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Businesses after the pandemic: how priorities change

There has been a lot of discussion about the after Covid-19 era and how businesses will need to adopt and adapt as society and value systems change. This pandemic is expected to define a whole generation, the way 9/11 did, as a deep shock in terms of what we thought it was given.
The corporate world has been challenged, also. Remote working, grieving employees, stakeholders, at large, that didn’t care about consumption while their world was falling apart.

Now that the storm calms down, managers and CEOs are called to revisit their priorities and practices. As Hubert Joly, former CEO of Best Buy recently put it: “The profound multifaceted crisis we are facing has made it even more obvious that business and society cannot thrive if employees, customers, and communities are not healthy.” But, as we were forced to learn during the previous year, health is not only about fever and cough; stress levels and burnout incidents skyrocketed and a massive explosion of depression diagnoses is expected in the near future. Humans reached their psychological and emotional limits as they experienced, many of them in first hand, the harsh reality.

These voices preaching about the value (or even necessity) of mindfulness as a habit are finally heard. Each one of us needs to find some inner peace that will become the fuel and the refugee in this effort to cope with the new reality. Taking some time off- even some minutes off- letting the noise go and focusing on our mere existence through breathing can restore our faith to life and make every day easier. At work, corporate wellness practices emerge as higher priorities, as security empathy and understanding are becoming key leadership practices.

What we read, what we learn and what we believe converge at this: we (as members of a society) have given far too much attention to what happens outside. Now it’s time to take care of our minds and souls and find new (or very old) ways to cure our wounds. After all, there is always a calm, safe place in our minds. Perhaps now it’s the time to visit it.

Photo by Artem Beliaikin on Unsplash

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The dark side of mindfulness (and how to get back to the light)

If being mindful means understanding our thoughts and emotions here and now, then when our thoughts and emotions are negative we get to feel them more, right? And, if this is the case within a work environment, that means that unhappy, unsatisfied employees will feel these emotions multiplied? A recent research supported that this can be the case, indeed. In a sample of 1700 employees, they found that for employees whose jobs frequently required them to display inauthentic emotions, greater levels of mindfulness consistently led to lower self-control and lower overall performance.

This is important, right? It is like being mindful surfaces the blunt truth, whether we like it or not- but, since the benefits of mindfulness at work are solidly backed up, we are called for to find new ways to face this truth.  Some voices support that we could target our mindfulness training towards employees that have relatively low demands for faking emotions- excluding immediately all first line employees. Obviously, this doesn’t solve the problem, it just hides it under the table. First line employees are the ones under ultimate stress and they need new way to let some steam off and remain calm and balanced. Disqualifying them from mindfulness is like punishing them for the job they have chosen and condenming them to eternal stress and ultimate burnout.

The road to the truth is, as always, longer and more demanding. Mindfulness practices, according to the same researchers should focus on “deep acting — that is, the practice of actually changing how you feel to match the needs of your organization — can be an effective strategy for displaying the required emotions without negatively impacting job satisfaction and wellbeing. For example, nurses tasked with unpleasant and tiring work might focus on their patients’ experience and imagine the pain and fear their patients may be feeling, inspiring compassion instead of frustration.” This mindset is helpful for everyone, it turns negativity into meaning and it can contribute in lower burnout rates. From this perspective, the key to the new way of thinking is mindfulness itself: through training and culture, managers should invite their teams to face their true emotions and work on them until they are converted into aspiring thoughts. The purpose of humans- even at work- is to find meaning in everything. Let’s do it, then.

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Staying Mindful when you are working remotedly- repost from HBR.org

This article is taken from HBR.org

It’s no surprise that online work is depleting our energy and resilience. The evidence shows that many of us are working longer hours, suffering chronic stress, and burning out at levels the world has never witnessed. At the same time, we’re longing for and losing our social connections and sometimes experiencing profound loneliness and grief in solitude. To regain energy, find renewed pleasure in our work, and truly connect with colleagues and friends, we need to find ways to block out the noise in our virtual reality.

One way we can do that is through cultivating mindfulness — online.

