5 Qualities for Sustainable Change – The HOW Matters

IMG_1163 (Sunscreen Filter)Recently I heard about an initiative that had a strong start but did not move ahead as expected. A diverse team was brought together and the group co-created a vision for what was possible. In haste to achieve desired outcomes, the leadership team missed the opportunity to build community and collaborate as things moved forward.

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?


Related quotes that spoke to me:

“In the beautiful mystery, the extraordianary edge to everything is covered over with a current of speed and noise, the way beautiful stones are not quite seeable under the rush of the river’s face. Only when we can still the river of the world and the river in our face do things become extraordinary and clear.” ~Mark Nepo

“In befriending life, we do not make things happen according to our own design. We uncover something that is already happening in us and around us and create conditions that enable it. Everything is moving toward its place of wholeness. Befriending life requires that we listen for the potential which is trying to actualize itself over time. It will be there whether we are listening to a tree, a person, an organization, or a society. It is always struggling against odds. Everything has a deep dream of itself and its fulfillment.” ~Rachel Naomi Remen


Other posts you may like:


* I took the photos in my backyard this spring:

  1. Chives growing in my backyard (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

Verbania Italy.JPG

“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 clear 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:



Experimenting with Mindfulness

San A MX Waves 5

Information about mindfulness seems to be everywhere. When I first heard the term, I had a general sense for what it meant; however, it wasn’t until I started practicing and connecting with some trained practitioners that I appreciated the nuances.**

So, what is mindfulness? Well, Jon Kabat-Zinn, Professor of Medicine Emeritus and creator of the Stress Reduction Clinic and the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, defines it as “”paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally, to the unfolding of experience moment to moment.”

“Mindfulness is paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally, to the unfolding of experience moment to moment.”

          ~Jon Kabat-Zinn

Mindfulness is both a way of being, as defined by Kabat-Zinn, and any practice that brings about greater mindfulness. Meditation is one of a variety of ways to practice mindfulness. Sometimes mindfulness is perceived as having a religious affiliation – which it may, although that is not a required element. You can practice mindfulness regardless of any religious affiliation, and mindfulness can be an integrated part of a religious practice.

What draws people and organizations to mindfulness? Quite simply, because it is transformational. Organizations might invite a more mindful workplace because mindfulness can cultivate greater focus and clarity, which can lead to better outcomes and improved efficiency – and employees feel good about themselves and their work when they experience this focus and clarity and create the outcomes needed in the most effective way.

The biggest reason I’m drawn to mindfulness is that it can create greater awareness – about ourselves, others, and what’s happening around us. When we have deeper self-understanding, we can be more intentional and make more active choices about our actions. Basically, we are in a stronger place for creating what we want in our lives. With greater self-awareness often comes greater awareness of others – and that is the foundation for building lasting relationships with just about everyone, including our peers and clients.

And, of course, there are myriad articles about how mindfulness can help us manage stress – and that’s a big bonus in this fast-moving, 24X7 world we live in. Imagine being calm amidst the chaos of your day. Centered, confident. Ah, now wouldn’t that be nice?

Experimenting with mindfulness is a great way to discover what it is and how it affects you. 

The best way to learn about mindfulness is to experience it. People are different and may be supported in very different ways. Experimenting with mindfulness is a great way to discover what it is and how it affects you. Here’s a practice you can try right away to explore your experience. It’s called STOP!. a practice I learned from Dr. Elisha Goldstein.


Take a breath

Observe your thoughts, emotions, physical state


Find a small space in your day to pause and tune into what you are experiencing. You can do it any time of day, multiple times a day. To get started, pick a time to regularly give it a try (consistency of practice is key to finding the most value). You might do it in the morning before you get out of bed, when beginning a meal, when your device alerts you, when you start or end your daily fitness activity, or as you are going to sleep. If you already practice mindfulness in some way, perhaps there’s a new place you can incorporate a STOP!

