Sarina, a high-level executive, recently left me an urgent voicemail message, “I am utterly exhausted and yet I wake up at 3 a.m. every night. My head starts spinning through my ‘to do’ list or the things I didn’t do well or the things I wish I had said. I try to go back to sleep but it’s a useless effort. I finally give up and get up, but it means another day of feeling tired. And I know I’m not doing my best work. Can mindful leadership training help?”
Sarina was suffering from what I call the 3 a.m. Wake-up Call from her brain. And she was asking if there was a way that mindful leadership training could “block the call.” Does this sound familiar to you? It certainly was something I struggled with for many years. No matter how hard I tried, I simply couldn’t make myself go back to sleep when my mind started racing. Little by little, my resiliency was lessening until it felt that I was using every bit of my energy just to make it through the day. I was always feeling tired. When I did manage a good night’s sleep, it was striking how much it changed my experience of the next day. I was not only more alert, I was more patient, clear and creative.
Learning to sleep well moved to the top of my list. I did not want to take sleeping pills. I needed a healthy, long-term solution. Thankfully, by this time I was deeply involved with the development of mindful leadership training, so I began to experiment with a simple practice each night. Little by little, I began to sleep more restfully and for longer periods of time. There are still times when that 3 a.m. call rings but I now know how to answer it in a healthy way.
If you are ready to sleep better, try these simple steps:
3 Mindful Steps to Better Sleep
1. Remove all smart phones, tablets and computers from your bedroom. They don’t belong there. Seeing an email or social media post just before bed, or knowing that distractions are only inches from your head, can fuel the busyness of your mind.
2. When you settle into bed, bring your attention to the feeling of your breath. Feel your breath stretching the muscles in your chest or belly, feel the release. This is not an invitation to think about your breath or control it. Just feel the sensations.
3. When your mind starts to get busy, bring your attention back to the sensations. Let the thought that pulled you away go for now and redirect your attention back to the gentle movements and sensations of your breath. It is important that you be patient with yourself. Redirecting your attention is simply part of the practice and it does not matter how often you need to redirect your attention. Just be intentional about letting the thinking go (for now). It is as if you are saying ‘not now’ to your thoughts and worries. Now is a time to sleep.
Be consistent with this practice, using it each night that your sleep is interrupted. It may take some time to train your mind in this way but the benefits for your health and happiness are worth it. Happy dreams!
We have to nourish our insight into impermanence every day. If we do, we will live more deeply, suffer less, and enjoy life much more. — Thích Nhất Hạnh
I am sitting in Boulder, Colorado at the end of July. The hum of Summer is everywhere. Nature is asserting her way effortlessly with exponential ease. The encroaching abundance is tapping at the window panes. Self-seeded sunflowers are following the sun and rocking in the breeze. Somewhere a radio plays uplifting tunes and Winter feels like an almost forgotten era, an ice-age ago.
And yet, as a first-time visitor to Colorado, I am curious about the long Winters. How everything will recede into what T.S. Eliot called the deadlands: that dormant peaceful sleep. I can’t help but stare at the enthusiastic, leaping-green foliage and tune in to its amnesia of Winter where I too am seduced and can hear my own being whispering how Winter, this year, will never arrive. How can it? In this very moment, there is no place for Winter… it is impossible. Everything is awake, even in the deep of night. Everything is alive and communing with each other.
The hum of Summer is everywhere.
Sipping ice tea, I close my eyes and imagine the white forgotten wonderland; everything snow-capped and snow deep. Some of this green will hibernate and find its new breath somewhere between April and May. But a lot of this verdant splendour will simply die. And I’m filled with a simultaneous sense of Trust and Acceptance. There is no place for grief in this present moment; no place for conversations about the impermanence of life. Right here nothing is born or dying–it is exquisitely changing molecular shape and endlessly manifesting into countless organic configurations.
