Grow Your Influence by Letting Go

In a previous post, we discussed how mindfulness helps us to increase our sense of control over our internal environment and responses to external stimuli.  However, there are times when we have to give up control over our external environment to enable others to gain a sense of control over their work or environment.

A fundamental dilemma in life is that to grow our influence we need to let go.  If we become too controlling, we get compliance from others but lose their commitment and energy – ultimately things get out of control.

If you are a manager or someone who has the power to delegate tasks to others, it is very difficult to let go.  However, if you fail to do so, your influence contracts, rather than grows.

We are afraid to let go because:

  • things might get out of hand
  • the other person does not have the knowledge or skills to do the task
  • other people may not have our level of knowledge or skill
  • we do not want to be embarrassed by the mistakes or failures of others
  • other people cannot do the task as well as us
  • we get a buzz from achieving things ourselves
  • we like to do things within our comfort zone, rather than things that challenge us.

All of these reasons for not letting go can be challenged but they often serve as barriers to delegating to others – in the final analysis, they can be seen as excuses.  The net result is that we end up overworked and other people are deprived of the opportunity to grow and develop, to achieve outcomes that are valued, to experience satisfaction for a job well done – importantly, if we retain control we limit their sense of agency and capacity to contribute.

Neuroscientist Tali Sharot maintains that “control is tightly related to influence” and influence expands when we provide others with a sense of agency – the capacity to control their environment, power over the way things are done.  She argues:

The message, perhaps ironically, is that to influence actions, you need to give people a sense of control.  Eliminate the sense of agency and you get anger, frustration, and resistance.  Expand people’s sense of influence over their world and you increase their motivation and compliance.  (The Influential Mind, 2017, p. 87)

To give up control, however, we have to be in control of our own emotions and responses.  We have to manage our fear of loss of control over our immediate external environment by managing our internal environment. As explained in the previous post, as we grow in mindfulness, we grow in the capacity to develop control over our own emotions and responses.

Tali Sharot suggests that “there is nothing more terrifying than giving away control to another human being” and “this is why many managers feel the need to micromanage their teams”.  She offers advice to managers that resonates with developing mindfulness and awareness:

It is difficult to let go, but awarness can help.  Understanding why we are the way we are, and being conscious of our deeply rooted drive to make decisions, may help us hand over the wheel once in a while.  With awareness comes the understanding that giving away control…is a simple but largely effective way to increase people’s well-being and motivation. (The Influential Mind, 2017, p. 103)

She discusses examples of research projects in different contexts that provide evidence of the effectiveness of the fundamental principle of letting go to empower others by giving them a sense of agency.  One particular research project that resonated strongly with me was one involving the elderly in a nursing home where the fundamental questions framed by the researchers, Rodin and Langer, were:

What if the residents of a nursing home were given more choices, more responsibility, and a greater sense of agency?  Would they become healthier and happier?

To test these questions, the researchers set up an “agency floor” and a “no agency floor” where the former were given control over a range of decisions – a sense of agency not provided to the latter floor. The results are described by Tali Sharot as follows:

Three weeks later, when Rodin and Langer assessed the nursing home residents, they discovered that those individuals who’d been encouraged to take more control over their environments were the happiest and participated in the greatest number of activities.  Their mental alertness improved, and eighteen months later they were healthier than the residents on the “no agency” floor. (The Influential Mind, 2017, p. 97)

This research project has a personal interest for me because it reminds me of the activity of my brother, Pat Passfield, who provided other residents of his nursing home with a strong sense of agency.  He was recently nominated for a philanthropic award for his efforts to raise funds and improve conditions for other residents of the Jacobs Court aged care community at Sinnamon Village (80 years of Care – Wesley Mission, A joint Photojournalism Project between the Wesley Mission Queensland and Griffith University Queensland College of Art, p.22)

So if we learn to let go through developing mindfuless and awareness, we will be able to grow our influence by giving others a sense of agency and control over their environment – and contribute substantially to their health, well-being and happiness.

 

Image Source: Courtesy of geralt on Pixabay

Manage Your Morning Panic Attacks

If you experience a panic attack when you wake in the morning, it is extremely difficult to manage your reaction.

Deep breathing may be virtually impossible because you are so agitated.  Trying to reframe the situation – think differently about the cause of the anxiety and resultant panic – is impossible because you do not know what set off the panic attack.  The anxiety that set off the panic attack is the result of something you experienced in your sub-conscious while you were asleep.

Normally when we are awake, we can isolate a thought or event that generated fear and anxiety in us.  When you awake with a panic attack, you are incapable of isolating the cause.

