Developing a Balanced Mind

Tara Brach in her meditation podcast on Creating a Balanced Mind, reminds us that a key element of mindfulness is accepting what is, being able to remain calm in the face of the ups and downs of life. She argues that meditation enables us to develop a balanced mind, calmness in the face of the various vicissitudes of life. Tara also offers a specific meditation that focuses on developing that calmness and equanimity.

Accepting the ups and downs of life

We have all experienced aspects of life that are disconcerting or even distressing – whether ill-health, ageing, trauma, pain, disappointment or loss. We would much prefer a life of pleasure rather than pain, one of praise rather than blame or criticism. Mindfulness helps us surf the waves of life and prevent us from drowning in the downsides that we experience as part of being human.

Mindfulness developed through meditation enables us to accept what is – mentally and emotionally acknowledging what is happening to us but maintaining our calmness and balance despite the stresses of life. If we are ageing, for example, there is no point in railing against the progressive loss of our faculties, both physical and mental. We can take constructive steps to redress our situation or slow our decline, but accepting what is requires a balanced mind, a capacity to maintain calmness, rather than agitation, in the face of the downsides of life.

Sometimes it helps to reframe a situation that we are experiencing – being able to look at the bright side. Recently, I was getting upset that I could not play some tennis shots that I used to be able to do. This was during a doubles match involving two young people as opponents. I found it embarrassing that I was not able to hit some simple shots. What had happened was that I had lost strength in my wrist and forearm through injury. I could continue to be upset and get “down in the dumps” or, alternatively, I could accept the situation calmly, take some constructive action, and reframe the experience.

On reflection, after undertaking the balanced mind meditation discussed below, I was able to see that the fact that I was not able to use my full power at tennis, enabled the young people to be successful, practise their shots and learn to develop tennis strategy during a game. The meditation has helped me to do two things – (1) take constructive action to strengthen my arm and wrist through exercises and (2) reframe the situation in a positive way as an opportunity for the young people to explore their own developing capacities. The calmness achieved in meditation can enable us to reframe our situation and more readily accept what is.

Developing a balanced mind meditation

In the meditation podcast mentioned above, Tara provides a specific meditation designed to develop a balanced mind – calmness in the face of the downsides of life. This meditation begins with being grounded through our posture and conscious breathing. The first stage may involve taking a number of deep breaths and breathing out to relieve any tension in your mind and body.

Tara spends considerable time helping you to tap into your breathing and where you feel it in your body. She also suggests listening to the sounds around you, without interpretation or evaluation of the sounds. Tara maintains that mindful breathing or mindful listening can serve as anchor during your meditation. I find, however, that it is easier for me to stay grounded if I focus on my breath rather than sounds, the latter tends to be distracting for me (unless conscious listening is the primary focus of my meditation, as when I am enjoying the sounds of birds in a natural setting).

One thing that I find grounding is the way I position my hands during a meditation. I have my hands resting in a relaxed manner on my thighs but with my fingers on one hand touching those on the other hand. I find that I experience strong sensations through my fingers during meditation, such as tingling, warmth and energy flow. The simple process of bringing my fingers together can increase my grounding during meditation and can be an anchor that I can recall at any time or anywhere during the day to access calmness and a balanced mind.

Tara suggests that if you experience a compelling distraction during the meditation, you can focus on the distraction temporarily, but build the discipline to return to your meditation focus. For example, if you experience pain in your forearm, you can focus on that part of your body and soften your muscles to release the tension, then return to the focus of your meditation. This builds your capacity to focus and to sustain your calmness in the face of setbacks.

Capturing the experience of calmness

Tara suggests that during the meditation discussed above, you can become aware of the calmness and equanimity you experience in the process of the meditation. The meditation itself involves developing calmness through focusing on something other than what upsets you, e.g. focusing on your breathing or sounds around you. As you experience a sense of ease and peace, you can dwell on those feelings to reinforce what a balanced mind is like and what meditation can do to help you achieve this state.

She also offers a further way to reinforce the sense of calmness by having you recapture a pleasant experience where you felt at ease and calm, e.g. enjoying nature, being with friends, executing a successful tennis shot, being still on a beach or staying calm in a crisis.

The meditation can be concluded by thinking of a future, potentially stressful event and exploring acceptance of the event, e.g. a biopsy, and picturing yourself meeting the event and its outcomes with calmness and equanimity.