My thoughts turn to those I love who have slipped into the deadlands; who have given up the ghost. And I now feel my grief smiling as I think of their old body-vessels molecularly coursing through the icy rivulets into Gold Lake; becoming the indigo of the petals of the blue mist penstemon; the shout of the gold stonecrop moss; the irrepressibly subtle lichen determined to spruce up every rock; the intelligence shaping the deciduous bushes or the ever-green resilient pines; the soft fur of a chipmunk’s tail; or the generous Summer rains and all the wildflowers sign-posting my way HOME as I walk around the lake.
I am grateful that my direct experience with death and grief has evolved into a loving acceptance and a peaceful trust in this alchemy–mystery that we call Life. And I have known all too well the grip of grief who, like a relentless hurricane, told me over and over and over that inner-peace will never, ever return.
But it does. And it will, And it is.
My loved ones are everywhere on this material plane. They have never been anywhere else. Their life-force, their essence, their spirit is having yet more dance lessons with the Divine.
The metamorphasis fills me with trust and acceptance.
I cannot think about the infinite metamorphosis of Existence without calling upon Hafiz…
Deepening The Wonder by Hafiz
Death is a favour to us,
But our scales have lost their balance.
The impermanence of the body
Should give us great clarity,
Deepening the wonder in our senses and eyes
Of this mysterious existence we share
And are surely just traveling through.
If I were in the Tavern tonight,
Hafiz would call for drinks
And as the Master poured, I would be reminded
That all I know of life and myself is that
We are just a mid-air flight of golden wine
Between His Pitcher and His Cup.
If I were in the Tavern tonight,
I would buy freely for everyone in this world
Because our marriage with the Cruel Beauty
Of time and space cannot endure very long.
Death is a favour to us,
But our minds have lost their balance.
The miraculous existence and impermanence of Form
Always makes the illuminated ones
Laugh and Sing.
Inner Stability and Life’s Uncertainty – No Sidebar
— Read on nosidebar.com/inner-stability/
Nov 14, 2017: Weekly Curated Thought-Sharing on Digital Disruption, Applied Neuroscience and Other Interesting Related Matters.
By Paul Axtell
Curated by Helena M. Herrero Lamuedra
There’s a lot of advice out there about how to make meetings more efficient and productive. And while it’s true that leading focused, deliberate conversations is critical to organizational performance, meetings aren’t just about delivering results. There’s another outcome that leaders should be paying more attention to: creating a quality experience for each participant.
What is a quality experience in a meeting? I define it as when employees leave feeling more connected, valued, and fulfilled. Of course, you should still be focused on achieving the meeting outcomes, but thoughtful meetings and productive ones don’t have to be at odds.
We begin by asking people to reflect on their best team experience and answer two questions: What does a powerful group look like? What does it mean to be powerful in a group?
The second question typically elicits answers like these:
- “I never left anything important unsaid. When I spoke, I felt like I was being heard, and I believed that what I said had an impact.”
- “It felt like I was really a member of the group. Everyone seemed genuinely interested in each other and in what was going on in our lives.”
- “I knew that I added value, both in the meetings and outside of them.”
In other words, each group meeting added to the experience of being a productive, valued member of the group.
Here’s what I’ve seen leaders do to create that quality experience:
Work hard on being present. Take adequate time to prepare so that you can be available and attentive before and during the meeting. If you’re running late because of another meeting or still thinking about how to conduct this meeting, you’ll be preoccupied and not truly available for anyone who wants to connect.
Preparation allows you to relax about leading the meeting and pay more attention to “reading the room” — noticing how people are doing as they walk in, and throughout the meeting.
Demonstrate empathy. People associate attention with caring — your attention matters. Observe, listen, ask thoughtful questions, and avoid distractions and multitasking. Empathy is a learned skill that can be practiced by simply setting aside your phone and computer for two to three hours each week and really listening to someone. Meetings can be your primary place to hone this skill.
