Innovation. How best to develop, sustain and refine it? Let the battle commence between divergent and convergent thinking. Or perhaps not? Here we make the case for both types of thinking, side by side and suggest techniques for how best to unlock them.
Whether you have an established wellbeing programme or are designing a strategy from scratch, mindfulness should be firmly on the agenda. With converts ranging from Google, Transport for London, Honda, the National Health Service, Microsoft and Aetna the results speak for themselves. We’ve worked with many companies who are now mindfulness evangelists. But where do you start when introducing mindfulness to your workplace? We’ve often been asked this question by clients so here are our
7 Insider Tips [Read more…]
Using mindfulness to develop an empathic police force
It’s always great to hear about the benefits of mindfulness being experienced in the workplace, one fascinating example is the use of mindfulness practices to reduce stress in the US police force.
Psychologists at Pacific University have been working on an innovative study, instructing police officers in mindfulness based stress reduction (MBSR) practices. Training the officers began in 2006. Training involved learning a combination of skills to enhance mental clarity, health, and mindful exercises that emphasised a range of motion and injury prevention. Police officers also learned practical skills to reduce stressors at work and home. An emphasis was placed on self-awareness and compassion. The impact of stress and anger on officers and their work can be significant, the research findings have been published in the journal of Mindfulness.
Our Step by Step Guide to Meditation
Maybe you’ve often thought about meditating but never really known where to start? Perhaps you’ve started and thought that it’s too difficult to continue? Or wondered if you’re doing it ‘properly’. Relax, meditation is easier than it sounds. You don’t need to sit on the floor cross-legged, tie yourself in impossible knots or cut yourself off from the rest of the world. Meditation is deceptively simple and something that you can practice any time, anywhere.
With the science backed benefits of regular meditation ranging from;
Positive effects on immune and brain function
Elevated levels of emotional intelligence
There are a whole host of reasons to set time aside each day and create your own Zen moments. But where to start? Look no further. We’ve created your very own step-by-step beginners guide to meditation.
Start where you are
Forming the habit of meditation can start right here, right now. If the thought of sitting down for half an hour everyday sends you into a cold sweat, you’re not alone. Start by making a commitment to a more achievable goal. 5 minutes is a great place to begin and you can build your meditation practice from there. And if 5 minutes sounds too long, start with 1 minute.
Most people tell themselves that they simply don’t have the time to meditate. The truth is we don’t have time not to. Think of meditation as a workout for your brain. The brain is a muscle like any other muscle in your body. You wouldn’t go to the gym once and expect to be match fit straight away. Meditation is the same, the more you practice the greater return on your time investment you’ll see. Once you start to notice the benefits you’ll naturally want to do more than 5 minutes.
Choose a time
For a formal meditation practice (one that you do sitting down everyday) it can help to choose a daily time and place to embed your new habit. Try and link it to something that you do everyday, waking up, a morning coffee, arriving into work first thing, perhaps your lunch break, getting home from work or just before you go to bed. Linking your new meditation practice to something that you already do will make it easier to create space for it within your day. If you miss a day, don’t beat yourself up, be kind to yourself and remember, tomorrow is another opportunity to practice.
Create your own meditation space
Find a quiet space where you won’t be disturbed. It doesn’t need to be an entire room and you don’t need any special equipment. You can create your own meditation zone in a corner anywhere in your living space. If you prefer to meditate outdoors, try your favourite park or a green space where you can sit and relax. Wherever you choose, make sure it’s somewhere comfortable and right for you.
Rest easy, you don’t need to sit cross-legged to meditate. Whether you’re sitting on the floor or you choose to sit in a chair, there are some really simple rules when it comes to posture. Make sure that your spine is upright, allowing you to sit comfortably without being rigid. If you lean to one side or slump against a chair it’s easy to feel drowsy, lose focus or fall asleep. An upright posture will help you to remain focused. Your head should be slightly lowered, chin tucked in, with your shoulders back and relaxed. Use whatever you need to make yourself comfortable whether it’s leaning against a wall, using a specially designed meditation stool, stacking cushions to sit on or laying down on the floor. Listen to your body and allow it to act as your guide.