Mindfulness is the choice we make to be present in the here and now: This moment, in this meeting, with this person or group of people. Research shows that most activities of our working lives, from working on an independent task to team meetings and one on ones, benefit from being conducted with mindfulness. By pausing, checking in with others, or starting meetings with a few moments of meditation or reflection, stress levels drop and we feel more connected to our purpose and to others in the room. We listen better and feel happier.

But how can we be mindful in an online working world? How can we be truly present for others when we couldn’t be (physically) farther from one another?

What we learned from 2020 is that online and remote working doesn’t have to be a barrier to our capacity to deliver leadership presence, empathize and connect with colleagues, and build strong workplace communities. Contrary to popular misconceptions, you don’t have to retreat to a mountain top or a meditation cushion to practice mindfulness. You can do it while working from home by:

  • Pausing and noticing where your thinking mind is
  • Purposefully bringing your awareness to the people and context that are with you virtually
  • Suspending your own narratives, agendas, judgements, and ego to offer your full online presence, evidenced through eye contact, warm and responsive facial expressions, and minimized multitasking

You can apply these three principles of mindfulness to managing and leading online. 

From doing to being: Offer your presence. Action is the hallmark of managers. It’s what they’re noticed for and measured on: Doing, achieving, producing, organizing, controlling. New remote and hybrid working environments have thrust managers into excessive patterns of “doing.” But sometimes, who and how you’re being can be more important than your actions.

To cultivate trust and motivate and inspire others, pay attention to how you’re being with them. Are you rushed or distracted? Is your mind on the next meeting or your to-do list? To enhance the quality of your leadership presence with others, take a moment to reflect on your physical and emotional state when entering a new meeting. Through your virtual presence, what energy will you convey to this set of colleagues or clients? Will you bring the tough conversation you just had with someone else into this new one? Will you offer a sense of calm and reassurance?

Another’s presence (or lack thereof) is noticeable. When someone is speaking, are you using the moment to check your email, send a text, or schedule a meeting? You may think that none of this shows in online working contexts. But just as in a face-to-face meeting room, virtual participants know whether and how you’re truly present with them — emotions and attention can be broadcast, felt, and contagious across virtual boundaries. Even in a big online town hall, the audience can sense if the speaker is truly with them, and the speaker knows if most of the audience is elsewhere.

Lead by example when working remotely. Try to have your camera on and ask others to do so if possible. Ensure others can feel your presence by establishing eye contact, and use your body and posture to convey interest and empathy. If you know you just can’t help but look, turn off those enticing email notifications.

Shifting your focus to how you’re being doesn’t mean that things don’t get done. And none of these shifts in your awareness and attention take more than a few moments. But they do have impact on you and on those you’re working with.

From future to present: Be here, now. Managers are taught to relentlessly plan for the future. Yet always having your mind on next month’s targets or next year’s profits can mean you miss life today. You forgo important opportunities for connection and empowering others if you’re in your mind, planning “the next step” or worrying about something that might not happen.

Take a moment to step back from the busy-ness and view your tasks with perspective — looking down from the balcony. What or who is important right now? Ask yourself: Am I postponing life, thinking that all the good stuff will come next month, next year, or when lockdowns and pandemic restrictions end? Postponing life can exacerbate unhappiness and stress. We hold out for when things will improve but don’t see all the beautiful small things around us now: A fun meal with family, a morning walk or run, the sharing of a special moment or a celebration with colleagues.

Next time you’re in a virtual meeting and notice your mind has wandered off, catch yourself. Bring your mind to where your body actually is — this present moment, right here, right now. Take a few seconds to anchor your awareness in the now by drawing on your senses. Look outside if you can, and take in any sky or green that may be visible. Relax your shoulders and your jaw. Breathe out. These momentary connections with your physical senses are the gateways to being more present. Sharing some words of gratitude for people showing up and for what exists in the here and now can help others to pause and pay attention. They may notice they’ve been ruminating and can choose to tune in, not tune out. Practicing mindfulness techniques like these has been demonstrated to lift moods, foster well-being, and improve overall psychological health.