The pause doesn’t have to be long, even a single cleansing breath that refocuses you can work wonders. As you pause, you might ask yourself a single question or run through a series of questions, such as “What’s on my mind right now?”, “What emotions am I experiencing?” or “What physical sensations am I having?” Then, just notice. There is nothing you need to do. Just observe without judging or making a story about what you find. This whole process might take a few seconds (e.g., if it’s before you pick up the phone) or it might take 30 seconds (e.g., if you are lying in bed about to get up). The golden core of mindfulness is in the noticing, in being a witness to our experience in the moment. 

The golden core of mindfulness is the noticing, in being a witness to our experience in the moment. 


For more guidance on STOP!, check out Dr. Elisha Goldstein’s short practice video HERE.

I invite you to share your experience in the comments.  

** I am not certified to teach mindfulness. My mindfulness training is non-traditional, supported by curiosity to know myself better, by openness to new ways of being my best, and by exploration with a variety of experts through reading, virtual practices, and in-person sessions, workshops, and retreats. I see mindfulness as a personal experience that one experiences to understand and that is manifest through a wide variety of practices.


Join me each week in May as I celebrate mindfulness. Upcoming posts will focus on using your breath to center your awareness, building mindful mini-habits, and mindful appreciation.

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

Other Leading with Intention posts related to mindfulness: 

* I took the opening photo in San Agustinillo, Mexico.

You can also follow me at: 

Clear intentions are the foundation of personal integrity

Vila Taranto Verbania Italy - Sacred Lotus 7

At times we might say things because we feel they are the ‘right’ thing to say, even though we don’t really believe them, deep down. Perhaps we say them so that we don’t upset a relationship or for the sake of keeping our jobs. We might momentarily feel good by saying what’s expected, although when our beliefs and words are out of sync, we tend to experience a discordance. Over time this lack of harmony between our thoughts and actions causes stress and blocks energy. We simply are not at our best when we are out of integrity with ourselves.

On the other hand, when our beliefs and actions are in alignment, we feel a sense of inner harmony. We act in a way that is consistent with our values. When we proceed by honoring our higher selves, it is positively affirming and boosts our sense of self-worth. We are in integrity with ourselves.

A critical starting point to being in integrity is having clear intentions.

A critical starting point to being in integrity is having clear intentions. When our intentions come from our deepest heartfelt desires, they lay the foundation for living in integrity. Our intention might be to create a workplace that honors individual strengths or values diversity, it might focus on our relationships or caring for our bodies, or any of an infinity of deeply felt desires we might have for our work or lives.

Intentions are not goals or plans, like designing a new program or winning a contract or getting a new car or finding your life partner, they are higher order desires that stem from a knowing deep inside. We might find our intentions by looking at our goals or plans and exploring why we desire them. For example, perhaps at the heart of a new program is leading with courage or the reason for winning a contract is to make a difference in the world. Or, we might want a new car because we feel it will make us feel vibrantly alive or we desire a relationship so that we can feel a deep personal connection.

Vila Taranto Verbania Italy - Sacred Lotus 1

The pathway to our deepest desires is self-awareness.

The pathway to our deepest desires is self-awareness. From a place of noticing what is true in the moment, we gain clarity. We always have data to inform us: 1) the thoughts running through our minds, 2) the emotions that arise from those thoughts, and 3) the physical sensations that accompany our thoughts and emotions. When we continually listen inside, we can make ongoing adjustments to stay in alignment with our intentions.

Our thoughts have a creative power that can strategically shape our lives.

Our thoughts have a creative power that can strategically shape our lives. The key is being aware of our thoughts, actually noticing what our mind is saying in the moment. If we can catch ourselves at that point – when we have a thought, before any associated emotions and physical reactions come – we find a place of choice. We can either stay caught up in the thought, or we can let it go and choose another thought that aligns with our intention.

For example, if I think we’re about to move from gentle stretching to something more challenging during my yoga practice, I might think “Oh, know! This is going to be hard.” And I immediately lose any feeling of calm and my body tenses up. I can go with that thought and I’ll surely struggle through whatever challenging posture might come next, or I can simply let that thought go and return to the moment, feeling what’s there now. When I choose now, I have a sense of being alive and I’m closer to joy I intend to create in my life.

To cultivate present-moment awareness, we make time

to listen to the dialogue inside our minds.

