Being Intentional

Intentionality blog Mexico vacation photo

Can you answer the question: “What do I want to be creating in my life?”

For many of us, the answer is no, or ‘sort of’. Having clarity about what we want is not easy. We don’t typically slow down enough to know what we really want. We are pulled along by what others want from or for us – our partners, our children, our co-workers , our leaders – and by our human needs  –  to eat, sleep, move – and by the demands of the 24X7 world we live in, where something is always inviting us to give it our attention.

“A more intentional life purposely slows down enough to enjoy the very process of living more intentionally.”

— Tsh Oxenreider

I remember being asked the question “What do you want?” in a workshop and being surprised that I did not have an answer. At the time, with encouragement, I discovered that I wanted to ‘find my joy’. Until that moment, I didn’t know it was lost, and I didn’t really know what that meant. It’s taken 11 years of consistent curiosity and exploration to begin to have an answer. I want to create alignment; that is, I want to be in integrity, living my life and doing my work in a way that honors who I am. My answer has evolved with time, and I’m sure will continue to take shape.

So how do you create greater clarity and live more intentionally?

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First, carve out time to do it. Having a clear direction doesn’t just happen. It has to be important enough to you that you are willing to make time to focus on it. Once you’ve decided you want to understand what is most important to you in your life, determine how much you are willing to give to get it. Is it an hour every weekend? Is it 15 minutes every Friday? Is it 5 minutes every day? It doesn’t have to be a lot of time. It does have to be time when you are undisturbed, time when you can simply be still. Also, you need to give your dreams consistent attention; the more regular your ‘me’ time, the greater your awareness.

“Happily ever after needn’t just exist in fairy tales – all you need to do is take control.”

— Stefan Wissenbach

Being in integrity requires that I have clarity about who I actually am. And, finding the answer to that requires my attention. I take 10-60 minutes each morning to read something inspiring, journal about my fears/feelings/fantasies, practice gentle yoga, and/or meditate. How I start on a given day is influenced by my schedule and the energy of the moment. I find this time is like food or exercise; without it, I don’t feel healthy, and with it, I feel vibrant and alive. It wakes me up and sets a tone for the day.

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Second, listen to your inner voice. The voice tends to speak when you ask it questions, such as “What is important to me?” and “Why is it important?” Key to living intentionally is building reflection time into your life. If you don’t have a clue about the answer, start by exploring other areas such as “What do I value?”, “What am I good at?”, “What inspires me?”, “What brings me joy?”, “When do I completely lose track of time?”, “What is missing in my life?”

“Listen to your own voice, your own soul. Too many people listen to the noise of the work, instead of themselves.”

— Leon Brown

I find that personal challenges are powerful engines of self-discovery. “Why does she make me angry?” “Why am I resisting?” “Why am I bored?” “Why am I distracted?” In fact, a breast cancer diagnosis pulled me very deeply into a journey with my emotions. It was by exploring the darkness that I ultimately found greater light. Of course, positive experiences are also great tools for self reflection and insight. I can just as easily consider: “Why was that conversation so uplifting?” “Why do things feel easy and fun right now?”

Intentionality article

Third, visualize what you want to create. Make your desired reality concrete. Envision how you are feeling, what you are thinking, what you are doing, where you are, who you are with. Immerse yourself in the experience…what do you see, hear, smell, taste? Recording your vision in some way can help solidify it.

“The simple practice of intentionality. When I do it, my life is different. More purposeful, more consciously lived, more content in any action.”

— Leo Babauta

What you want to create may be big or small, in the present or the future: a feeling, an experience, an impact; a goal for the day, a career aspiration, your legacy. I’ve captured what I want – my vision for something – in varied ways. I love to write so I’ve captured it via informal notes in my journal and as poems. I’ve made collages with magazine cuttings and created word clouds to crystallize my vision. I’ve talked with family and friends about my dreams and shared the future I want to move toward with my teams at work. You may find other ways – perhaps artistic expression such as painting or drawing, or sculpture, or short video. The ways are endless.

Peace sign, Oaxaca, Mexico

 

*  Photos are from one of my favorite places for quiet reflection – San Agustinillo, Oaxaca, Mexico

Previously posted on the Office Worker Health blog: 3 Tips for Building More Intentionality Into Your Life.

