Category Archives: Leadership

Navigating Aortic Valve Replacement (AVR) Surgery with mPEAK and Mindfulness

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Read this very personal story from a recent mPEAK participant and Join Pete Kirchmer for the next mPEAK 3-Day Intensive March 11-13, 2017, UC San Diego Center for Mindfulness, San Diego, CA.

By William R. Matthews, MA, LPC

Medical literature contains numerous references proclaiming the benefits of meditation and mindfulness on cardiovascular health and pain management. But to me, these were merely academic case studies, as I had not personally known anyone who had successfully used mindfulness to manage through a major medical procedure. That is, until August 17, 2016, when I had aortic valve replacement surgery.

I need to back up a moment. In March of 2016 I participated in the three-day mPEAK intensive that included six weekly one-hour conference call follow-ups. For me the follow-up sessions were critical for integrating the didactic and practice sessions taught in the three-day into a consistent meditative practice. mPEAK was my first hands-on experience with mindfulness. At that point in time, I had been aware for several years that I had a bicuspid aortic valve that would “eventually” need replacement (in fact it kept me from fully participating in the five-mile mindful walk that is part of the program), but there had been no discussion of surgery with my primary physician or cardiologist. Two months after returning from mPEAK, my new primary care physician sent me for an ultrasound of my heart. The results indicated significant blockage of the aortic valve, and that started the ball rolling for surgery “as soon as possible.”

When a date for surgery was set, I emailed mPEAK ccf9e-headshot2program director, Peter Kirchmer, asking if he could provide me with additional mindfulness resources on pain management, since that seemed to be a big concern connected to surgeries. In response, Pete wrote “Forget about additional resources. You have everything you need already. Just continue developing the skills you already have.” Wise counsel indeed. So I loaded up my iPod with all the meditation files mPEAK had made available to us on its website, added John Kabat-Zinn’s Mindfulness Meditation for Pain Relief, and a few other meditations. I played these every evening before bed, in the waiting lounges of airports, and in my office sharing them with my clients. Ultimately, my iPod was headed with me to the hospital.

The night before surgery I slept soundly without the benefit of any sleep aid other than my meditation-filled iPod. I arrived at the hospital at 5:40 AM surgery day and was taken back to pre-op shortly thereafter. The nurse remarked that my blood pressure showed no signs of anticipatory anxiety.  I too was surprised at how calm I was considering someone was about to cut my chest open and mess with my heart. I told the nurse about my mindful preparation and she asked a lot of questions of interest to learn more. A brief chat with a family member, a friend and a short prayer from the rector of my church was all I remember before waking up almost six hours later.

I awoke in recovery to see the same three faces that I had left there that morning. After a few minutes I was taken to cardiac ICU. A nurse and a member of the physical therapy team armed with a pillow were waiting for me. The PT announced that she was there to help me get into bed by “leaning into my pain and clutching the pillow” as my incisions were on the right side along with two chest tubes. Even in my post-anesthesia fog, my mind went immediately to a body scan, noting that my left side was incision- and tube-free. I also made a mental note that at home my bedroom is set up so that I can only get into bed from my left side. I got up off the gurney without assistance walked around the end of the hospital bed, sat down and got into bed on the left side of the bed without assistance (with minimal pain) and said, “I think I’ll do it this way instead.” The PT could only respond, “I guess that way’s OK too.”

The nurse waiting her turn with me announced that she was there to help me with pain management. She advised, “The key to pain management is staying ahead of the pain.” I interpreted that to mean don’t wait until the pain gets bad, keep taking your medication. At that point my mind recalled an activity from mPEAK where we were asked to insert a hand up to mid-forearm into a bucket of ice water and keep it there until the pain started to hurt. Most people removed their hands from the buckets in under a minute. The teachers explained that a large part of managing pain is changing our relationship to the pain. After sharing techniques and mindsets for doing so, we were given the opportunity to try immersing our hands into the ice water again. Most everyone were able to keep their hands in the ice water for considerably longer the second time around. With this recollection I informed the nurse of my plan – to measure my pain on a scale from 0-5 every hour or so, and if the pain number was not any higher than the last “reading” I wouldn’t be asking for pain medication. I received medication for pain only twice: 1) shortly after arriving in the ICU and 2) later that day when they removed the chest tubes. By the next morning, the day after surgery, I had discontinued all pain medication for the remainder of my hospital stay.

Prior to my surgery, my cardiologist and cardiac surgeon both agreed that I would need to go to a rehab facility “for at least a week” after being discharged from the hospital because I live alone. However, I created a dilemma for them because my recovery was so quick and complete. The discharge social worker advised me that I didn’t meet any medical criteria for rehab placement. She even had PT and OT evaluate me one more time in hopes of coming up with some reason to get me admitted, but neither could come up with a medical need. So I was discharged after 4-1/2 days, with my doctors agreeing that I could stay with a friend who lived within a mile of the hospital. I had a return visit to the cardiac surgeon four days afterward. At that appointment my cardiac surgeon said I was free to go back home and decide for myself when I would go back to work. I was back to work half-time three weeks after surgery and returned to full-time work the following week.

While I wouldn’t necessarily put AVR surgery in the category of a high performance activity, I am convinced that the skills and tools I learned from mPEAK, played a central role in my recovery.

William R. Matthews, MA, LPC is in private practice with the Great Lakes Psychology Group. Bill works out of GLPG’s office in Clinton Township, Michigan, where he counsels with children, adolescents and adults using family systems, EMDR, Mindfulness and sports psychology approaches. Bill is also a volunteer trainer and curriculum consultant for the University of Notre Dame’s Play Like a Champion Today educational program. Bill can be reached at bill.matt.GLPG@gmail.com.

Join Pete Kirchmer for the next mPEAK 3-Day Intensive March 11-13, 2017, UC San Diego Center for Mindfulness, San Diego, CA.

ccf9e-headshot2Pete Kirchmer is  the Program Director for the UCSD Center For Mindfulness mPEAK (Mindful, Performance Enhancement, Awareness & Knowledge) Program. Pete specializes in coaching his clients in applying the practice of mindfulness to making healthy lifestyle changes as well as improving performance in life, work and sport. For more information about Pete Kirchmer please visit his Mindfulness Based Health Coaching website.

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Mindfulness Training Leads to Important Changes in the Brains of World-Class BMX Cyclists

By Lori Haase, Ph.D.

mpeak-medals copyResearchers at UC San Diego School of Medicine who have been working with Olympic BMX cyclists to improve their athletic prowess have documented areas of the brain that appear to respond to mindfulness training. Specifically, recent results suggest that these peak performers were better able to appropriately anticipate challenges and found that they could remain focused and aware of their performance in the midst of the split-second stressors that arise in a BMX race that can be intense and often lasts for fewer than two minutes with multiple competitors vying for a place at the finish line. These results suggest that BMX performance may be enhanced through the regular practice of mindfulness meditation.

Reporting in a recent issue of Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience (abstact, full article) researchers show that a 8-week intensive mindfulness training course, known as mPEAK, altered the cyclists’ brain activity patterns in two performance-relevant ways:

As measured by fMRI activity in the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) and insula were enhanced during the anticipatory and recovery phases of a stress-provoking exercise. The ACC and insula are believed to play a strong role in interoception, the ability to sense bodily sensations such a heart rate and integrate them with external stimulation and emotional overlay.

“Prior to the test, their brains were ramping up for activity,” said first author Lori Haase, Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatry, UC San Diego School of Medicine. “We interpret this as meaning the athletes are anticipating the stress and getting ready for it.”

The second measurable change was an apparent reduction in the level of connectivity between posterior cingulate cortex (PCC) and both the right medial frontal cortex and ACC, during the stress-evoking test, in which athletes were asked to breathe through a narrow straw that restricted air flow. The PCC is implicated in self-awareness and self-referential thoughts. A reduction in connectivity to this brain area is consistent with the idea that mindfulness training heightens a person’s awareness of bodily sensations, with less self-referential processing added to what is being experienced physically. “This can potentially help athlete stay present to their performance ,” Haase said.

