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The 2 Truths We Refuse To Believe: A Mindfulness Perspective Of Today’s Pandemic

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As human beings, we believe we should aspire to be independent and in control. These qualities, we are told from a young age, will ensure a successful and happy life. So, when we find ourselves in today’s pandemic world, where our regular lifestyle is being interrupted in fundamental ways, we feel out of control. And, whether we ever realized it before or not, our global interdependence and connectedness is on full display when we realize that our very existence may depend on the choices being made by others. As much as we want to be in control and independent, it is not possible.

The world is different now…or is it? Is it only now that things are outside of your control? Were you truly an independent professional before the pandemic? Or were those beliefs ‘just thoughts’ which may or may not be true at any one moment in time?

Our ability to see clearly what is actually here is a skill we strengthen through our mindful leadership practices. It is very easy to see what we want to see, what we hope to see or what was here to be seen last month. During this pandemic, we saw those in leadership positions struggle with this skill as they found the projections from the scientists to be so far outside the norm that they just couldn’t or wouldn’t believe it. We also saw citizens who refused to believe that anything could happen to them, or that they could be carriers. They didn’t see clearly what was right in front of them perhaps because it would be inconvenient to do so, or perhaps they were afraid of what it would mean.

We also notice the uneasiness we feel as we begin to make the dramatic changes necessary to respond skillfully to what we now clearly see. It takes great courage to see with clarity and act accordingly. Especially when what we see is that we have no control over the impetus for all the changes we need to make to our life.

The good news is that a recognition that we are not in control, and we are interdependent can be both freeing and comforting.

Let’s take a look at the illusion of control. If you take a moment and honestly reflect on what you really control, you might find that the list is virtually non-existent. And, when you believe you control things, and you hold tightly to that belief, you create a great deal of suffering, for yourself and for others. Instead, why not focus on being prepared for whatever arises? You still set a general direction, but you stay flexible enough to allow you to see what is here, and meet it with clarity, flexibility and compassion.

As for the reality of interdependence, not independence, it is just a reminder that there are no real boundaries or walls. We collectively inhabit our communities and our world. And, as the saying goes, there is ‘strength in numbers’. In the midst of the current viral threat in Italy, the people flung open their windows and sang together. They leave open their windows so the people who live alone hear the noises of others and don’t feel so isolated. In Spain, the residents used social media to choose a time when they would all go to their windows and applaud the efforts of the healthcare workers. This is the power of connectedness. The pandemic virus is a big threat whose spread is outside of any individual’s control. We can each do our part to help, to be prepared and flexible. And we need our collective strength, and our collective compassion, to beat it.

Do You Feel Trapped At Work? 3 Mindfulness Steps Can Move You Forward

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Do You Feel Trapped At Work? 3 Mindfulness Steps Can Move You Forward

One of the most common complaints I hear from workshop participants is “I feel trapped.” And, the often accompanying question, “How did I get here?” This sentiment does not seem tied to organization level or compensation. I have heard these words come from those who are struggling financially or dealing with some difficult work dynamics. But I have also heard them from those who are highly compensated and have what looks like a dream job. Trapped is trapped.

Do you sometimes feel this way? What do you do when these thoughts and feelings arise? It may be tempting to try to push them away, put your head down and keep moving. Or, as one of my favorite students once shared, “I told myself to ‘suck it up, buttercup!’”

We spend an enormous amount of our precious life at work, about 90,000 hours, so trying to push this away and move on may not be the best solution. And, besides, it won’t work. Have you noticed that the sentiments come back? So, then, how do we begin to free ourselves from the trap?

The first step is to notice what has kept us from freeing ourselves in the past. Often we will find that we have become frozen in place. The idea of trying to find a way out of the trap seems like an enormous undertaking so we come up with lots of reasons not to try. Where to start? What if I fail? No one will listen. It is too risky. I should just be grateful. And on and on and on. It begins to become an ever-increasing wall too big to climb and so we don’t. We just try again to push it out of our mind.

What if you change the questions and use a little mindful leadership reflection?

Step 1. Find a quiet space and allow your mind and body to settle into the present moment. Meditating with the breath for a few moments can be helpful.