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The internal landscape

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I have great respect for The Center for Creative Leadership and the research they conduct in support of evidence-based leadership practices so I was honored to be invited this week to share with them the work I’ve been leading related to mindfulness. I am especially excited about the Neuroscience and Leadership Initiative that Marian Ruderman and Cathleen Clerkin are leading and the white paper they wrote with colleague Carol Connolly: Leadership Development Beyond Competencies: Moving to a Holistic Approach.

They have given form and structure to many ideas that have been percolating in my mind. Their “Beyond Competencies” model focuses on the dynamics of leaders’ internal landscape  and includes:

  • the physical, chemical and neurological functioning of our bodies (CIRCUITRY)

“Perhaps one of the most exciting recent discoveries from neuroscience about our circuitry is that it is not set in stone. ‘Neuroplasticity’ refers to the brains ability to grow new neurons and neural connections over the course of our life.”

  • the raw emotions, gut reactions, and inner dialogue that happens inside of us (INNER CONTENT)

“Every waking moment, our minds give us unfiltered and unsolicited commentary on ‘shoulds’, ‘ifs’, ‘ought tos’, and ‘wish I hads’. This dialogue with the self is a product of both present and accumulated experiences of life – implicit and explicit memory, beliefs, cultural norms, and mental constructs, adaptive responses based on past experiences and interactions, and the emotions tied to these experiences.”

  • the ability to observe, modify and regulate mental processes (CONSCIOUS ENGAGEMENT)

“…conscious engagement allows individuals to choose a more mindful response to difficult situations…With time and dedicated training, leaders…can develop the ability to tune into thoughts, emotions, and inner processes to promote healthier physical and psychological responses.”

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Quite different from the behavioral models that have been so prevalent in the past.

“…behavioral competency models focused solely on tangibles, largely ignoring the not so readily observable internal and/or automatic processes that lie below the surface, such as personal life experiences, emotions, or mindsets.”

Their model focuses on leaders as complete people – not just their specific behaviors, but also their inner experiences which can influence, explain and shape behaviors and actions. These researchers bring to bear disciplines not traditionally associated with leader development such as neuroscience, positive psychology and contemplative practices.

“We see the outer ‘doing’ of a leader as blending and interacting with his or her inner ‘being’, and the internal landscape and external stimuli as cocreators of behavior.”

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Previously I’ve blogged about awareness as the foundation of great leadership. This new models helps clarify a couple of core elements of awareness. If we are attuned to our body circuitry and our emotional/psychological inner world, surely we’re positioned to better understand our reactions and more effectively shape desired behaviors. Pausing long enough to look inside for the insights to be found there remains a big challenge given our always-on environment. That’s where intention comes in. To grow and transform takes commitment – and practice.

To get you started, I offer some reflective questions to contemplate:

  • How often do I notice what’s going on physically with my body? What kinds of things do I notice, if any? What else might I pay attention to?
  • Am I aware of my emotions and gut reactions to people and situations? What kinds of things am I thinking or saying in my mind?
  • In what ways do I seek to understand and shape what I’m experiencing in the moment?

If you’re looking for some ways to explore your internal landscape, you might be interested in Building Your ‘Focus Muscle’ – Using your Breath to Create Greater Awareness or Get Going with Mini-Habits.

 

 

Creating Balance

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Balance is something we create. We experience it physically in our bodies, emotionally through our feelings, and mentally through our inner dialogue and mindset. It’s not actually a real thing. It doesn’t exist outside of our experience of it.

Envision standing on a balance beam. What do you see? How do you feel? What thoughts are going through your mind? What emotions are you experiencing? What body sensations are you having? Were you balanced or off balance? Whichever you envisioned, now imagine the opposite. What do you see? How do you feel? What thoughts are going through your mind? What emotions are you experiencing? What body sensations are you having? How were your experiences different?

Like performing a flawless routine on a beam, to achieve the steadiness and equilibrium needed to be in balance requires focus. Focus is achieved through intentional use of our energy. When we move to a place where we are paying attention to the signal and not the noise and when we are tuning in to the calm instead of the chaos around us, we find balance.

Below are three practices you can try in order to discover and use your power to create balance.

BREATHE

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Any time, any place, simply pause and notice your breath. No need to judge it or try to change it, just notice it. By bringing your attention to your breathing, you bring yourself into the present moment. As long as you are focusing on your breath, you are not anticipating the future or ruminating about the past – you are here now, where that sense of balance is possible.