Set up and manage the conversation. Ask the group for permission to deliberately manage the conversation. It’s important to establish some guidelines about distraction. Ask people to:
- avoid using technology unless it is pertinent to the topics
- avoid any distracting behavior — verbal or nonverbal
- listen and respect people when they’re speaking
- invite others to speak if their view needs to be heard
Include enough time on every topic to allow broad participation. This means having fewer agenda items and more time allocated to each topic. As a target, put 20% fewer items on your agenda and allow 20% more time for each item.
Slow down the conversation to include everyone. I like the idea of social turn-taking, where you have a sense of who has or hasn’t spoken and whether the conversation is being controlled or dominated by one or more people. You don’t need to set this up as a rule, but you can model it as an inclusive style of conversation, so people become more likely to notice who hasn’t spoken yet.
To implement this practice, call on people gently and strategically. By gently, I mean make it feel and sound like an invitation — not some method of controlling participation. By strategically, I mean think through, during your preparation, who needs to be part of the discussion for each topic. Ask yourself:
- Who would be great at starting the conversation?
- Who is affected by the outcomes and therefore needs to be asked for their view?
- Who is most likely to have a different view?
- Who are the old hands who might sense whether we are making a mistake or missing something?
Check in with people at specific times. Begin each meeting with a question: “Does anyone have anything to say or ask before we begin?” Ask it deliberately and with a tone that signals that this conversation matters to you. And then wait. Pausing conveys that you’re not interested in getting to someplace other than right here, right now — that this conversation matters. Don’t spoil your pauses by making remarks about the lack of response or slowness of a response. People often need a few moments to reflect, find something to say, and think about the best way to express it. Just wait.
Once people realize that you are willing to pause, they’ll become more aware, and when they have a question, they won’t worry that they are slowing down the meeting.
High-quality conversations with broad participation allow people to get to know each other in ways that lead to friendship and collaboration. It’s the act of being with other people in an attentive, caring way that helps us feel that we are all in this together. Crafting a quality experience in your meetings takes time, but it’s worth it.
May 27, 2017: Weekly Curated Thought-Sharing on Digital Disruption, Applied Neuroscience and Other Interesting Related Matters.
By Christine Carter, PhD
Curated by Helena M. Herrero Lamuedra
We humans have become multi-tasking productivity machines. We can work from anywhere, to great effect. We can do more, and do it far more quickly, than we ever dreamed possible. Our fabulous new technologies buy us tons more time to crank out our work, get through our emails, and keep up with Modern Family. Time my great-grandmother spent making food from scratch, or hand-washing the laundry, we can now spend, say, driving our kids to their away games.
So now that we have so much more time to work and do things previous generations never dreamed possible (or even deemed desirable), why do we always feel starved for time?
The obvious answer is that we have so much more work, and expectations about what we will accomplish on a good day have expanded, but the number of hours in that day have stayed the same.
That’s true, but I also think there is something else at work here: We have gotten really, really bad at just doing nothing.
Stillness—or the ability to just sit there and do nothing—is a skill
Look around: We can’t even stand to wait in an elevator for 10 seconds without checking our smartphones. A new series of studies describe when the research subjects were put alone in a room, with nothing to do. The researchers describe their work:
In 11 studies, we found that participants typically did not enjoy spending 6 to 15 minutes in a room by themselves with nothing to do but think, that they enjoyed doing mundane external activities much more, and that many preferred to administer electric shocks to themselves instead of being left alone with their thoughts. Most people seem to prefer to be doing something rather than nothing, even if that something is negative.
You read that right: Many people (67 percent of men and 25 percent of women, to be exact) actually gave themselves painful electric shocks instead of just sitting there doing nothing—after they had indicated to the researchers that they would pay money NOT to be shocked again. One guy shocked himself 190 times in 15 minutes.
This brings me back to my main point: Stillness -or the abilily to just sit there and do nothing- is a skill, and as a culture we’re not practicing this skill much these days. When we can’t tolerate stillness, we feel uncomfortable when we have downtime, and so we cancel it out by seeking external stimulation, which is usually readily available in our purse or pocket. Instead of just staring out the window on the bus, for example, we read through our Facebook feed. We check our email waiting in line at the grocery store. Instead of enjoying our dinner, we mindlessly shovel food in our mouths while staring at a screen.
