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Mindful Leadership: Do You Want Your Weekday Mornings To Feel Like Sunday?

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Mindful Leadership: Do You Want Your Weekday Mornings To Feel Like Sunday?

Does this headline feel like an impossible dream? It seems impossible to have a morning like Sunday in the midst of a workweek. Sunday mornings are a breath of fresh air, we may wake up a bit later, or we may get up early for a long run, or perhaps a long meditation. It might be a day to treat ourselves well, however we define that. Or, it might be a day to get that good feeling that comes from finishing something we wanted to get done. Sundays are special, right?

Weekdays, on the other hand, are filled with time pressures, traffic delays, kids’ missing homework, looming deadlines, workplace drama, constant distractions…. In fact, we can even ruin our blissful Sunday by beginning to think about Monday. We get a case of the “Sunday night blues.”

So, what can you do to make your weekday morning feel like a Sunday? Learn to practice what I call “gentling into the day.” This practice originated during the mindful leadership retreats I have been teaching for the past 15 years. On retreat, we begin with an early morning practice that includes a meditation for about 15 minutes followed by 15 minutes of mindful movement. The meditation can be guided or silent. The movements are simple, gentle stretches.

There is nothing magical about the specific amount of time for each part of the practice. It can be shorter or longer. You can determine what is right for you. What is important is your choice to allow some spaciousness in the morning for your mind and body to prepare for the day. There are also many variations on this sequence that will work. Here are a few options:

  1. When your alarm goes off, instead of immediately reaching for your smartphone, sit on the side of the bed and check in with your body and mind-what do you notice? What is your energy level? Any areas of discomfort? Is your mind awakening slowly to the day or is it already in a cycle of your to-do list? As you begin to walk, feel your feet on the ground with each step.
  2. While you are in the shower, try to be present for the experience. If your mind pulls you away to the 10 a.m. meeting, bring it back to your experience of the shower. Feel the warmth of the water, the scent of the soap and shampoo, acknowledge the care you are taking of your body in this moment.
  3. If you are going to have a cup of coffee or tea, take a few minutes to sit and enjoy it fully…without reading the screens at the same time. Allow your body and mind to be present for this cup of coffee or tea. Can you feel the warmth, the smell, the taste on your tongue, how it feels as it goes down your throat?

All of these options have a common thread that is present on Sunday mornings…you are making a conscious choice to engage in an activity that is supportive of your life. While you may be more inclined to make such choices on the day when you are not working, there is nothing to stop you from making such choices on a workday. Starting each morning with one of these practices can set the tone for the rest of the day. Choose to start your day, rather than letting the day start you!

Mindful Leadership: 2 Simple Steps To Silence Your Inner Critic

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“What will they think of me?,” “I’m not good enough,” “I am lazy,” “What if I fail?,” “I am overwhelmed at work.” “Everyone is more beautiful, smarter, stronger, thinner.” “I can never be a good leader.”
Our minds seem to have an infinite supply of critical comments. And those comments are hard to ignore. They distract us and they limit us and they even interfere with our ability to enjoy a peaceful sleep. To be clear, I am not talking about our ability to reflect on where we are in life, and assess our strengths and weaknesses so we can choose what we might want to change. That ability is fundamental to our growth as a human being.
The inner critic is different. It is not constructive and it does not deal with the facts. It is a story-teller. And when we feed the words of the inner critic, the story becomes a full-length feature film that keeps us frozen to the status quo. We begin to believe the criticisms. And those critical comments have the power to prevent us from following our dreams, or taking the chances needed to find happiness or love or success. They can also begin to make us feel sad or anxious.

So, how can mindfulness help?

1. Begin by calling to mind an example of an inner critic statement. As you do so, notice if other thoughts start to pop up to enhance the statement, or if you start feeling any sensations of discomfort in your body. Are they familiar? When else do you notice those thoughts or feelings?

2. Now see if you can meet those words and thoughts with this sentence: “This may or may not be true.” Once again pay attention to sensations and feelings that arise.

There is no need for you to try to deny the critical comment, it is enough to simply begin to generate some spaciousness around it. You are beginning to develop a different relationship to the words that pop into your head. And with that shift, some spaciousness begins to develop and some of the weightiness begins to lift. What decisions will you make now that all that chatter in your head is beginning to quiet down?

Self Care For Leaders: 3 Mindfulness Steps To Better Sleep

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Welcome to 2020! Whether your holidays were nourishing or draining, today you return to the more mundane challenges and opportunities of being a busy professional and you will quickly remember what that feels like. The hectic pace of work creates a mind that spends the day “time-traveling” … replaying your last conversation and worrying about tomorrow’s appointments. And that constantly busy mind doesn’t stop its busyness when you leave your workplace. You may want to pay attention to dinner with a friend or with your family but your mind is still replaying that difficult meeting you had at 10 a.m. And you may feel exhausted but still find yourself lying in bed with a mind that is incessantly rehearsing tomorrow’s presentation.