As we grow in mindfulness through the balanced mind meditation, we can approach the downsides of life and daily stressors with calmness, rather than anger, resentment or frustration. This opens the way for calmness, clarity, reframing and achieving equanimity, despite the upsetting waves of life.

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By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

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Inertia: A Sign of Feeling Vulnerable?

Previously, I explored ways to overcome our defence mechanisms designed to protect us from vulnerability. I’ve also explored how being vulnerable can improve our contribution and our relationships. In this post, I want to look at the relationship between inertia and feeling vulnerable.

Experiencing inertia

Inertia according to the Oxford Dictionary is a “tendency to do nothing or to remain unchanged” – a trait often ascribed to bureaucratic organisations but experienced by most of us at some point in our lives. When I was an active academic, I used to be approached by potential higher degree students who would say, “I really want to do a doctoral degree, but I don’t seem to be able to get started.”

My first word of advice to them was not to start a doctoral degree – which involves study, research and concentrated effort over several years – unless they have a research topic that they are passionate about. Without the passion, research students are unable to sustain the effort and focus required to achieve their desired outcome, the award of a doctoral degree. This principle of passion and enthusiasm can apply to any endeavour requiring a sustained effort over a long period.

Behind inertia – feeling vulnerable

When the potential student reassures me that they have a topic that they are passionate about, I then explore with them why they have been unable to take action, to start on the path towards their degree. Invariably, their response identifies vulnerability as the source of their inertia – “I may not be intelligent enough to do the research.”; “No one may be interested in what I want to research!”; “I have not written anything lengthy before.”; “What if I fail the doctoral examination?”; “I don’t know anyone who could supervise me.”; “My writing may not be good enough.”; and similar expressions of feeling vulnerable.

Often the advice to people who are unable to make progress on something that they really want to achieve is to start somewhere, anywhere that will put them on the path to their desired outcome. In the case of a potential doctoral study, this may mean reading around the topic to explore the area, generate heightened interest or identify potential resource people. While this is very good advice, it may not overcome a person’s fear of feeling vulnerable, particularly if it is deep-seated – resulting from prior traumatic experiences or from being “wounded”.

Exploring the vulnerability behind inertia

Often, we need to deal with our deepest fears before we can move forward or take action on something that we really want to do. One way into this is to clearly identify the underlying sources of our sense of being vulnerable. This can be achieved progressively through meditation, but it will require complete honesty with our self. Excuses are often avoidance strategies, not legitimate reasons for not taking action.

You can start a meditation to explore your inertia by becoming grounded, through your posture and breathing in the first instance. You can gradually move to exploring the bodily sensations that arise when you focus on the endeavour you are trying to start on. You can notice these sensations – tightness, tension, nervous movements – and focus on them and try to release them through your breathing.

Once you have been able to settle down your bodily reactions, you can begin to explore the feelings behind the bodily sensations – fear, anxiety, concern, worried, wary, troubled, insecure, guarded, apprehensive or other associated feeling that indicates that you are feeling vulnerable. You need to be able to name your feelings to be able to reduce their impact and to release the hold on your energy. Once you have identified these feelings and faced them, you can move forward.

The next phase of this exploration of the vulnerability behind inertia is to identify the fear-inducing thoughts that you unconsciously entertain and that give rise to these feelings of being vulnerable. The thoughts could be, “I’m not good enough.”; “What if I fail?; “What if I make a fool of myself?”; “What If people see through me?”; “What if I get stuck and do not know what to say?’; “What if I have nothing really worthwhile to contribute?”; and so on. Invariably, you will be dealing with a lot of “what if’s” – betraying your mind’s negative orientation.

You can face these thoughts and deal with them by asking, “Is this outcome likely to happen?”; “What could I do to reduce the likelihood of it happening – how can I plan appropriately?”; “If it does happen, can I deal with it?” We tend to catastrophize – think of the worst possible outcome – which, in turn, blocks our taking action.

Once you have dealt with the sensations, feelings and thoughts associated with your inertia and sense of feeling vulnerable, you can move forward by planning and taking some action to move yourself towards your goal. It may take a number of practices of this meditation before you can move forward – the time and effort required will depend on how deeply embedded is your sense of vulnerability.

As we grow in mindfulness – awareness of our inner and outer reality -through meditation on our inertia and its manifestation (in our bodily sensations, our feelings and thoughts), we can release our blocked energy and gradually move forward to achieve the goals we have set for ourselves.

