Article Archives - Institute for Mindful Leadership

3 Ways To Jump-Start Your Day With Mindfulness Practices

by | Article

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

by | Article

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

by | Article

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

by | Article

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: Are You A Compassionate Leader?

by | Article

This is Part 2 of the 4 Fundamentals to Transform Your Leadership series. Part 1-First, See Past Your Filters explored the importance of cultivating Clarity. This blog will explore the role of compassion.
Compassion may not be the first leadership characteristic that comes to mind when you think of everyday leadership performance, but when you think of examples of leadership excellence, it may very well be the one that rises to the top. Why is that? What does compassion have to do with great leadership?
Let’s take a step back and define “compassion.” Compassion arises when there is a deep understanding of the challenges being faced by others, and with that deep understanding comes a pull toward an act of kindness.

Embodying compassion in your development of mindful leadership often results in an ability for you to break out of the ordinary and lead in a way that is a win for the organization, a win for employees and a win for the “big picture.” Compassionate leadership is a form of inspirational leadership, and it can show up in many ways. It might arise as an innovative approach that finds a way to meet business objectives and simultaneously address a need in the community. It might arise in the form of a willingness to take a courageous stand to develop new work environments that support the needs of employees while still “getting the job done.” It might arise as an innovative idea that sparks business success and arises from a new and deeper understanding of a cultural or racial difference. There really is no limit on the number of places and times that you can bring compassion to a situation.
But, if you are having some doubts about where you might bring compassion into your leadership, you may want to start with an experiment in self-compassion. Self-compassion is often the most difficult kind of compassion for leaders to embody, but it is the best place to start learning about compassionate leadership.

Let’s begin by removing some of the misunderstandings about compassion. First, compassion is not a ‘soft skill’. In fact, compassion very often requires great courage and strength. Second, self-compassion is not “selfish.” For the best leaders, this misunderstanding emanates from a desire to take care of others. And that is a laudable way of being. We do want leaders who are not self-centered and egotistical. Self-care and self-compassion are not selfish acts, nor are they barriers to leadership excellence. They are the foundations of great leaders. In the process of dropping in on ourselves to observe what challenges are here, and how they might be alleviated, we learn a great deal about humanity in general. And when we have the courage to experiment with offering ourselves an act of kindness, we experience for ourselves the powerful, transformative impact of compassion.

See for yourself: Take a few minutes to sit quietly and check in with your body. Allow yourself to be open and curious about what you are noticing. What sensations are here to be noticed? Tightness in your jaw, headache, overall tiredness, flutters in your stomach, queasiness…what do you feel? Then ask yourself, “What else do I know about this feeling?” There is no need to begin a lengthy investigation, just see what arises as you sit quietly with this question.

Be patient and allow yourself a few minutes to see what arises. Try not to edit what arises, just stay open to it. Now, what is the act of kindness you are pulled toward to be self-compassionate? Some common answers include: “I need to say ‘no’ sometimes,” “I need to go to bed earlier,” “I would like to make food choices that nourish my body,” “I need to learn to pay less attention to the critical voice in my head,” and “I need to make time to connect more with people I care about and disconnect from my phone.”

Whatever arises for you, plan to take one small step toward making a change. There is no need to try to make drastic changes. What is one small step you want to take, one small change? What do you notice? Try again or modify your step and then try again. As with all the mindful leadership fundamentals we are exploring (focus, clarity, creativity and compassion), you will want to be patient with yourself. Self-compassion is new for many of us and it will take some time to make these changes a regular part of your life. But, aren’t you worth it?

Next time we will explore the role of Creativity and the ways that you can cultivate your ability to be more innovative. See you then!Let’s begin by removing some of the misunderstandings about compassion. First, compassion is not a ‘soft skill’. In fact, compassion very often requires great courage and strength. Second, self-compassion is not “selfish.” For the best leaders, this misunderstanding emanates from a desire to take care of others. And that is a laudable way of being. We do want leaders who are not self-centered and egotistical. Self-care and self-compassion are not selfish acts, nor are they barriers to leadership excellence. They are the foundations of great leaders. In the process of dropping in on ourselves to observe what challenges are here, and how they might be alleviated, we learn a great deal about humanity in general. And when we have the courage to experiment with offering ourselves an act of kindness, we experience for ourselves the powerful, transformative impact of compassion.

See for yourself: Take a few minutes to sit quietly and check in with your body. Allow yourself to be open and curious about what you are noticing. What sensations are here to be noticed? Tightness in your jaw, headache, overall tiredness, flutters in your stomach, queasiness…what do you feel? Then ask yourself, “What else do I know about this feeling?” There is no need to begin a lengthy investigation, just see what arises as you sit quietly with this question.

Be patient and allow yourself a few minutes to see what arises. Try not to edit what arises, just stay open to it. Now, what is the act of kindness you are pulled toward to be self-compassionate? Some common answers include: “I need to say ‘no’ sometimes,” “I need to go to bed earlier,” “I would like to make food choices that nourish my body,” “I need to learn to pay less attention to the critical voice in my head,” and “I need to make time to connect more with people I care about and disconnect from my phone.”

Whatever arises for you, plan to take one small step toward making a change. There is no need to try to make drastic changes. What is one small step you want to take, one small change? What do you notice? Try again or modify your step and then try again. As with all the mindful leadership fundamentals we are exploring (focus, clarity, creativity and compassion), you will want to be patient with yourself. Self-compassion is new for many of us and it will take some time to make these changes a regular part of your life. But, aren’t you worth it?

This was part two 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