This is really down to personal preference. For some people it’s easier to meditate with their eyes open. For others, eyes half closed focusing on a single point in front of them works best. Others find it easier to meditate with their eyes completely closed. It’s different strokes for different folks and the best way to find out what works best for you is by trial and error.
Set an intention
Before you sit down to meditate it can be helpful to set an intention. Doing this for each meditation session can help to guide your practice. As Wayne Dyer said, “Our intention becomes our reality”. If you’re not clear on your intention ask yourself a few simple questions:
Is there something you’d like to explore?
What matters most to you about this particular practice?
What are you grateful for?
What is challenging for you?
What would you like to focus on?
Is there something that you would like to create or build in your life?
Think of your intention as a way of reminding yourself why you choose to meditate.
Now you’re ready to meditate. Relax. There’s nowhere to go and nothing to do. The beauty of meditation is that you’re not trying to achieve anything. There is no end goal. Forget your ‘To do’ list, this is the time for you to stop doing and start being.
The breath is a natural anchor to use when meditating. You’re not trying to change your breath, control it, or change it in any way. Simply notice the sensation of the breath as it enters and leaves the nostrils. Perhaps the air feels a little cooler around the nostrils as you inhale? As you breathe out it may feel a little warmer around the nostrils, or you might feel a stream of warm air passing over your upper lip.
Observe the sensations in your body as you breathe in and out. Notice the rise and fall of your abdomen, the movement of your shoulders. If your mind wanders, congratulate yourself for noticing and bring your focus back to the breath. If you become distracted by thoughts, emotions or feelings, once, twice or ten times, it’s fine, just notice that you’re focus has drifted without beating yourself up. Gently bring your awareness back to your breath each time, noticing whatever is here, right now.
Formal or Informal?
For those times when you just can’t fit a formal sitting practice into your day, informal practice is the way to go. By performing these short, simple meditations you’ll still be building your meditation muscles and reaping the benefits.
The Traffic Light
This one is simple and takes just one minute. Think of what you do at a traffic light; STOP! You can do this sitting in your car every time you really are stopped by a red light, sitting at your desk or just sitting in your chair.
Stop: Stop what you are doing.
Pause for a moment.
Take a breath: Breathe, it’s easy, we do it all of the time, we just don’t think about it. Really notice how the breath feels entering your body and how it feels as you exhale. Concentrate your attention solely on your breath.
Observe: Now you’ve had that pause and breathed a little, how do you feel? What’s going on for you? What thoughts are popping into your head? How do you feel right here, right now in your body? Just notice, observe it without judging.
Proceed: Time to continue on your journey.
The one-minute breath
This is another technique that only takes a minute. Set your stopwatch, use one of the many meditation apps or sit in front of a clock and breathe for one minute. Your aim is to focus on your breath for one whole minute. Notice how the breath feels as it enters the nostrils, does it feel cool as you inhale? Or perhaps it’s a little warmer as you exhale? Notice how the breath feels travelling down your throat, filling your lungs and then leaving the body. That’s all you’re doing, focusing on your breath, using it as an anchor for an entire minute.
This is a mindfulness favourite. You can do it with chocolate, raisins, dinner, breakfast, anything you like as long as it’s edible. Get rid of distractions like the TV, newspaper, mobile phone, radio or conversation and sit down to eat, bringing your full attention to your food. Reflect on the following;
Where did it come from? How was it produced?
How does it smell, what colour is it? What are the textures like?
Chew slowly and really savour your meal. Finish chewing before you reload your fork. Notice how your food tastes. What is the consistency like? Really bring your awareness to each mouthful.
This is also a great technique if you are watching your weight, helping you to feel fuller for longer rather than wondering where that bar of chocolate went….
A mindful cup of tea.