Learning to meet this mental busyness with clarity, discipline and compassion, rather than letting it take over your day and night, is part of the training of mindful leadership. It is also an important part of the training that helps you develop good self-care practices like learning to replenish your mind and body through adequate sleep.

What do you know about your own behavior when you are sleep-deprived? When I ask this of participants in the Institute for Mindful Leadership’s workshops and retreats, people report that they are more irritable, impatient, less creative, more likely to overeat, and less productive. Let’s face it, it just doesn’t feel good when you are tired. And science consistently shows that lack of sleep is bad for your body and your mind. So learning to get a good night’s sleep is the most fundamental aspect of good self-care. Are you ready to improve your self-care for 2020? Try the simple practice below to begin this New Year by taking better care of you and your sleep:

3 Mindful Steps to Better Sleep

1. Remove all smart phones, tablets and computers from your bedroom. They don’t belong there. Seeing an email or social media post just before bed, or knowing that distractions are only inches from your head, can fuel the busyness of your mind.

2. When you settle into bed, bring your attention to the feeling of your breath. Feel your breath stretching the muscles in your chest or belly, feel the release. This is not an invitation to think about your breath or control it. Just feel the sensations.

3. When your mind starts to get busy, bring your attention back to the sensations. Let the thought that pulled you away go for now and redirect your attention back to the gentle movements and sensations of your breath. It is important that you be patient with yourself. Redirecting your attention is simply part of the practice and it does not matter how often you need to redirect your attention. Just be intentional about letting the thinking go (for now). It is as if you are saying “not now” to your thoughts and worries. Now is a time to sleep.

Be consistent with this practice, using it each night that your sleep is interrupted. It may take some time to train your mind in this way but the benefits for your health and happiness are well worth the time!!

Are The ‘Shoulds’ On Your ‘To-Do’ List Important To You? A Mindfulness Inquiry

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It is so easy at this time of year to feel overwhelmed. We work extra hours to bring our organizations to a satisfactory end of the year, to get things cleared away before 2020 appears, and with the often mistaken belief that getting a list of extra things done will allow us to have a more restful holiday. That belief would be more true if there were not an endless list of things that can keep our mind busy thinking about work.

And we have the additional errands and costs associated with entertaining, gift-giving and shopping. Add to those things the pressures of cooking and cleaning and decorating, not to mention the internal chatter of our minds that often arises from the gift selection process for parents, children and friends, and it is easy to find ourselves dropping into bed at the end of the day feeling totally exhausted. And we might conclude that “this is just how it is right now,” hoping that someday it might be simpler. Someday when the kids are older or the business is less hectic or we have more money or…

But how difficult would it be to make a change to “how it is?” For me, the ability to make some changes came from noticing the “shoulds” that were taking control of my life during the holidays. I should do this because that is what is expected, or that is how it was done when I was a kid, or that is how someone else does it. It took some quiet time to actually see the “shoulds” and then to ask myself what I thought was most important about this time of year. And when I had that answer, it became much simpler to go through the list of “how it is” with the litmus test of “does this support what I identified as most important or not?”

For me, the answer to what was most important was to spend more time enjoying and nourishing the connections I have with family and friends, and to remember those in the society that I might be able to help enjoy the holidays a bit more. And my answer also recognized the need to have some spaciousness in my life to sit quietly and connect more deeply with myself, listening to the body, heart and spirit, as I reflect on the events of the past and enjoy the warmth and love of the present. The “shoulds” that don’t support making room for those choices began to drop away, not all at once, but bit by bit. And sometimes I still need to catch myself falling back into my autopilot mode of the season. But each year the holidays seem simpler and more beautiful.

Right now, consider putting down your “to do” list and ask yourself what is most important to you at this time of year. Not someone else’s answer, but your answer. Then see if the tasks and obligations on your list support spending your precious time on them. Do they further what you believe is important? If not, you might experiment with changing just one thing. You might be surprised by the reaction of others, and the feeling you experience from making that one change.

This season can be a time of connections and reflection, a time for nourishing ourselves and those around us. Be bold and stay ever more true to who you are, listening to your unique inner wisdom.

Wishing you a holiday season filled with warmth and light.

6 Simple Mindfulness Steps That Will Transform Your Meetings

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Another day filled with back to back 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 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 laptops or phones,

b) the same minority of 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 topics 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…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?