To cultivate present-moment awareness, we make time to listen to the dialogue inside our minds. The idea is to notice what is naturally happening in our minds all the time. We just observe it, not judging, resisting, or getting attached . Maybe we do this for a few seconds before we get out of bed or as we are getting ready to fall asleep. Maybe when we brush our teeth or wash our face. Or when we sit down for a meal or at our desk, or when we come to a halt in rush-hour traffic. Observing what’s going on inside our heads, even momentarily, can provide such powerful information, even if it’s just once a day.

When we become familiar with the chatter in our heads, we start to notice particular thoughts and how we respond to them. We see habits of thought that don’t serve us – the very thoughts that get us out of alignment and lead us to places of disharmony. Once we notice, we can take action, perhaps by taking a breath (which can help hold the emotions and physical response at bay momentarily) and let go of the thought.

Vila Taranto Verbania Italy - Sacred Lotus 2

The noticing is key because it is from here that we can take action. We can let go of the thought and that might be enough, or we might consciously choose another thought that aligns with what we want to be creating in our lives – so we can live in integrity. We have the power to build new habits of mind that move our lives in synchronicity with our intentions.

We have the power to build new habits of mind that

move our lives in synchronicity with our intentions.

Below are some questions that we can use to begin exploring with curiosity the interplay of our intentions, thoughts, moments of choice and actions.

  • What would I like to be creating in my life?
  • What do I value? How is that important to me?
  • When do I feel like I am in integrity, having a sense of harmony in my thoughts and actions?
  • When do I feel a lack of alignment in my thoughts and actions?
  • How do I experience discordance? What is the relationship between my thoughts and actions? What are my thoughts, emotions, physical sensations?
  • When might I pause to notice my thoughts, emotions, physical sensations?
  • What do I hear when I tune into my mental dialogue?
Other posts you might be interested in:
Being Intentional
Feeling it


* I took these photos of Sacred Lotus flowers at Vila Taranto in Verbania, Italy, which sits along Lake Maggiore.

Where’s the inspiration?

Amalfi Coast Italy3 (3).JPG

I have been somewhat sporadic in posting here over the past year or so, despite the encouragement of many of you to stay active. Each month I pause to explore what I might have to share, and I often come up empty.

Why am I drawing blanks? Maybe it’s what I call the ‘lotus blossom phenomenon’. Perhaps the mud and muck that is a natural part of work created the perfect ground for my ideas to blossom and push me to share. I’d see myself or colleagues suffering or obstacles getting in our way, and I would be called to bring forth some healing, helping energy and ideas. My reaction to challenging experiences compelled me to capture thoughts about personal leadership and the power of our awareness, intention, choice and action.

The workplace was my inspiration. Given that I have been moving through a transition, retiring from IBM, perhaps it’s natural that the stimuli that will guide me now are different.

I’ve wondered whether it’s time to close Leading with Intention. I’m uncertain so I’m taking a dose of my own medicine — see Asking for Help — and reaching out to you for your ideas.

  • How can I be most helpful?
  • What do you like most about my blogs?
  • What is challenging you?
  • What would best support your greatness?
  • What inspires you to share your truth and wisdom?
  • Would you be interested in co-creating something with me?
  • Would you like to be a guest blogger?

Maybe it’s time to close up shop, maybe my energy is best used in the other places I’ve been blogging: Where Possibility Awaits, The Small Things, thejoyfulleye, And Then Opens Possibility, or maybe it’s just time for a blog make-over?

I welcome your ideas and input! Let me hear from YOU! (Don’t want to leave a WordPress comment, please email me at vflahert@mchsi.com.)


* I took this photo along the Amalfi Coast, Italy. I selected it because I love the sense of companionship of the two boats together.

Thank you, IBM

Travel Collage

After more than 20 years with IBM, I officially retire from the company this month. When I started at ‘Big Blue’ back in 1998, I had no idea what a long and wonderful ride I would have.

Thank you, IBM, for a fulfilling career.

Work enables us to grow not only as a professional but also a person. 