Taken together, these results suggest that significant changes in the brain, directly related to performance in intense and physically demanding activities like BMX cycling or other athletic endeavors, can result from a relatively brief and focused program like the UC San Diego Center for Mindfulness’ mPEAK course.

About The Author: Lori Haase is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist and in addition to her clinical training, she is also a neuroscientist investigating the neural substrates of resilience and optimal performance and their modification through mindfulness training. Dr. Haase is Director, co-developer, and teacher of the Mindful Performance Enhancement, Awareness and Knowledge (mPEAK) program.​

Learn about the mPEAK 3-Day Intensive mPEAK program February 13-15, 2016  at the Catamaran Hotel in San Diego, CA. Activities include: meditation; talks on the relationship between neuroscientific findings, peak performance and mindfulness; experiential exercises; group discussion; and home practices. CE credits are available. Register here.

For our local San Diego residence you are also invited to register for the full 8-Week mPEAK program held at the UC San Diego Center for Mindfulness. The next course starts in January 2016.

 

Can We “Be Enough” and Still Mindfully Pursue Our Goals? Part 2

By Pete Kirchmer

About The Author

ccf9e-headshot2Pete Kirchmer is  the Assistant Director for the UCSD Center For Mindfulness mPEAK (Mindful, Performance Enhancement, Awareness & Knowledge) Program. Pete specializes in coaching his clients in applying the practice of mindfulness to making healthy lifestyle changes as well as improving performance in life, work and sport. For more information about Pete Kirchmer please visit his Mindfulness Based Health Coaching website.

There are risks of becoming attached and consumed by our goals. In Part 1 of this blog, we considered how striving for results and clinging to outcomes can lead to stress and anxiety, diminishing well-being and eroding performance over time. However, goals don’t need to be eliminated because of this, just approached more mindfully. I’ve found that while it may not be helpful to set a specific and measurable goal to achieve mindfulness, it can be very helpful to bring more mindfulness to achieving goals in life, work and sport. In this blog we’ll explore a few of the ways to practice working with goals that can both enhance performance and lead to greater fulfillment.

The biggest distinction of Mindfulness Based Goal Setting (MBGS for those who needed one more acronym) is to hold your goals lightly. Treating a goal as an intention or a commitment rather than a rigid destination helps to decrease attachment and clinging to an expected outcome.

The Goal is an Anchor

Participants of the mPEAK program and others who know the basic instructions for Awareness of Breath Meditation will be quite familiar with the intention and commitment to following the breath as a single point of focus. We set out attending carefully to the sensations of each in-breath and out-breath… until we don’t. When we get distracted by thoughts, feelings, sounds or sensations, the instruction is to simply notice the wandering mind and return to the breath with kindness. This is the same way to practice with our goals! We set an intention or commitment to finishing a project, going to the gym, eating less gluten or being nicer to our spouse. When we inevitably lose motivation, get distracted or begin a pattern of self-sabotage, the instructions are to simply notice and gently but firmly come back to the goal.

The word “aspiration” is related to the Latin word spiritus, breath, and comes from the french aspirare meaning ‘to breathe out.’ When we relate to goals as aspirations, they can be used like the breath as a focus for practice, developing greater concentration and anchoring us to the present moment. I often tell my clients, it’s not the one who clings tightest to the goal who succeeds, it’s the one who continually comes back to the goal over and over.

I’ve been practicing this way with my own aspiration while writing this blog. For instance I’ve been aware of a desire to stop writing and fix a snack about every twenty minutes or so. I’ve noticed that the sound of an incoming email pulls my attention away and creates a sense of imagined importance and urgency. I can also hear the thoughts of my own inner critic judging my writing, “This blog is long and boring and nobody will probably read it”. But with mindfulness, I can simply notice the thoughts and impulses and make a choice to either indulge the distraction, or continue writing toward my goal.

Goals as an Experiment

Another way to loosen our grip on goals is to treat them like experiments. Rather than measuring success only by the specific outcome, we can begin to look for value in the learning and development that comes around any goal. Whenever I set a goal that stretches me from my comfort zone, I can count on all my “stuff” being triggered. By bringing curiosity to my thoughts and patterns that arise during the process of working toward a goal, I deepen my understanding of what makes me perform well and what holds me back.

While working toward the goal of finishing this blog, I’ve learned that I’m more creative and enjoy writing in the mornings rather than in the evenings. Because of the introceptive awareness I’ve cultivated through practicing the Body Scan Meditation, I am keenly aware that 1 cup of coffee engages my body and mind, stimulating my fingers to type efficiently. However with a cup and a half, a subtle nervousness sets in that leads to more distractibility, typos, made up words and run on sentences. There has also been self-awareness and knowledge gained around how to prepare to write. I’ve found that a little prep work of reading other material on my topic can help me get into my flow. But without watching carefully, this preparation can take on a life of it’s own, becoming an all-consuming research project fueled by the fear of not knowing enough.

Goals as a Gateway

“The view changes as we walk along the path and we abandon the goals that, at first, we had in mind. It’s painful to let go of our original intentions but, eventually, they are in the way because we have been changed, we are no longer the person who set off. Our intentions gave us the journey and that is enough.” – John Tarrant, Zen Teacher

Another way to hold goals lightly is to trust that our goals will evolve naturally as our practice deepens. When I first began meditating, over a decade ago, I was clear that my goal for meditation was to be a Jedi- Samurai warrior. I had practiced martial arts for many years and watched enough Kung Fu movies to know that anyone who wanted to seriously kick butt had to meditate. Was this the wisest aspiration for a meditation practice? Ultimately no, but it’s the one I had and it’s what got me through the door. Since then my aspiration for meditation has gone through many incarnations with each new understanding giving rise to a new “goal”. Letting go of “kicking butt” gave rise to wanting to be more “spiritual”. Letting go of trying to be spiritual made space for acceptance of who I truly am, which set the stage for greater compassion towards the people in my life. Eventually this may even lead to the realized aspiration of compassion for all beings…but I’m still holding that one lightly.

Not only have I noticed that my goals have evolved with practice, they’ve also started dropping away. I’ve written a goal list every New Years since I was 13. Recently, as I reviewed goals from each of the last five years, I noticed a progression toward more simplicity and less ambition. This isn’t because I want my life to be less rich or have less impact, it’s because I trust myself more. Ultimately at this stage of practice, I know what’s in my heart. I know the path I’m on. I know the work that needs to be done and I trust that in most moments, I’ll make appropriate choices that align with my deepest values. Even without rigid goal setting I eat clean, give it my all at the gym, continue to grow my coaching practice and find fulfillment in my relationships. For me, that is enough.

When it comes to setting goals, the most important thing is to start where you’re at, which is typically right here. Look deeply into your own heart and ask yourself what you really, really want out of your life, your practice, your sport, your work and your relationships. Set goals that move and inspire you to stretch and grow. Work toward these goals mindfully and diligently with kindness and non- attachment, allowing them to naturally evolve… and evolve you, over time.

2015_3_DayMindful Performance Enhancement, Awareness & Knowledge
3-Day Intensive mPEAK course Program activities include: meditation; talks on the relationship between neuroscientific findings, peak performance and mindfulness; experiential exercises; group discussion; and home practices.
CE credits are available. June 26-28, 2015 The Catamaran Hotel, San Diego, CA

For our local San Diego residence you are also invited to register for the full 8-Week mPEAK program held at the UC San Diego Center for Mindfulness.