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By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

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Managing Anxiety with Mindfulness

Bob Stahl, co-author of A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook, explains how mindfulness can help to manage anxiety in an article titled, Explore Anxiety with Mindfulness.   In the article, he explains the nature of anxiety and offers a mindfulness approach involving writing.  In another article discussed here he also provides a guided anxiety meditation.

The nature of anxiety

Bob explains that anxiety can arise at any time for anyone and can be episodic or chronic, mild or intense.  It can be precipitated by our family, work, relationship or financial situation.  Anxiety is not the sole province of people who are disadvantaged in some way – even the wealthy, the successful and elite sportspeople can, and do, suffer from anxiety.

Bob explains that anxiety is underpinned by fear catalysed by some event that caused you to worry and that becomes the focus of ongoing fearful anticipation.  Anxiety typically manifests in three ways – physically, mentally and emotionally.  Physically, anxiety can make you feel constricted, tied up in knots, smothered, having difficulty with breathing; mentally, you may be absorbed by thoughts that consume you with foreboding or restlessness; and emotionally, you may feel distress, lack the ability to concentrate and experience profound nervousness.  The physical, mental and emotional symptoms of anxiety can vary considerably for different people, as can their intensity and prevalence.

Managing anxiety with mindfulness

Mindfulness, in contrast to anxiety, can generate calm and clarity, the ability to be in-the-moment (not absorbed by the future), the capacity to develop self-awareness (of your body, your emotions and debilitating thoughts) and self-regulation.  Neuroscience has demonstrated unequivocally the positive benefits of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction for anxiety , even for cases of extreme and/or chronic anxiety.

There are multiple approaches to developing mindfulness and Bob advocates two approaches that can assist in the management of anxiety, a writing exercise and a specific anxiety meditation.

A writing exercise for anxiety

In the abovementioned article, Bob explains his approach to using writing to alleviate anxiety.  It basically involves focusing on one experience of anxiety (that was not too intense) and exploring its impacts on you physically, mentally and emotionally.  He offers three core questions to explore a specific anxiety experience through writing your responses:

  1. What bodily sensations did you experience during the event?
  2. What thoughts or thinking processes were happening during the event?
  3. What emotions or feeling tones were present during that event?

Bob stresses the need to be grounded before you start reflecting and writing, be as specific as possible (to aid self-discovery) and to congratulate yourself for making the effort to explore the path to recovery (despite your uncertainty about the outcome).

A meditation for anxiety

In another article, Bob Stahl provides a detailed explanation and meditation podcast for a meditation on anxious emotions.  His written explanation of this meditation for anxiety provides you with step by step instructions on how to undertake this meditation.  His approach focuses on your bodily sensations and the associated feelings that arise as you reflect on an anxiety-inducing event/situation.

The guided meditation podcast that he also provides follows these suggested steps but also acts as an additional aid by enabling you to concentrate on your experience without having to read and supporting you through his calming voice.

Bob suggests again that you become grounded at the start of the meditation and that you acknowledge to yourself that you have taken an important step on the road to recovery.  This self-praise can be realised if you pause at the end of the meditation and take the time to bask in your achievement, rather than rushing off to do something else.

The writing exercise and meditation are complementary and can reinforce each other.  As you write you become more self-aware and this, in turn, enables you more easily to tap into your bodily sensations and feelings.

As you grow in mindfulness through writing and meditation, you can face your anxiety, increase your self-awareness and better manage your thoughts, physical reactions and emotions.   It takes courage and conviction to begin to manage anxiety through mindfulness, but many people have successfully walked this path, and this is in itself a source of encouragement.  Reading about these successes can help build your own courage and conviction.

 

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

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Loving-Kindness Meditation: A Form of Gratitude

Jon Kabat-Zinn provides an extended loving-kindness meditation that incorporates gratitude for the love of the people in your life who are close to you.  It also involves self-love and kindness towards others who may have hurt you in the past.

Jon makes the point that engaging in loving-kindness meditation on a regular basis equips us to deal with the ups and downs of life.  It especially enables us to tone down our anger or rage towards another person who may have hurt us.  Our expression of gratitude and kindness helps us to restore equanimity in our lives.