Step 2. Call to mind your current work experience. Make a list of the elements that are forming the trap that has you in its grasp. Take your time with this reflection and be specific. Write them down.

Step 3. Quietly reflect with this question:What is one small step that can begin to loosen one element? Choose something that is easily doable and small. What do you notice?

Breaking this down into small pieces is the way to move forward. Continue to explore these three steps, making small changes and looking anew at the effects. What is happening to the feeling of “being trapped?”

Like any change in our life, when we think of it as a life changing move, we can become overwhelmed. And when we are overwhelmed, we often freeze. But one small step changes the dance, and one small change has the potential to create a new reality.

Mindful Leadership: Are You Engaged At Work? At Home?

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Mindful Leadership: Are You Engaged At Work? At Home?

What gets you out of bed in the morning? Is it the work you do? Or perhaps the people that work with you? And what about your engagement in things you do outside of work. Do they have the power to make you look forward to the day?

Reflecting on these kind of questions from time to time is an important part of living your best life. They invite you to stop, step off the treadmill of constant busyness and take a good look at where you are and where you want to be.

Everyone’s answers to these reflection questions will be different. But in my experience, they will have a common thread….connection. Some will feel that the work connects them to being of service as, for example, a provider of a product or service that supports others (clients, patients, students, customers). Some will feel a connection to their co-workers as a strong team member or as a mentor to younger co-workers.

Maybe it is simply a paycheck that allows you to connect with something special in your non-work time. One of the Institute’s retreat participants explained how he was able to stay engaged at work, “I work all week so I can have the money I need to sail on the weekends with my family!” His motivation was the ability to connect with those he loved.

Ultimately it is these connections that give meaning to our lives. It is what keeps us interested in what and who is around us, and it keeps us from feeling isolated and alone. There are so many recent studies that find an ever-increasing feeling of disengagement in the workplace, most showing about 2/3 of employees regularly feeling disengaged. It is no coincidence to me that those studies are now being joined by an increase in the number of workers who report feeling isolated at work and at home.

It is easy to point to the reasons why this is so-too much technology, too much busyness, too many distractions. And we have begun to lose sight of the importance of connecting through conversation instead of texts. (You can look more deeply into mindful communication in “Do You Know How To Mindfully Communicate?”). But the most important first step toward living your best life is to do a little exploration of your current life.

Do you feel engaged at work? At home? If not, how are you finding ways to enhance or generate connections? What small steps might be taken to make your workplace more conducive to making those connections? How can you take a small step to enhance a personal connection with a friend or a loved one?

What will make you look forward to getting out of bed tomorrow? And the next day?

Can A Mindful Leadership Purposeful Pause Give You 20/20 Vision?

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Can A Mindful Leadership Purposeful Pause Give You 20/20 Vision?

Why did I do that? Why didn’t I say that? What was I thinking?

If you are like most leaders, these phrases are familiar to you. For example, you recall an earlier conversation or meeting and you immediately see something that you could have done or said that would have resulted in a better outcome, or been more authentic.

Why do you have that 20/20 vision more often in the rear view mirror than in the present moment? And, more importantly, is there a way to get a clearer picture of those connections in the present?

To answer the first question, consider where you most often are when you are rehashing an earlier moment. Are you in your car after work, walking your dog or perhaps in bed at 3 a.m.? At these times, you are less distracted by the everyday noise, and so you can listen more deeply to your inner voice. We all have that inner voice, or gut feeling, that is incredibly important in moments of chaos or high stress. Unfortunately, if we do not take the time to train our mind, those same moments can trigger a “fight or flight” reaction that drowns out our inner wisdom. The higher order, executive functioning of our brain gets overruled by the reactive amygdala part of our brain. Learning to meet those moments is at the heart of mindful leadership training. When you train your mind in this way, you begin to take yourself off an autopilot way of living. You can learn more about that in my earlier post “Are You Living On Autopilot.” For now, however, you can learn to have that 20/20 capability in the moment by practicing with what I call Purposeful Pauses. And they will not add anything to your ‘to-do’ list.

What is a Purposeful Pause?

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.

