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Mindfulness

The Power of Mindfulness

The Power of Mindfulness

The STEM 1.0 Corporate Program Home Page

KEY POINTS:

1. Mindfulness, which involves keeping our awareness in the here and now, is a key to mental health and elite performance. 

2. We live in the age of distraction, with e-mail, social media, text messages, YouTube, and our jobs and personal lives all competing for our attention. The idea of mindfulness is to stay in the moment in the face of massive potential for distraction.

3. By practicing mindfulness, you will strengthen your ability to stay in the present moment, develop your capacity to focus, increase the flow of information between mind and body, and enter into and stay in your Zone with more ease.

By Dr. Greg Wells & Dr. Ellen Choi

There are few moments in sport that can compete with the moment when an elite pitcher and clutch hitter square off during the playoffs with a game on the line. The pitcher’s eyes focus on the target while they try to block out the crowd, the TV and the crushing idea that this is a career-defining moment. The hitter breathes deeply to stay calm and relaxed while trying to remain on edge so they can deliver explosive power and energy at that precise moment. Both athletes are entirely present without thinking about the past or the future. They are living purely in the moment, and that is a powerful learning point for the rest of us.

Mindfulness, which involves keeping our awareness in the here and now, is a key to mental health and elite performance. The idea is to stay in the moment in the face of massive potential for distraction. To quote Dr. Michael Gervais:
 
“When we are in a high stakes or intense situation, it’s not uncommon for our minds to jump forward, going to the next moment and worrying about what happens when this moment doesn’t go well,” Gervais said. “What happens is we give 50 percent to something that doesn’t exist yet and 50 to this moment.”
 
Controlling your awareness and mind is a central element for success in any discipline – be it music, sports, drama or business. Yet we live in the age of distraction. We have e-mail, social media, text messages and YouTube all competing for our attention, not to mention the job we are supposed to be doing. The problem is that distraction and multitasking go against how our brains work. In the movie Limitless, Bradley Cooper uses a drug that allows him to access 100% of his brain. But, no matter how appealing that is, the reality is that our brains can only do one thing at a time.
 
If you practice mindfulness, you will

·         strengthen your ability to stay in the present moment
·         develop your capacity to focus
·         increase the flow of information between mind and body
·         enter into and stay in your Zone with more ease

So as you improve how you manage your mental space, try the age-old technique of being mindful by increasing your awareness of what is happening in and around you. Merely register the data from your senses or thoughts in your mind with detachment and objectivity, as pure facts – watching and observing without labelling, judging, interpreting or analyzing.

Committing to a consistent and daily practice, however long, is a gift that only you can give yourself. Mindfulness has positively impacted people all over the world for thousands of years. By taking just a few moments out of your day you can enjoy the benefits of being genuinely present for your life. Your performance, wellbeing and relationships just might thank you for it.

Today's POWER-UP: Practice Present-Moment Awareness

1. Take a few minutes to do nothing but collect data through your senses. What are you touching and how does it feel (cold, warm, hot, smooth, rough, soft, hard)? What can you see in terms of shape, colour, texture, distance, closeness? What sounds are close by and further away and can you identify them all? What smells are in the air (your cologne, a cup of coffee, someone’s lunch)? What taste do you have in your mouth (sweet, sour, metallic, bitter)?

2. Practice for a few moments each day and you will develop your ability to stay present, develop focus, connect to your body and stay in your flow state.
 
This technique involves being 100% present in the moment with all our attention directed at one thing only. I can do this when I listen to a great piece of music. I also love art galleries, because when faced with a masterpiece, you really can’t think about anything else. You can also do this in a conversation with a friend or family member and be absolutely focused on what they’re saying without your mind wandering or worrying about what you’re going to say back. Just listen and try to understand. One of the deepest human needs is to be listened to – you’ll be amazed by the power of this technique. Sharpening your focus and living in the moment are great ways to dissipate stress. So much of our stress comes from thinking about the past or the future. When we stay in the present, we often realize that things are pretty good.