It’s a simple task, but there’s a reason it’s a ritual in the Far East. Making (and of course drinking) tea can be a profoundly relaxing experience. Notice the weight of the kettle as you fill it with water, listen to the sound of the water as it runs from the tap, how the light bounces off the endless stream. Notice the sounds of the water in the kettle as it comes to the boil. Stay in the present as you prepare your cup and place the tea bag in it. Watch as you pour the boiling water onto the bag, notice the colour of the water change, how it floats as the steam swirls upwards. Then sit down and reward yourself as you notice the heat, the initial taste of the tea as you sip and then the flavours in the different parts of the mouth until you swallow.
The next time you’re walking, feel the ground under your feet, the weight shifting from one foot to the other, the stretch in your calves and thighs as you move forwards with each step. Perhaps notice how you breathe as you walk, or any changes in the body.
Really notice what’s going on around you. As you walk, observe the light, the sky, the clouds and the leaves in the trees.
Notice the buildings you pass, the architecture.
Who are your fellow pedestrians? How do they move?
Remain in the present moment as you head towards your destination. Bring your attention to the wind on your face, how the sun feels as it shines down, the temperature on your skin, how it feels to move your whole body. Notice how you feel when you finally arrive at your destination.
Now you’re ready. With just a few simple practices you’ll begin to notice that you can easily and skillfully introduce meditation into your everyday life. The great thing about meditation is that you can use it any place, anytime, anywhere. Practiced on a regular basis, you’ll see that meditation can improve both your mental and your physical health, offering a great return on investment for a few just a few minutes of your time each day. So what are you waiting for?
We love to talk about all things mindful at Positive Change Guru. Check out our forthcoming events or get in touch to find out more about our suite of courses and discuss bespoke mindfulness training for your organisation.
In an attention deficit culture we’re distracted 46.9% of the time
It’s all too familiar, you arrive into work, the phone is ringing, your emails are mounting up at a rate of knots, you’re due in a meeting, an unwelcome alert lets you know someone has sent you a text and you haven’t even taken your coat off yet. It’s a typical day in thousands of offices, schools and businesses across the country. No wonder then that research by Gilbert and Killingworth reveals that we are distracted on average 46.9 percent of the time. And if we’re distracted, we’re not focusing, if we’re not focusing we’re not in ‘flow’ the optimum state of performance. Worst still, we’re probably more than just a bit stressed.
Are you working in an attention deficit culture?
Edward Hallowell in his HBR article has named the phenomenon ‘attention deficit trait’ or ADT for short. ADT stands accused of turning us into ‘frenzied zombies’ overstretched, constantly, in doing mode and unable to switch off. Look around you, are you in an organizational culture that supports your membership of the living dead? If you can answer yes to one or more the following questions, you might be experiencing ADT:
- Do you constantly check emails throughout the day?
- When you get home do you catch up with work and email colleagues late into the night?
- Do you see a 3am email as a measure of commitment to the cause?
- Do you eat your lunch at your desk?
- Do you respond to texts as soon as they arrive?
- Do you feel as though nothing gets your full attention?
- Do you feel out of control?
- Are you reading these questions thinking ‘Doesn’t everybody do that?’ (Clue: the answer is in the title)
So you noticed a few (or a lot) of ‘Yes’ answers? The truth is you may be working in a culture where ADT has become normalized. You’re not crazy and neither are your colleagues (honestly) you’re working in a global culture of neuro – overload and ever increasing environmental pressures. Hallowell makes the analogy of a traffic jam, ADT is part of modern living. But how can you minimize those distractions or create your own internal culture of calm?
Creating your own internal culture of calm
- Create a support network both at work and outside of it. Daniel Goleman’s research suggests that women are more likely than men to do this, so it’s vitally important that we all have a network of friends and colleagues to talk to and let off steam with.
- Consider your sleep hygiene. A good night’s sleep is key, sleep deprivation exacerbates ADT. Start to wind down an hour before bedtime, relaxing or taking a bath. Switch off your phone, emails and gadgets at this point.
- Diet and exercise (obvious, but true) Get those endorphins pumping along with serotonin and dopamine to promote brain cell health.
- Organisae yourself and keep your work space clear.
