BOTH Performance AND People

Knidos, Turkey

Hey, there! Looks like it’s been awhile since I’ve posted here on Leading with Intention. My energies have been focused on my photography (you can check out thejoyfulleye to see some of my work) and on poetry (check out And Then Opens Possibility for some of my latest pieces). I recently curated a collection of mindfulness-inspiring poems accompanied by my flower blossom photography at Meditative Blossoms.

In keeping with the poetry focus, this post features a prose-like poem that I was inspired to write after a conversation with a colleague where we were exploring some of the challenges in developing leaders today, with so much of leaders’ energy focused on the bottom line in these turbulent and challenging times (that also call for bigger doses of compassion than usual!).

 BOTH Performance AND People 

Why does everyone always assume that it’s black or white? (That's a rhetorical question, because, of course, we know, our brains are wired to simplify the complex, right?) (And, indeed, it’s an exaggeration because it’s so rare that everyone ALWAYS does something.) 

Some implicit dichotomy lies bare on the floor of the workplace: performance OR people. It’s sometimes subtle like cinnamon used in a savory dish, and maybe just as often it’s strong, like a heavy weight you carry on your back that makes your shoulders slump.  It rests under the words you use. Others can see it in the ideas you share. It might be so deeply embedded in who you’ve become that you don’t even recognize its presence within you. 

Isn’t it obvious that a healthy, successful culture needs both? That performance of an organization is totally reliant on the people? No people, no performance. Some leaders see only the performance lever and their eyes seem fixed - like a red-light pointer during a PowerPoint presentation - on success and all that we must do to achieve our targets. 

You have to wonder how they don’t seem to understand that pressure building reaches a point it must be released, that there’s a cost to be paid for all the pushing and plying, plowing powerfully forward like a puma on the plains, that the bill just hasn’t arrived, yet. Oh, but it will!

Are they afraid that, should we focus on the people, we’d end up coddling them, softening them into laziness and lose our advantage? Is the answer rules and structures and protocols that keep the grip so tight that an explosion is likely around any corner?  

What if, just what if, we recognized that humans work here, that those people delivering on behalf of the corporation, the people on your team, they thrive when they are seen for who they are as individuals and valued for what they bring and create. There is no company, no organization, no team without the people. Thriving people, thriving organization. Not just now, in this quarter, but for the long haul. The people make the place. You’ve got to remember that.  

There’s an invitation here. There’s a call to open to AND: Doing AND Being. Action AND Inaction. Thinking AND Feeling. Using our Minds AND Listening to our Hearts. Work AND Play. Masculine AND Feminine energy. Fast AND Slow. Noise AND Quiet. Pride AND Humility. Ambition AND Restraint. Holding on AND Letting go. Performance AND People. 

May we listen for the bidding, the call to embrace AND. May we see how things are both black AND white, and lots of shades in between and beyond those points. Yes, where we work is colorful and vibrant with so many beautiful spots where we can place our attention. May we widen our view and look for something beyond and new.  

Click HERE for an audio recording of the poem.

The Questions We Ask


We live in the world our questions create. ~David Cooperrider

Something I read made me think about questions, what they are, why asking them is important, which ones to ask. What surfaced for me is this.

The questions we ask engage the mind, shape our thoughts, inspire feelings, create energy, support our choices, and lead us to action.

Questions are powerful tools for living. Questions invite us into the moment, allow us to explore with our hearts and minds, and open us to experience life.

Questions guide our attention, shape our experience, and create our reality.

The important thing is not to stop questioning. ~Albert Einstein

Questions are wonderful tools for self-reflection. Questions can lead to important insights. We discover our truth when we explore questions that open our minds and our hearts. We find what’s important, what we want to create in the world.

Questions are rich for building relationship. When we ask someone a question – from a place of curiosity, and truly listen for their response – we can open a genuine dialogue, make a connection. A question can be like the energy that pulls two magnets together.

Questions can build community and shape collective energy. When we lean into what we don’t know and step into possibility, we begin to change the world.

The power to question is the basis of all human progress. ~Indra Gandhi

The questions to ask are not found in guidebooks. No, the question that serves a moment arises naturally when we create space for it, when we invite it, allow it and open to it. Questions emerge from listening to what our hearts need and tuning into what is happening right now. From here, our minds can shape powerful questions.

What questions do you ask? Do you even know? What questions do those around you ask? How do these questions make you feel? What do you experience in their asking? What questions do you ask others? What gets created when you explore the answers together?