Feeling the love

The loving-kindness meditation offered by Jon begins with capturing the essence of the love that a really close person in our lives shows toward us.  It involves basking in the ways that this unconditional love is expressed towards us while appreciating what it means to be loved for who we are.  Once we have captured these feelings of being loved, we can express kindness towards this person by repeating Jon’s words in a conscious, meaningful and personal way:

May they be safe and protected and free from inner and outer harm. May they be happy and contented. May they be healthy and whole to whatever degree possible. May they experience ease of well-being.

Loving-kindness towards yourself

Jon’s meditation moves onto expressing loving-kindness towards yourself. This involves moving beyond any negative thoughts, self-criticism or self-loathing and being open to loving yourself as you are, taking your cue from those who love you unconditionally.

It is often difficult to embrace self-love and kindness towards yourself but the practice develops a healthy self-regard that enables you to rise above the thoughts that would otherwise drag you down.  The meditation involves recognition of your basic humanity.  By using the above-mentioned kindness phrases towards yourself, you are wishing yourself safety, happiness, good health and overall well-being.  In other words, you are  being kind to yourself.

Loving-kindness towards someone who has hurt you

In the meditation that Jon provides, he progresses to having us think about someone who has actually hurt us in some way.  He is not asking us to forgive that person but to acknowledge their basic humanity, just as we have done for our self.  This entails moving beyond the hurt to expressing kindness to the person involved through using the kindness phrases provided above.  This loving-kindness meditation helps to dissolve our hurt and anger and to see the person as connected to us through our universal humanity.

Expanding the field of loving-kindness

Jon suggests that the field of loving-kindness can be limitless.  We can expand our focus in the meditation to include people in the immediate world around us or in the broader world – focusing on individuals or groups, e.g. expressing loving-kindness to people who are experiencing the trauma of a hurricane or to volunteers helping to fight poverty.

You do not have to extend your field of awareness during this form of meditation – you can choose to restrict your focus at any point.  You may find, particularly with an extended meditation, that you become easily distracted.  In this case, as Jon Kabat-Zinn suggests, you can notice your distracting thoughts and imagine them as bubbles that burst as they reach the surface of boiling water or burst as a result of you popping them.

Loving-kindness meditation helps you grow in awareness of, and gratitude towards, those around with whom you come into contact on a daily basis.  It opens you up to appreciating the significant others in your life and to extending positive thoughts to the broader community, so that your awareness of your connectedness expands.  This form of meditation can also help to reduce anger towards others who may have hurt you – it enables you to expand your response ability in the process.  As you grow in mindfulness through loving-kindness  meditation you increase your awareness of others and empathy towards them.

 

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

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Improved Decision Making through Mindfulness Meditation

There are times when we have great difficulty making a decision.  We may be confused by the many options, daunted by the task and overly concerned about the outcomes.  Sometimes, if we are anxious, even relatively small decisions can leave us paralysed.

Decision making can be painful particularly if you can see multiple options and your anxiety grows with the inability to choose between them.  Sometimes this anxiety is driven by a perfectionist streak – we may want to make sure we make the right or perfect decision.  Unfortunately, this is rarely obtainable because we are often making decisions in the context of inadequate information.  The information we do have may be clouded by our emotions or attachment to a particular option or outcome.

Indecisiveness too can be compounded for different personality types.  For example, the Myers-Briggs Personality Type Indicator suggests that people who have a Perceiving (“P”) type personality prefer to remain open and gather more information before making a decision, while the Judging (“J”) type personality likes to get things decided.  These personality traits can  lead either to an inability to make decisions or the habit of making hasty decisions to relieve the tension of decision making.

Improving decision making through mindfulness meditation

Diana Winston from MARC at UCLA provides a meditation podcast to enable improved decision making.  She suggests that we can use mindfulness to focus on our thoughts and emotions during the decision-making process.  In her view we can learn to be present to whatever decision making turns up for us.   We can use the principles of mindfulness to bring awareness to the discomfort of trying to make a decision.

Sometimes this will involve showing self-compassion towards ourselves – accepting that we cannot make the perfect decision, even with full information.  It requires acceptance of the fact that our decision making will be inadequate at times, but that this will provide the opportunity to learn and grow.   Mindfulness meditation can enable us to make the best decision possible at the time, uncontaminated by emotions that can cloud our judgement.

If we bring openness and curiosity to what we are experiencing during decision making, we can name our feelings and learn to control them.  We can better understand the patterns embedded in our decision-making processes.  For instance, we may find that once we have to make a decision, we automatically drop into negative thinking which generates anxiety about the possible outcomes.  Through mindfulness meditation we can learn to control these negative thoughts and focus on addressing the issue and the information available without our negative thinking confounding the issue.