- When you feel the pressure mounting, take a moment of mindfulness. Stop. Take a breath and observe how you are feeling in your body, observe any sensations of warmth or coolness. Notice (without judgement) any thoughts that pop into your head, And when you feel ready, crack on with your day.
Find out more:
We love to talk about all things focus related at Positive Change Guru. Check out our forthcoming events or get in touch to find out more about our suite of courses and discuss bespoke focus training for your organisation.
Can Mindfulness Boost Your Resilience?
Mindfulness. We’ve seen it grace the cover of ‘Time’ magazine and observed it being discussed in everything from ‘The Financial Times’ to the ‘Wall Street Journal’ to the Davos Convention. Panacea for the world’s ills or the latest fad?
Resilience and mindfulness – the research
Despite the criticism, behind all of the hype there is solid research taking place. But does thinking about your thinking really make you more resilient? Research by Badri Bajaj and Neerja Pande published in the latest Personality and Individual Differences Journal, Volume 88 suggests it may well do. They examined the effects of mindfulness on life satisfaction and resilience. 327 undergraduates completed a series of psychometrics to measure mindfulness (Mindful Attention Awareness Scale or MAAS), resilience (Connor-Davidson Resilience Scale, CD-RISC), life satisfaction (Satisfaction with Life Scale, SWLS) and how the reacted to life events (the Positive and Negative Affect Schedule, PANAS). This comprehensive battery of assessments examined how quickly the students bounced back from negative life events to how mindfully they went about their daily lives, self scoring responses to questions like “I tend to walk quickly to get where I am going” to “I stay focused under pressure.”
Improved coping mechanisms
The results of Baje and Pande’s research were impressive. They found that resilience was elevated in the students who were mindful suggesting that this might be responsible for many of the benefits that we know are related to mindfulness. The researchers state that “Mindful people can better cope with difficult thoughts and emotions without becoming overwhelmed or shutting down”. The results highlighted how the students with a high level of mindfulness were more resilient, reported being more content and ruminated less upon negative events than the less mindful subjects. Baje and Pande concluded that “Pausing and observing the mind may (help us) resist getting drawn into wallowing in a setback”. We know from the work of Carol Dweck and Martin Seligmann that the ability to learn from setbacks and then move on armed with this new learning is one of the key factors in building resilience, optimism and a growth mindset.
Begin your mindfulness journey with our free mindfulness podcasts
The hype (or some of it) might just be true. It seems then that from this study mindfulness may predict resilience and have a substantial effect of subjective wellbeing. If you’re wondering how to develop a mindfulness practice, take a look at some of our free podcasts to start your mindfulness journey.
Hear neuroscientist, Richard Davidson, talk about resilience and mindfulness:
We love to talk about all things mindfulness and resilience at Positive Change Guru. Check out our forthcoming events or get in touch to find out more about our suite of courses and discuss bespoke mindfulness and resilience training for your organisation.
We uncover the uncomfortable truth about multitasking and why creating ‘Flow’ moments is the answer
The Myth of multitasking
Ever wondered why other people seem to master multitasking whilst you struggle to manage multiple tasks at the same time? If you’re envious of the seven-second attention span of a goldfish, flow moments are for you. Worry no more. Multitasking is and has always been, urban myth.
The truth is out. After decades of articles opining the benefits of multitasking, the ‘how to’s’ ‘Made simples’ and ‘Guides’ – we now know that the ability to focus on several tasks at the same time just isn’t neurologically possible. So when you’re checking your phone whilst talking, reading the paper whilst watching TV or driving and making a call using hands free, you’re not completely focused.
Working faster but producing less
Research by Gloria Mark, Professor of Informatics at the University of California found that when we’re continually distracted we may work faster but we produce less. That would explain the plethora of mistakes we typically tend to make when we’re not completely focused on the task at hand.
Leaving mistakes in your wake?