Meditation and Aging

Meditation and Aging

By Dr. Ellen Choi

When my mom first immigrated to Canada, she was a nurse’s aid to a woman name Mary. Mary took my mom under her wing, taught both of my parents to speak English, and babysat my sister and I when my parents were working. Mary spent her life caring for others. She traveled all over the world and would recant stories of her adventures serving in African villages inspiring many of her colleagues to work and travel in a time where just to be a working woman was inspiring on its own. Shortly after Mary turned 60, she told these stories again and again, sometimes launching into the same story she had just told as if it were a song being played on repeat. You see, Mary had dementia. And it was heart-breaking for us to watch.

Many of us will be impacted by the tragedy of diseases related to aging. For some of us, age-related cognitive decline may already be manifesting in our everyday lives be it elusive words that sit on the tip of our tongue, or forgetting faces that were once familiar. If nothing else, these mental shortfalls should remind us that as time forges on, we are all likely to experience a further decline in our ability to process, recall, and organize information. Cognitive ageing is what researchers describe as a deterioration of the mind’s abilities, for example working memory, executive control, and processing speed.

In the age of the knowledge economy where our ability to think clearly and quickly for sustained periods of time can determine our success, how to mitigate age-related cognitive decline is a sexy question.

Meditation, or mental techniques that train the mind, is one way to keep our minds and memory sharp. Recent findings confirm that mindfulness training not only enhances cognitive functioning and increases the amount of information we can hold in our working memory, for instance, but it may also offset age-related cognitive decline. One compelling study examined the cortical thickness in the region of the brain responsible for higher order thinking to find that the average thickness of meditators 40 to 50 years old was similar to that of a 20 to 30 year old. This suggests that meditation may help prevent deterioration of gray matter in the brain as we get older.

Today's Power Up: Meditate for 3 minutes to spark your brain

You really don’t have to meditate for an hour in lotus position on a cushion to benefit from mindfulness.  Even a short amount of time can create an enormous shift in how your think and feel. Find somewhere comfortable and reasonably quiet to sit and set a timer for 3-minutes. If you’re able to try meditating now, then do it! Once you’re set up, follow these three steps:

1. Become aware of your inner experience. Close your eyes and take a minute to ask yourself “what’s actually going on with me right now”. Tune into your thoughts, feelings, and any bodily sensations. Maybe you’re tired, maybe you’re stressed out about something at work, maybe your chest feels tight, maybe you feel joyful. Just notice where you’re at, and let it be.

2. Find your belly breath. Bring your attention to your abdomen and feel the physical sensation of breath as your body breathes in and your body breathes out. No need to change your breath in any way. Just feel your belly inflate as you inhale and deflate as you exhale.   

3. Expand your awareness. Allow your attention to spread to your body as a whole. Become aware of the position of your body. Expand your awareness to your other senses – what do you hear, smell, taste? 

Mindfulness and Sleep

Mindfulness and Sleep

The STEM 1.0 Corporate Program Home Page

KEY POINTS:

1. We learned in the Sleep Soundly module how important sleep is for recovery and regeneration, optimal performance, and overall health. However, in today's world, getting the optimal amount of sleep might not always be possible.

2. Recently, researchers have discovered that meditation shows similar rest, recovery, and regeneration qualities in the brain as sleep - and after a short practice people often report feeling energized. 

3. While it shouldn't be used instead of sleep, a short meditation practice can be used on those days you had to get up early, or if you were up all night with your kids. 

By Dr. Ellen Choi

In a time where we seem to be conflating a lack of sleep for work ethic, the importance of sleep can be easily undervalued. But, sleep is a critical function that underpins our ability to think clearly, be healthy, be happy, and to function, period. In the state of New Jersey, it is now illegal to drive after being awake for 24-hours because one’s mental state and reaction times are so impaired they are grouped into the same category as a drunk-driver. Insufficient, or even inconsistent sleep impacts judgement, productivity, health, safety, and how we connect with the people around us.

While sleep is an involuntary process, meaning we can’t force sleep to occur at will (a fact that any insomniac or parent can attest to), meditation is a fascinating alternative since we can choose to meditate anytime, anywhere, and for any length of time.