If our thoughts keep wandering or negative thoughts intrude during the process of mindfulness meditation, focusing on sounds can help anchor us as listening is a natural process that we can do with minimal effort.  Listening to sounds can enable us to return to mindful decision making.

As we grow in mindfulness, we can learn more about the pattern of thoughts and emotions behind our decision making, bring them into the spotlight, and develop better self-management techniques so that our decision making is not delayed unduly or contaminated by negative thoughts and emotions.  We can learn to be more compassionate towards ourselves.  Mindful breathing can help us too to manage the tension of decision making.

 

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

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Developing Inclusion through Mindfulness

In a previous post, I discussed the six core traits of inclusive leadership and acknowledged the role that mindfulness plays in developing inclusion in our thoughts and behaviour.  In this post, I would like to develop this theme further.

Inclusion involves openness and receptivity to what is different and diverse.  It is the foundation of real knowledge, insight and wisdom.  It involves more than being sensitive to diversity but also valuing and embracing it.  So, it entails not only a way of thinking but also a way of being in the world.

Through mindfulness, we can become aware of our implicit biases and emotional responses to people who are different from us.  We are then better able to manage our habituated responses and increase our response ability.

So much of our bias is unconscious and conditioned by our social, cultural, geographical and educational environments and associated experiences.  One way into our biases is through meditation on our emotional reactions to people and situations that challenge our view or perspective of the world.  Our feelings of discomfort can portend our inner bias and raise awareness of our tendencies to exclusivity.

If we can stop ourselves from reacting automatically, breathe deeply and consciously, notice and name our feelings, we can respond more appropriately and, eventually, act in a more proactive and inclusive manner.  If we reflect on the pattern of our thoughts and actions when we meditate, we can isolate negative emotional responses to a particular person or group.  Having identified the stimulus and the nature of our reaction, we are better placed to manage our response.

When we reflect through meditation on our thoughts in particular situations, we can more readily isolate our assumptions and stereotypes and understand how they are impacting our behaviour.  Through this increased self-awareness, we are better able to develop inclusive thoughts and actions.

Research has demonstrated that loving kindness meditation, which typically incorporates self-compassion and compassion towards others, can mitigate unconscious bias.  This approach to developing mindfulness places increased emphasis on similarities and entails expressing desire for increased well-being, happiness, equanimity and resilience for others.  Development of positive intentions towards others builds an inclusive frame of reference and affirmation of diversity.

As we grow in mindfulness, we see our biases in a clearer light, understand their impact on our behaviour and become more open and able to adopt inclusive behaviour.  Developing inclusion in our words and actions can be achieved through mindfulness if we consciously employ meditations that invoke acceptance and inclusion.

 

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

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Cultivating Awareness of Others through Mindfulness

In the previous post, I mentioned the triad of awareness – awareness of self, awareness of others and awareness of the world around us.  In this post, I want to focus on awareness of others.

It is very difficult to be aware of others and thoughtful towards them in the busyness of our daily lives and the incessant distractions posed by disruptive marketing.  Our attention is continuously pulled away from inner awareness and awareness of others.

Our lack of awareness of others is often displayed in our blind spots – we are impervious to the effects of our words and actions on others.  It takes a conscious effort to get in touch with our core blind spot which may be blinding us to the needs of others in particular situations – whether at work, at home, or in the community.

Awareness of others requires that we move away from self-absorption.  We can become so immersed in our own feelings – pain, anxiety, sadness, boredom – that we are not aware of the feelings and pain of others.  We can also be so lost in our thoughts – planning, analysing, critiquing – that there is no room for thoughts of others.

Mindfulness to cultivate awareness of others

Mindfulness meditation is a way to break out of the trap of self-absorption – what Jon Kabat-Zinn describes as thinking that we are the centre of the world.  With conscious and consistent meditation practice, we can increase our awareness of, and empathy towards, others around us.

Loving kindness meditation, for example, enables us to think about others and express the desire for them to experience wellness and happiness.  It takes us outside our self to thoughts about others and their needs and desires.

A simple related exercise is to recall a situation that has occurred that has caused pain and suffering for someone else or a group of people and place yourself in their situation – “What would they be feeling if they have just lost their child through an accident?”   As you engage in empathetic consideration of the people involved – family, friends, colleagues – you can extend the desire for them to manage their grief and to eventually experience equanimity.  If you were to do this daily, this could help to cultivate awareness of others.