 

Can We “Be Enough” and Still Mindfully Pursue Our Goals? Part 1

By Pete Kirchmer

About The Author

ccf9e-headshot2Pete Kirchmer is  the Assistant Director for the UCSD Center For Mindfulness mPEAK (Mindful, Performance Enhancement, Awareness & Knowledge) Program. Pete specializes in coaching his clients in applying the practice of mindfulness to making healthy lifestyle changes as well as improving performance in life, work and sport. For more information about Pete Kirchmer please visit his Mindfulness Based Health Coaching website.

“You are perfect the way you are…and you could use a little improvement”

Shunryu Suzuki Roshi

This blog post began as a goal. About logo-mpeak2 weeks ago I set a goal to create a blog of 1,600 words or less by a specific date and then delegated a few chunks of my schedule for writing and editing. Now here I am in the present, looking at a list of blog topics I’d created in the past, for future consideration. Maybe because I just had a birthday or maybe because the 3-day intensive mPEAK course is about to start in June, but mindfulness and goal setting seems to be an especially relevant topic.

No GoalsNo Goals Allowed

As I begin, I’m curious how many people reading this believe I’ve gone against a fundamental of mindfulness by taking a goal setting approach to writing this blog? After all, Mindfulness is about being in the now, not in the future land where goals live, right?

If you’ve taken a mindfulness course, chances are you’ve heard the teacher say something like, “There is no goal in Mindfulness- no place to go and nothing to get.” This wisdom is commonly met by new students with the response of, “Hold on, it’s not about doing anything?” “Nope. Not improving, changing or fixing.” This can initially be a difficult lesson to grasp. In essence, Mindfulness is about recognizing that simply being present and fully accepting what’s already here, is enough.

But what about all those piles of research findings suggesting the benefits of creating specific, measurable, achievable, time dependent goals? Are they in conflict with the other piles of research findings on the benefits of mindfulness? Is the practice of already “being enough”, at odds with my goal to write a blog, or the goals of my coaching clients who want to start going to the gym, run a race, balance work and life or make more profit for their business?

“How do we successfully balance being enough in the present moment while working toward an improvement goal for the future?”

Perhaps the first obstacle to true understanding is the duality of the very questions being asked. Rather than seeing it as either/or, we might try the inquiry: How do we successfully balance being enough in the present moment while working toward an improvement goal for the future?

As I’ve worked with these inquiries over the last few years I’ve found that it’s less about the goal and more about how we hold each of our unique aspirations. There are ways of relating to goals that will increase performance while bringing more enjoyment and there are also ways of holding goals that will lead to greater stress. In this first blog, let’s explore some of the common pitfalls of goal setting so you’ll know what to watch for. There will also be a part 2 of this blog that offers insight into how to successfully bring mindfulness to goals.

Goal AttachmentGoal Attachment

One of the reasons Mindfulness Teachers warn against goal setting is that it can be very easy to get attached to the outcome of our goals. Take for example a client of mine who set a goal to lose 20 pounds at the advice of her doctor to decrease her risk of diabetes. She set out with force and ambition, walking, doing yoga, eliminating processed food and sweets during weekdays. Everything was working perfectly, until it wasn’t. The first slip up initiated a cascade of stress hormones that caused tension in the body and sabotaging thoughts, triggered by an old fear of failure. Not wanting to face her disappointment and negative body image, she was convinced that the only thing that would help her feel better about herself was more cheesecake.

“…it can be very easy to get attached to the outcome of our goals.”

When we get attached to a goal, it becomes part of our identity, which typically turns out in one of two ways. For some people like my weight loss client, one simple slip up can be elevated beyond a single failed moment, to a more global, “I am and always will be a failure as a person.” In this case, self-efficacy goes down the drain with yet another goal not achieved. For others, goal attachment leads to the opposite effect of not giving up on a goal even after it’s long ago lost value and relevance. Failure after failure doesn’t seem to loosen their white knuckled grip. Rather than just letting go, goal attachment can lead some to go down with the ship.

Striving & DrivingStriving & Driving

Many mindfulness students who come from corporate America or competitive sports are utterly baffled by the concept of “Non-Striving”. Striving is not just common in their culture; it’s a normal and expected way of being. Everyone is “striving to be their best” or “striving for progress”. Often striving does actually work to push the desired results, but is it really the best way to move forward? Just take a look at the word “Strive”. According to the Oxford dictionary it means, “to make great efforts to achieve or obtain something” or “to struggle or fight vigorously.” In fact the word strive has its origins in the word “strife”, which means “angry or bitter disagreement over fundamental issues; conflict.” The only reason this anxious, urgent and even desperate way in which people strive ends up going unnoticed, is because everyone else is working that way too.

“Often striving does actually work to push the desired results, but is it really the best way to move forward?”

Take for example a client of mine who wanted to compete in a triathlon. Her friends were signing up and it had been on her bucket list for many years. After the long list of accessories were purchased, a new bike, wetsuit, swimming goggles, running shoes, and a new device for tracking miles, she was off to the races. Each morning getting up early to train, sacrificing time with her family, preparing meals and diligently planning out training days so that her time decreased and her mileage increased. All sights were set on race day. If results were what mattered, then her hard work was paying off and she could be seen as a success. But if well-being and enjoying life was any factor at all, then she was failing miserably.

When we’re striving to reach an end goal, we can begin to lose perspective and diminish the rewards of the journey. We might be making progress but at what cost? Even with high stress levels and an underlying sense that “something is wrong”, many of my clients still express fear in letting go of their striving. “If I didn’t strive to finish my projects, nothing would get done on time.” One of the biggest challenges for these people is that the stress caused by the striving its self, limits the ability of their mind to see any of the other infinite, creative ways to go about getting things done.

Great Expectations

At the heart of any unskillful goal setting is the belief that “If I reach that goal, then I’ll be happy.” Happy could just as easily be replaced with “peaceful, lovable, worthy etc.” The assumption is that things are not OK right now, but if I did x, y and z, they would be better in the future. This thinking leads some to disenchantment with life when they realize that one achievement after another doesn’t lead to the expected happiness. But others continue to chase the carrot year after year, telling themselves the same story. “I thought it was the 10 pounds that would make me happy but maybe what I really need is to save up for is a new car.” “I thought it was a new car, but it must be a new wife.” “I thought it was a new wife, but it must be more travel.” The reason things you think would make you happier don’t, is explained by the theory of “Hedonic Adaptation”. This is the tendency for people to quickly return to a stable level of happiness, or a “happiness set point”, despite major positive or negative events or life changes. For example, if someone reaches their goal of losing weight, getting a raise, moving to a bigger house or buying a new car, eventually his or her expectations and desires rise in tandem, resulting in no permanent gain in happiness. This is referred to as the Hedonic Treadmill…it’s a cycle that just keeps going and going, always striving to get to an imaginary “there”, but never arriving.

Now that we know what not to do, stay tuned for the next post which will give examples of how to relate to goals so that performance continues to improve, but without the stress of attachment.

You are invited to join and learn with Pete at our next mPEAK trainings. mPEAK is a cutting-edge training program for those seeking new levels of performance and success in their work, sport, or other challenging endeavors. mPEAK is built around the latest brain research related to peak performance, resilience, focus, and“flow”. The mPEAK program enhances mindfulness through established and empirically supported practices and exercises, tailored to fit the needs and desires of the team or individual.2015_3_Day

Mindful Performance Enhancement, Awareness & Knowledge
3-Day Intensive mPEAK course Program activities include: meditation; talks on the relationship between neuroscientific findings, peak performance and mindfulness; experiential exercises; group discussion; and home practices.
CE credts are available. June 26-28, 2015 The Catamaran Hotel, San Diego, CA

For our local San Diego residence you are also invited to register for the full 8-Week mPEAK program held at the UC San Diego Center for Mindfulness. The next program begins Tuesday evening, May 12, 2015, 6:00-8:30pm.