Meditation is a mental training technique that falls into the same category as sleep because they are both regenerative. While meditation and mindfulness practices have earned themselves a good reputation associated with stress reduction, a less well-known finding is that these practices can boost energy levels and mitigate burnout. In my own research, people often report feeling energized after a short practice of paying attention to one’s breath, mentally scanning the body, or simply allowing their minds to wander from something other than work. Recently researchers have discovered that meditation shows similar rest, recovery, and regeneration qualities in the brain as sleep. It also appears that meditation supports deeper sleep and can even alleviate insomnia. Along these lines, one study found that advanced meditators require less sleep at night to feel refreshed and that the benefits of meditation are similar to the cognitive and physical benefits of stage-IV deep sleep.

When my baby was just born I was barely sleeping and in the times that I was asleep, it was fragmented. In my waking hours, I could barely hold eye-contact with people let alone carry a conversation. While many advised me to “nap when the baby napped” it proved unrealistic for me so instead, I started micro-meditating. Any time I was sitting still, I would sit up straight, close my eyes, and connect to my breath or body’s sensations - even if it was just for 10 seconds. Instead of playing on my phone when I was nursing, I would stay present with my baby focusing entirely on her, or if it was dark, focusing on my breath. These brief but frequent moments were incredibly regenerative allowing me to feel more present with the people around me, more productive, and overall, much happier.

Today's Power Up: Meditate to Sleep Better

For those people that are looking to sleep better, investing in a meditation practice has much to offer. Micro-meditations can help.

Particularly, if you feel daunted by the idea of meditating for an hour a day (or even 10 minutes a day), micro-meditations may be one way to begin integrating mindfulness into a busy or erratic schedule.

Here are three things to keep in mind for a very brief mindfulness check-in:

1. Set an intention. Be intentional about your practice such that you are consciously attuning yourself to the present for the next few seconds. This may seem obvious but setting the intention to be present is an important part of the process and is the difference between the practice being a micro-nap or a mental zone out.

2. Choose an anchor. An anchor is anything that you choose to be your point of focus that connects you to the present. Your anchor may be your breath, or body sensations like the feeling of your feet on the floor or the temperature of your hands.  It could also be a mantra you’re repeating in your mind, or even something in front of you that you lock your gaze on. Set your anchor and return to it anytime your mind wanders.

3. Close your practice. At the end of your micro-meditation, create a ritual that brings some closure to your practice. You might pause for one more second just to notice how you feel. Another option is to take a moment to think about something you’re grateful for, or to send a kind thought to someone in your life who needs it.  

You may discover that just a few short intentional moments can shift your entire state of mind.

The evidence suggests that sleep is a cornerstone of a healthy mind but if you can’t fit in more sleep cycles, try meditating instead!

Mindfulness, Stress and Peak Performance

Mindfulness, Stress and Peak Performance

The STEM 1.0 Corporate Program Home Page

KEY POINTS:

1. In a high-pressure situation, mindfulness can be used to help deal with stress and find confidence in the most intense situations. 

2. Possessing the ability to stay calm under pressure is the bedrock of outstanding performance because in a calm state we can more reliably regulate our attention and behaviour.

3. When we feel stressed out, just taking deeper breaths for about 60 seconds is a very effective way of regulating stress because it activates the parasympathetic response in the body, which signals to the emotional centres of the brain that it’s time to calm down.

By Dr. Greg Wells

Imagine you are about to give a presentation to a large audience. Are your palms sweaty? Is your heart beginning to flutter? Is your stomach turning? Are you thinking “oh my, there are so many people out there” or worrying about what the crowd will be thinking of you?

Whether it’s a presentation, a playoff game, a life threatening situation, or even a first date, performance under pressure is something we can all relate to. And here’s a little secret: paying attention to what you’re thinking about is the first step to mastering your performance.

George Mumford is a sports psychologist that has been working with mindfulness for years to help athletes perform at their best in the moments where it matters most. He’s worked with elite athletes, like Michael Jordan, Shaquille O’Neal, and Kobe Bryant to name a few, training them to become more aware of their thoughts and to connect with their body so that they can find a place of ease and confidence in the most intense situations.