This simple shift of noticing our breath is a way of moving us out of our always-on, analyzing, judging, evaluating, planning minds and into our bodies. We shift from thinking to feeling. The shift is important because it moves us to a place where we can be at choice. And, when we are at choice, we can opt for something that brings us a sense of balance.

IMMERSE

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Sometime during the day, focus on a specific experience and bring your full attention to the activity. You might choose a routine activity that you do every day like washing your hands or your face, brushing your teeth, making your bed, eating a meal or drinking, walking, or listening to someone. Just be awake for the activity, instead of letting your auto-pilot run. Pay attention to what you are doing and how you feel physically and emotionally while doing it. Notice your thoughts, feelings and body sensations. Really observe yourself in the moment. The aim is to establish a solid base for appreciative attention.

Being in an experience is more fulfilling – we’re there for it, involved in it consciously, feeling and sensing – and that can create a sense of balance. We’re not just in our heads; we’re open to our emotional response and physical sensations. It might not be that you need to do less to find balance, rather it might be that you can simply engage more in what you are doing.

APPRECIATE

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Start or end your day in gratitude. When you go to bed each night or wake up each morning, 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 can do this in your mind, or you can keep a journal and record the objects of your appreciation.

Grateful appreciation is cleansing. It’s like removing a film that has been covering the lens through which we see our life. Being thankful is, in fact, much more than that – it is good for you. It can lead to greater optimism, acceptance, resilience, alertness, adventurousness, creativity, and health. And, with all of those qualities flowing through our lives, we counteract the negativity, resistance, burn out, disappointment, and just plain crazy busy-ness that can pervade our lives.

 

Learn more at the IBM Jobs blog I’m writing with my colleagues: Mindfulness Series.

You might also be interested in this previous post: Focus.

 

* I took the photo on Menorca, Spain on the path between Cala Macarella and Cala Macarelleta, where I felt strong and firm on the cliff’s edge as I relaxed with my husband Jim on holiday to balance a productive first half of the year at work.

Self-Awareness: The Foundation of Great Leadership

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“Opportunities for leadership are all around us.

The capacity for leadership is deep within us.”

~Madeline Albright

The foundation of great leadership is awareness – whether you are leading a multi-national corporation or managing a team or leading work as an individual contributor: awareness of what’s going on inside you, with those around you, and in your environment. It all starts, though, with self-awareness.

So many people are moving so fast, trying to make a difference, whether for their families, their friends, their teams, or their clients. At our hectic pace, we often don’t see what’s really needed of us, we may not appreciate the impact we have, and we may not be aware of the unique ways we shape the world. We tend to run on autopilot. That pilot is fueled by habits and patterns and runs us in ways that lead to reacting instead of responding. That pilot takes away our power to transform and make the biggest difference.

“Every human has four endowments –

self awareness, conscience, independent will and creative imagination.

These give us the ultimate freedom…

the power to choose, to respond, to change.”

~Steven Covey

Leadership is defined in myriad ways, and there are many critical and awesome qualities that contribute to great leadership. For example, today’s leadership calls for us to sense what’s happening in the moment and respond with clarity, to open to new ways of engaging and be courageous in taking bold action that disrupts the status quo, and to co-create the future with others, amplifying the positive and boosting the greatness in each other. The key to developing such qualities, and indeed whatever is needed of us, is knowing who we are and how we create value as individuals.

Gaining self-awareness requires that we explore that part of us that is rooted deep inside. That part of ourselves that can be so elusive and challenging to know. To understand ourselves at our core takes being vulnerable, and being willing to explore with curiosity, openness and acceptance. Knowing ourselves in a way that grounds us takes trust, and faith that we are special and here for a reason.

Under the armor that we often wear when we step into the workplace, there is a softness that our hearts keep alive. Some believe that exposing this is not professional or might keep us from taking tough action that can be required to accomplish great things. Failing to open to this aspect of ourselves holds us back from being awesome and delivering amazing results. It’s not about hard or soft, actually. It’s about blending both. It’s about bringing compassion to the office so that we build solid relationships that support collaboration. It’s about inviting openness and diverse perspectives so that unexpectedly delicious opportunities come alive before us.

The answer to the question of ‘who am I?” doesn’t show up and ‘stick’. It’s a continuous journey of discovery to have clarity about our inner strength, what it’s made of, why it’s important, where it comes from, and how it manifests itself. As we try new things that challenge and stretch us, we grow and are somehow never the quite the same for our experience.