Here’s a practice I’m trying as a way to better tune into questions arising in me:

  • Make space for stillness and inner silence, slow down.
  • Notice self-talk that flows within the quiet.
  • What is being said?
  • Open to what arises, without judging. Simply let the ideas move through.
  • Take a deep breath – long inhale and slow exhale.
  • Is there a desire, a curiosity, a wonder?
  • Name it, shape it, invite it to lead toward possibility.


* Photo: Columbine sprouting in my backyard, April 2020.

A mindful walk


Over the years, when I found something inspiring, I put it into the pile on a shelf in my office, now 4 inches high. This morning I pulled the stack from the shelf and began to explore the gifts inside. I came across some guidance for taking a mindful walk that I’d created with some colleagues for a leadership retreat we led each quarter for our new executives. I modified it (below) as a guide for myself – something I can be intentional about when I venture outside each day for a neighborhood walk with my husband Jim. Perhaps you’ll feel invited to give it a try, too, and see what happens?

A mindful walk

Getting Started

  • Pause, standing still and observing a moment of silence.
  • Notice your feet solidly on the ground, feel the strength of your legs, notice your core supporting you, allow your arms hang softly at your sides, reach your fingers out wide with your palms open, and let your neck and head stand tall toward the sky.
  • Take 3 deep, intentional breaths.

During your walk

  • Pay attention to your breath. Don’t try to change it, just notice it. When your mind wanders, simply bring it back to your breath.
  • As you walk, expand your awareness to your body. Feel it moving. Notice how it feels as your feet to come down on the ground, how the muscles in your legs work as you walk, whether your core is engaged, how your arms are moving.
  • As you continue your walk, begin to move your attention outward. Notice your surroundings. What gets your attention? How does that feel?
  • After taking in the environment, bring your focus back to the experience of walking and your breathing. When you catch yourself thinking about something else, bring your attention back to the walk.

Wrapping Up

  • Take 3 deep, intentional breaths.
  • Fill your heart with gratitude…perhaps for your ability to move or your health, for the beauty of nature, for your mindfulness experience…whatever arises for you.
  • From this quiet place, set an intention for your day.


* I took this photo in San Agustinillo, Mexico, while on a morning walk with Celeste, the sweet girl who makes sure everyone at our hotel knows they are loved and appreciated.

We’re Human Beings Communicating With Each Other, After All

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“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” – Victor Frankl

That space which Mr. Frankl points to between stimulus and response offers us so much possibility. It is a place where we can take action that makes our intentions real.

Communication is a place that really benefits from finding that space. Our interactions matter, otherwise, we would have learned just not to engage with each other. Our relationships are affected by how we filter what goes on inside our heads and translate it into something we express externally in the world. Communication is a critical pathway to building and being in relationship because what we choose to express – and how we express it – with our spoken or written words affects others (as well as ourselves).

At some point many years ago, I started to notice the nature of the emails that I was receiving, both personally and professionally. What struck me was how frequently the message could have been generated by a machine and how they left me feeling empty. The sender often made a short statement which sounded a lot like a demand with no background, context, or acknowledgment.

I know. I know. We’re all busy. We don’t always have time to be kind or to explain. I get it. And, I expect that some portion of communication will be terse. Sometimes my interpretation of the message is blemished by my mood, or I’m overreacting or over-interpreting the intention.

That said, what proportion of our messages hold these terse, cold qualities? Is that how we want to be showing up? Is it really getting us what we want? What might our relationships be like if we showed a little more caring, especially where we have shared outcomes we want to achieve? Even though we are communicating via a computer, we are two people interacting with each other; therefore, we are in relationships with each other.

What’s the essence of the emails you receive? What are the qualities of the emails you send? Maybe you want to identify a handful of emails you’ve sent to different people over the past week and to read them, considering the reader’s perspective. Is there anything that conveys something personal, or does it sound like a computer could have generated it? Does it reflect a considered response, or something that seems fired off without much thought? How do you think the receiver felt when reading the email?

Noticing the machine-like quality of others’ emails, I began to see how my messages were that way, too. What I thought was ‘professional’ was empty, impersonal, and often not particularly helpful. I thought there might be an untapped power in my email exchanges so I started experimenting with what it would be like to ‘be human’ through my electronic communication.  Given that I worked remotely from my home office, collaborating electronically with people all over the world, this had the potential to affect my work in a hugely positive way.