Here’s the core problem with all of this: We human beings need stillness in order to recharge our batteries. The constant stream of external stimulation that we get from our televisions and computers and smart phones, while often gratifying in the moment, ultimately causes what neuroscientists call “cognitive overload.” This state of feeling overwhelmed impairs our ability to think creatively, to plan, organize, innovate, solve problems, make decisions, resist temptations, learn new things easily, speak fluently, remember important social information, and control our emotions. In other words, it impairs basically everything we need to do in a given day.(i)
If we want to be high-functioning and happy, we need to re-learn how to be still.
But wait, there’s more: We only experience big joy and real gratitude and the dozens of other positive emotions that make our lives worth living by actually being in touch with our emotions—by giving ourselves space to actually feel what it is we are, well, feeling. In an effort to avoid the uncomfortable feelings that stillness can produce (such as the panicky feeling that we aren’t getting anything done), we also numb ourselves to the good feelings in our lives. And research by Matt Killingsworth suggests that actually being present to what we’re feeling and experiencing in the moment—good or bad—is better for our happiness in the end.
Here’s the main take-away: If we want to be high-functioning and happy, we need to re-learn how to be still. When we feel like there isn’t enough time in the day for us to get everything done, when we wish for more time… we don’t actually need more time. We need more stillness. Stillness to recharge. Stillness so that we can feel whatever it is that we feel. Stillness so that we can actually enjoy this life that we are living.
If you are feeling overwhelmed and time-starved:
2) Remember that what you need more than time (to work, to check tasks off your list) is downtime, sans stimulation.
As a society, we don’t just need to learn to tolerate stillness, we actually need to cultivate it. Fortunately, it’s not complicated.
How to Cultivate Stillness:
1) Try driving in silence, with your radio and phone off. (Encourage your children to look out the window while you drive them, instead of down at their devices.)
2) Eat meals out of the sight and sound of your phones and televisions.
3) Take a walk outside every day, preferably in nature, without a phone or music player. If it’s hard, just try a few minutes at a time, adding a few minutes each day.
4) Just practice; it’ll get easier, and the benefits will become more apparent.
5) Finally, forgive yourself the next time you find yourself staring blankly into space.
May 22, 2017: Weekly Curated Thought-Sharing on Digital Disruption, Applied Neuroscience and Other Interesting Related Matters.
By Lewis Robinson and Dr. Travis Bradberry
Curated by Helena M. Herrero Lamuedra
On the surface, multitasking seems like a winning proposition. After all, if you work on two projects at once, then you’ll finish twice as quickly, right? It’s a perfect situation! How can you lose?
Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way. When you try to focus on two different projects, you divide your attention, and your brain has to expend additional energy each time you switch from one task to the other. Often, it will actually end up taking you longer to get the work done.
Negative Effects of Multitasking
Multitasking is not only an inefficient use of your time; it can actually have a negative impact, both on your work and your personal well-being. Let’s take a look at a few of the problems it can bring about:
If you’re splitting your attention between two, or three, or even more tasks at once, that means that you’re not able to focus on any one of them. The brain is an incredible tool, but it can only go so far before it starts to experience diminishing returns. Guy Winch, a PhD and author of the book Emotional First Aid: Practical Strategies for Treating Failure, Rejection, Guilt, and Other Everyday Psychological Injuries posits than we’re not really “multitasking” at all. Instead, we’re “task-switching.”
“When it comes to attention and productivity, our brains have a finite amount,” says Winch. “It’s like a pie chart, and whatever we’re working on is going to take up the majority of that pie. There’s not a lot left over for other things, with the exception of automatic behaviors like walking or chewing gum.” You’re never really able to focus on one task enough to get “in the zone.”