Mel Robbins suggests an approach which could help you manage a morning panic attack.  The steps she suggests are:

  1. get out of bed (the physical act of moving will help your body experience a “moving away” from the cause of the anxiety).
  2. Think of something – an event/location/person – that generates pleasure and enjoyment for you (e.g. you might visualize a relaxing beach scene)
  3. Stay with this vision as you count backwards from five – then say to yourself that you are excited to be at the beach (you are giving your mind a reason for the positive arousal that you feel – a way of replacing the fear reaction that caused the panic attack).

Mel Robbins explains the steps in detail in the following four minute video:

As you develop your mindful practice in other times and arenas of your life, you will grow in mindfulness and spend less time being anxious about the future because you will be more grounded in the present. Daily mindfulness practice will gradually erode the root cause of your anxiety and panic attacks.

Image Source: Courtesy of geralt on Pixabay

Who is in the Shower With You?

Jon Kabat-Zinn, in discussing sensory awareness as an aspect of mindfulness, asks the question, “Who is in the Shower With You?”

He makes the point that our minds are always wandering – even when we are in the shower.  We could be thinking of a conflict with someone at work, a criticism from the boss or poor performance by a colleague.  In consequence, we are not attending to the physical sensation of the water on our skin – we are someplace else, basically at work.

Jon Kabat-Zinn suggests that sometimes our whole work team is in the shower with us as we reflect on a meeting while showering – who said what about what issue, what conflicts arose, what we are committed to do in the future, what changes are coming up.

He argues that we cannot access the healing power of mindfulness, if we are not present and fail to be aware of our sensory perceptions – the major theme of his book, Coming to Our Senses.

In the following video, Kabat-Zinn discusses other ways that we can become aware of our surrounds and our senses.  He maintains that to grow in mindfulness and access the healing power it generates, we need to come to our senses, both literally and metaphorically.

 

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Start Your Meeting With Reflection Time

When we arrive at a meeting, our thoughts are often elsewhere rather than in the room – with the unfinished task we have just left, the things that we have to do, the work that will not get done as a result of the meeting.

So we do not have a meeting of minds, because the minds of people “present” are elsewhere – we have a physical collection of people.  People are not present in the sense that their attention is not fully on the meeting, its purpose and goals.

What exacerbates this situation is that many people “at” the meeting are checking their phones for their latest emails or social media updates, doing their to-do lists or planning another activity.  This multitasking in itself is both personally injurious (can cause inflammation of the brain) and contaminates the meeting (inattention spreads).

What some organisations are starting to do now is to begin their meetings with a short reflection time (5-10 minutes) so that people can become grounded and really present.  Besides helping people to become focused on the meeting and its purpose, this reflection time reminds people why they are at the meeting and the need to attend to (pay attention to) what is going on.

At a recent mindfulness conference, a group of digital designers from a bank decided then and there that they would start their meetings with a ten minute reflection time.  They realised the power of reflection to develop focus and release creativity.

If you do build in time for reflection at the start of a meeting you will experience a heightened level of focused energy and strengthening of team spirit.  You will also be more productive as a team.  Residual resentments about missed opportunities will be less likely to contaminate the meeting process.

Starting your meetings with time for reflection also helps your team to grow in mindfulness and focused attention so that the benefits flow beyond the meeting.

Image Source: Courtesy of ForMyKerttu on Pixabay

Build Resilience Through Mindfulness

Linda Graham, in her book, Bouncing Back: Rewiring Your Brain for Maximum Resilience and Well-Being, defines resilience as:

the capacity to respond to pressures and tragedies quickly, adaptively and effectively.

Shawn Anchor and Michelle Gielan in a HBR article suggest that resilience is about “how you recharge, not how you endure”. They argue that the misconception about resilience and endurance has led to the exponential rise in the “workaholic” with devastating effects on health, productivity and family relationships.

I have worked in many organisations where management has stated that staff needs to become “more resilient” when the staff were not coping with excessive workloads and unrealistic time pressures.  This perspective incorrectly equates resilience with endurance and potentially leads to burnout.

As Linda Graham notes, resilience is more about our capacity to “bounce back” from setbacks and this requires us to recharge our batteries on an ongoing basis. It also requires re-wiring our brains so that we overcome negative self perceptions and fear-inducing perceptions of daily occurences.

Neuroscience research has demonstrated that when we grow mindfulness and develop the capacity to be fully in the present moment, we can alter our brains and reshape our perecptions.  In the process, we can build our resilience.

Image Source: courtesy of makamukio on Pixabay

Reflection and the Art of Solving Jigsaw Puzzles

Our family has had a long-standing tradition of solving a 1,000 piece jigsaw puzzle whenever we go away on holidays for more than a week.