Research has recently produced evidence that supports this idea that mindfulness practices are aligned with optimal performance. For example, one meta-analysis reviewed 270 independent studies and found that mindfulness had a positive effect on performance and was negatively related to how much stress people perceived in their lives.

When we react to stress, sometimes the brain and body respond in a way that is not always best for the situation. One example is how stress impacts our attention. If you were in a room with a rattle snake, you’re likely not paying attention to the colour of the curtains because biological programming locks your attention toward focusing on the snake. This is what psychologists refer to as the threat-rigidity response. The downfall is that sometimes we don’t want our attention to become narrow and rigid. Think of how important it would be to an advertising executive to be able to think broadly and openly even when a deadline is approaching. Sometimes we want our attention to be flexible, instead of focusing only on what we perceive to be our largest threat. Possessing the ability to stay calm under pressure is the bedrock of outstanding performance because in a calm state we can more reliably regulate our attention and behaviour.

When we feel stressed out, just taking deeper breaths for about 60 seconds is a very effective way of regulating stress because it activates the parasympathetic response in the body, which floods the brain with oxygen and signals to the emotional centres of the brain that it’s time to calm down.

Today's Power Up: The STOP Practice

The next time you feel suffocated by the pressure of a situation, try the STOP practice. STOP stands for Stop, Take a breath, Observe, and Proceed. Here are the four steps in detail.

1. Stop whatever you’re doing and become aware of the present moment.

2. Take a breath. Or two. Or ten.

3. Observe your body and scan it for any sensations, tension, emotions that are present.

4. Proceed. Carry on with life and set an intention guided by “what’s most important as I move forward?”. It may even be that you need to cycle through the STOP practice again!

Meditate to Sharpen Your Mind

Meditate to Sharpen Your Mind

The STEM 1.0 Corporate Program Home Page

KEY POINTS:

1. Meditation has direct benefits on both the structure and function of the brain.

2. Meditating for as little as eight weeks can actually increase the grey matter in the parts of the brain responsible for emotional regulation and learning.

3. Regular meditation helps to change the responses of a region of the brain called the amygdala, leading to better emotional control both during the meditation and in the hours that followed. 

4. Other research has shown that mediation improves mood, stress, your hormone levels, and can reduce anxiety, pain, and depression.

By Dr. Greg Wells

Most of the elite performers that I have had the privilege to work with over the last few years have a meditation practice. I have just started and am about 6 months into my journey of consistent meditation. The practice has helped me to decrease stress, increase calmness, speed recovery and to think more clearly. I really notice the difference between days when I meditate in the morning when compared to those days when I miss my practice.

Meditation, when done consistently can change your brain for the better. Recent research at Harvard has shown meditating for as little as eight weeks can actually increase the grey matter in the parts of the brain responsible for emotional regulation and learning. My own experience has shown that meditation is essential for learning how to manage and to sharpen my mind. It is an essential practice for anyone looking to live a world-class life.
 
New research has demonstrated that regular meditation helps to change the responses of a region of the brain called the amygdala to environmental events. Overall these changes result in better emotional control both during the meditation and in the hours that followed. This was the first study that showed that meditation has residual effects on mood and emotion that last after the meditation session ends.
 
Other research has shown that mediation improves mood, stress, your hormone levels, and can reduce anxiety, pain, and depression. It is an incredible tool that will make a huge difference in your life.

Today's POWER-UP: The One Minute Body Scan

Eventually, if you practice, the relaxation response and mind clarity becomes almost automatic. Here’s how it works. 

1. Start with one minute a day. Try “body scanning,” which involves focusing your mind and energy on each section of the body from head to toe.

2. As you direct your focus to each body part, notice any tension and use your breathing to relax that area and let the tension go.

3. Focus on your breathing and let your thoughts come and go without judgement.

4. Make this a habit and you might even be able to change the way your brain controls emotions and learning by relaxing your body and setting the stage for brilliance!