“Awareness is like the sun.

when it shines on things,

they are transformed.”

~Thich Nhat Hanh

To be a great leader involves ongoing check-ins and staying tuned-in with what’s going on right here, right now. Developing as a leader happens when we commit to knowing ourselves every day. Attending a class or completing a program can guide us along the path and provide us with markers for getting where we want to go. However, becoming a great leader is something we create for ourselves. As we cultivate from the inside our mindsets and attitudes, we set the foundation for powerful behavior and critical action.

Below are some questions designed to look inside and create greater self-awareness. They are broad because it is there that possibility opens. If you opt to build reflection time into your schedule, you might find it helpful to write your answers. You may be surprised by what moves from inside of you through your hand and onto the page. And, there will be the insight that propels you forward.

  • What matters to you?
  • How do you want to feel?
  • What do you value?
  • What do you enjoy?
  • What inspires, energizes, motivates you?
  • What do you dream of?
  • How do you make a difference?
  • What accomplishments are you most proud of?
  • What comes naturally to you?
  • What challenges you?
  • What words would others use to describe you?
  • If you could do anything, what would you do?

I offer the poem below as a way to warm you up for a period of reflection.

Namaste

 

 

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You might be also interested in this related post: Inviting Softness

* I took the photograph of a clematis growing in my backyard.

Shifting the Story Line

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A well done movie, beautifully written book, or catchy song have a way of immersing us in the experience of the moment. They capture stories that evoke positive sentiments of love and emotional connection as well as take us to dark and disturbing places. When a scene or element is particularly salient, we might even think about it again sometime after we’ve left the theater, finished the book, or the song has ended.

Our minds are busy every day, so many times each day, being the movie-maker, book author, or song writer of our lives. We take in sights and sounds and sensations that our mind works very hard to process. It considers, evaluates, judges – all to make sense of things for us and guide us.

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Throughout the day, our minds tell us things – they write little short stories, sometimes drama and sometimes tragedy or comedy. These stores are as powerful as a movie, book or song that sticks with us because these stories shape our attitudes and actions. These stories have been written over the course of years, sketched on the pages of our mind through our experiences.

The stories of our lives have ‘stickiness’: They stay with us. They become habits of the mind. Consider:

  • What’s the first thought you had when you awoke this morning?
  • What’s the last thought you had as you were going to bed last night?
  • What words or phrases do you often use to describe how you’re feeling or what is happening?

Maybe you don’t know. Here’s the opportunity.

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Consider the story you are writing of your life right now. If you want to bring your best to whatever you do, tune in to the channel where the voice in your head talks almost incessantly. Notice what it says. And listen.

After removing the static that is the business of our lives that keeps us from being present, identify the story lines. Are there any that really serve you? Celebrate them. Maybe the word ‘strong’ shows up as a way you characterize yourself, for example. Are there any story lines that get in the way of your greatness? Explore them. Maybe you say you can’t do something as your default reaction to something new, for example.

The story might be as short as a word – a single word has such power! See if you sense a different energy when you say or hear “can’t” versus “can” or “have to” versus “get to” or “work versus “play” or “deal with” versus “engage” or “struggle” versus “challenge” or “problem” versus “opportunity” [read more].

In my story, the phrase “I’m overwhelmed” repeats itself, enough that I finally noticed. As I’ve listened and examined the situations that evoke it, I’ve realize that it shows up when I’m thinking too much about all of the things I have to do, versus just being with the task at hand. It takes trusting that there’s enough time for anything that really matters, that I will know what really matters, that I have what it takes to do what needs to be done. The shift that enables me to move forward in a way that is of service to what I want to be creating in my life goes more like this “I have enough time and the capability to take care of what really matters.”

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Replacing the default mantra with this new perspective brings me into the present moment, calms me, and enables me to refocus, all in a matter of seconds. (It helps, too, to take a deep breath. You can read more about other techniques that can bring you into the present moment HERE.) An invisible shift within my mind that has a profound effect on how I feel and what I can deliver.