The collaborative endeavour of solving the jigsaw puzzle has a relaxing effect, builds relationships and facilitates conversation.

Recently, my wife and I went on a holiday and in line with our family tradition purchased a 1,000 word WASJIG? jigsaw puzzle. These puzzles are particularly difficult because the image on the box depicts the present scenario – the jigsaw puzzle itself reflects the same scenario at some future time.  So the image you are provided with is just a guide – and sometimes intentionally misleading.

When solving the jigsaw puzzle, it was particularly important to challenge your own assumptions – to change your assumptions about shape, colour or location of a puzzle piece (or sometimes, all three aspects).  Often when you got stuck, the way forward was to challenge one or more of your assumptions.  This challenge to assumptions was particularly aided by the reflections of the other person, e.g.”Could that piece go at the top, rather than the bottom”; “This looks like becoming a car, not a shop”; “There seems to be a crowd outside the train, have you thought of that to explain the missing pieces?; “Could those two connected pieces be placed vertically rather than horizontally?; “I think that we should sort the last 100 pieces by shape rather than by colour as we have them now.”

The reality is that we have limited perception – we often see what we want to see and often fail to see what is in front of us.  We also experience perceptual bias based on our own life experiences.  So it is important to reflect with others, to be open to perceptions and perspectives of other people, if we are going to move forward in whatever endeavour we are undertaking.

How often have you worked on a jigsaw puzzle and been unable to find a particular piece and someone walks past and says “this piece looks like it should fill the gap” (and they may have had no prior involvement in the puzzle solving process).  They are able to see the puzzle with fresh eyes and have no preconceived ideas or assumptions.

I was reflecting on our processes for solving this jigsaw puzzle and was reminded of the words of Reg Revans, the father of action learning, who suggested that really effective reflection requires challenging our own assumptions.  He also maintained that this challenge to our assumptions was achieved more often by reflecting with one or more others.  He suggests that when we reflect alone we can often reinforce our existing assumptions – when we reflect with others our assumptions can be open to the challenge of others.

The process of reflection has a strong relationship to mindfulness.  As we build our ability to reflect, we become more aware of the need to be mindful in the situation as an aid to reflection (e.g. “If only I had really noticed her reaction at the time, I could have done something about it!”).  It is difficult to reflect on what you have said or done, if you lack awareness at the time.  In a similar way, when we become more mindful through mindfulness practices, we are better able to reflect-in-action, to reflect on our own words and actions while we are in the process of saying and doing.  So, in the final analysis, reflection and mindfulness are mutually reinforcing.

Image Source: Courtesy of Pixabay.com

Making a Difference Through Mindfulness

One of the things that we often fail to realise is what impact our own consciousness has on people around us – how we can make a real difference through being mindful.

Paulo Coelho captures this principle in his book, The Alchemist:

That’s what alchemists do. They show that, where we strive to become better than we are, everything around us becomes better, too. (The Alchemist, p.150)

Recent research reinforces the fact that our moods are contagious – so if we are happy and calm, then we can positively impact those around us. We can make a difference in other people’s lives by living mindfully – by developing our emotional intelligence and building our sense of gratitude and contentment.

Joseph Folkman, who has made a personal study of the contagiousness of mood and engagement, reminds us:

Since doing this research, I have begun thinking about the fact that every interaction I have with other people can be inspiring and building, or discouraging and frustrating. We can build others up or tear them down.

The impact of our mindfulness can spread to our social network just as a person’s grief can impact those connected to them to “three degrees of separation” (friends of friends of friends) – like the concentric ripples that result when a stone drops into a pool of water.  Nicholas Christakis has studied this ripple effect over 15 years and demonstrated the pervasive influence of social networks.  His study can explain the growth of obesity, drug use and depression within a social network over time.

Whether we are conscious of it or not, our mindfulness can impact others in a positive way and make a real difference in their lives.  This was recently reinforced for me with the death of a friend, Pam Kruse.  People from all walks of life and different phases in her life, expressed their appreciation and gratitude for her sense of fun and humour, her zest for life, her thoughtfulness, her energy and readiness to serve others in a generous and unassuming manner.  In a lot of ways, Pam epitomized the “servant-leader“.

So let the warmth of your smile and your sense of contentment shine on those around you, just as the setting sun brightens the darkness of the night sky.

Image Source: Copyright R. Passfield

 

What Am I Doing This For?

Richardo Semler, entrepreneur and author, became well known for his ground-breaking book on the democratization of organisations.  In Maverick, he describes his approach to managing his business, Semco, which involves allowing employees unprecedented autonomy in many aspects of organization life.