This may seem counterintuitive, but the more tasks you work on at a time, the less work you will get done. Most people resort to multitasking as a way to get more done, not less. But working distracted can lead to slower performance and more mistakes. In fact, shifting back and forth between two or more tasks create mental blocks where your brain has to shift its focus. These blocks can cost as much as 40% of your regular productive time.
Multitasking increases stress, which isn’t always bad in the short-term, but can lead to serious complications if it goes on for too long. Chronic stress causes your body to produce more cortisol, which can bring on physical complications, such as heart issues, high blood pressure, and a diminished immune system.
What to Do About It
Even when you recognize the negative effects multitasking can have on your work, it’s still tempting to try to work on several jobs at once.
Delegate as Needed
Instead of splitting one mind among several tasks, try the opposite tactic. Spread the load out a bit and assign certain jobs to other team members who may be able to lend a hand. Put a work structure in place with the goal of keeping any particular employee’s queue from filling up too much.
Manage Your (and Your Team’s) Workflow
This is essentially just another way of saying, “Plan ahead.” Keep an eye on what projects you and your team have coming down the pipeline. If you know there will be a huge project that you will need to focus all of your attention on in the next month, do what you can to clear other tasks from that time. Prepare yourself and your team members for any eventuality.
This also means setting priorities. If everything you send to your team is marked “ASAP,” then they have no way to know which tasks to tackle first. This usually leads to employees bouncing back and forth between each task, trying to get them all done quickly. Eventually, instead of everything getting done immediately, nothing ends up getting done.
Take Regular Breaks
Oddly enough, taking breaks can actually lead to more getting done. If you are constantly working, with no end in sight, it’s easy to get burned out. Shorter bursts of work are more productive, so you and your team should take a break anywhere between every 50 minutes and every 90 minutes. This will give you the occasional moment to unwind from the constant focus, leading to better results over the long term.
The next time you tell yourself that you’ll sleep when you’re dead, realize that you’re making a decision that can make that day come much sooner. Pushing late into the night is a health and productivity killer.
According to the Division of Sleep Medicine at the Harvard Medical School, the short-term productivity gains from skipping sleep to work are quickly washed away by the detrimental effects of sleep deprivation on your mood, ability to focus, and access to higher-level brain functions for days to come. The negative effects of sleep deprivation are so great that people who are drunk outperform those lacking sleep.
Why You Need Adequate Sleep to Perform
We’ve always known that sleep is good for your brain, but new research from the University of Rochester provides the first direct evidence for why your brain cells need you to sleep (and sleep the right way—more on that later). The study found that when you sleep your brain removes toxic proteins from its neurons that are by-products of neural activity when you’re awake. Unfortunately, your brain can remove them adequately only while you’re asleep. So when you don’t get enough sleep, the toxic proteins remain in your brain cells, wreaking havoc by impairing your ability to think—something no amount of caffeine can fix.
Skipping sleep impairs your brain function across the board. It slows your ability to process information and problem solve, kills your creativity, and catapults your stress levels and emotional reactivity.
What Sleep Deprivation Does to Your Health
Sleep deprivation is linked to a variety of serious health problems, including heart attack, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and obesity. It stresses you out because your body overproduces the stress hormone cortisol when it’s sleep deprived. While excess cortisol has a host of negative health effects that come from the havoc it wreaks on your immune system, it also makes you look older, because cortisol breaks down skin collagen, the protein that keeps skin smooth and elastic. In men specifically, not sleeping enough reduces testosterone levels and lowers sperm count.
Too many studies to list have shown that people who get enough sleep live longer, healthier lives, but I understand that sometimes this isn’t motivation enough. So consider this—not sleeping enough makes you fat. Sleep deprivation compromises your body’s ability to metabolize carbohydrates and control food intake. When you sleep less you eat more and have more difficulty burning the calories you consume. Sleep deprivation makes you hungrier by increasing the appetite-stimulating hormone ghrelin and makes it harder for you to get full by reducing levels of the satiety-inducing hormone leptin. People who sleep less than 6 hours a night are 30% more likely to become obese than those who sleep 7 to 9 hours a night.