I discovered that it is possible for people to feel your energy – yes, through words over media – when you are present and intentional about your communication with them. I learned that it is possible to spread joy and positivity through electronic communications. I found that taking a few extra seconds to be present while crafting messages made a difference. After years of testing, now I receive comments like this from my friends and colleagues: “You need to know in case I don’t tell you enough that I want to be like you. Your ability to acknowledge, to reflect, and to cheer on is second to none. Every time I read one of your messages, I always take such a deep breath. I can literally feel the stress and anxiety drip away. You remind me that I am ok and I can tackle anything.”

Here are some of the approaches I found effective.

  1. Envision the person you are about to engage with. Who are you sending the email to? Do you have a photo of them you could look at (e.g., a corporate directory)? If not, just take a moment to imagine them sitting across from you before you start typing. This simple task helps move from entirely self-focused to including the other person, which can positively influence communication, especially if we are upset or tense or uncertain.
  2. Begin your message with the person’s name. There is something very personal about one’s name. Just this simple step is so incredibly powerful because people appreciate being seen. Of course, many a computer is programmed to do this, so it alone is not a signature of human communication. ‘Saying it’ is not just for the recipient, it is also for you, the sender. It reminds you that you are ‘talking to’ a particular individual.
  3. Read the email aloud after you draft it. Notice how particular words make you feel. Notice the tone that comes across.  Is it too formal, too casual? Do you sound angry or unaffected? It’s amazing what changing a single word can do to shift the experience for the reader (e.g., eliminating the word ‘but’, removing any ‘should’s and ‘must’s, finding alternatives to angry or authoritarian words like ‘permit’ or ‘tolerate’). Notice how particular words make you feel
  4. Acknowledge something about the other person’s contribution or value. I often do this before I close and focus on something relevant to the work we’re doing together or about our friendship that is dear to me. For example, it might be a simple statement such as ‘I appreciate how you challenge us to put our best foot forward’ or ‘I love that you ensure we see all perspectives.’. This is another way of validating that we ‘see’ the other person.
  5. Sign your name at the end of the message. This reminds you that it is YOU who is communicating. This is a small way of saying, me, another human being, is sending this message to you.

A more general strategy that works with all kinds of communication is Me-You-Us. It goes like this:

ME: Start by looking inside yourself. Notice the voice inside that wants to respond, and what you want to say and why.

YOU: Look ‘across the table’ – that is, take a moment to see the other person. Recognize that you are relating to another person who has wants and needs, too. Put yourself in the position of the other person and consider what they need and the impact of your response on them.

US: Focus on outcomes – yours, theirs, and any shared and divergent goals or intentions you might have. Consider ways your response can create desired outcomes (e.g., connection, relationship, positive experience).

When we write an email we are interacting with another person. The words and tone we use build or break down personal connection. We always have an impact – it may be negligible or substantive, negative or positive – and we can be intentional about what it is we create.

When we are aware of how we are feeling as we craft our communication, when we put ourselves in the shoes of the recipient, when we write in a way that aligns with what we would like to be creating (e.g., strong relationships, positive outcomes), we increase the odds that our emails are something others are happy to receive.

Words are like magnets that polarize people or bring them together. If we pause before we respond – that is, if we take advantage of that space between whatever caused us to want to write a message and actually sending the message – we own our ability to create impact-full communication. When we are fully present when engaging with others, we can powerfully shift what’s possible.

If you liked this post, you might also be interested in these other posts I’ve written:

Mind Your Words-They are Powerful Seeds of Change

Setting the Tone

* I took these photos in Mexico. All but the last one were taken on Playa San Agustinillo; the last one on the main road out of Zipolite.

Uncovering Talent

“Talent, it seems, is energy waiting to be released

through an honest involvement in life.”

“…though we feel intermittently gifted, our gifts are ever-present. For if enlightenment stems from the clarity of being, then talent is no more than a clarity of doing, an embodied moment where spirit and hand are one. The chief obstacle to talent, then, is a lapse of being. It is not that people have no talent, but that we lack a clarity to understand what it is and how it works…Talent, it seems, is energy waiting to be released through an honest involvement in life. But so many of us check whether we have power with the main switch off – the switch being risk, curiosity, passion, and love…”
Mark Nepo, The Book of Awakening

As leaders, we are incredible opportunities to uncover talent and to support its realization. We can be part of the process of people’s unique and amazing qualities coming to life, part of creating a better world through the impact of this talent unleashed. We can invite understanding and insight among those we touch. We can be part of the process of others’ self-discovery and actualization.