The Default Mind

The Default Mind

KEY POINTS:

1. In the brain, the self can be perceived in one of two ways: the experiential mode, or the default mode. The default mode is kind of like being on auto-pilot, and is where most of us operate on a day-to-day basis.

2. The experiential mode is a foundational component of mindfulness practice. It is when an individual is “in the zone” and is so enraptured in the present moment that they have lost awareness of themselves.

3. When we spend too much time in the default mode, we miss out on the joy and the lessons that exist in the little things right before us. 

By Dr. Ellen Choi

When your mind wanders, what are you thinking about? Have you ever noticed that our mental chatter is often concerned with reliving something in the past or worrying about something that has yet to come? When it is focused on the present, it’s often critical - like, “I can’t believe that someone would park their car like that” or “what on earth is Terry wearing?”

Researchers have discovered that the brain has a default mode, a sort of auto-pilot function that most of us operate in on a day-to-day basis. There is, however, another alternative. In the brain, the self can be perceived in one of two ways: the experiential mode, or the default mode.

The experiential mode is the more elusive of the two. It is a foundational component of mindfulness practices because in this mode, we are not watching ourselves as if we are the star of a movie, but instead we’re just in the moment itself. The experiential mode can be understood as a flow state where an individual is “in the zone” and are so enraptured in the present moment that they have lost awareness of themselves. Think of a hockey player skating on the ice thinking only of her stick and the puck. Another example is to think about what it’s like when you’re sitting on the dock at the cottage and enjoying the sound of the lake and the smell of the air instead of worrying about the email you forgot to send earlier that day. In this mode or processing, the physical senses are primarily engaged. When we place our attention on our senses, like the feeling of breathing in and out, we are engaging an experiential mode of self-processing.
 
The default mode - also referred to as the narrative mode - has three characteristics. First, the self is experienced in the past or in the future; anywhere but in the present moment. Second, the narrative mode is self-obsessed and loves thinking about itself: what am I going to eat for lunch or when am I going to get my promotion? Finally, when we operate in the default mode we see the world through a critical lens constantly evaluating and judging our experiences. Imagine eating a piece of chocolate. In the narrative mode, instead of enjoying the chocolate, we might be thinking “I shouldn’t be eating this since it has so many calories” or “this isn’t as good as the last chocolate I ate” whereas in the experiential mode you would simply be savouring its taste as it melts on the tongue. The narrative mode is beneficial because it lets us learn from the past and plan for the future. But, when we spend too much time in the default mode, we miss out on the joy and the lessons that exist in the little things right before us. Along these lines, a recent study conducted out of Harvard found that being present was a better predictor of happiness than the activity one was actually engaging in. This is an empowering finding because we cannot always control what we need to do in a day, but we can choose to be fully present while we’re doing them.
 
In the age of neuroplasticity, there are actions we can take to begin rewiring how our brain functions. Meditation appears to be one way to literally reprogram the brain and break the default mode.

Today's Power Up: Tame The Default Mind

Here are three other ways to push back against the default mode so that you can be here for the big and little moments of your life.

1. Start developing your awareness by simply noticing when you are and are not present. There is some evidence to suggest that approximately 50% of the time we are not focusing on the task before us. In the words of Jon Kabat-Zinn, a thought leader in the mindfulness world, when you’re walking, just walk; when you’re eating, just eat!

2. Start thinking more about others. Instead of worrying about what you’re going to say in your next meeting or what your peers think about your report, spend a moment or two focusing on others. Sit down and write a thank you note to someone in your life. Or try sending every person you walk by a kind thought like “have a nice day” or “may you be happy” and see how you feel after a short period of time.

3. Tame your critical voice. Practice observing and suspending judgment. It may surprise you how often and how quickly your mind is judging everything around you. Begin by observing what and when you’re judging, and then wherever possible, see if you can allow an experience to simply be without labelling it as positive or negative. The best part about decreasing the amount of time we judge others is that we tend to start judging ourselves less as well.

Meditate to Create

Meditate to Create

The STEM 1.0 Corporate Program Home Page

KEY POINTS:

1. Practising mindfulness and meditation has been shown to improve attentional control, problem solving, concentration, and creativity.