How Much Sleep Is Enough?
Most people need 7 to 9 hours of sleep a night to feel sufficiently rested. Few people are at their best with less than 7 hours, and few require more than 9 without an underlying health condition. And that’s a major problem, since more than half of Americans get less than the necessary 7 hours of sleep each night, according to the National Sleep Foundation.
A recent survey of Inc. 500 CEOs found that half of them are sleeping less than 6 hours a night. And the problem doesn’t stop at the top. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a third of U.S. workers get less than 6 hours of sleep each night, and sleep deprivation costs U.S. businesses more than $63 billion annually in lost productivity.
Doing Something about It
Beyond the obvious sleep benefits of thinking clearly and staying healthy, the ability to manage your emotions and remain calm under pressure has a direct link to your performance.
When life gets in the way of getting the amount of sleep you need, it’s absolutely essential that you increase the quality of your sleep through good sleep hygiene. There are many hidden killers of quality sleep.
There are some strategies to help identify these killers and clean up your sleep hygiene.
Moderate Caffeine (at Least after Lunch)
You can sleep more and vastly improve the quality of the sleep you get by reducing your caffeine intake. Caffeine is a powerful stimulant that interferes with sleep by increasing adrenaline production and blocking sleep-inducing chemicals in the brain.
When you do finally fall asleep, the worst is yet to come. Caffeine disrupts the quality of your sleep by reducing rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, the deep sleep when your body recuperates most. When caffeine disrupts your sleep, you wake up the next day with a cognitive and emotional handicap. You’ll be naturally inclined to grab a cup of coffee or an energy drink to try to make yourself feel more alert, which very quickly creates a vicious cycle.
Avoid Blue Light at Night
Short-wavelength blue light plays an important role in your mood, energy level, and sleep quality. In the morning, sunlight contains high concentrations of this “blue” light. When your eyes are exposed to it directly (not through a window or while wearing sunglasses), the blue light halts production of the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin and makes you feel more alert. This is great, and exposure to a.m. sunlight can improve your mood and energy levels.
In the afternoon, the sun’s rays lose their blue light, which allows your body to produce melatonin and start making you sleepy. By the evening, your brain does not expect any blue light exposure and is very sensitive to it. The problem this creates for sleep is that most of our favorite evening devices—laptops, tablets, televisions, and mobile phones—emit short-wavelength blue light. This exposure impairs melatonin production and interferes with your ability to fall asleep as well as with the quality of your sleep once you do nod off. When you confuse your brain by exposing it in the evening to what it thinks is a.m. sunlight, this derails the entire process with effects that linger long after you power down.
When you work in the evening, it puts you into a stimulated, alert state when you should be winding down and relaxing in preparation for sleep. Recent surveys show that roughly 60% of people monitor their smartphones for work emails until they go to sleep. Staying off blue light-emitting devices (discussed above) after a certain time each evening is also a great way to avoid working so you can relax and prepare for sleep, but any type of work before bed should be avoided if you want quality sleep.
Many people who learn to meditate report that it improves the quality of their sleep and that they can get the rest they need even if they aren’t able to significantly increase the number of hours they sleep. At the Stanford Medical Center, insomniacs participated in a 6-week mindfulness meditation and cognitive-behavioral therapy course. At the end of the study, participants’ average time to fall asleep was cut in half (from 40 to 20 minutes), and 60% of subjects no longer qualified as insomniacs. The subjects retained these gains upon follow-up a full year later. A similar study at the University of Massachusetts Medical School found that 91% of participants either reduced the amount of medication they needed to sleep or stopped taking medication entirely after a mindfulness and sleep therapy course. Give mindfulness a try. At minimum, you’ll fall asleep faster, as it will teach you how to relax and quiet your mind once you hit the pillow.
Bringing It All Together
We all know someone who is always up at all hours of the night working or socializing, and is the number one performer at. the office. Watch out: this person is underperforming, may be not yet. After all, the only thing worth catching up on at night is your sleep.