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Don’t Let Seasonal Stress Bury Your Treasures

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“We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures.” – Thornton Wilder

As we enter this season of holidays, it is easy to be carried away with trappings and commercialization and, in the process, lose the deep historical, religious or heart-centered meaning of this time of year. Our already busy calendars just get busier as our ‘to-do’ lists grow longer and longer. There is food to prepare, presents to buy, and parties to attend.

Or perhaps this is a season where our thoughts are dominated by ‘what used to be’ or ‘what we hoped would be different this year.’ We feel a sense of disappointment, aloneness or isolation.

But, our mindfulness training can help us cultivate a different way to meet this season. We can expand our repertoire of how we meet this time of year by being more attentive to the autopilot way we are going through the days, or thinking about the season, and making more conscious choices to notice what is here, and how we want to meet it.

A fundamental part of that noticing is an ability to become more ‘conscious of our treasures’ as Thornton Wilder reminds us. The treasures that are right here, right now—a measure of health, a family, a pet, a friend, a warm meal, a strong faith, the sounds of a beautiful piece of music, or the warm glow of a candle. The list is endless.

What are your treasures?

You might find it useful to experiment with this reflection in your practice: begin by sitting comfortably and attending to the sensations of the breath, allow your eyes to gently close. As your mind and body settle into the stillness, ask yourself this simple question—what are my treasures?—and allow the responses to arise from deep within you.

Once you discover, or rediscover, your treasures, see if you can make a conscious choice to keep them at the center of your holiday season. Your treasures are the experiences or people that nourish you, bring you joy and keep you connected to what really matters.

And that, after all, is what this holiday season is all about.

Wishing you a season filled with joy and love,


How Can Mindfulness Help Me Get Some Sleep? 3 Steps To Try Today

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“If you want to understand someone’s sleep, ask them about their day.”

Long ago, I heard a sleep specialist say these words and the longer I teach and practice mindful leadership, the more I experience them as true. The quality and duration of our sleep is a direct result of the choices we make each day. We are a society with an epidemic of poor sleep. And with all the uncertainties and changes in our lives, it is not surprising. But sleeplessness or poor quality sleep was an epidemic even before today’s many challenges. Just look at the vast array of sleep aids available in the market. How many have you tried? But the best, most rejuvenating sleep does not come from a bottle. It comes from allowing the body to naturally ease into sleep, and then to allow ourselves to sleep undisturbed until we are well-rested.

Does that sound like an impossible task? Well, it is actually quite simple if you are willing to be patient and consistent. If you follow these mindfulness steps, you might soon find that you have learned the secret to sleeping more regularly and more deeply. Sweet dreams may be right around the corner!

Step 1 Unplug at least one hour before bedtime

The blue light of most technology stimulates the brain which is the last thing you want to do before bed. You need to turn off the technology to signal to your mind that it is time to rest. As importantly, the information in emails and social media can often trigger our minds into a loop of worries, judgments and planning. Choose to turn off technology at least an hour before bedtime and then see if you can let your mind unwind with some recreational reading, a hot bath, soft music or a chat with a good friend.

Step 2 Keep technology out of your bedroom

Once you disconnect from technology an hour before bedtime, be sure not to bring it to your bedroom. When you have your phone or laptop a few inches from your head at night, a part of your brain can stay ‘on alert’ waiting for the next notification. Give yourself (mind and body) some space to fully disconnect and settle into bed.

Step 3 Get to know your breath

As you settle into bed, see if you can begin to notice the sensations of your breathing. Just feel the stretch of your muscles as the breath enters, and then feel the softening of your muscles as the breath leaves. There is no need to control or alter your breath. Just pay attention to each breath until you fall asleep. If your mind starts to wander, gently bring it back to the breath’s sensations. This is a time to rest and rejuvenate, not plan for tomorrow’s challenges. You cannot be at your best if you are exhausted.

If you are someone who awakens at 3am, bring your attention back to your breath sensations. Each time your mind is pulled away (e.g. by worries or planning), redirect your attention back to the breath. Stay with this mindfulness practice until you fall asleep again. Be patient and consistent with the redirection. Over time, you are retraining your mind and body to sleep more consistently and more deeply.