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 two ideas and see if your days begin to feel a little different, and you begin to see things more clearly:

  1. On your way to your next meeting, walk down the hallway with an intention to notice your experience of walking in those moments. Don’t walk and look at your phone. Instead, focus on the walking…feel your feet on the ground, notice the people, colors, sounds around you. When your mind time travels to your story about the meeting, just bring it back to this moment and pay attention again to the walking itself. Stay in the present moment. How do you arrive at the conference room?
  2. When you are in a conversation, begin by feeling your feet grounded to the floor. Any time you feel the stress levels rising, see if you can bring your attention to the feelings of your feet on the ground for a few seconds, and check in with yourself with this question, ‘What is called for now?’. Take a breath or two and feel yourself grounded before blurting out the first thing that comes to mind. What is the skillful way of responding?

When we use the anchor of our own body sensations to help us be at our best, we are acknowledging the fact that body sensations can only be felt in the present. When we bring our mind’s attention to those sensations, we are bringing our mind back to the present. It is in this moment, when our body and mind are in the present, that we can have access once again to that 20/20 vision.

Mindful Leadership: You Can Explore Your True Potential In 3 Simple Steps

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Mindful Leadership: You Can Explore Your True Potential In 3 Simple Steps

“Everyone has inside of him a piece of good news. The good news is that you don’t know how great you can be! How much you can love! What you can accomplish! And what your potential is!”

– Anne Frank

I love the wisdom of this quote. We really do not know what our potential is even though we might think we do. Beginning in our earliest years, we have been told about our strengths and weaknesses. These assessments, given perhaps with good intentions, very often have unintended harmful results. They keep us from knowing more about our true potential. Let’s take a closer look at examples I have heard from professionals over the years.

  1. We all understand that early assessments that tell us we are not ‘good’at something can limit us from even exploring certain positions or professions. And, of course, those can hinder our ability to discover our true potential. But, negative assessments are not the only kind that can limit our potential. Kirstie was a successful physician who, in her late 40s, felt as though she needed to learn more about mindful leadership to be her best self as a physician. On retreat, she shared with me that, as a student, she was told that she had an aptitude for science and so medicine should be her profession. In fact, she explained that the written assessments, and those who had told her she should be a doctor must have been right. She had no trouble passing the exams and boards needed. And her patients loved her approach. It all seemed to be going as predicted, so why was she feeling so unhappy each morning when she left for her clinic? I asked her a simple question, “Did you want to be a doctor?” She looked away and paused. When she returned her gaze to me, tears rolling down her cheeks, she said, “no, never.”
  2. People we admire can also limit our potential. Mason told me that he was fortunate to have had a wonderful mentor when he was new to his profession. In fact, he so admired his mentor that he gave a great deal of weight to his advice when it came time to make a career move. Mason shared the details of a recent career opportunity he considered. He shared that he enjoyed the research work he was doing but he always saw himself eventually moving into a management role and had applied for a department head position. When Mason’s mentor heard about the potential move, he proceeded to share with him all the horrors of management, matching each challenge with what he believed were Mason’s personality weaknesses. He was sure that Mason would have a hard time conforming to the management model, and would likely fail. Mason, reluctantly withdrew his name from consideration but he was still wondering if he made the correct choice.

In both of these examples, we see professionals who wonder if they are living the lives they were meant to live. What about you?

Perhaps there is an example of some form of limitation in your own life. Simple statements or an assessment of you at one moment in time easily become woven into your story of yourself. Are there factors that may be limiting your capacity to love, or your ability to accomplish your dreams?

If you are ready to begin an exploration for yourself, try these simple 3 steps:

  1. Begin by sitting quietly and allowing your mind and body to settle. You can focus on your breathing to help you settle. When you are ready, reflect on this question: What are the top 5 pros and cons that describe me? These may be your words, assessment results, or ‘short stories’ others have shared with you. Write them down.
  2. As you review the list, reflect on each characteristic using these questions: if this characteristic is not true, what would be different? Is this potentially untrue characteristic holding me back from living my best life?;
  3. If you are wondering about the truthfulness of one of the characteristics you explored in Step 2, choose to take a small step that further challenge its veracity.

It takes courage to push against evaluations and advice. Listen deeply to your own wisdom. In your personal life and your professional life, it is often easier to go with what is being told to you. Ultimately, however, you may be abdicating your responsibility to live our best life. As Anne Frank said, “The good news is that you don’t know how great you can be!”