2. Imaging techniques that show brain activation and neural networks have demonstrated that mindfulness and meditation can improve brain function - like strength training for the brain! 

By Dr. Greg Wells

I recently participated in a thought leadership exercise at a school in Toronto. The school was interested in developing a strategic plan for how the leaders and faculty could help students prepare for the future, which is more uncertain than ever.

I was asked to provide my thoughts on what skills and characteristics the graduate of the future would need to be successful. Repeatedly, others also participating in this exercise highlighted the need for graduates to be agile in their thinking and to be creative—these were considered the skills that would enable them to overcome the challenges they inevitably would face in their careers.

Practising mindfulness and meditation has been shown both in applied practice and in the research to improve attentional control, problem solving, concentration, and creativity. New imaging techniques—including functional magnetic resonance imaging, which shows brain activation, and diffusion tensor imaging, which shows the neural networks in the brain—are demonstrating that mindfulness and meditation can improve brain function and meditation as strength training for the brain.

Just as you would lift weights to build and strengthen your muscles, you can use meditation to build and strengthen your brain, and then to control and sharpen your mind, ultimately making you more creative. Which is essential in today's competitive world in all disciplines.

Today's Power Up: The 3 meditations for creativity

Mindfulness practices enable individuals to think more independently from their prior experiences and assumptions. Existing research has also found that mindfulness supports cognitive flexibility, or the ability to engage in alternative thinking strategies in response to new and unexpected conditions. While a short meditation is unlikely to transform a person into a brilliant creative genius that can see the world anew, studies have found that people who participate in a short 3-minute mindfulness exercise produce more creative responses compared to those that do not undergo the exercise.

The next time you need to get yourself into an innovative state of mind, try the following three things:

Get in the now. Connect with the present moment by taking three deep breaths. Become aware of any pressure you feel to produce a “great” idea, simple acknowledge that it’s there, and come back fully to your breath. If you need to, take another 3 breaths.

Get curious. Pick up an object you are familiar with like a paper clip or a single staple. Spend a moment holding this object as if you are from another planet and have never seen it before. Feel it, bend it, smell it, stare at it up close and from afar. Bring it up to your ear and bend it to see if you can hear any sounds.

Get practical. Creativity requires both novelty and utility. Write down 10 things that you could do with this object that are different from its originally intended use. For example, a staple could be a toothpick or a thumbtack.

How to Begin a Mindfulness Practice

How to Begin a Mindfulness Practice

The STEM 1.0 Corporate Program Home Page

KEY POINTS:

1. Mindfulness can be formal - like sitting still and meditating for a period of time, or informal - like practicing being present and non-judgmental of whatever you are doing moment to moment.

2. You don't need a lot to reap the benefits. Even 10-minutes a day for five days in a row produces measurable changes in attentional performance.

3. Creating the intention and building the habit is the most important aspect of starting a mindfulness practice.

By Dr. Ellen Choi

It’s one thing to know one should be mindful, and another thing to actually be mindful. To yield the many touted benefits of mindfulness, like improving your performance, focus, wellbeing, and relationships, the experience of mindfulness can’t remain conceptual. Like exercise and nutrition, mindfulness is most impactful if we actually do it.

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There is an old Indian parable about two men on a ship. One is a learned and highly educated sailor and the other, a deck hand with only life’s experience as his knowledge base. As the men sail on, the educated man flaunts his intellect by calling out the names of the islands and commenting on the winds showcasing the many years he spent learning about meteorology, geography, geology and the likes. Suddenly, the ship is hit by misfortune and a punctured hull indicates that in a matter of time the ship will surely sink. It is only then that the educated man becomes quiet realizing that he has never taken the time to learn how to swim. The deck hand, having spent his life swimming in the sea despite having never studied it, smiles with the assurance of his survival. The moral of the story? No amount of talk or theorizing beats action itself. It’s not enough to know what swimming is, you have to be able to swim to save yourself from drowning.
 