Here are some questions that might support exploration into your stories:

  • When do you feel elated, encouraged, satisfied?
  • When do you feel deflated, discouraged, disappointed?
  • What kinds of things are you thinking and feeling in these different situations?
  • Is there a word or phrase or story line that keeps showing up repeatedly?
  • Is there a different perspective that opens you to a different way of framing what’s happening?
  • What story, phrase or word would most support you in moving forward in a way that aligns with what you want to be creating in your life?

 

* I took the opening photo on my summer vacation on the beautiful Irish Aran Island of Inis Oirr. This image is of the post master delivering mail on a day where clouds gave way to fantastic blue sky.

Mindfulness@IBM

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I had the opportunity this week, thanks to my colleague, Peter Mostachetti, to meet Joshua Erlich, author of Mind Shifting: Focus for Performance. We are interested in Joshua’s pragmatic approach to mindfulness in the workplace. Perfect timing to fuel the mindfulness campaign I have been co-creating with our health and wellbeing team and a global volunteer cadre of passionate IBMers who are part of IBM’s mindfulness community. Joshua validated for me that mindfulness is not only a practice of meditation, it is also a practice of “present, open, engaged, attention” that can take the form of simple everyday mindsets and actions (e.g., celebrating, establishing interruption free zones, hosting walking meetings, sharing your point of view, balancing attention to process and outcomes).

Campaign Keys

The aim of our campaign, to launch in the fourth quarter, is to show IBMers the many opportunities in their day that they have lead in ways that support them and their team members in making smart decisions fast, opening the creativity that leads to innovation, creating personal connections foundational for successful teams and long lasting client relationships, and living healthy so they can perform at their peak every day.

MF@IBM LogoOver the past 15 months, I’ve been leading a mindfulness movement in IBM. I’ve seen our virtual community grow from just over 200 to nearly 2000, and over a dozen mindfulness-related communities emerge within the company.  I’ve learned an incredible amount from the more than 100 blogs community members have posted, the education they have created (e.g., on neuroscience), and the webinars they’ve led (e.g., on topics such as an agile workplace, compassionate leadership, health).

MF@IBM Around the Globe

We have IBMers in over 15 countries practicing mindfulness together at the office, including Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Czech Republic, England, France, India, Ireland, New Zealand, Poland, Scotland Slovakia, Spain, and the United States, thanks to passionate IBMers taking the initiative to make a difference at their IBM sites.

We’ve created virtual mindfulness programs available on-demand, and there are a number of ongoing and scheduled mindfulness series accessed via teleconference (e.g., 15-minute Monday teleconference sessions hosted by a team in the UK led by Sharon Conway, and 6-8 week series of weekly 30-minte recorded conference calls around themes such as “Stress Less” and “Wise Action” led by me and an amazing mindfulness guru, Katiuscia Berretta).

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We developed curated collections of mindfulness-related mini-habits and mindful pauses that can be integrated easily into one’s life, as well as collections of mindfulness quotes and books.

Increasingly, our executive team is opening to the possibilities of mindfulness. For example, last month Joanne Wright, VP Supply Chain, asked us to host a mindfulness booth at a summer fun day being hosted at our Somers, New York site, and this month Laura Sewell, who leads our Talent Partner team for Global Technology Solutions, and Debbie Kestin-Schildkraut, Director of our Worldwide Business Partner Digital Strategy who leads a group of Emerging Leaders, will be hosting one-hour introductory mindfulness sessions for their teams.

A team of IBMers, led by Simon Tierney, is building an app that helps people be more productive and healthy through mindful approaches. This initiative took off as part of IBM’s #cognitivebuild, an enterprise crowdfunding initiative to drive internal awareness and usage around the power of Watson.

We’ve been invited to share at external engagements including a Dallas-Fort Worth Women in Business & Technology luncheon where Angela Assis spoke and the Montreal International Society for Performance Improvement The Building Blocks of Culture Strategy event (Vicki Flaherty & Daniel Poliquin).

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IBM has been featured in several external articles (Evidence for Mindfulness: A Research Summary for the Corporate Sceptic, 3/25/16, Business Record, 4/15/16, and The Australian, 3/19/15), and we (myself along with Megan Moyer and Katiuscia Berretta) are writing externally about mindfulness on the IBM Jobs blog (Why Mindfulness Matters, Building Your Focus Muscle – Using Your Breath to Create Greater Awareness, Get Going with Mindful Mini-Habits, The Goodness of Gratitude, Have a Little Compassion, Starting with YOU).