Forgiveness meditation is a way to take ourselves beyond focus on our own pain and hurt from an interaction with someone else, to thinking about and feeling for the other person in the interaction.  It takes considerable awareness to move beyond our own sense of pain and righteousness to reflect on what happened for the other person.  Forgiveness meditation is a powerful way to move beyond self-absorption to awareness of others.

As we grow in mindfulness through meditation and reflection, we can cultivate awareness of others – awareness of their pain, thoughts and needs.  We can move beyond being self-absorbed to being thoughtful of, and considerate towards, others.

 

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

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Caring through Mindfulness

Caring is integral to mindfulness – we pay attention in the moment with care and curiosity.  We can learn to care for others through  loving kindness meditation as well as learn to care for ourselves through self-compassion.

Diana Winston provides a meditation podcast on the subject of mindfulness and care and stresses the need to care for ourselves as well as for others.  She suggests that people often discount or devalue their inner experience or feelings and yet be consumed by care for others.

Diana asks an important question to enable us to be mindful about caring – her question is, “What or whom do you care for”.  For whom do you express care and concern – a son or daughter, partner, friend or people suffering adversity.  How wide is your circle of care and how deeply do you care?

These are challenging questions because they raise the issue of how often we express care and concern for others – how generous and expansive is our caring?  How many people do we let into our lives through concern, considerateness and thoughtfulness?

Caring through mindfulness

Caring can be the focus of our meditation once we have become grounded through placing our feet on the ground, adopting a restful position with our body (and especially our hands) and taking a few deep breaths.

Our concern and care of our body can then be expressed through a progressive body scan and relaxation of points of tension.  Focus on our breathing will assist us to pay attention to the theme of caring as mindful breathing steadies our mind and enables us to concentrate.

We can focus on an individual and express care for that person and tap into what it feels like to express this care – is the feeling one of warmth, love or genuine concern for their welfare?  How is this care manifested in our body?

We can also express appreciation for the fact that we do care for others and take the time to express that care in words and actions.  We can acknowledge that it is a gift to be able to be sensitive to others and their needs – to move beyond self-absorption to concern for others.

As we grow in mindfulness through caring meditation our circle of care and concern widens and deepens, and we are able to more readily extend care to ourselves.

 

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

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Managing Expectations through Mindfulness

Expectations play such a significant place in our lives – we have expectations of ourselves and others in our daily activities.   We expect ourselves to be able to perform well (or exceptionally) in our work, our sport and home life.  We have expectations of others in terms of their words and actions and the level of support they provide to us.

Sometimes we can be captured by external expectations in terms of fitness, health, the way we look, our level of income, where we live and what we wear.  Dr. Harrier B. Braiker captures the essence of this “disease” – fulfilling everyone’s expectations of you to avoid rejection and anger – in her new book, The Disease to Please: Curing the People-Pleasing Syndrome.  Harriet is the author of the 1986 book, The Type E Woman: How to Overcome the Stress of Being Everything to Everybody (reprinted in 2006), in which she challenges “erroneous expectations”.

Expectations can often lead to conflict.  If someone does not fulfil our expectations through their words or behaviour, then we can be upset, annoyed, angry or resentful.  This may extend even to the simplest tasks around the house as well as in the workplace where we have expectations of our managers, colleagues and peers.  Mindfulness can help us gain self-awareness and self-management with respect to our expectations.

Managing expectations through mindfulness

George Pitagorsky, in his article, Using Mindfulness to Manage Your Expectations, focuses on expectations in a work situation, but the principles apply to any context.  He suggests two key strategies for using mindfulness to manage expectations at work:

  1. Being mindful at the outset of a project to ensure that expectations of all involved are aligned.
  2. When expectations are thwarted, being mindful of the feelings you experience and learning to use the gap between stimulus and response to self-manage.

George is the author of Managing Expectations: A Mindful Approach to Achieving Success.  His book which focuses on the experience of a Project Manager involved in organisational transition “explores how to apply a mindful, compassionate, and practical approach to satisfying expectations in any situation”.

Phillip Moffitt discusses the Tyranny of Expectations and argues that living in the now, developed through meditation practice, is the way to free ourselves from this tyranny manifested in the endless cycle of ever-increasing expectations.