So, what exactly does it mean to practice mindfulness? Very broadly, there are formal practices - like sitting still and meditating for a period of time, and there are informal practices, like practicing being present and non-judgmental of whatever you are doing moment to moment. This could mean that as you’re walking down the street, you are simply feeling the sensations of walking instead of thinking about your upcoming meeting.

Another common question that gets asked is how much practice is enough? This is a great question because much of the early research evidence is based on expert practitioners, like Tibetan monks, who have spent thousands of hours meditating.

To receive some of the deeper benefits like emotion regulation and willpower, more practice over longer periods of time is ideal. This may mean you set aside 60 minutes to meditate every day or 30 minutes twice a day.

What we know today, however, is that even a little bit of practice can start to generate benefits. Even 10-minutes a day for five days in a row produces measurable changes in attentional performance. If you don’t have 10-minutes, do 2-minutes. Creating the intention and building the habit is the most important aspect of starting a mindfulness practice. Furthermore, while formal practice is likely to be most impactful, informal practice can also yield benefits. This means just showering each day while being present and non-judgmental of your experience can be one way you practice mindfulness in your everyday life.

Today's Power Up: Download an app

1. WHEN YOU FEEL COMMITTED TO PRACTICING FOR SEVERAL MINUTES AT A TIME, THERE ARE LOTS OF MEDITATION APPS THAT CAN GUIDE YOU THROUGH A FORMAL PRACTICE (CALM; HEADSPACE; TAKE A BREAK; SIMPLE HABIT; BUDDHIFY; INSIGHT TIMER; OMVANA; SMILING MIND; WILDFLOWERS TO NAME A FEW).

2. FIND ONE YOU LIKE AND LET THE APP GUIDE YOU THROUGH SOME FORMAL MEDITATIONS. WE HIGHLY RECOMMEND HEADSPACE.COM AND CALM.COM TO GET YOU STARTED.

Dive Deeper

Check out this TED talk by Andy Puddicombe that explains the power of short bouts of mindfulness.

Welcome to Mindfulness!

Welcome to Mindfulness!

The STEM 1.0 Corporate Program Home Page

KEY POINTS:

1. The benefits of mindfulness training can be put into three main categories: 1) performance, 2) wellbeing, and 3) relationships.

2. Mindfulness impacts performance at work largely through improving focus and concentration. Mindfulness also improves how fast we can think, what we can hold in our memory, and enables us to be more creative when we’re making decisions and strategizing.

3. When it comes to improving wellbeing, mindfulness is incredibly effective at reducing stress and burnout, and boosting how happy we feel. Mindfulness is also related to higher levels of work-life balance, greater job satisfaction, lower turnover intentions, and less absenteeism.

4. Mindfulness trains our ability to control our behaviour and cultivates our ability to empathize with another person’s humanity. Research has found that mindfulness is related to greater marital satisfaction, and the quality of relationships between leaders and their employees.

By Dr. Ellen Choi

Following the likes of empowerment, and innovation, mindfulness has become the latest management buzzword.  Mindfulness, or present moment awareness with a non-judgmental and open quality, has been turning the heads of executives, politicians, Olympians, students, and even the US military. So, what is all the fuss about? A recent article published in the Journal of Management typified the benefits of mindfulness training into three main categories: 1) performance, 2) wellbeing, and 3) relationships.

1) Performance

Mindfulness impacts performance at work largely through improving attention by training two main skills, focus and concentration.  Focus allows us to choose where we place our attention, and concentration allows us to decide how long we can hold our attention on the desired task.

In a world of interruptions, competing priorities, and distractions this has powerful implications on how efficient we are at work.  Mindfulness training improves how fast we can think, what we can hold in our memory, and enables us to be more creative when we’re making decisions and strategizing.

Research has even found that mindfulness leads to fewer errors - not surprising when you think about what we’re capable of when we’re actually paying attention, and also better performance under pressure because mindfulness helps us manage stress and focus on what’s most important. 

With so many practical applications, it’s not surprising that professional athletes to elementary school students have been paying attention to mindfulness.
 