And how do we engage in this way?

1. Listen with kindness and genuine caring
2. Be curious and open to what might be revealed
3. Explore, gently moving down the path of discovery by asking questions that arise from 1 and 2.

You can do this not only for others, but also with yourself. Indeed, doing it for yourself can be a powerfully positive step to being there fully present for others.

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5 Qualities for Sustainable Change – The HOW Matters

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To truly bring a vision to fruition requires attending to not only what happens but also to how it happens. Actions matter, although it’s the nature of their execution that’s the difference-maker. Yes, bringing others along can feel like things are going too slow, although that’s usually just in the short term; the momentum it creates downstream tends to carry the team further than they could have imagined.  Five qualities, that anyone and everyone on the team can embrace, have the power to carry a team and organization toward their vision.

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Everything you are going through is preparing you for what you asked for. ~Unknown


Identify clear and meaningful outcomes and create a plan to achieve them. Then, open to the many, often unexpectedly delicious ways things can unfold. We work in an ever-increasingly complex marketplace where organizations morph and change rapidly, and teams are increasingly diverse. Given this, how can we possibly know all the pathways to a desired outcome? What worked in the past doesn’t always work in the present. Group dynamics, whether bold or subtle, can invite things we didn’t dream of. Apparent obstacles arise, inviting us to shift our pathway, overcome challenges, and head boldly in new directions. Rather than force a plan or resist a shift from plan, sometimes the answer is to follow the energy.

  • Are we passionate about our purpose and the outcomes we want to achieve?
  • How tightly or loosely do we hold the details of our plan?
  • How do we engage with the unexpected?
  • What are we experiencing right now and what does it mean for how we proceed?


Be the change you wish to see in the world.  ~Mahatma Gandhi


What does it look like for someone to be or move toward the envisioned change? If you are bringing resilience to your organization, for example, you might show up with energy and role model with passion the actions you are inviting others to take, such as walking meetings, taking nourishment breaks, and so forth. If you are bringing mindfulness to your business, then personifying these qualities, for example, could invite others in: being present, having a sense of calm, making conscious decisions, and taking actions that lead to greater awareness. While it’s the outward energy others experience and actions others see, what matters most is your truly believing in what you are promoting.

  • How am I in alignment with the change?
  • Is there integrity between my actions and my words?
  • How do I embody what’s different?
  • How do I personify what’s possible?
  • What do I invite for others?


We rise by lifting others. ~Robert Ingersol 


Affirming the value that each person contributes is important. People want to be seen and appreciated – first for who they are, and then for what they accomplish. Each person on the team and the way each team interacts is special in a unique way that deserves celebrating. Just think about how you feel when you are seen and heard. Dare to imagine what might be possible if everyone felt like that. There is something very powerful in a culture filled with gratitude for each member of the team, the collective body, and the circumstances that will enable something new to emerge.

  • How often do I pause to appreciate what is happening?
  • How do I honor others who are part of the creative process?
  • How is this individual moving us toward our desired outcomes?
  • Do I believe in the members of my team and do they know it?


Noticing. What a gift. ~Byron Katie


Awhile back I watched a NOVA program about the discovery of copper, iron, and steel, and the smelting process and alloy-making. Did you know that all of that happened by chance? People were not in laboratories actively experimenting, they were paying attention to what was happening as they interacted with the world. As we engage with each other, what might be possible if we notice and truly pay attention to what’s going on within us, with others, and around us? Often we are so focused on responding and taking action that we miss the opportunity to be present for the experience of the moment.

  • What are we experiencing?
  • What ideas, energy, feelings are surfacing now?
  • What’s possible because of who we are, what we know, and how we feel in this moment?


I would rather have a mind opened by wonder than closed by belief. ~Gerry Spence


In this same NOVA program about metals, a woman was featured who discovered how to make metal from plastic garbage. What we see and judge as useless waste, with an open mind, can be put to good use. What we believe can limit what’s possible. There’s opportunity in openness.

  • What beliefs are limiting my perspective right now?
  • What would it look like if I were completely open about what’s possible from here?


Other posts you may like:


* I took the photos in my backyard:

  1. Chives growing in a perennial bed (edited with a Sunscreen filter). I like the collective nature of the flowers reaching for the sun.
  2. Phlox with multi-colored blossoms – first time these have appeared in our yard!
  3. Peony blossom.
  4. Columbine blossom that has lost it’s outer petals.
  5. Honeysuckle with Monarch butterfly visiting.
  6. Petunias blossoming in a hanging basket.