I joined the services organization as a business transformation consultant focused on maximizing human performance and helped clients to develop the skills of their workforce, to embrace change and transformation, to measure their impact/success, and more. About 7 years in, I moved into human resources where I led a variety of talent initiatives, including developing a global career framework, an award-winning onboarding program, a global leadership competency model, a corporate learning university for emerging technical skills, and a variety of executive leadership programs. Each role and project not only leveraged core strengths but also challenged me in ways that made me stronger and more capable. I grew not just as a professional but also as a person.

Thank you, IBM, for the flexibility of working from home.

When we appreciate what makes others unique, honor who they are, and treat them with kindness and compassion, connection happens almost magically.

I was fortunate to work from home during my entire tenure – across three moves made for my husband’s career. I always appreciated the flexibility of working remotely as well as the skills I developed working ‘virtually’, especially the ability to collaborate globally using technology. I credit strong achievement orientation and self- motivation as key characteristics supporting success as a ‘remote’ employee. Perhaps the most valuable take-away of working mostly from my home office is an ability to create meaningful relationships with people I have never me in person. I’ve found that when I appreciate what makes others unique, honor who they are, and treat them with kindness and compassion, connection happens almost magically.

People Collage

Thank you, IBM, for connecting me with so many amazing people.

What a wonderful gift to create deep, meaningful friendships at work that nourish you throughout your life.

What I’ve heard so many say is true: it’s the people that make the company. My colleagues are amazingly talented and dedicated professionals, committed to making the world a better place. I had the chance to co-create with people in a broad variety of roles across virtually all of IBM’s many businesses and around the world. I engaged with a broad spectrum of clients, both internal and external – and grew in my capacity to understand how people and organizations work. I learned from people managers, program managers, consultants, sellers, hardware technicians, software developers, and people working across all HR functions. Our shared values around trust, relationships, and innovation guided us and enabled us to break through challenges. I leave with deep friendships that will nourish me through the rest of my life – for this I am so very grateful.

Thank you, IBM, for incredible opportunities.

Sometimes our own limiting stories hold us back, and what we most need is a friend or coach to help us see the possibility within us.

Working in two organizations in at least 7 different roles, opportunities were always in abundance in the form of fresh challenges and projects. Opportunity did not always sit where I could see it clearly. Sometimes I had to dig deep to gather the courage to venture into dark and scary alleys to find an opportunity that ignited my spirit. Sometimes I shaped opportunities with my unique qualities and perspective – and, it brought me such joy to guide others in doing the same. Sometimes our own limiting stories hold us back, and what we most need is a friend or coach to help us see the possibility within us. I am grateful for those who pointed me in the right direction at the many crossroads I encountered.

NY Collage

Thank you, IBM, for rich cultural awareness and appreciation for diversity.

At our core, we all share a common humanity that can be tapped into regardless of background or language.

I learned so much over the years that I couldn’t begin to keep track (although IBM has phenomenal HR tools to help employees do just that)! One area – cultural awareness and appreciation for diversity – stands out. A career highlight was traveling the globe facilitating leadership focus groups, where I had a first-hand look at diverse cultures and the different ways that people with different traditions see and approach work and life. (And, I came away with another deep appreciation – that, at our core, we all share a common humanity that can be tapped into regardless of background or language.) A related career peak was being selected for IBM’s Corporate Service Corps, where I got to spend a month in Turkey helping clients with innovation – what fun I had learning their language and customs, eating their delicious food, and experiencing the incredible hospitality of the generous Turkish people.

Thank you, IBM, for supporting me in taking care of myself – and helping others do the same.  

It’s up to each of us to determine what we need in order to bring our best to our work.

A key discovery is that the only one who can take care of me is me! A company will take as much of you as you are willing to give, and it’s up to you to determine what you need to bring your best to your work every day. When diagnosed with breast cancer I learned the value of taking time away for not only physical but also emotional well-being — I am forever grateful to my management and team for their support. One of my final projects focused on ‘leading with resilience’ and it was an honor to spread the message that self-care is essential for success. I engaged with leaders across the business and around the globe, helping them focus on how their mindset, movement, nutrition & hydration, and recovery impact their performance. I smile with joy as I remember how great if felt leading that work.

Facilitation Collage

Thank you, IBM, for allowing me to bring my passion to my work.

