meeting because the culture has trust or communication issues, and

e) in an effort to make everyone happy, the decisions sink to the lowest common denominator which is often not the best solution.

If any of those characterizations feel familiar, a few mindful meeting steps can really make a difference. Try them out with the next meeting you lead and see what happens.

Mindful Meeting Steps (these work best for up to 10 people in a one hour meeting but you can modify the steps to fit the specifics of each group once you get used to them):

Send the topic out in advance with a friendly note stating that you invite everyone to come to the meeting with their best thoughts and ideas.
Ask everyone to close their laptops and put away their phones for the duration of the meeting (virtual meetings-put away all electronics not needed for the connection to the meeting)…no glancing at them during the meeting.

Begin the meeting with a minute or two of quiet to let everyone “catch their breath” and bring their attention to this topic.

Use 2 minute monologues-go around the table and give each person 2 minutes, uninterrupted, to share their thoughts-no questions or judgments during the monologues. When one person is done, move on to the next person. When everyone has had a chance to share their monologue, the group can begin to ask questions and discuss.

10 minutes before the end of a meeting, invite everyone to pause and reflect on the following questions: what did I hear?, what questions/thoughts do I still have? Invite brief final comments and questions, if any.

End with a summary of the decisions and/or next steps.
These steps invite all to participate in a way that is respectful and open. It levels the playing field and gives each person the time to speak without worrying about who is going to interrupt. Try it for yourself, what do you notice?

Is Your Mind’s Forecast ‘Hot And Hazy’? Try A Mindfulness Cooler

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Have you noticed the effect of this summer’s ‘weather’ on your mind? We all know that our bodies clearly tell us when the weather outside is too hot or too hazy. We sweat and we move more slowly. And we know what to do about it. We find some shade or air conditioning, and we find something cool to drink. Constant heat and haze are not healthy for our bodies and so we do what we can to mitigate the effects.

But what about the heat and haziness that can occur in our minds? Are we conscious of the times when that is happening, or do those conditions sneak up on us until they show up as impatience or anger? How can we begin to notice the condition of our minds more quickly and more routinely so we are not reaching the boiling point before we notice that something is not right? And what do we do to turn down the heat, and clear away the haze?

Notice the temperature rising

It can help to look at some of the factors that change the weather in our mind from clear and cool to hot and hazy. At the top of the list is a mile long to-do list. There simply is too much to do in too little time. We seem to always be rushing yet the list doesn’t ever get shorter. People are pulling us in many directions and we can find ourselves reacting to the tyranny of the urgent at the expense of what is important. On a deep level, we know this isn’t a skillful way to live, and we become agitated.

In close second is the lack of self-care…not enough sleep, poor eating habits, and no time set aside for strengthening relationships or cultivating our resilience. We tell ourselves there is no choice, this is just the way it is. Or we act from a place of insecurity and fear, saying ‘yes’ to everything and everyone, except ourselves. Again we know that something is wrong and we may begin to notice a sense of resentment or sadness about the way things ‘have to be’.

Of course these are not the only things that make it difficult to have a clear, calm mind. But they are the most common. And, whatever the cause, when our minds overheat they are much less likely to be focused, clear or compassionate.

Some simple mindfulness coolers

Challenge what is: take a look at your calendar for today. As you read through each item, pay attention to any sensations that may arise in your body (tightening in your neck, uncomfortable gut feeling, etc). Your body is sending you a message. Is there something you want to change? Take a small step toward the changes you want each day.

Punch a couple of holes in the autopilot day: choose two places in your day where you will take a few minutes for yourself. It need not be a long time, just long enough to bring your full attention to caring for yourself. It might be a cup of coffee that you actually taste and enjoy to the last drop, or it might be a 5 minute walk around the building breathing in fresh air and letting your body stretch out. Whatever you choose, pay attention to what you are doing and let go of ruminations about the past or plans for the future. For those few minute, just be in your own good company, caring for your mind and body.

Try these practices for a few days and see if you notice yourself meeting life with a little less impatience, anger and frustration, and a little more equanimity and clarity.