It’s a very exciting time of transformation at IBM. We are leading a new era – a cognitive era – and I believe it’s critically important that we be present and lead with intention to get to our envisioned destination. I am grateful to the incredible colleagues who are co-creating a great future for IBMers, IBM, our clients, and the world.

 

* The beautiful opening image is part of the Mindfulness Program recently launched at the IBM Client Innovation Center in Brno which was created by Jana Mitzoda.

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Other mindfulness posts by me:

The Color of Mindfulness

Myriad Ways of Practicing Mindfulness

Tasting Mindfulness

Understanding the Mind

Beyond Striving – Inspired Connection

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IMAGE: County Clare, Ireland | Vicki L. Flaherty

This past week I had the opportunity to speak about mindfulness with a class of over 150 new IBM executives as part of a leadership event that I run in New York with my colleague Jennifer Montana. At first I was super excited about my 15-minute time slot, followed by uncertainty about what exactly to share and worry about the perfect delivery.

I desperately wanted to make a difference for my clients. How could I guide these amazing professionals, tasked with transforming one of the biggest corporations in the world, in seeing the opportunity of mindfulness for strengthening their leadership? I had so much I could share with them. I wrote it down, organized it, filtered it, rehearsed it.

With messages from a previous incredible speaker, one of my colleague’s Angela de Longchamps on executive presence and communications, echoing in my ears: “say it and stop,” no verbal litter’, and ‘own’ the stage, I knew what perfect delivery looked like. Oh, how I wanted to role model it.

The weight of what to say and how to say it started to become very heavy. I felt like I was standing in a storm. Holding myself firm amidst the clouds and wind exhausted me.

Clouds to Sunshine

IMAGE: San Agustinillo, Oaxaca, Mexico | Vicki L. Flaherty

Once I let go of the need for perfection and opted to be curious about what might show up to guide me, the way clouds gave way to sunshine. I listened more intently to what our speakers were saying and sensing the energy of the class. I began to hear mindful nuggets of wisdom embedded in the speakers’ comments, and I found loose threads that I could weave together in a unique and meaningful way.

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A fortuitous interaction with a special colleague friend, Cristina Gonzalez, reminded me of how my poetry sometimes invites mindfulness. I decided to make my poem A New Day a punctuation mark at the end of the session. The relief and joy I felt when I saw members of the audience sitting with closed eyes taking in the words of the poem assured me that following my intuition and letting go of my tight script was a winning approach.

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I was ultimately able to create what I really wanted because:

  1. I brought something of who I am to it…such power in a good dose of authenticity and vulnerability to connect with others.
  2. The session became fully about the audience. In the end it’s not perfect delivery, it’s about delivery that enables you to connect.

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I listened – to what I truly wanted to create, to what I sensed the executives would most value, and to what would benefit our organization most. My mind and intellect did the heavy lifting, and then I remembered to let my heart lead the way.

Some questions I asked along the way to move me to the magic place of openness are provided below. I share them that they might prove valuable to you next time you have an important challenge.

  • What do I really want?
  • What am I holding on to?
  • What makes it hard for me?
  • How can I make it easier?
  • How can I let go and open to what might be possible?
  • What is needed of me in this moment?

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Learn more about what I’m co-creating with my colleagues related to Mindfulness@IBM and follow my mindfulness series on the IBM Jobs Blog.

Catch Your Mind and Smile

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Sometimes I wonder that I ever have a good day with all the chatter that goes on in my head! I’ve been noticing how the voice in my head talks.

Sometimes the voice of my mind can be anything but optimistic. The day has barely started, and my mind is running with stories about what’s not going to happen, how there’s not enough time or space for something, how inadequate I am, how someone else is inadequate…blah, blah, blah.

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Sometimes the voice of my mind gets caught up in drama. Maybe it’s something that happened in the past and my mind replays it, filling me with regret or dissatisfaction or some other emotion that weighs me down. Maybe it’s anticipating something that I need or want to do and I imagine all the things that could go wrong or ways that I could mess things up. My mind has created this anxiety about things that are not even real, other than in my head! Why would I do that?

Sometimes the voice of my mind feeds feelings of overwhelm and impatience. I’m doing one thing, then there’s an intrusion, and I feel the demands of something else. I want to finish what I had started, and at the same time please the person asking for help…so I try to do them both. My mind, ever the critic, tells me that I’m could do better, that I need to move faster. And, I’m left feeling unfulfilled.