What is not so well known is his personal philosophy of life.  His comments give some insight into his own approach to mindfulness and his perspective on idleness:

The opposite of work is idleness. But very few of us know what to do with idleness. When you look at the way that we distribute our lives in general, you realize that in the periods in which we have a lot of money, we have very little time. And then when we finally have time, we have neither the money nor the health.

Semler suggests that we put off so much in life because we are so busy about the future that we cannot enjoy the present.  In the process, we miss the opportunity to develop wisdom and to pursue the fundamental question of “What am I doing this for?”

And so, what we’ve done all of these years is very simple, is use the little tool, which is ask three whys in a row. Because the first why you always have a good answer for. The second why, it starts getting difficult. By the third why, you don’t really know why you’re doing what you’re doing. What I want to leave you with is the seed and the thought that maybe if you do this, you will come to the question, what for? What am I doing this for? And hopefully, as a result of that, and over time, I hope that with this, and that’s what I’m wishing you, you’ll have a much wiser future.

These comments by Richard Semler are extracts from a TED Talk that he gave in 2014, “How to run a company with (almost) no rules.”  The video of this talk is embed below and the transcript is available online for those who prefer to read rather than listen.

Semler asks some fundamental questions about life and work and how we spend out time.  Busyness is the greatest impediment to mindfulness – the pathway to wisdom, calm, clarity and happiness.

Postcript: I often take a short detour in the morning via the Manly Esplanade so that I can see the bay, the islands and the emergent sunrise. On the morning I watched Richardo’s video, I asked myself, “Why don’t I stop and capture the image that I see, instead of rushing back home?” And so the image in this blog post captures calmness in the spotlight of the sunrise.

Image Source: Copyright R. Passfield

Dying for Tomorrow or Living Today?

In February 2016, news.com.au reported on the story of Jake Bailey who got out of his hospital bed to deliver his Captain’s address at the 2015 Christchurch Boys’ High School Prize Giving ceremony.  Jake, in his final year, had been diagnosed with cancer and was on his fourth chemotherapy treatment when he left his hospital bed to give the speech.

Despite his illness, Jake passed the year 12 exams and expressed gratitude for the support he received from near and far.  His speech is very moving and, at times, confronting.  He makes the point that when you are confronted with death you are forced to reflect on who you are and what you are doing with your life.  In his own words, Jake reminds us that we so often overlook the present because we are so focused on tomorrow:

I was dying for the weekends, I was dying for the school holidays.  Before I knew it, I was dying.

Jake reminds us to be grateful for what we have and to live the present fully:

Here’s the thing – none of us get out of life alive. So be gallant, be great, be gracious, and be grateful for the opportunities that you have.

The full speech is available on YouTube and the video of his speech has been viewed by more than 1.7 million people at the time of writing this post.

Jake’s speech causes you to ask the question:

Are you dying for tomorrow or living today?

Image Source: Courtesy of Pixabay.com

Mindful Breathing – Being, not Thinking

Western society is strong on thinking and we have developed so many words to describe the act of thinking.  Here’s just a few:

  • analyze
  • summarize
  • categorize
  • synthesize
  • realize

Jon Kabat-Zinn suggests that we have become so engrossed in thinking all the time that we have lost the art of just being.  We have lost touch with the present moment with all its potential for creativity, calm and clarity. He strongly recommends developing the art of mindful breathing and offers a 3 minute meditation exercise based on conscious breathing:

One of the challenges of mindful breathing is to stop the distraction of thinking and to remain focused in a non-judgmental way – clearing our thoughts as they occur without judging ourselves for their occurrence.

Isabel Allende in her book, Maya’s Notebook, describes Maya talking to her host Manuel and, in the process, identifies the difficulty of staying focused on breathing – on being, not thinking:

I found him watching the sunset from the big front window, and I asked him what he was doing.

“Breathing.”

“I’m breathing too.  That is not what I was referring to.”

“Until you interrupted me, Maya, I was breathing, nothing more.  You should see how difficult it is to breathe without thinking.”   [Maya’s Notebook, p.69]

And therein lies the challenge of mindful breathing – not only do you have to fend off distractions caused by your own thoughts, but also the interruptions unwittingly caused by others who need to share their thoughts or want you to do so.  Thinking has become our substitute mode of being – we live in our minds not in the reality of everyday life and the present moment.

Psychologists point out that this disconnection from the present has resulted in much of the mental illness that is prevalent today – we suffer depression because we are living in the past or suffer anxiety because we are living in the future. Mental health and well-being reside in mindfulness and mindful breathing that are accessible to us at any moment.

Image Source: Courtesy of Pixabay.com