“Our brains are evolving to multitask,” not! The ill-usion of multitasking

By Allan Goldstein
Originally published July 2011 revised April 2015

I recently overheard a proclamation, which has become somewhat of a mantra, recited by today’s college students. A student proudly making the following declaration regarding her ability to pay attention to multiple digital screens at once said, “Our brains are evolving to multitask!” That simple yet profound statement left me wondering if this could really be true? How in one or two computerized generations of human beings could our brains evolve so dramatically? Is there such a thing as multitasking, and how is our performance affected when we are concurrently attending to computers, smart phones, iPads, and our daily chores? Recent research in neuroscience has shown that our brains are capable of forming new neural connections, known as neuroplasticity, but this student’s assertion seems to be pointing towards a rapid leap in evolution that goes well beyond that. Through my work in the field of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), I have come to believe that what we commonly refer to as multitasking does not exist and that the level of our ability to perform tasks suffers as we shift our attention from one task to another. In fact, the empirical data from studies in the field of neuroscience is proving that there is no such thing as multitasking!

The online version of the Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines multitasking as “the concurrent performance of several jobs by a computer” and “the performance of multiple tasks at the same time.” These two definitions divide multitasking into two distinct categories. The first definition refers to performing multiple tasks simultaneously, such as driving while talking on the phone or listening to the radio while at the same time trying to remember directions. The second definition is pointing towards moving from one task to another, such as text messaging, followed by shifting to doing homework on a computer, and shifting again to grab a hurried bite from a late ­dinner—over and over, again and again. Now consider that all of us, especially college students given their current digital, computer, screen-oriented lifestyles, are doing more and more of this all the time. If this is true, and I believe it is, we can see why it is good for our psyches to think we are evolving to do it.

So what exactly is the data derived from recent research in the field of multitasking showing? In the PBS Frontline presentation Digital_Nation, by Douglas Rushkoff and Rachel Dretzin, Dr. Clifford Nass is interviewed about his studies at Stanford University on the performance levels of extreme multitaskers: “These are kids who are doing 5, 6, or more things at once all the time.” Contrary to the fact that most multitaskers think they are extremely good at it, the results of Nass’s first-of-its-kind studies are troubling: “It turns out multitaskers are terrible at every aspect of multitasking! They get distracted constantly. Their memory is very disorganized. Recent work we’ve done suggests that they’re worse at analytic reasoning. We worry that it may be we’re creating people who may not be able to think well and clearly.”

Taking a step back from the profound statement “our brains are evolving to multitask,” let’s look at the question, Are students developing new skills and competence that facilitates multitasking? In “What Else Do College Students ‘Do’ While Studying? An Investigation of Multitasking” by Charles Calderwood, Philip L. Ackerman, and Erin Marie Conklin, findings show a correlation among college students between mutitasking and study skills: “Higher homework task motivation and self-efficacy for concentrating on homework were associated with less frequent and shorter duration multitasking behaviors, while higher negative affect was linked to greater multitasking duration during the study session”. In my experience, there is a fundamental common sense to all this. If you focus all your attention on one task at a time, it seems logical that the results would be better than if your attention is divided or distracted by other tasks. Our children may argue they are evolving to move beyond this, yet the data support what our mothers and generations before us always knew as they gave advice such as, “Finish what you are doing!”

In our culture, there is certainly a perception that people can successfully multitask and a belief that the more we do it the more efficient at it we become. After all, most of us would say we are multitasking many times during the day. So what are the motivations behind all our multitasking? In her blog article “Beyond Simple Multi-Tasking: Continuous Partial Attention,” Linda Stone makes a distinction between simple multitasking and what cognitive scientists refer to as “complex multitasking” to explain her theory of Continuous Partial Attention (CPA). In simple multitasking, each task is given the same priority. One task may even be routine, like stirring pasta while talking to our spouse. Stone claims the driving force in simple multitasking is to be more productive. In complex multitasking, the motivation is not to miss anything by maintaining a field of CPA. As Stone explains, “In the case of continuous partial attention, we’re motivated by a desire not to miss anything. We’re engaged in two activities that both demand cognition.” One of these cognitive tasks may also seem more important than another, requiring our brains to be focused on it while remaining alert to the several other less important cognitive tasks requiring our attention. Stone continues, “When we do this, we may have the feeling that our brains process multiple activities in parallel. Researchers say that while we can rapidly shift between activities, our brains process serially.”

Stone’s theory of CPA is supported in the article “Cognitive Control in Media Multitaskers” by Eyal Ophir, Clifford Nass, and Anthony D. Wagner. The abstract of their study states the following surprising findings: “that heavy media multitaskers performed worse on a test of task-switching ability, likely due to reduced ability to filter out interference from the irrelevant task set.” It is important to note Stone’s CPA is not multitasking; rather she is referring to the kind of attention we hold while we are complex multitasking. Maintaining our attention in this state of hyper-vigilance keeps our fight or flight response activated. According to Stone, some people will feel alive, on top of things, and connected. She concedes this can serve us well at times. However, Stone claims the shadow side of being on continuous, continuous partial attention (CCPA) is a constant activation of the fight or flight response. The complex multitasker is in a continuous state of overstimulation with a perpetual feeling of lack of fulfillment that can lead to stress-related diseases. This holds true with my own experiences hearing about and seeing the conditions that create stress in the lives of participants in MBSR programs.

Indeed, neuroscientists are discovering that different parts of the brain are switching on and off, resulting in the serial processing that Stone references. This switching happens so fast that it appears we are performing multiple tasks simultaneously. We can conclude that, contrary to the first definition of multitasking, “the concurrent performance of several jobs by a computer” (Merriam-Webster ), that our brains do not process tasks concurrently. Regarding the second definition of multitasking, “the performance of multiple tasks at the same time” (Merriam-Webster ), we see we are not really performing tasks at the same time, but instead switching back and forth between them with some of us in an unfulfilled state of continuous partial attention.

In an interview for The Atlantic titled “Corporations’ Newest Productivity Hack: Meditation,” Joe Pinsker quotes David Gelles, the author of Mindful Work: “Multitasking is a myth. I think we rarely, if ever, can actually do two things at the same time. I think what we’re doing is very rapid task-switching, which leads to inherent inefficiencies.” Many naysayers may try to claim this is simply a semantic argument, and to some degree, I would agree. Words are divisive by nature and often fall short in truly representing what they are meant to describe. Perhaps it is time to throw out the word “multitasking,” as the definitions no longer fit, and invent words that better represent our current scientific understanding of the way our brains function. How about “serialtasking” or “taskswitching”?

If we identify that our lives have sped up to a point that may be causing us physical harm and if we have a desire to do something about it, there are several antidotes to our cultural addiction of the illusion of multitasking. This will require a change that most people may be resistant to make. In the article “Mastering Multitasking,” Urs Gasser and John Palfrey suggest, “We have to embrace and master it, while providing limits from time to time to create contemplative space for young people.”  We can focus more on individual tasks by bringing a strong mindful awareness to our actions while performing them. By taking breaks and time outs, we can shift our attention back to our senses. In one sense, I’m hopeful as I see a cultural shift, perhaps as a backlash to all the stimulation, to embrace mindfulness. Alternatively letting go of even one aspect of multitasking, like text messaging, can be painful for some people, let alone shutting down and going offline.

The empirical evidence supports the hypothesis that there is no such thing as multitasking. Multitasking is a misnomer. The word points to something that at best can be looked at as individual tasks being performed through a very rapid switching back and forth in the way our brains function or through performing tasks with continuous partial attention. Research, particularly in the field of neuroscience, is compiling data that show multitasking can negatively affect performance and lead to increased levels of stress. We are all part of one big current cultural experiment where we are the scientists, the laboratory, and the results, and it is not a trivial matter. The quality of our lives and our health may depend on our ability to truly understand and wisely manage the effects of our perceptions, beliefs, and actions surrounding our illusion of multitasking.