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Lessons learned from practicing mindfulness

Opps everywhere

Over the past 15 years, I’ve been experimenting with different mindfulness practices and learning from others. I’ve spent quality time with myself – for example, journaling my thoughts and feelings, keeping a gratitude journal, frequently STOP!ing during the day (see Experimenting with Mindfulness), meditating for 5-20 minutes a day… I’ve read practical, theoretical, research-based, spiritual and other mindfulness-related books*. I’ve attended retreats and practiced with experts and strangers. I’ve attended and led online and in-person practice sessions inside and outside of work. I’ve found that I tend toward simple, practical ways that wake me up to life and support my staying awake for the journey.

The most important lesson I’ve learned from practicing mindfulness is that opportunities to practice are everywhere. Opportunities to drop into a moment of awareness are available any time anywhere in any of a variety of ways. Lying in bed, standing at the kitchen sink, brushing teeth or taking a shower, walking or exercising outside…at any of these times, it’s possible to pause, tune in, and see what’s really happening in our lives, rather than running on autopilot. There’s incredible power in noticing when I’m caught in some self-created melodrama, and bringing my attention to my breath, thus shifting my attention from the thoughts running through my mind to what’s happening in my body. When I am able to make that shift, I find I am at choice: proceed with the melodrama and the consequences, or consider what I would like to be creating in my life and act accordingly.

A key principle that sticks with me is that how we are in our body affects how we are in our minds. I learned this from practicing at a weekend retreat with Rolf Gates, author of Meditations on Intention and Being. I learned to awaken my mind by taking an ‘awake’ posture – that is, a posture at the balance point between effort and ease, whereby our ears, shoulders, and hips in alignment. Whenever I notice that I am slouched over my computer or sitting with my arms crossed over my chest, I take a deep belly breath and slowly straighten my spine, coming into an awake posture, and instantly I feel a shift.

In our bodies

Mindfulness has taught me to see opportunities in front of me that I might have otherwise missed – opportunities to shift my mindset or attitude so that how I am being aligns with who I want to be. It could be while fixing dinner with my husband or in meeting with my team. It could be opportunities to smile at a stranger or acknowledge something special about another person.

Because of my mindfulness practice, I’m better able to trust, respect, and care for myself and others. I’ve learned that when I trust, respect and care for myself, I’m able to better do that for others.

Through mindfulness practice, I have learned to take chances and learn new things by opening to curiosity through my practice. I’ve learned to better see when I am afraid and how I need to be to show up brave in the face of fear.

* Here’s a list of my favorite mindfulness books:


If you missed the Experimenting with Mindfulness series I shared in May, here are some quick links to the featured posts:

A version of this blog was originally posted on IBM’s recruitment web site in December 2016.

Other Leading with Intention posts related to mindfulness:

* I took the lead-in photo in Sagres, Portugal and the other photo at Cala Boix, Ibiza, Spain.

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Cultivating Mindfulness with Gratitude

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“Enjoy the little things, for one day you may look back and realize they were the big things.” ~Robert Brault

In last week’s Experimenting with Mindfulness post, Mini-Habits for Showing Up Mindfully, a suggested practice was a ‘gratitude pause’, which encouraged pausing at any point in the day to consider something for which you are grateful.  Grateful appreciation is cleansing. It’s like removing a film that has been covering the lens through which we see life.

Being thankful is, in fact, much more than that – it is good for you. Thank You Power by Debra Norville, for example, indicates that being thankful for what you have in your life can lead to greater optimism, acceptance, resilience, alertness, adventurousness, creativity, fitness, health, and longer life. Here we’ll focus on ways you can practice mindfulness to cultivate gratitude and appreciation.

What if a lasting sense of completion, an enduring feeling of contentment, was possible – simply by changing the lens through which we viewed daily life? Nothing dramatic, nothing painful – no calories expended: just a conscious alteration of the way we look at our own little corner of the world. ~Debra Norville

Awaken your appreciation

If you’ve been following the Experimenting with Mindfulness series this May, you’ll recall we started with a practice called STOP!, where you create small pauses to observe what you are thinking and feeling, physically and emotionally. The STOP and the below recommended practices are about noticing. Attention is foundational to mindfulness, so that it is maintained on the present moment experience. The activities below can help awaken your appreciation by inviting you to focus intently on your experience of the moment.