From me to you: Enabling connection and community. When people are talking, where is your mind? Is it with them? Or are you waiting for a gap to jump in with your opinion or experience? Can you suspend your own agendas and ego needs to hear what people on the team need? Try deepening your listening. Try listening without wanting to “fix” people or (perhaps silently) insisting they get over things. Deep listening is generous. Encourage the person speaking to discover and voice a way forward. They will appreciate and be empowered by it, finding their own path or solution.

In our executive development work, we have found that virtual meetings can reduce barriers for people to speak and to have their voice and presence heard and felt. For example, tools like “raise hand” indicators and simultaneous chat functions enable different ways for people to offer insight and signal their contribution. Further, that everyone has one equal-sized window with only a headshot in a virtual meeting can diminish stereotypes, hierarchies, and power differentials as certain physical and status markers are removed. As a mindful leader, be aware of who is present, and pay particular attention to inclusion. Welcome and seek people’s input, especially from those who usually don’t say much.

Endorsing expressions of openness and vulnerability can help cultivate a culture of appreciation and psychological safety. As a leader, you might offer some vulnerability about where you are right now, which will open the space for others to express how they really are. You might be juggling the needs of a sick child or a parent in aged care. The circumstances of online working have sometimes meant we’ve had to get more real. People are tuning in from their living rooms and bedrooms. They have families, pets, and other competing needs to accommodate. We’ve had to take off our office masks, our make-up, and our constructed work identities and allow others to see us more fully. This has surely been a good thing.

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How to find inner peace: our PRT 🏴‍☠️ model

“I found myself in desperate need for quietness and safety. I was so stressed, yet all my efforts to focus on my breath were in vain. I ended up ever more frustrated and quite disappointed by myself and everything around me”.

This statement comes from an executive as a response to their latest experience with mindfulness. It wasn’t the first time that we listen to somebody coloring the experience in dark shades. So we sat down with our research team trying to find a very simple, yet effective way foe everyone to make the most out mindfulness.

The PRT 🏴‍☠️ model

If you find it hard to remember just make a mental connection with the Brackbeard or Jack Sparrow, the famous PiRaTes. They have nothing to do with our model, but the might come handy under pressure. Yet, the PRT model describes the 3 things you need to have for your meditation practice to actually work:

Place: Spatial boundaries are significant in many ways. When you try to relax and get in touch with your calmer inner self, you need the safety of a place that nobody will judge you or interrupt you. You can alwaya discuss it with your colleagues/ friends/ family, explaining to them briefly why it ia important that they respect your privacy during meditation. It is possible  that the first couple of times you will still have in mind that someone will interrupt you but as time will prove you wrong you will feel this warm and soothing sensation of safety.

Ritual: During a busy day it is really hard to transit from stress to focus effortlessly. Yet, remember that our mind tends to combine rituals with specific activities (when you lie to the bed the body begins the sleeping process). Do the exact same with your mindfulness practice. Have a glass of water, remove your shoes, sit on a comfortable place. Turn off your phone, prepare your device, put it on.

Time: You don’t need hours to meditate. Especially when at work what you need is a 5-10 minutes microbreak that will allow your mind to pause and relax. Reserve a time slot during your day for this and don’t postpone it, as you wouldn’t do if it was about meeting the most important person in your life. Well, guess what: this is exactly what you do when you give 5-10 minutes to get in touch with yourself.

The PRT model is an easy way to set boundaries and prevent yourself from bumps during practice. Getting the habit to apply the PRT model and you will soon realize that this minor change, actually changes everything.

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The power of mistakes: a mindful resolution

Welcome 2021! May you be mindful and serene; May you present us with new challenges and allow us to make mistakes, thus this is how we grow. It’s the wrongdoings that build our character and open a new door to our inner self.

For this new year, don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Because, ” if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You’re doing things you’ve never done before, and more importantly, you’re Doing Something”, in the words of Neil Gaiman. Throughout trials and errors you push your limits, you meet yourself, you challenge your boundaries, you find new ways to do everyday stuff. But, the only way to keep going is to accept that you need to make mistakes.

And then, the moment you silence your inner critic and you allow yourself to explore and expand, magically you don’t make mistakes anymore. You learn lessons, yes. And this is how you become more.