Works Cited

Calderwood, Charles, Philip L. Ackerman, and Erin Marie Conklin. “What Else Do College Students ‘Do’ While Studying? An Investigation of Multitasking” Computers and Education 75 (2014): 19-29. psycINFO. Web. 17 March 2015.

Dretzin, Rachel and Douglas Rushkoff. “Digital Nation: Life on the Virtual Frontier.” PBS. Frontline, 15 Feb. 2010. Web. 14 Apr. 2011.

Gasser, Urs and John Palfre. “Mastering Multitasking.” Educational Leadership 66.6 (2009): 14-19. Education Full Text. Web. 17 March 2015.

“Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary.” Merriam-Webster. Encyclopedia Britannica, Apr. 2011. Web. 13 Apr. 2011.

Ophir, Eyal, Clifford Nass, and Anthony D. Wagner. “Cognitive Control in Media Multitaskers.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (2009). Web. 15 Apr. 2011.

Pinsker, Joe. “Corporations’ Newest Productivity Hack: Meditation,” theatlantic.com. 10 March 2015. Web. 17 March 2015.

Stone, Linda. “Beyond Simple Multi-Tasking: Continuous Partial Attention.” Lindastone.net. N.p., Nov. 2009. Web. . 17 March 2015.

About The Author

Allan GoldsteinAllan Goldstein is the Managing Director of the UC San Diego Center for Mindfulness. Allan’s growth within the field of Mindfulness-Based Interventions has led him to teach extensively to groups and individuals in various health care, university, military, business, and community settings. Allan has had a passion for learning and teaching Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Programs since participating in his first program in 1993. He currently provides mentorship for current and future teachers through the MBSR Qualification and Certification program of the UC San Diego Mindfulness-Based Professional training Institute and  mbsrmentorship.com.

 

The Soul of Mindfulness

Written February 19, 2015 by Pete Kirchmer.

Pete Kirchmer CPCC

Pete Kirchmer is  the Assistant Director for the UCSD Center For Mindfulness mPEAK (Mindful, Performance Enhancement, Awareness & Knowledge) Program. Pete specializes in coaching his clients in applying the practice of mindfulness to making healthy lifestyle changes as well as improving performance in life, work and sport. For more information about Pete Kirchmer please visit his Mindfulness Based Health Coaching website.

The Meditative Experience

I can still recall one of my first experiences at a meditation course. The instructor sat nobly on stage dressed in flowing white clothing that I imagined he’d bought near the Ganges during pilgrimage in India. He recounted vivid experiences he’d had while in deep meditation, dancing with Krishna on the tongue of the Buddha. Energy flowing and vibrating down his spine. Chakra’s whirling and glowing; he was one with the Divine Mother, in a state of pure bliss. I recall being inspired and even a bit jealous at this man’s deep inner journey. A fire had been lit inside me and I knew that it was my turn to visit these magical, meditative realms. Sitting upright with dignity on my meditation cushion, I was fully committed to repeating my special mantra, over and over again, confident in it’s powers to elevate my soul.  But after twenty minutes of diligence, there were no dancing deities, vibrating energy or elevated soul. My back hurt, my knees ached and the only state of consciousness I managed to reach was one of agitation and exhaustion.

After nearly a decade of meditation practice, I’m comfortable admitting that I’ve still never danced on the tongue of the Buddha, nor do I imagine I ever will. My back and knees still sometimes hurt but I’m no longer all that agitated by it. I’m actually agitated by far less these days, which is one of the many benefits of mindfulness meditation.

There are many traditions and styles of meditation, each with their own practices, intentions and aspirations. There are forms that use Mantras, Mudras, Yantras, and Mandhalas. You can meditate with gongs and crystal bowls, chanting, singing and in silence. Some forms of meditation are to express devotion or prayer, others are seeking transcendence and expansion. All are beautiful and all are beneficial. From the buffet of traditions now available to us in the west, mindfulness meditation is the practice that has called to me. It’s simple yet deep and seeks nothing but a clear experience of what’s already happening in the present moment. It’s nothing special and at the same time, infinitely magical.

Evidence Based Practice

Part of the reasons mindfulness has so successfully integrated into medicine, academics, corporations and government is because it’s incredibly inclusive, accessible and easily integrated into everyday life.  Although Mindfulness practice has its roots in Buddhism, the modern day Mindfulness Based Interventions (MBI’s) have intentionally dropped the cultural and historical baggage of religious mythology and tradition. Some say it’s “Buddhism without the Buddha”. Mindfulness is now often described as an integration of Eastern Philosophy and Western Psychology, supported by Neuroscience (referred to as, “Neuro Dharma”). Given the absence of any language or teaching that would offend or exclude anyone’s beliefs, it’s becoming an appealing practice for people of all religions and atheists alike.  There have now been thousands of research articles published on the various benefits of mindfulness from improving health & wellbeing, decreasing pain, depression and anxiety, improving attention and memory, decreasing stress and burnout, enhancing relationships, and improved performance in life, work and sport.

Has Modern Mindfulness Sold it’s Soul?

“As the history of Buddhism shows, it is a process of continual reformation in accordance with the present needs of those in front of us.”

-Edel Maex, Zen Psychiatrist

Like an Indie Rock band that’s gone mainstream, many question and even criticize the “Mindfulness Revolution” for it’s new trendiness and quickly increasing popularity. The concern is that without the context of Buddhism, modern mindfulness will lose it’s ethical framework and it’s true ability to heal and liberate. Traditionally the intention for practicing mindfulness was to end suffering and awaken to the true nature of reality. There are precepts around not harming or stealing and there is a path laid out for right living. Some fear that excluding these domains of practice will reduce mindfulness to a technique that could be used for say, training Military marksmen to focus on their targets. Or for pacifying the corporate masses so they continue to be overworked with less absenteeism or the health insurance burdens of chronic stress.

Jon Kabat-Zinn

Although Buddhism doesn’t directly teach the existence of an eternal soul the way other religions might, it’s far from “soul-less”. It’s true that on occasion modern forms of mindfulness have strayed from the path, becoming myopic, watered down and over hyped, leading to the new and catch label, “McMindfulness”.  But from my perspective, much of modern mindfulness has actually successfully maintained the richness of the tradition while being “re-contextualized” from it’s Buddhist origin to better meet the needs of our culture. While on retreat at Mt. Madonna Center I had the opportunity to have lunch with Jon Kabat-Zinn, the father of modern mindfulness. Cramming as many questions as possible into our short time together, I hastily made a comment about his course, Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) as being “Secular Mindfulness”.  He quickly corrected me by making the distinction, “MBSR is not secular, it’s non-dual.” I then understood that the MBSR approach to mindfulness is not overtly “spiritual”, but it’s also not, “non-spiritual.”

Later in the retreat, Jon Kabat-Zinn warned all of us Mindfulness Teachers in training against a limited view of mindfulness. “Mindfulness is not a technique”, he said with firmness, “Mindfulness is a way of being”. It is in this particular “way of being” that we find the soul of mindfulness. As Kabat-Zinn explains, the Asian word for mind and the word for heart are the same. “Hearing Mindfulness without the Heartfulness is a misunderstanding and will lead us to mistaking it for a purely cognitive exercise.” Ethics, although not directly taught, are imbedded into and cannot be separated from a true understanding of mindfulness.

The Soul of Mindfulness

Students of mindfulness meditation are taught to rest in a non-conceptual knowing that comes before thinking, which we may refer to as “awareness”. This awareness is not purely objective but rather has the inherent quality of loving-kindness. Sounds, sensations, sights, and smells as well as mental objects such as thoughts, feelings and sensations all arise and are held gently in this “kind awareness”. This awareness is open and spacious, accepting and inviting. It is our innate goodness; it’s infinite and boundless, indefinable and knowable only through direct experience. Trying to use thought to understand awareness is said to be like trying to use a flashlight to find the source of the flashlights light. As you wave the light around the dark room it could only fall on objects but never illuminate the source.