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As I’ve become more aware of my mind at work – by noticing those moments when something doesn’t feel right or is out of alignment – I see opportunity. Opportunity to shift my thoughts to something that is of service to me and others. Opportunity to take responsibility for creating what I want instead of letting thoughts run wild creating what I don’t want.

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When I catch myself having unfulfilling thoughts, I’ve been trying something new. I say “Oh, there is my mind again doing that thing that she does!”, and I smile. This creates a shift. This small action opens me to loving kindness and self-compassion, and I begin to accept my human nature. I recognize that this is just the way the human mind works; it’s not who I am.

I read about the science of smiling and learned that, when the smiling muscles in our face contract, neural signals are sent to the brain, which stimulate feeling joy. Of course, when we feel joy, smiles come naturally, and a feedback loop is activated: we feel joy, we smile, and smiling, feelings of joy are reinforced.  We can activate the loop with a smile. Each time we smile, we change what’s happening in our brain for the better. Apparently smiling reduces stress that your body and mind feel, similar to getting good sleep, and it can generate more positive emotions.

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Mr. Widrich points out how children smile nearly 400 times a day, yet happy adults only smile 40-50 times a day, with the average adult only smiling 20 times a day. WOW. Such opportunity for creating something different with the simplest of actions. I’m challenging myself to increase the number of smiles in my day. Want to join me?

Smiling is like a little hug you give to yourself. Sometimes it’s also like a hug to someone else because smiles are contagious!

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If you are interested in ways to notice your mind at work, you might be interested in this blog series I’ve been writing for the IBM Jobs Blog about mindfulness:

1. Why Mindfulness Matters

2. Building Your Focus Muscle – Using Your Breath to Create Greater Awareness

3. Get Going with Mindful Mini-Habits

4. The Goodness of Gratitude

* I took this photo of a puppy and her mother in Pelekas, Corfu in the summer of 2014.

 

What Yoga Taught Me about Being a Leader

Yoga - Boat in Amalfi

Have you ever read something that came at just the right time for you to fully absorb it because you were ready for its wisdom, something that opened you to a new perspective and shifted your thinking, providing a different way of being and inviting new possibilities? That’s what happened to me on December 16, 2005 when reading Day 14 in Meditations from the Mat: Daily Reflections on the path to yoga by Rolf Gates and Katrina Kenison.

Yoga - Rest in the Posture

I was stuck in my career and didn’t feel like I was growing. I couldn’t find my way out of the work I was doing and into a new role. Then, when I read “Rest in the posture”, I saw it: I was in a perpetual cycle of resistance with my work. A light bulb went on: Maybe I could quit fighting and stop trying so darn hard to get away from where I was. When I noticed the fear of getting stuck or the pain of pushing for change, I acknowledged and accepted it, although it wasn’t easy and I didn’t just let go. I started by backing off just a little to relieve some of the tension.

Yoga - Mindset

The mindset that the book was shaping met up with the breath and body work of a local yoga class that I had started taking around the same time. Day by day as I practiced, the universe opened more and more, and soon the pathway seemed to be pulling me along. I was no longer pushing against the obstacles to pave the way. I was becoming a leader in my life – no longer a victim of my work place, nor a hero in trying go it alone to find a fulfilling job, or a villain beating myself up because I wasn’t making something happen quick enough. (Thanks to Therese Keinast and Radical Leadership for helping me see this!)

Yoga - Becoming A Leader

Here’s a quick list of 10 things I learned from yoga that enable me take each small graceful step in the direction of possibility.

  1. Self-awareness….awaken to our authentic selves, being present to that which is already within us and honoring our innate capacities (e.g., to love)
  2. Clarity… about what we believe, how we want to show up, and what we want to create in the world
  3. Presence…just showing up and opening to what we find there, recognizing that each moment offers choice and an opportunity to act with integrity
  4. Acceptance…opening to what is, without judging it, just embracing the mystery of the both dark and light
  5. Connection…knowing that we are not alone or separate from everything else
  6. Compassion…opening our hearts to ourselves and finding empathy
  7. Flow…being open and curious, letting go of control, and having a capacity to trust the brilliance of the universe
  8. Balance…being in action, an energized and inspired creator, and taking time to rest and rejuvenate
  9. Resilience… using the breath, the mind and the heart to find our way through challenge
  10. Celebration…pausing to appreciate simple joys, rather than just moving through to what’s next