  • Everyday Routines: Choose a routine activity that you complete every day (such as brushing your teeth, walking the dog, making the bed) and be awake for it; that is, pay attention to what you are doing and how you feel physically and emotionally while doing it. Notice your thoughts, feelings and sensations. Really observe yourself in the moment. You may not experience gratitude when doing this, and that is ok. The aim is to establish a solid base for appreciative attention.
  • Simple Objects: Hold an object in your hand, such as a rock, shell, egg, flower, piece of grass, or a leaf. Pick up anything that happens to be around. Notice its color, shape, texture. Notice how it feels in your hands, the thoughts it generates, and the feelings it invites. Is there anything about the object or your relationship to it that you appreciate? It’s ok if the answer is no. Accept whatever comes without expectation or judgment.
  • Smiley Heart: Start by focusing on your breath. Then, gently bring a smile to your face. Then, perhaps you put one of your hands over your heart (then maybe both). Notice any shifts in your sensations, feelings, and thoughts with each action. Sit quietly this way for as long as you wish, from a few seconds to an extended meditation practice. Notice any differences in your experience from before to after the practice.

Gratitude can transform common days into thanksgiving, turn routine jobs into joy, and change ordinary opportunities into blessings. ~William Arthur Ward

Grow Your Gratitude

This second set of suggested practices focuses on your orientation toward your experience in the present moment, specifically nurturing the attitude of gratitude. The practices are most impactful when done consistently, so if one of them seems like something you want to try, consider making a commitment and establishing a system of support (a post-it with ‘PAUSE IN GRATITUDE’, do it with a partner and help each other remember, for example). You can combine these practices with breathing techniques (such as those we recommended in the previous post, Building Awareness Through the Breath).

  • Grateful Beginnings & Endings: When you go to bed each night, name something from the day that you are grateful for. If you find this difficult, go beyond your experience of the day and include things you are generally appreciative of. You might identify people, places, things, feelings, activities, qualities such as friendship, home, flowers, joy, relaxing, or creativity, for example. Anything can be the object of your appreciation, even pain and mistakes that you grow from. You could also identify something you are grateful for when you awake each morning.
  • Count Your Blessings: Once a day, name 3 things that you are grateful for. Feel free to identify more than 3 things or to do it more than once a day!
  • Gratitude Journaling: Find a time each day (e.g., first thing in the morning, during lunch or another break during the day, right before bed) and write about something for which you are thankful. Notice your feelings and sensations; then just start writing. Don’t worry about making it neat or getting the words right, just let the appreciation flow onto the page. You get the joy not only of the memory of the focus of your gratitude but also the experience of joy in the moment as you recall it. This mindfulness technique can help us shift how we perceive situations by shaping what we focus on. You might also consider responding to prompts such as those provided below.

Gratitude Writing Prompts
What am I grateful for right now?
In this moment, what do I love?
What is precious to me?
I feel good when…
I appreciate…
Today I enjoyed…

Deepen your understanding

As you practice gratitude, over time you may notice that your appreciation of things for which you are grateful grows deeper and richer, that you are more in tune with how gratitude influences your thoughts, your feelings, and physically how you feel. My wish is that you experience some benefit from whatever practices you might try or already engage in (if the latter, please feel invited to share in the comments).

“Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all others.” ~Cicero


I’m celebrating mindfulness in May with a weekly mindfulness blog. Below are previous posts in the series. Look for the next Leading with Intention post with some lessons I’ve learned from practicing mindfulness.

A version of this blog was originally posted on IBM’s recruitment web site in May 2016 and was a collaborative endeavor with Megan Moyer.

Other Leading with Intention posts related to mindfulness:

* I took this photo in Verbania, Italy, which sits along the edge of Lake Maggiore.

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Mini-Habits for Showing Up More Mindfully

spiaggia marianelli - Vendicari Reserve - Sicily - Italy 3

Mindfulness is not a sedentary practice where we move in slow motion with a soft mindset. Rather, mindfulness enables us to move with focus, agility and speed because our minds are enabling us to be more decisive, less biased, and more creative. Mindfulness puts us powerfully in action. Mindfulness is the new ‘hard skill’ – the practice is like exercise for the brain, and the result is a brain that is in the best service of our bodies and lives.