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A gift to yourself: Count your blessings

It has been a very challenging year, indeed. We experienced extreme anxiety due to uncertainty and isolation and we found ourselves witnessing a real life episode of Black Mirror, at best. New words entered our daily vocabulary and extreme measures of the past – like quarantines- become our 2020 reality. Throughout this year, many of us lost their loved ones, lost their jobs, lost their wellbeing. As numbers prove, stress levels spiked, and the use of anti-depressants, too. When everything is changing it is only human to seek for something to soothe the pain.

Yet, fear is still all over us. The media sublty kill any ray of optimism and we still haven’t found a place to feel safe and secure. As we are looking for a strong person to lean on, though, sometimes we overlook the most obvious of them: ourselves. It is not a cliche, but a reality, that we have so much strenght in us that we are equipped to face everything. But, as we flood our minds and hearts with negative thoughts and emotions, this strengths is harder to be found. This year, the importance of mindful living was beyond dispute. Even WHO suggested as a coping mechanism to Covid-19 related stress to focus on our breath and allow ourselves some time to relax and unwind. So, this is a silver lining: this year, many of us got the chance to rediscover ourselves. We had too much time on our hands and we needed to reinvent ways to spend it. Some remembered how important family is and others respect themselves for their endurance while lonely. We managed to look beyond our personal interest and to be kind to strangers. We supported in ways that we haven’t done so ever before and we realize the power and wisdom of nature.

As the year is ending and we are hoping that magically when the numbers changed and 2021 comes life will be better at a glance. Well, you know what, it might as well be better, if we manage to distance ourselves from the noice and focus on what really matters. Take some time to count your blessings. You are here, you are alive. You found your way to cope with this and now you are walking towards the end of the tunnel. You have more power than you thought and this is something you should acknowledge. Reward yourself for 2020, breathe in gratefulness, breathe out negativity. We are here, now. The worst part is behind us. Let’s make sure our minds and hearts know it.

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A life without regrets

Is it really possible? Can we live a life without guilt, regret and remorse?  Given that our mind is like velcro for negative thinking, feeling guilty is easier and more natural, than forgiveness. In fact, there are situations when feeling guilty is more like a shield: we say to the inner critic “Look, I am not taking pride on my achievements, actually I acknowledge that I could have done better”.

Crazy as it might seem, this somehow resonates with most of us. Perhaps because we all have some examples of conditioning that we have experienced- with hard wired fears and beliefs about ourselves that we accept without judging them. In this harsh relationship with ourselves, there is no room for forgiveness when a mistake actually occurs. What we need is a plan, a strategy to cope with guilt and move on.

First and foremost, we need to acknowledge and accept the mistake we ‘ve done, regardless how minor or big it was. We need to experience the emotional and physical reaction that  remorses bring along, until we reach the point to understand that to err is human. It can take you one minute or days, it doesn’t matter; you might  even see that you are not ready to deal with it right now, so just put a pin in it and come back when you feel ready.  The only thing that matters, is that at some point,  you will start considering forgiveness as a possibility.

Throughout this process try to talk to yourself as you would talk to your friends and follow your own advice.  We tend to be softer and more compassionate when it comes to others and so much harsher when it comes to ourselves. Hence, empathy is the cornerstone of guilt free relationships, including the one we have with our self. Being kind is not a sign of softness or indulgence, it is realism. We all make mistakes and we all deserve to be forgiven.

The key to a life without regrets is to be in touch with our emotions and our thoughts. Conditioning together with our inner critic will always find ways to make us doubt, inserting thoughts of guilt where least expected. If we practice what we preach- don’t believe in anything you think- they we will be able to distance ourselves from our thoughts, to notice them, without accepting or internalizing them. This mindful stance towards life is the result of regular meditation and breathing exercises that ultimately allow us to take control over our thoughts and emotions. If you wonder why you should engage in mindfulness, take a second to picture this: how would you feel if one day you wake up without the burden of regrets in your heart? Well, this is why.

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Kindness can save the world

Finally, we have a reason to be optimistic about: at the end of the tunnel, there is a vaccine. But, is this the only antidote against sickness, let alone a pandemic? Don’t get us wrong we do believe in science- science is the backbone of Solas VR meditation app. But, it seems like our society has made a step forward, and organisations like WHO embrace the power of behaviour: “Be kind to yourself and others”, we read in this 5 points list on how to cope with the pandemic.