2) Wellbeing

A good portion of the workforce is stressed out, tired, and overwhelmed.  It should be exciting to know that there is something we can do about this.  When it comes to improving wellbeing, mindfulness practices seem to be incredibly effective at reducing stress and burnout, and boosting how happy we feel. 

There are over three decades of research that have produced findings supporting these kinds of effects. Many of these studies are based on an 8-week course called Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction.  This program was created by Jon Kabat-Zinn, a man who trained with zen masters in the east and who also holds a PhD from MIT, one of the world’s most prestigious universities. Today, studies have been conducted on some of the most stressful professions like police, military personnel, professional athletes, healthcare workers, MBA students, and even elementary school teachers.

For many different professions, mindfulness training helps people become more aware of themselves so that they can manage their thoughts and feelings in a way that reduces stress.  Some researchers have suggested that since mindfulness training reduces the tendency to ruminate and increases our ability to regulate emotions, we may feel happier and more satisfied with life as a result. Just think how much happier we would feel if we didn’t snap at our kids or if we could stop thinking about what that guy at work said to us. Mindfulness is also related to higher levels of work-life balance, greater job satisfaction, lower turnover intentions, and less absenteeism.

3) Relationships

The third category of benefits is relationships. How many times have you felt frustrated when you’re talking to someone and you can tell they’re not listening, or worse, when they keep looking at their phone?  If we’re honest with ourselves, think of how many times we have been talking on the phone while multi-tasking because we know the person we’re speaking with can’t see us?  And these situations only refer to interactions when we’re not present. 

Remember, mindfulness refers to present-moment, non-judgmental awareness.  How much would our relationships be enriched if we were able to apply non-judgmental awareness to our colleagues when they show up late to work, or to our spouse when they insist they need help with the children? 

Mindfulness has the potential to deeply influence how we interact with others because it trains our ability to control our behaviour - like choosing to pay full attention to your spouse/partner when they call even if we are busy at work. It also cultivates our ability to empathize with another person’s humanity by suspending judgement and stepping into their world to feel what they feel. 

Empirically, research has found that mindfulness is related to greater marital satisfaction, and the quality of relationships between leaders and their employees. Our brains are wired for social connections - so much so that the quality of our relationships can actually predict how long we live.  The fact that mindfulness benefits relationships is perhaps the most important benefit of all.

Today's Power Up: Begin or renew your mindfulness practice

1. PICK A TIME OF DAY WHERE YOU CAN CONSISTENTLY COMMIT TO PRACTICING.

2. THEN, START WITH JUST ONE BREATH.

IF IT’S IN THE MORNING WHEN YOU WAKE UP, BEFORE YOU GRAB YOUR PHONE OR RUN TO THE WASHROOM, JUST PAUSE AND PAY ATTENTION TO ONE INHALE AND ONE EXHALE.

IF YOUR MINDFULNESS PRACTICE IS AFTER LUNCH, THEN SET ASIDE TIME FOR JUST ONE INTENTIONAL BREATH BEFORE YOU RACE ON WITH YOUR DAY.

3. JUST TAKE ONE BREATH, STAY IN THE MOMENT, AND THEN ADD ANOTHER BREATH. SEE IF YOU CAN GET TO 10 BREATHS WHERE YOU ARE 100% PRESENT.

4. AS YOU FEEL MORE COMFORTABLE, START EXTENDING YOUR PRACTICE LONGER AND LONGER. 20-MINUTES IS A GREAT AMOUNT OF TIME BECAUSE SOMETIMES IT CAN TAKE 10-MINUTES FOR THE MIND TO SETTLE DOWN IN THE FIRST PLACE.

Dive Deeper: All about mindfulness and meditation with Dr. Ellen Choi on the Be Better Podcast.

Ellen is an expert in the effects of mindfulness in the workplace. She is delighted to be in her final year of her doctorate at the Ivey School of Business after completing a masters degree in social psychology at the London School of Economics. Presently she is studying how mindfulness training impacts such outcomes as performance, creativity, will power, and envy. Overall, Ellen is fascinated by the ability of mindfulness training to help individuals fulfill their potential in a more efficient and more self-compassionate manner.

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