Dr JoAnn Deak author of ‘Your Fantastic Elastic Brain” states that “When you try to multitask, in the short term it doubles the amount of time it takes to do a task and it usually at least double the number of mistakes.” Worse still, researchers at Stanford University found that regular multitaskers are particularly bad at it, suggesting that serial multitaskers are easily distracted. Known as ‘switchtasking’ quickly jumping from one task to another, leaving a slew of mistakes in its’ wake. Rather than making us more efficient, switchtasking makes us less accurate and slows us down. The problem is, we’re so convinced that it’s possible, we just don’t notice our performance has suffered due to our lack of focus.
Feeling focus fatigued?
Switchtasking can also elevate our stress levels, ramping up the pressure, feeding into the feeling that there’s too much to do and not enough time to do it in. Research by René Marois at Vanderbilt University, using fMRI found that the brain responds to multiple tasks with a “response selection bottleneck” slowing us down as it attempts to prioritise tasks. Little wonder then, that multitasking impacts our learning and leaves us feeling even more fatigued, contributing to the release of stress hormone nasties like cortisol and adrenaline. Left unchecked, the long-term effects upon our health can be catastrophic.
The negative impact of distractions
It’s all thanks to the default mode network (DMN) a cluster of brain areas that become active when we’re not actively focusing on a specific task. It’s just the way that we’re wired.
David Rock, author of Your Brain at Work says, “A distraction is an alert. It says, orient your attention here now; this could be dangerous.” The digital world that we now live in offers a multitude of distractions “It reduces our intelligence, literally dropping our IQ. We make mistakes, miss subtle cues, fly off the handle when we shouldn’t, or spell things wrong.” To add insult to injury, multitasking makes us less intelligent than we might otherwise be.
During a Harvard study examining mind wandering by Matthew Killingsworth and Daniel Gilbert 2,000 adults were tested throughout the day. Killingsworth and Gilbert found they were distracted for a whopping 47 percent of the time. What’s more they were less happy as a result, typically experiencing stressful thoughts or negative rumination. All excellent reasons to ditch switchtasking.
How to focus
So if multitasking is dead, how do we focus? The good news is your brain is a muscle, just like any other muscle in your body. The trick is to train it. Flow is a state of optimum performance and you can develop it. Here’s how.
- Minimise distractions. That means turn the TV off, put your phone down and concentrate on one task at a time. Don’t start a new task until you have finished the last one.
- Identify and work with your circadian rhythms. Keep a log of your energy levels and engagement in tasks throughout the day. Work out when you energy levels best support your focus and plan your day accordingly. Tough tasks that require focus and mental energy should be scheduled at peak energy times, less demanding tasks for when you have a dip in energy. Even better, try and schedule a walk when you know there will be a slump.
- Build that critical brain mass with mindfulness. Start with one breath at a time, focusing on the breath, not breathing deeply or changing your breathing, simply noticing what’s here, right now. Notice your breath as you inhale, feeling the breath moving over your top lip as you inhale, the coolness around the tip of the nostrils. Exhaling, feel the warmth of the breath around the nostrils. If you find that your mind wanders, just notice the distraction and bring your focus back to the breath. The more you practice this mindfulness of breath meditation the more you’ll see results in terms of your ability to focus. We know from research that experienced meditators are better able to quieten down an area in the DMN called the posterior cingulate cortex (PCC) than non-meditators. That’s it, now you’re training!
- Get moving. A study from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign found that aerobic exercise improved the areas of the brain related to attention, both long term and short term. Whether it’s walking, jogging, playing tennis or hitting the gym, investing in physical exercise will reap multiple benefits.
- Drink more (and no, we don’t mean alcohol). A 2012 study in The Journal of Nutrition found that mild dehydration increased levels of inattention in test subjects. It took as little as a 2% drop in hydration to negatively affect the subjects ability to concentrate on cognitive tests. Make sure that you keep hydrated, drinking between 7 to 8 glasses of water a day.
Positive Change Guru are experts in performance at work. We offer bespoke training, mindfulness, resilience and positive psychology courses as 1 day, bitesize espresso or organisational consultancy. Check out our events page http://positivechangeguru.com/events-2/ Contact us at email@example.com we’d love to here from you.
Image courtesy of Patrick Tomasso and those lovely people at Unsplash.