As we grow in mindfulness through mindfulness meditation practices, we can become more aware of the nature and impact of our own expectations and those of other people and develop our “response ability“, so that we are not held captive by our expectations or those of others.

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

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Emotional Self-Awareness

Daniel Goleman, in his interview for the online Mindfulness at Work Summit in June 2018, introduced what he calls the 12 competencies of emotional intelligence.  He has recently rethought the emotional intelligence framework and now has four main groups of competencies (instead of the original five) – (1) self-awareness, (2) self-management, (3) social awareness and (4) relationship management – and 12 competencies that sit under the various groupings.  Emotional self-awareness is the sole competency listed under the first grouping.

Understanding “emotional intelligence”

In the interview with Mo Edjlali, President of Mindful Leader, Daniel explained that the term, “emotional intelligence”, challenges people to think about dealing with emotions intelligently, not being under their control nor ignoring them.  He maintained that emotions are “part and parcel” of life and that whatever we do, even if we think we are being rational or analytical, emotions underpin our choices – our thoughts and actions.

This was brought home to me in a recent conversation with a colleague who was describing a number of actions she had taken to help a homeless person she met when interstate.  She had spoken to this person and got to know their domestic violence situation and decided to provide the person with a meal.  This led to helping her in other ways including providing a particular style of footwear required for a job the person was applying for.  After sharing the story, my colleague then identified the emotions she was feeling as a result of her decision and her compassionate actions.  She was asking herself, “For whose benefit am I doing this?”(uncertainty), “Am I doing this because it makes me feel good?”(doubt), and “What expectations am I creating in this person and can I meet them?”(fear/anxiety).

So, to achieve anything, whether improved productivity or compassionate action, we need to be able to intelligently manage the emotions involved.  Daniel mentioned that in recent workshops in Nashville and Romania, different organisations and different countries, participants realised that when they talk about the characteristics of their best and worst bosses, they are talking about dimensions of emotional intelligence.  My colleague and I have undertaken this exercise with over two thousand managers over more than a decade in our Confident People Management Program, and we have found that people intuitively know what are the characteristics of the best and worst managers and can identify their own feelings when working for either category of manager.  There is remarkable unanimity across multiple groups in multiple locations.  The characteristics could be readily matched to Daniel’s 4 groupings and the 12 competencies of emotional intelligence. Emotional self-awareness is the first and foundational competency described by him.

What is “emotional self-awareness”?

If you have “emotional self-awareness” you have developed  awareness about some personal aspects such as:

  • what you do well and what you do not do well
  • what you are feeling and why you are feeling that way
  • how your feelings impact your thoughts
  • how your feelings and thoughts impact your performance
  • why you are doing what you are doing or being able to answer, what am I doing this for? – your purpose/meaning.

Emotional self-awareness underpins everything because it is the gateway to self-improvement – in all its mutliple aspects, including acquiring the other emotional intelligence competencies.

Daniel suggests that you may not achieve complete emotional self-awareness if you rely on mindfulness alone.  He argues that because of the internal and individual focus of mindfulness, you may be unaware of blind spots.  He suggests that mindfulness in combination with 360-degree feedback can help you to identify and act on these blind spots or hidden gaps in emotional intelligence competencies.  He has developed, with his colleague Richard Boyatzis, an Emotional and Social Competence Inventory (ESCI 360) as a 360-degree feedback instrument to measure the twelve emotional intelligence competencies and to enable identification of blind spots in relation to the competencies.

As Daniel acknowledges, a competent coach can also help in this area of developing accurate emotional self-awareness.  I recall coaching a manager where his blind spot was defensiveness and it was only after providing persistent and constant feedback over a few months that he finally accepted that he was being defensive.  He was then able to demonstrate emotional self-awareness by pulling himself up whenever he started to get defensive and, in the process, name his feelings.   Mindfulness can also help us to accept feedback that is uncomfortable but accurate.

Another route to developing emotional self-awareness and overcoming blind spots is participation in an action learning group where the group norm is “supportive challenge” and feedback is designed to help you be the best you can be and to achieve the best outcomes for your project and yourself.   The action learning set may be less contaminated by political considerations (such as fear of repercussions) or revengeful action, than a 360-degree feedback process.  The honesty norm underpinning action learning may also help to ensure that the feedback is uncontaminated.

As we grow in mindfulness and engage with others through feedback we can develop increased emotional self-awareness and be able to act on the feedback given.

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Image source: courtesy of johnhain on Pixabay

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