Kindness can save the world. Because being kind is the reflection of a calm and confident mind and a warm soul. Kindness is like the tip of the iceberg: what lies beyond is massive, it takes time to build, and it can change lives forever.

“Be kind to yourself and others”, we read. The first step is the hardest, though. How can we be kind to ourselves when our mind is filled with criticism, guilt and unfulfilled expectations? We have already discussed how conditioning shapes our understanding of the present: deep-rooted beliefs about ourselves uglify the perception of the lives we live. When we feel like we are not good enough, we develop a defensive posture against the world and other people. We feel that we deserve more, we tend to compare ourselves to others and sometimes even feel jealous. How can anyone be gentle amid this emotional turmoil?

If you want to be kind to yourself and others, start by creating some space between yourself and your thoughts. Don’t believe everything you think; your thoughts are not necessarily right because they are not necessarily yours. Take some distance and gently notice what passes through your mind. This is the essence of mindfulness: our ability to distance ourselves from our thoughts and emotions and be capable to separate what really serves us from the rest.

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Mindful during lockdown

It is a conscious effort that we need to make to stay balanced and mindful during the lockdown. According to the World Health Organization, this insecurity puts extra pressure on ourselves and stress rates have skyrocketed during the spring lockdown. It is no surprise that WHO has published a guide on how to stay grounded and mindful as the top cope mechanism for stress management amidst the pandemic. The main idea, to focus on the breath and create some space between ourselves and our thoughts and emotions is the backbone of mindfulness practice- and the Solas VR app, of course.

At the same time, mental health experts alert the management teams for burnout symptoms that might occur to first-line workers. During this Covid-19 era, health workers are under tremendous pressure, physically, psychologically and mentally. If they fail to manage their stress, this will have a profound impact on their mental health, relationships and work performance. Now, more than ever, microbreaks are so crucial to their daily routine. And, most of all, this is why we need to approach them with empathy, deep understanding and kindness. 

There is a silver lining though, even now in these unprecedented times. The world has slowed so we can rediscover ourselves. We have more time in our hands, and this is the greatest gift one can receive. We can spend more time with our family; we can set off a personal journey to find our inner peace, now that it is needed the most. We can rethink our thoughts, address our conditioned patterns, change our mindset hence our reality.

What we all need to do, in fact, is to be gentle to ourselves and to others. This challenge will make us stronger, as individuals and as communities, as long as we focus on the moment and try to make the best out of it.  So, take a deep breathe and as you exhale allow the anxiety and frustration to go away.

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How to make the right decision

How can you be sure to make the right decision when everything around us is so unstable? In these unprecedent times we don’t feel confident enough to make plans for the following weekend as a lockdown might turn our lives upside down, again. Covid-19 challenges our everyday habits, our personal and professional life and our mental health as well, as a recent article by The Sunday Times highlighted. We become more and more restricted and we get to feel that we have less time and less space to act.

But, decision making needs space: a clear mind to set the goals, to balance the pros and cons, to stand upon our conclusions and to be patient enough to wait for the outcomes. Because, decisions are hard to make, even in less unstable times. As the famous author and psychiatrist Irvin Yalom states it ”

Decision invariably involves renunciation: for every yes there must be a no, each decision eliminating or killing other options (the root of the word decide means “slay,” as in homicide or suicide).

Hence, now is when you need some mental space the most. You need to find, or even invent new ways to battle the stress and anxiety, to clear your mind and cope with everything. If you are an experience meditator, you already know where the answer lays. But, if you haven’t yet used these ancient, wise techniques to empty and focus your mind, start today. The simplest tool is a breathing exercise, like the one here, that teaches you how to focus on your breath and let everything else go. When you become familiar with this, you will realize that you can access your inner peace at any time, as long as you breathe.

 

By all means, nothing compares to a walk in nature where you can lay by a creek and enjoy the sounds of theh nature or the mere silence, that will allow your mind to make the right decisions. Just put your VR headset on and let the VR technology and our 360 videos from Irish landscape give your mind what it needs: some space.