Although profound and maybe even abstract sounding for those who’ve never practiced, this “kind awareness” that is the heart of mindfulness is actually quite utilitarian in it’s application to everyday life. It’s not reserved for advanced mediators with completely silent minds or limited to formal periods of meditation, in the morning on your special cushion. You can directly experience this “heartfulness” the next time you face something challenging in your life- however big or small.

We are conditioned to react to stressful events by automatically fighting or fleeing. Blaming, criticizing, “shoulding”, or numbing out, denying and repressing are some of our most common reactions. In these moments you can wake up to feeling the grip and contraction of stress in your body. Rather than going into your reflexive habit, you can pause, take a few breaths and allow whatever is happening to happen, without judging it. You can choose to stay with your fears rather than abandoning yourself, noticing how the thoughts come and go and how the body eventually begins to soften. Allowing life to unfold the way it is rather than resisting it, is actually a radical act of mindful self-compassion. Holding our small, conditioned selves in the light of this infinite, kind awareness is the catalyst for healing and transformation.

Although we may or may not find ourselves during mindfulness meditation, dancing with Shiva and radiating pure white light, we may eventually come to see that the whole of our lives is made up of an ever-changing present moment experience of our senses and self concepts, all arising in this vast, spacious, kind awareness. And if this realization allows us to become more grateful for this precious life, more gentle with ourselves and more compassionate to others, what could possibly be more soul-full than that?

logo-mpeakYou are invited to join and learn with Pete at our next mPEAK trainings. mPEAK is a cutting-edge training program for those seeking new levels of performance and success in their work, sport, or other challenging endeavors. mPEAK is built around the latest brain research related to peak performance, resilience, focus, and“flow”. The mPEAK program enhances mindfulness through established and empirically supported practices and exercises, tailored to fit the needs and desires of the team or individual.

Mindful Performance Enhancement, Awareness & Knowledge
3-Day Intensive mPEAK course Program activities include: meditation; talks on the relationship between neuroscientific findings, peak performance and mindfulness; experiential exercises; group discussion; and home practices.
CE credts are available. June 26-28, 2015 The Catamaran Hotel, San Diego, CA

For our local San Diego residence you are also invited to register for the full 8-Week mPEAK program held at the UC San Diego Center for Mindfulness.

 

Read About Insights Into Mindfulness at Work From: A Career Professional’s Perspective

By Roxanne Farkas, original post National Career Development Association

Roxanne FarkasRoxanne Farkas, M.A., is a Career Advisor and professional career coach at the University of California, San Diego. She’s a Certified MBTI Practitioner and future Yoga Instructor who loves helping her clients and colleagues create clear, compelling visions of their amazing futures through a creative holistic and integrated approach to career advising. Roxanne may be contacted at rfarkas@ucsd.edu

Mindfulness: What is it?

Within the world of work, we face multiple demands and pressures on a regular–even constant–basis. We’re juggling multiple (and changing!) priorities, balancing competing demands for our personal and professional goals, and handling routine conflict and chaos.

More than meditation or simply paying more attention to our lives, mindfulness is “the intention to pay attention to each and every moment of our life, non-judgmentally,” through the focused development of awareness (Center for Mindfulness Stress Reduction FAQs, 2014). Mindfulness includes “purposeful action, focused attention, grounded in the current experience, and held with a sense of curiosity” (Center for Mindfulness Stress Reduction FAQs, 2014).

My Connection to Mindfulness at Work

Participants in Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) programs enter with stress, low motivation, bad health habits, and a deep desire for change. Eight weeks later, through workshops, practical exercises and practice, participants experience deep and profound change. I know, because I participated in the University of California, San Diego MBSR and experienced these transformations myself. I have incorporated mindfulness in my own career coaching and advising, helping my clients to practice and enjoy the positive benefits of mindfulness for themselves. As a result, I feel I like I am helping to create a more mindful world of work through the individual clients I help.

Connecting Mindfulness to my Practice

In my career development practice, I have engaged clients in journal writing, career mapping, and imagery meditation activities to focus on goal setting and career action planning. Activities like these and the following help my clients think more creatively, experience more hope, and feel more confident in their career discovery and development, and ultimately, the work world.

  • Journaling. If something has meaning, write it down. I draw futuristic images of what goals I would like to accomplish someday. I love to brainstorm ideas and personal goals. Writing helps me focus on what matters to me most.
  • Meditate at Lunch. Sit in stillness like a mountain. Life can be so chaotic at times that sometimes just to to be grounded in a relaxing pose will allow me to regain my energy. Use mini meditations to tune into the present and just be.
  • Charting Ideas and Interest. Draw a mapping chart of all the things you like to do, and create a powerful vision for planning the future. Look over your map. What are some themes, hobbies, music, and books you enjoy? Share your map with someone you trust, or who believes in you.
  • Practice Yoga/Running/Movement. Exercise reduces tension and clears the mind. If you have the opportunity to exercise at work – take it!
  • Breathe. Drink lots of water and breathe deeply. Try to stop for one minute every hour and become aware of your breathing.

Mindful Mindset Activities in Career Counseling

In a Discover Your Dream Workshop” I teach, I have students go through an image gathering exercise where I have them draw and predict a future seven years from now. As the facilitator, I offer guided prompts and create a peaceful atmosphere with my calm voice, appropriate music, and lowered lighting.

In my Career Peer Educator Program, we take a guided walking tour of the school campus. I help them draw attention to different aspects of our campus, and ask them to pay special attention to the moment-to-moment aspects of our walk. For example, the way the wind feels right now, or the many different sounds they can hear, right down to the sounds of their own footsteps on the paths.

A quick assignment I often give is writing a “gratitude email” to influential or inspirational staff, faculty, friends, family, or mentors.

In advising, I ask clients to share one favorite quote and explain what the meaning or value may be. In this way, I am encouraging deeper exploration and reflection than they might normally do.

During advising sessions, I will use focused breathing activities to help students focus their attention, relax, and create a more powerful state for reflection and action.

I frequently conduct advising outdoors or at one of the many community centers on campus to encourage students to notice and possibly connect with the many different resources available to them.

My office setting includes artwork, meaningful objects, and inspirational quotes which I refer to during advising sessions to inspire creativity and motivation.

Another favorite activity is creating workshops and panel presentations that focus on careers in wellness, public health, and alternative medicine. Special career panels include Careers in Wellness, Public Health, Alternative Medicine and Wellness Careers.

Mindfulness at Work in Organizations

With the rising costs of healthcare and a stronger emphasis on wellness, it’s easier than ever to participate in a mindfulness program through work. You can find mindfulness programs in Fortune 500 companies like Monsanto and Google, magazine publishers like Marie Claire (Klein, 2013), and as programs offered through company wellness programs.

Searching for mindfulness in your favorite internet search engine will produce a wide variety of results for further research. Likewise, several great books are available, and you’ll find several mindfulness apps available as well.

Now, as you finish reading this article, take a moment to pause, reflect, and notice your surroundings. Take a deep breath, slowly exhale, and allow your mind to wander…and when you’re ready, take one final, refreshing deep breath, stretch, and feel yourself re-energize for what’s next!

References

Center for Mindfulness Stress Reduction FAQs. (2014). Retrieved July 23, 2014 from: http://www.umassmed.edu/cfm/Stress-Reduction/Faqs/

Klein, K. (2013). Why mindfulness and meditation are good for business. Retrieved from http://knowledge.wharton.upenn.edu/article/why-mindfulness-and-meditation-are-good-for-business/

flower2For more information about the UCSD Center for Mindfulness Worklife Integration programs please visit our website. “Our WorkLife Integration programs address the stress and pressures that work and life have on our minds and bodies, our work performance and our personal lives.”