Yoga - Celebration

Just how does it work, this yoga thing? You take time to just be, with all the fear and possibility that entails. You engage in practices that open you to noticing what is going on in your mind, in your heart, and in your body. You focus your attention as you move in particular ways. The movement of your body, mind, and attention creates awareness. You notice physical sensations (e.g., tension, energy, tiredness) and discover ways to make minor adjustments that support you in moving as powerfully as possible given where you are. For example, you’ve got your shoulders up around your ears and just a slight adjustment to the position of your shoulder blades creates a release. You notice your chattering mental voice and the endless stories it makes up, as well as your beautiful essence and the light that shines there.

Yoga - Be Yoga

You don’t need to make an elaborate plan to attend a yoga class or participate in a meditation retreat, although those are great ideas!  You can start right here, right now with a small step. Your daily life can be your yoga studio, and you can engage your mind, body and spirit in little ways during your day.

What is your yoga? Running, journaling, and gardening are other ways I create some of these beautiful possibilities for myself. Does this happen for you when you watch your child sleep, when you walk your dog, when you take in a beautiful new vista while on holiday? Maybe these exploratory questions will point you to something:

  • When do you simply sit with yourself, allowing yourself to look inside and see the amazing human being you are?
  • When do you pause to tune into your experience of the day – what you are thinking, what physical sensations are you having, what emotions are you experiencing?
  • How aware are you of the stories you tell yourself? What do you say in your head repeatedly that is not serving you? Do you explore what you might say instead?
  • When do you notice the miraculous-ness of your own breathing – how rejuvenating and healing it is, how it can focus you and give you clarity?

You’ll find some ideas for ways you might experiment in this blog series I’ve been writing with my colleague Megan Moyer (links to the previous blogs are in the post). Lean into your yoga, whatever form it might take, and discover the riches there.

Real life is right here, right now. Don’t miss it!

Yoga - Dress Rehearsal

* I took this photo off the Amalfi Coast of Italy, Summer 2015

Listen & Look

look&listen

A recent New York Times magazine feature, What Google Learned From Its Quest to Build the Perfect Team, concludes that the best teams are those who listen to one another and show sensitivity to feelings and needs. What differentiated good teams from dysfunctional groups was how team mates treated one another. They found that in good teams, members spoke in roughly the same proportion, and they were skilled at intuiting how others felt based on the tone of voice, their expressions, and other nonverbal skills.

In these teams, members engaged in emotional conversations, brought their personality to the office, and felt free enough to share things that scared them. Bottom line is that listening and understanding created the psychological safety that enabled members to feel heard and seen. They were valued not as resources that get work done but as people who want to make a difference and accomplish meaningful things.

Listencompletelyquote2

Just after reading that article, I happened to read the February edition of the IBM Systems Power version article: IBM Explores How Affective Computing Can Benefit Society. “Ideally, we would like the computer to reply in a natural way, as if it has emotions.” Hmmm…just like a person on an effective team. “Most existing applications for affective computing are based on capturing what the emotion is, and recording and reporting that emotion.” If we expect our computer systems to identify and name emotions, wouldn’t we expect our people to do the same?

Makes me wonder if we are paying enough attention to how well we understand and manage our own emotions (If you read Feeling It, you’ll know I’m working on that one!) and whether we are tuned in to what’s going on emotionally with those we engage with.

Researchers are analyzing real discussions and the interaction that takes place, evaluating what went well, and using that information to teach the computer how to respond. How do we learn the best ways to respond? Are we tuned in to what’s happening in our conversations and seeking our own and others’ feedback to learn and get better at engaging?

They are teaching the computer how to read emotions using signals in the voice, such as tone and pitch, as well as facial expressions. The computer is listening with its ears and eyes. Maybe we can take a cue from the computer.

My challenge: In my conversations, see if I can give my whole attention to the other person, listen to the words they use, watch their face and body for signals. And then respond based on what I discover. I know it’s inevitable I’ll get distracted, and, when I do, I’ll simply notice and bring my attention back to the person.

Want to give it a try? Let’s “Listen and Look” as we engage with each other and discover a powerful secret to richer human relationships, and building effective teams.

Listencompletelyquote

 

* The photo of that furry cute pup was taken in San Agustinillo, Oaxaca, Mexico.