There is power in vulnerability for moving through change, in authenticity for connecting with others, and in integrity for standing with calm and strength.

I’ve had opportunities to run with things that brought me joy, including designing solutions and experiences that help people be their best, facilitating leadership and learning programs, leading diverse teams, and being a mentor and coach for others. I love that my colleagues trusted me as part of our coaching community leadership team and guided me through a patent application for a popular coaching approach I co-created with a dear colleague. I was literally flying high in my final years, leading a mindfulness movement, thanks in part to the available collaborative tools and inclusive culture of the organization. I’m grateful to the managers I had along the way who trusted me and encouraged me to shine my light. Through my work I discovered that there is power in vulnerability for moving through change, in authenticity for connecting with others, and in integrity for standing with calm and strength.

Thank you, IBM, for helping me be strong, resilient, and focused.

Our experiences make us stronger and teach us about who we are and what matters.

Oh, at times I felt like I was being squeezed and sucked in by quicksand, or pushed through a mudslide, or swimming against the flow of a mighty river. And, each breath, step and stroke taught me about who I am and what matters. My experiences made me stronger. I am grateful for the challenges I found before me, and all those who helped me move through them.

Thank you, IBM. I carry so many delicious memories and so much learning with me into the next chapter. I will always have blue specks in my blood.

Final Collage


Note: You can also follow me at:

Where Possibility Awaits (weekly inspiring photos & quotes)

And Then Opens Possibility (poetry)

the joyfull eye (photography)

the small things (gratitude)


Have a little compassion, starting with you

Santa Clarita CA

The mind has a tendency to set very high standards, holding ourselves and others to perfectionistic expectations. The voice of the mind judges and evaluates our every thought and action. Activated by fear, this voice takes action when it senses danger. Our response might be to fight – criticize or belittle ourselves; to take flight – distract ourselves; to freeze – stay stuck and ruminate; or to submit – resign ourselves and end up feeling unworthy or ashamed.

Practicing self-compassion breaks the patterns of the harsh critic of our mind. By understanding what we want, recognizing our feelings, and letting go of self-judgment, we begin to move away from fear. Exercising such loving-kindness for ourselves, we are better able to offer it to others.

Consistently try one or all of these 3 mindful practices and note any shifts in your attention, awareness, and judgment.

Exploring What You Want

“We betray our true selves when we do not follow the heart’s desire, For what the heart is attracted to, is your destiny.” ~Leon Brown

 At least once a day, pause and explore one of these questions: “What do I want?” “What do I value?” “What is my heart’s desire?” You might start with the ‘stuff’ you want (a warm or cool room to sleep in, a meal of your favorite food) and then after getting used to considering what you want on this level, look underneath for insights into why these things are important to you (to treat yourself well, to celebrate an accomplishment).

Digging Underneath the Feeling

“Suffering is due to our disconnection with our inner soul.Meditation is establishing that connection. ~Amit Ray

Find a place where you can reflect for a few minutes. Remember a time when you felt very angry. Go back to that experience. Recall how you felt the anger in your body, and in your mind.

  1. What physical sensations did you experience? What thoughts were you having?
  2. What tender feeling might the anger might be hiding? What is not being seen, listened to, recognized, or loved?
  3. What would you tell a dear friend if they were feeling this? What words and tone would you share? What gestures would you display?

Letting Go of Self Judgment

“Our self judgement is the biggest barrier to our friendship…with ourselves.” ~Tsunyota Kohe’t

Next time you notice your inner critic at work, invite it to take a little break with you.

  1. Acknowledge the critic (e.g., “I notice that I am feeling inadequate.”).
  2. Accept the feeling (e.g., “Feeling insecure is a natural human response.”)
  3. Just sit with the feeling for 90 seconds, focusing on your breathing.
  4. Check in and see if see if there is some space for more choices about how you respond to the critic.

You might combine these practices with focused breathinggratitude practice, and mini-habits to understand better why mindfulness matters.



NOTE: This post was co-authored by Katiuscia Barretta and first appeared on the IBM Jobs Blog on June 2, 2016.

* I took this photo in Kruja, Albania.