Mindfulness Training Makes for Better Leadership, Better Companies, and Better People

mindful-banner

By Christy Cassisa, Esq.
Director of WorkLife Integration
UC San Diego Center for Mindfulness

christycassisa

“Leaders who are mindful tend to be more effective in understanding and relating to others, and motivating them towards shared goals. Hence, they become more effective in leadership roles.”

~ William W. George, professor of management practice at Harvard Business School, former chairman and chief executive officer of Medtronic, author of four best-selling books.

Mindfulness in Leadership

In the past few years, we have seen a veritable explosion of research into the benefits of mindfulness and meditation. Many researchers have been surprised by the depth and breadth of positive changes seen in individuals who have learned and practiced these skills. As many of us know, the data are showing that those who practice meditation experience improvements not only in measures of health, such as stress levels, blood pressure and chronic pain, but also in aspects of job performance, such as focus, emotional regulation, creativity and working memory capacity. And additional studies show links to improved overall life satisfaction through increased social connectedness, decreased anxiety and depression and increased empathy and compassion.

Mindfulness, the practice of simply being aware of what is happening right now, in this moment, and exploring that awareness with a non-judgmental attitude, is a skill that, despite its simplicity, takes effort and repetition. In our 24/7, on-call culture, we have seemingly forgotten what it means to “pay attention” to our lives, and both our personal and work lives can suffer for it. We are seeing more and more how an individual who practices mindfulness naturally brings the benefits to work, often improving both the experience of work, related job performance and even organizational culture as a whole.

As I noted in my 2012 blog post, businesses of all types have embraced the fact that the wellbeing of their employees improves the health of the company, and mindfulness has become an accepted component of wellness programs, joining such mainstays as yoga and exercise. We are hearing more about the well-known leaders who practice mindfulness, such as Twitter co-founder Evan Williams, LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner, Aetna CEO Mark Bertolini, Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff and Zappos.com CEO Tony Hsieh, just to name a few, and we are learning more about companies that are integrating and expanding these offerings. Intel, for example, has had such success with their Awake@Intel program that they are expanding it worldwide through an internal train the illuminatrainer program. And we are proud to have been chosen as a partner to bring mindfulness programs to Illumina beginning this summer.

Executives and leaders can benefit from practicing mindfulness in a particular way. Although the health and work performance improvements alone would likely convince most skeptics, management-related benefits are becoming increasingly apparent as well. Leaders at work influence not only their own careers, but also the direction of the entire organization, and with it the livelihoods and wellbeing of all of their employees. The consequences of a poor decision made by an executive in reactive, auto-pilot mode, are felt more broadly than most as effects spread throughout the organizational strategy and culture. Even the products produced and services provided bear the imprint of choices made at the top.

Awareness & Intention: For executives, learning to do nothing to achieve more is counter-intuitive. But what is often found once one begins to pay attention is that the very drive that has brought success thus far may in fact be blocking future success. Mindfulness allows the mind to begin to recognize the patterns and habits, the stories and tape-loops that run a constant commentary on the happenings of the day. Once that awareness is developed, the commentary can be challenged and resulting behaviors can be shifted towards wisdom and intentional choice.

Focus & Clarity: Mindfulness helps improve strategizing, the decision-making process and the resulting decisions because the brain is able to be present and focused on what is actually on the table. As a result, a leader is able to see more clearly the factors at play and respond more appropriately. Rather than reactive interpretations or pre-conceived expectations, perspectives are widened and calmed. Much like “mental hygiene”, mindfulness clears out the clutter and stories so that the workday can be managed with more clarity and creativity, and decisions are made more consciously, with clear awareness of both their the roots and results.

Communication: Connection between human beings is at the core of much of the business world. Mindfulness can facilitate interpersonal communications by increasing openness and improving listening skills. When we are more available to hear the message being communicated, we can see opportunity rather than obstacle and connection instead of just conflict. We have all likely encountered the experience of talking without being heard, and the feeling of being misunderstood or even neglected. The practice of mindful listening builds the skill of real communication, on both the individual level and on a more global scale. The leader who hears the customer or client is more likely to provide a better service or product and the executive who can clearly articulate the vision is more likely to gain support with employees.
We are pleased to be partnering with the UC San Diego Rady School of Management, Center for Executive Development in offering our first Mindful Leadership course. This one-day course is highly experiential and will introduce mindfulness and explore how it can be integrated into leadership roles and organizational culture. Participants will learn about the scientific foundations of mindfulness, why meditation is such a powerful technique and will begin practicing mindfulness exercises. The class will provide a unique supportive structure to discuss experiences and build a framework for bringing this new awareness to work, leadership and life.  We hope to meet you there!

For more information about our workplace mindfulness programs, please visit our WorkLife Integration program page or email Christy Cassisa at mindfulness@ucsd.edu.

________

Christy Cassisa is a former attorney, who is the Director of WorkLife Integration for the UC San Diego Center for Mindfulness. As she notes, “With all of the excitement surrounding mindfulness in the business community, we are thrilled to offer our WorkLife Integration Programs and our new  Mindful Leadership course in partnership with UC San Diego Rady School of Management, Center for Executive Development. Now you can bring the Center’s expertise to your office with a program or workshop tailored for your business or group.” If you have an interest in learning more, contact Christy via the Center for Mindfulness at cfmworklife.ucsd,edu. 

http://mindfulness.ucsd.edu

A Few Mindful Leadership Articles

Developing Mindful Leaders– Harvard Business Review, Dec 2011

The Mind Business– Financial Times Magazine, Aug 2012

Mindfulness Helps You Become a Better Leader –Harvard Business Review Oct 2012

Practicing Mindful Leadership– T & D by ASTD, March 2013

Is Mindfulness Good for Business?– Mindful, April 2013

Meditate for More Profitable Decisions– Insead, Sept 2013

The Mindfulness Business– The Economist, Nov 2013

Mindfulness in the Age of Complexity– Harvard Business Review, March 2014

Become a Mindful Leader: Slow Down to Move Faster– Forbes, March 2014

There’s no price tag on a clear mind: Intel to launch mindfulness program– The Guardian, April 2014

 

WorkLife Changing Tools: Key Wellness Tips for Busy Executives

By Jennifer Martella

Worklife Integration Program Photo Jennifer Martella recently participated in our MBSR program and is Owner and Founder of Strategic Wellness Concepts. Contact her at info@strategicwellnessconcepts.com for  more information about sustainable wellness and personal/professional balance.

To inquire about our UCSD Center for Mindfulness WorkLife Integration Programs please contact Program Director, Ellyn Wolfe at ehwolfe@ucsd.edu. 858-737-4341 

After spending over fifteen years in corporate America, I understand the challenges that face busy, success-motivated executives.  I spent many years on the corporate treadmill trying to “make it all work,” only to find that my personal health and wellness suffered as a result.  Determined to find a better way, I finally turned the corner by discovering a few simple tools that changed my life – both personally and professionally – and helped me find balance.    The solution is easier than you might think.

 Overall wellness

·      Invest your time wisely.  One of the biggest hurdles we face on the path towards improving health and wellness in our lives is time.  There is never enough at the end of the day, and ironically, the one item that typically suffers is our personal well-being.  The solution?  Time management and prioritization.  Carve time into your daily schedule just for you.  Whether you use this time for exercise, spending time with a friend, reading a chapter out of your favorite book or enjoying a carefree walk, calendar it, prioritize it and make it happen!

·      Mindfulness.  Learning to live in the moment is key.  Corporate America thrives on multitasking.  Although at times it may be necessary, too much can lead to inefficiency, decreased productivity, frustration and exhaustion.  As often as possible, focus on the “now.”  That is, the task at hand or the person you are with, and particularly when exercising or spending time with family and friends.  The benefits are far reaching!