“Mindfulness is about developing a sharp, clear mind.” ~Rasmus Hougaard and Jacqueline Carter (How to Practice Mindfulness Throughout Your Work Day)

People have different backgrounds, cultures, ways of working, preferences, styles, needs, and so much more – so different people are attracted to different things. The beauty of mindfulness is that it can be practiced in myriad ways that honor our individual uniqueness. When I was at IBM, we experimented with everything from formal, structured, in-person group meditation practice series to virtual 15- to 30-minute weekly global mindfulness sessions hosted via conference call to mini-habits integrated into the way we work, such as a ‘mindful minute’ and a micro pause.

In this May Experimenting with Mindfulness series, we’ve explored greater awareness via the STOP! technique where we create small pauses to notice what we are thinking and feeling, physically and emotionally, as well as via techniques for observing and focusing on our breath (Building Awareness Through the Breath). Here we’ll focus on building ‘mini-habits’ – simple, practical mindful practices we can incorporate throughout our day. By taking small actions or steps consistently over time, mini-habits enable positive change.

‘Mini-habits’ are simple, practical mindful practices you can incorporate throughout your day to bring about change through small actions.

I love mini-habits because they support us in changing not just what we see but also what we think, how we feel, and ways we relate to the world. Short, regular pausing enables us to clarify what’s going on inside ourselves, with others, and in the environment around us. The noticing creates a kind of clarity about the reality of the moment. A pause can free us from the trappings of the past or the future, and ground us in reality, providing a solid place for the important work of living and making a difference in the world.

Pausing regularly increases the amount of time we are paying attention, versus letting the autopilot of our minds run. Research suggests our minds wander about 50% of the time. Notice how often you start something with one intention and find yourself doing something different. Because your mind is always at work, it’s easy to get side-tracked and derailed with the latest thought that pops up. Mindfulness practice enhances the awareness that enables us to recognize and release unnecessary distractions as they arise, and it improves the focus that allows us to concentrate on what we’re doing in the moment.

Here’s a list of mini-habits that my fellow colleagues at IBM came up with when we were in the early stages of inviting mindfulness into IBM.  (Read more on Mindfulness@IBM.)

Mindful Start First thing when you awake take a moment to notice the sensations of your breath for a few breaths before getting out of bed.
Mindful Transitions


Enjoy a technology-free zone as you move from one activity to another, whether you’re driving to and from destinations or to and from meetings or some other activity. Turn off your cell phone and other devices and just notice how you are feeling and what there is to see or hear.
Mindful Meetings At the start of your next meeting (whether it’s at the office or with family or friends), allow yourself to be fully present. Let go of whatever you were doing before and all that awaits you afterwards. Take a few breaths and feel yourself in the now. Even better, at the office, make the first agenda item of a meeting an invitation for everyone to clarify, whether in silence or verbally, their intentions or desired outcomes.
Mindful Eating      As you eat, pay attention to the colors, taste, smells, and textures of your food. If possible, sit down and be intentional about eating slowly and savoring each bite. Added bonus: smile between bites and you might just find you are less stressed when your meal is done! 
Computer Pause Use the time while your device or app is processing to notice the sensations in your body as you sit or stand. You can also notice what you are thinking, or take a moment to notice and appreciate something around you such as a photo.
Gratitude Pause At any point in your day, pause and think of something you are grateful for. Smiling as you do is an added bonus for your mind and body – and those who might be around you!
Healthy Body Micropause Take a thirty-second micro-break to energize your muscles and reduce tension. You might slowly turn your head from side to side, holding each turn for a count of three and repeating 5-10 times. Or you might make wide circular motions to roll your shoulders forward 5-10 times, and then backward 5-10 times. Or you could tightly clench your fists and then release, fanning out your fingers about 5 times on each hand.
Restroom Pause When you visit the rest room (we intentionally chose this word!) during the day, take a moment to pause while washing or drying your hands (or both). Focus on how the water, temperature, or towel or air feels. Use the focus to clear your mind of the debris so you are ready for what’s next.
Object Pause Steady your attention by focusing on a single element of an object. It might be the color or shape of something in the space around you (e.g., on your desk, in the parking lot, in your home, at the park). Each time your mind wanders from the element, refocus.
Nature Pause Go outside and focus on something in nature for 2 minutes – maybe it’s the sounds of birds or water, or the color of flowers or leaves, or the feel of the air on your skin. 

“In mindfulness, we start to see the world as it is, not as we expect it to be, how we want it to be, or what we fear it might become.” ~ Mark Williams and Danny Penman (Mindfulness: An Eight-Week Plan for Finding Peace in a Frantic World)

Go ahead, identify a mini-habit that you can start today. Enjoy what unfolds when you focus your full awareness in the moment.