I teach this practice on my mindful leadership 4 night retreats and by the end of the retreat, most people have begun to see marked changes in their sleep habits. Give these steps a try for a few days and see what you notice.

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 Weather The Storms In Your Mind With Simple Mindfulness Practices

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You awake to the sun streaming through your windows after a good night’s sleep and you begin to get ready for the day. You feel calm and happy. Then, the phone rings with an emergency message from your co-worker that means the likely destruction of the project you have been working on for 6 months. And, your four year old wakes up cranky and slightly feverish which means no preschool and you now need to find alternative care for her. Your heart starts beating louder, and you begin to feel the all-too-familiar panic setting in. Everything seems to switch into hyperdrive with your mind racing for solutions amid the inner critic thoughts that are muddying the waters.


Sound familiar? In the blink of an eye, events seem to have the power to flip us from calm to crazy. We lose sight of everything except the immediate, unexpected event. We let ourselves become less of who we are and, as a result, we often don’t make the best decisions at a time when we need to make good decisions. Our mind’s ability to create excessive worry and anxiety hijack our capabilities to be focused, clear and compassionate.

Fortunately, we can begin to interrupt this conditioned behavior with a few simple practices:

  1. Notice that you are beginning to get overwhelmed. Mindfulness training teaches you to pay attention to the way your body experiences stress. Do your neck muscles get tight? Do you clench your jaw? Do you get queasy? These physical sensations are ‘early warning signals’ that tell you that you need to de-escalate so you don’t react badly.
  2. Learn simple mindfulness practices to help you regain a sense of stability. I teach Purposeful Pauses as powerful ways to interrupt the mind’s ability to generate excessive stress, and cloud our ability to see things clearly. Purposeful Pauses can be a simple as feeling the sensations of your breath for a few minutes, or walking down the hall paying attention to the feelings of your feet as you move. Learn more about Purposeful Pauses at the end of this post.
  3. As you begin to feel more centered and calm, take a few moments to challenge some of the thoughts and worries that were arising. How many of them are true? Is the evaluation of ‘disaster’ necessarily true? What is called for now (rather than the reaction you were about to do)?
  4. On an ongoing basis, a good way to meet stress differently is to try to keep things in perspective by ending each day with a journal entry noting 3 things for which you are grateful. Try not to repeat anything and see how many days you can go. I suspect you will be surprised.

3 Courageous Questions To Eliminate Double-Booking Calendars

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It’s Monday morning and you are starting your day by looking at your calendar. As you scan the days ahead, you notice that, once again, you are double-booked. This has become the norm for you and for your organization. How can you be expected to be in two places at one time? And when you make a choice of one meeting over the other, what is the cost of your decision? How much precious time is wasted with explanations about why you can’t attend a meeting, or with chasing down information from the meeting you missed? And how often do you sit in meetings that are boring or irrelevant to your core responsibilities?


Is it time for you to ask some hard questions and take the courageous leadership actions needed to challenge the status quo and eliminate some meetings -for you and for your colleagues? If so, start with these three questions:

When you are the organizer of a meeting:

  1. Do you need a meeting? Is it simply a routine meeting that no longer serves its purpose in its current form? Is there a more efficient way to distribute information or gain consensus? Technology, like polling or video messaging, may be a helpful ally here.
  2. Are the right people in each meeting? Too many people create cluttered confusion and make it less likely that the best decisions will be reached. Do you need more than one person from the same department? Are there people in attendance who have historically been invited but really play no active role? Can you disseminate notes to those not needed for a decision?

When you have been invited to a meeting:


  1. Why are you attending? Is ego the only reason? Can attendance be delegated to someone who can benefit from learning something you already know? Can you ask if notes can be distributed? Do you have the courage to ‘decline’ the invitation so you can prioritize what is important over ‘what screams the loudest’?


Imagine the gift of giving yourself and your colleagues some space by cancelling meetings, or enhancing a meeting’s effectiveness. Take another look at your calendar for the week. Where is one opportunity to eliminate or modify a meeting? Be courageous!