·      Unplugand lose the iPhone.  Ok, not literally, but take time each day to “let go,” unplug and unwind.  Our brains need a vacation – especially from the Smartphone!

·      Do at least one “selfless” thing each day.   Each day, do something for someone else – even a complete stranger.  For example, thank someone for their patience, buy lunch for someone, or tell someone they made your day.  Random acts of kindness and generosity are the moments when you are truly living!

A few words about exercise

·      Keep it simple.  No time for the gym or a run outdoors?  How about a fifteen minute walk around the block?  Take the stairs back to your building?  Walk to your lunch meeting instead of opting for a cab?  While you are at it, think about your surroundings – how your muscles feel – it may sound odd, but this practice of mindfulness will actually give your brain the ability to refuel, recharge and refresh!

·      Have fun.  If the treadmill isn’t your thing, that makes two of us.  Find out what is, and enjoy it.

·      Exercise that pays the most dividends.  Less is often more, and variety is key.  It’s the quality, not necessarily the quantity that counts.

Chew on this

·      Eat mindfully.  Have you ever finished a meal or snack and moments later not even realized what you were eating, let alone that you were eating?  I spent years eating most meals at my desk while multitasking (reading the WSJ, scanning emails, preparing for the next deadline) and never even tasting my food.  Each day, try to eat at least one meal mindfully – that means doing nothing else but enjoying the meal, thinking about what you are eating and taking the time to chew.  You just might find yourself satiated sooner and in a much more positive frame of mind! 

·      Plan ahead.  No time for lunch?  Another vending machine or coffee day?  Bring almonds, walnuts, dried fruit, fresh fruit, even a protein powder or shake to sustain you until you can actually sit down for a meal.

·      There is no “one-size-fits-all” approach.  Do the research, listen to your body and find out what works best for you!


The Truly Mindful Workplace: A Reality Whose Moment Is Arriving

Christy Cassisa, J.D.

Christy Cassisa

By Christy Cassisa, J.D.
Co-Director of Workplace Initiatives and Giving
UC San Diego Center for Mindfulness

If you follow workplace mindfulness in the news, you’ve had quite a bit of reading material in the last few months. Businesses of all types have embraced the fact that the wellbeing of their employees improves the health of the company.  One quarter of large US companies have launched stress reduction programs of some sort, and many of those are also incorporating mindfulness and meditation trainings.  Many well-known names such as Google, Aetna, General Mills, AOL Time Warner and Target have brought mindfulness and meditation to their people.  Mindfulness is being hailed as the next great thing in the efforts to improve the performance, health and overall wellbeing of employees and leadership alike.

Mindfulness In Leadership
Both formal studies and informal self-reports show that leaders who practice mindfulness have more mental clarity and flexibility, are able to listen better and as a result, make better decisions.  Enhanced emotional resiliency and self-awareness arise as a natural byproduct of mindfulness practices, and these in turn can lead to more effective and inspirational leaders.

One such program you may have read about in the Financial Times (The Mind Business) was developed at General Mills.  Janice Marturano, deputy general counsel, phrased it this way: “It’s about training our minds to be more focused, to see with clarity, to have spaciousness for creativity and to feel connected. That compassion to ourselves, to everyone around us- our colleagues, customers- that’s what the training of mindfulness is really about.” More than 400 employees and 250 executives have participated in the GM program, and the results are amazing:  83% of participants reported increased personal productivity and of the senior executives who took the course, 80% reported improved decision-making and 89% reported that they had become better listeners.

For executives, learning to do nothing to achieve more is counter-intuitive. But what they often find once they begin to look is that the very drive that has lead them to success thus far blinds them to the next steps to progress further. And this clouded vision is precisely what mindfulness meditation can clear.

Employee Well-Being
When it comes to employees, the benefits are also well-documented. Company-wide stress reduction programs are nothing new, but with the addition of mindfulness and meditation, employees have shown dramatic improvements in stress levels and overall wellbeing.  Meditation programs have shown employee results such as:

  • Reduced anxiety and increased overall sense of calm
  • Enhanced ability to bounce back from emotionally charged situations
  • Enhanced coping abilities related to everyday stress as well as severe or acute stress encounters
  • Increased creativity
  • Improved memory
  • Increased focus (staying on task longer)
  • Improved teamwork, increased respect and support for colleagues
  • Strengthened immune system
  • Lowered blood pressure

And these results are simply the performance and health-related measures. At Google, employees reported improved marriages, reversed decisions to leave the company, and more. The benefits to the employee far exceed those measured by standard health and productivity scores.

Return on Investment
What, you say, is the value of this kind of program?  What does my bottom line expect to get in return for the outlay of time money and effort into a mindfulness meditation program?

According to the Gallup Business Journal, wellbeing is an employer issue. By the numbers, they reported:

  • People who have thriving wellbeing have a 35% lower turnover rate than those who are struggling; in a 10,000-person company, this represents $19.5 million.
  • Employees with high wellbeing have 41% lower health-related costs compared with employees who have lower wellbeing. In a firm that has 10,000 employees, this difference amounts to nearly $30 million​

So incorporating these measures, your ROI of each benefit may be measured as so:

  1. Stress Reduction:  As a result of reducing the stress of your employees, look for a reduction in health care costs and absenteeism rates.
  2. Improved Employee Well-being: As a result of investing in your people, look for increased retention rates, improved employee satisfaction and overall engagement measures.  And as an interesting additional measure, you might look to your customers’ experiences as a result of this investment in your employees’ health and well-being: look for increases in sales and improved customer satisfaction surveys.
  3. Strengthened Leadership: Leadership Development programs have many measures to use to evaluate the effectiveness of executives, ranging from 360 evaluations to overall company performance. When executives are operating more effectively, the entire company benefits in innumerable ways.

In case you have not been immersed in the news of mindfulness in the workplace, I’ve summarized many of the recent articles below.  Please comment on this post to contribute additional articles as you find them so that other readers can have access to all the latest information and resources!

Note: Christy Cassisa is a former attorney, turned coach, who has recently been appointed as the Co-Director of Workplace Initiatives and Giving for the UC San Diego Center for Mindfulness. As she notes, “With all of the excitement surrounding mindfulness in the business community, we feel it is time to opt in. In this effort, we are thrilled to announce the launch of the UCSD Center for Mindfulness Workplace Programs.  Now you can bring the Center’s expertise to your office with a program or workshop tailored for your business or group. If you have an interest in learning more, take a look at Christy’s blog, Mindful Clarity, and/or contact Christy via the Center for Mindfulness at mindfulness@ucsd.edu

Workplace Mindfulness Articles

Developing Mindful Leaders– Harvard Business Review, Dec 2011

Meditation Makes You More Creative– Science Daily, April 2012

OK Google, Take a Deep Breath– New York Times, April 2012

How to be Happier at Work– Inc., May 2012

How to kill a thought in a good way– Forbes, June 2012

Meditation Can Keep you More Focused at Work– USAToday, July 2012

Be more mindful for a better workplace– Chicago Tribune Aug 2012

Mindfulness is not a Cure, it’s Better– HuffPost, Aug 2012

The Mind Business– Financial Times Magazine, Aug 2012

Mindfulness-based stress reduction effects on moral reasoning and decision makingJournal of Positive Psychology, Sept 2012

A Guide to Mindfulness at Work– Forbes Oct, 2012

Mindfulness Helps you become a better leader –Harvard Business Review Oct 2012

Multitasking Loses its Cool: Mindfulness is Now In – Investors.com, Oct 2012

The ROI of Practicing Mindfulness at Work– Under30CEO.com, Nov 2012

Meditation finds an ommmm in the office– Globe & Mail, Nov 2012

Mindful Multitasking– Levy, U Washington

Why Mindful Breathing Works– Huffington Post, Nov 2012

Lead by Achieving Nothing.  Seriously. Forbes, Nov 2012