I’m celebrating mindfulness in May with a weekly mindfulness blog. Below are previous posts in the series. Coming next week is mindful appreciation.

A version of this blog was originally posted on IBM’s recruitment web site in April  2016 and was a collaborative endeavor with Megan Moyer.

Other Leading with Intention posts related to mindfulness:

* I took this photo at Spaggia Marianelli, Vendicari Reserve, Sicily, Italy.

You can also follow me at:

Building Awareness Through the Breath

Mallorca Sunset from Costa D'Or. Copy.JPG

Awareness is like the sun, when it shines on things, they are transformed.         ~Thich Nhat Hanh

Last week’s Experimenting with Mindfulness post noted that awareness is one of the central elements and benefits of mindfulness. Awareness has three key focus areas:

  1. Self
  2. Others
  3. Surroundings

Awareness of self involves turning inward, of pausing enough to see what you are experiencing and explore what you would like to be creating in the world. Awareness of others includes realizing the impact of your actions on others and paying attention to the quality of your relationships – essentially moving your attention from yourself to others. Awareness of surroundings is about tuning in to your environment and understanding the context in which life is happening. With these forms of awareness comes an amazing ability to move with grace through change and chaos.

Mindfulness is a way of awakening these kinds of awareness, and there are infinite ways to practice mindfulness. Here, we’ll explore how you can use your breath to create greater awareness. Primarily, we’ll focus on two approaches: observing your breath and focusing your breath.

Observing your Breath

Wherever you are, simply bring your attention to your breath. Experience each breath as it happens. You can gently close your eyes, if you wish. You might focus on the sensation of the air moving into your nostrils or how your belly or chest gently rises and falls. The goal is to notice, simply pay attention to your breathing, without changing it, without judging it. It’s natural for our minds to wander – distracted, for example, by sounds around us or feelings that arise, and that’s OK. Just observe them and then refocus on your breathing.

You can do this for a few seconds or as many minutes as you like. You can do it spontaneously while waiting for something, like your kettle to whistle or your app to run, or you can do it intentionally and set a timer for some period of time. At whatever point you decide to stop and notice your breath, simple observe, continually bringing your attention back to your breath when it wanders. It’s like building a muscle, each time you pause and notice, you are building your capacity to notice.  If inspired to do so, you can gradually increase the time you spend simply observing your breath. If you’d like, you can follow this 5-minute guided meditation practice from the UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center.

When you feel life is out of focus, always return to the basics of life: Breathing. No breath, no life. ~Unknown

Focusing on Your Breath

You will find a variety of breathing techniques online. One that I find effective for holding my focus is Alternate Nostril Breathing. (Note that you should avoid alternate nostril breathing if you have a cold or if your nasal passages are blocked in any way.) To get started, sit in a relaxed yet attentive position, whatever that means to you. Gently close your eyes, if you wish.

  • Use the fingers on your right hand – your thumb and index fingers may work best
  • Use your index finger to close your left nostril and breath in the right nostril
  • Close the right nostril with your thumb and remove your index finger from the left nostril as you breathe out
  • With the thumb continuing to hold the right nostril closed, breathe in the left nostril
  • Then close the left nostril with your index finger and breathe out the right nostril
  • Repeat this sequence, breathing in and out of each nostril in turn

As with observing your breath, expect that your attention to wander. The mind is always active and naturally gets busy. Remember, that’s normal; it’s what our brains do. When it happens, just bring your attention back to the alternate nostril breathing cycle.

You can experiment with this breathing approach by breathing in and out as gently as possible, or breathing in and out very intentionally such that you pull air deep into your lungs and belly and release it out through your mouth with a sound like you’re fogging up a mirror. When we practice this technique with a moderate breath – not too softly or too forcefully – a circular rhythm sometimes opens, which can be very soothing. If you’d like, you can follow Lisa Hedley’s Just Sit guided Alternate Nostril Breathing meditation that provides instruction and guides you through a 5-minute practice.

May the awareness that is the heart of all transformation awaken in you.


I’m celebrating mindfulness in May with a weekly mindfulness blog. Last week, provided a brief introduction to mindfulness, and upcoming posts will focus on building mindful mini-habits, and mindful appreciation.

A version of this blog was originally posted on IBM’s recruitment web site in February 2016 and was a collaborative endeavor with Megan Moyer.

Other Leading with Intention posts related to mindfulness:

* I took this photo at sunset from Deia, Mallorca, Spain.

You can also follow me at: