Why Happiness Grows with Mindful Practice

Chade-Meng Tan gave a presentation on mindfulness and happiness at an international conference on technology.   Meng (as he is called affectionately and respectfully by friends, colleagues and associates) painted a picture, through a series of metaphors, of progression in happiness as we grow in mindfulness.

Attention training and emotional control

At the earliest stage of attention training, through mindful breathing, we gain a level of control over our emotions – instead of our emotions controlling us, we stay in control.  Meng likened this to moving from being an unskilled rider at the beck of a wild horse (emotions), to a skilled rider who has the horse (emotions) under control.  This sense of control is a basis for happiness because, among other things, we will experience fewer regrets.  We will also be less “up and down” as a result of a shift in our emotions.

Self-awareness and self-mastery

As mindfulness training progresses through mindful practice, we gain mastery in two related areas, self-awareness and self-management.  Firstly, self-awareness enables us to understand the stressors in our life – what stresses us – and also to realise the nature and strength of our responses.  We gain insight into our contribution – through prior experience, negative thinking, assumptions and perceptual distortion- to the level of stress we experience.   Our perception of stress changes and we experience less stress as a result.  This is the basis for more frequent experience of happiness.

Self-awareness is the beginning of self-mastery, because we cannot achieve self-management without this self-knowledge.  Self-mastery enables us to remain calm and think clearly in situations where others “are stressed out”.  This calmness and clarity under stress signals leadership capability and may result in greater career success.  If nothing else it enables us to have the freedom of choice – the capacity to determine our response to stressors in the gap between stimulus and response.

Meng likens this stage to the effects of physical training – we gain mental and emotional fitness as we grow in mindfulness.  As with physical training, we find we are stronger, more resilient and happier as we develop our mindful practice.  The positive effects of mindfulness training are deeper and more sustainable than those flowing from physical training.

As Meng points out, based on the results of neuroscience research,:

What you think, what you do, and more importantly, what you pay attention to, changes the function and structure of your brain.

We develop more grey matter (our neo-cortex, the command centre of our brain thickens) and the amygdala  reduces (our potential emotional saboteur – the basis of our fight/ flight responses).  So our brain physically changes with mindful practice and locks in the positive effects, including the growth in happiness, that enable us to function better in all aspects of our life – work, career, relationships and leisure.

Discernment of emotions

Meng maintains, from more than a decade of evidence-based results, that our discernment of emotions increases dramatically as we grow in mindfulness.  He argues that we achieve high resolution in our perception of our emotional processes.  So not only are we better able to detect even small changes in our emotional process, but we can do so in real time – as they are happening.  This gives us useful and timely information so that we can view our emotional response objectively.

Thus we are able to make a perceptual shift so that we no longer think and say, “I am angry”, but rather “I am experiencing anger”.  This enables us to move from a perception that there is nothing we can do about this negative emotion, to one where we recognise that our emotions are something we can control.

Meng uses the analogy of the sky and clouds – your mind is the sky and emotions are the clouds.  This leads to the life-changing acknowledgement that “I am not my thoughts; I am not my emotions and my emotions are not me”.  This statement drew spontaneous applause from the audience because it was so liberating.

Mindful practice then enables us to view emotions as a feeling/expression in  our body, just like physical pain.  We are able then to treat them as separate from ourselves and thus controllable – which increases our experience of happiness .

Kindness habits

As we grow in mindfulness, we are better able to demonstrate kindness to others.  Kindness has been shown to improve mental health and well-being, even if the kindness is expressed as a thought, rather than action.   Meng explains that even asking people to think kind thoughts about two other people – wishing happiness for them – for at least ten seconds a day can have life-changing effects.  As we reported earlier, we become what we focus on – thinking kind thoughts about others on a daily basis can make us a kind person.

Kindness reinforces all the benefits of mindful practice and enhances and enriches our state of happiness.

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

Image source: courtesy of RobinHiggins on Pixabay

Mindful Leadership: Inspiring Followers

What do you think it would be like to follow a mindful leader, someone with advanced emotional intelligence skills?  As we have discussed, mindful leadership entails self-awareness, self-management, motivation, empathy and social skills (compassion and communicating with insight).  The mindful leader attracts and inspires  followers because of these characteristics.

They have a highly developed level of self-awareness, acknowledge their limitations, admit when they make a mistake and are tolerant of others’ mistakes.  When someone else makes a mistake they do not look for an individual to blame but undertake a system-based analysis to learn from what happened.

A mindful leader inspires confidence and trust – they are in control of their emotions.  They do not lose their temper when something happens that embarrasses them or their organisation/community.  Their high level of self-management enables them to stay calm in any situation they confront, even in what appears to be a crisis. This level of self-composure reassures followers that the situation is under control and models calmness and self-control.

Mindful leaders are highly motivated – they have a clear vision that is aligned to their values. In turn, they are able to effectively communicate their vision and reinforce their values by their congruence – aligning their actions with their words.  This alignment means that their communications are believable and inspiring.

The mindful leader understands others’ pain and suffering and genuinely feels with and for them.  They are empathetic listeners, able to reflect and clarify feelings as well as content.  They are not so self-absorbed that they are oblivious to others’ feelings – they are empathetic and inspire a willingness to be open about and deal with emotions. They themselves show vulnerability by being open about their own emotions – whether that means having felt anger, disappointment, distress, pride or any other emotion.

The mindful leader is compassionate – they not only notice others’ suffering and express empathy but also act to alleviate that suffering where possible.  Their compassion is an inspiration to others and gives followers permission to be compassionate to others in the organisation or the community. They talk about the organisation/ community in terms of a family – they do not employ the aggressiveness of the sport/war metaphor.

Mindful leaders communicate with insight gained through clarity of mind and a calm demeanour.  They see beyond appearances and have a depth of understanding that encourges and inspires followers.  Their communications are clear, meaningful and accessible – they inspire engagement.

They are fundamentally happy – they are doing something meaningful, engaging their core skills and contributing wholeheartedly to a vision that extends beyond themselves.

Chade-Meng Tan, author of Search Inside Yourself, is the epitomy of mindful leadership.  His effusiveness and happiness is contagious, his vision engaging and his clarity and acuity are inspiring. Meng, in his Google Talk, explains the foundations of the Search Inside Youself program, the benefits that accrue and why he chose to embed it in a prominent, global organisation such as Google.

Meng explains that his vision is to contribute to world peace by developing, on a global scale, leaders who are compassionate.  He sees that helping leaders to grow in mindfulness will achieve this goal.  The Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute is a vehicle to bring his philosophy and training to the world through conduct of workshops, seminars and intensive training on a global basis.  In pursuit of this vision, Meng and his collaborators are developing trainers who can work globally.

Meng is one example of a mindful leader and his passion, humour, insight and humility are inspiring.

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

Image source: courtesy of  johnhain on Pixabay

Mindful Leadership: Self-Management

Self-management relies very heavily on self-awareness. If we are not conscious of what we are thinking, saying and doing – and the impact of our thoughts, words and actions – we are incapable of managing ourselves.

Self-management, according to the Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute, is “the process of managing one’s internal states, impulses and resources”.

Viktor Frankl, author of Man’s Search for Meaning, identified the opportunity space for self- management:

Between stimulus and response, there is a space.  In that space lives our freedom and our power to choose our response.  In our response lies our greatest happiness.

There are a number of ways to develop self-management.  I will discuss two approaches in this post:

1. Managing Your Response to Negative Triggers

We all have situations, people or events that “set us off”.  They may stimulate anger, frustration, annoyance or anyone of the multitude of negative emotions.  As Vikto Frankl pointed out, we really have a choice of how to respond.  In a previous post, I discussed the SBNRR process (stop, breathe, notice, reflect and respond) to help you manage your response to your negative triggers.  Reflect is an important stage of the process because it seeks to get us to move beyond the particular negative stimulus and response to gain insight into any observable pattern, e.g. obstinacy when dealing with a person in authority.

2. Mindful Listening

Mindful listening requires us to be fully present to the other person, to understand what they are saying and the significance for that person.  It also means to be able to reflect back their words and feelings, and the depth of those feelings. It requires discipline to stay with the other person’s conversation and to avoid diverting the conversation to yourself and your own experience.  It also means avoiding interrupting the other person mid-sentence.  All of this takes considerable self-management.  Mastering mindful listening is a lifetime pursuit – in the process you will develop self-management and grow in mindfulness.

Self-management contributes to the development of mindfulness; as we grow in mindfulness it becomes easier to manage ourselves and our responses. Both contribute to the development of mindful leadership.

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

Image source: courtesy of moulinaem on Pixabay

 

 

Mindful Leadership: Self-Awareness

Self-awareness can be developed in many ways and it underpins much of what is involved in effective leadership.

I will discuss a few ways to develop self-awareness but this is a lifetime pursuit!

1. 3 Minute Journaling

I discussed this process in more detail in a previous post on journaling.  This free form of writing and reflecting is a very powerful tool for developing self-awareness.  You can build the practice of 3 minute journaling into each day at a set time, e.g. at the end of a day, or use the process more spontaneously when the inclination and opportunity arises.  In reading through what you have written, free of ongoing editing, you will achieve a closer insight into yourself and your reactions to people and events.

2. Somatic Meditation

This is an approach to increased body awareness. In previous posts, I discussed two approaches to this form of meditation – lower belly breathing and whole body breathing.

3. Progressive Relaxation

This involves progressively focusing on all parts of your body starting with your feet.  You can very quickly identify points of stress in your body and focus on those points to relieve the tension.  By reflecting on your day, you may be able to realise what was the catalyst for the tension in your body, e.g. an argument with your partner or colleague; conflict with your boss; or doing work you do not really enjoy or value.

4. Monitoring Your Thoughts and Language

Are you living in the future, not in the present? Are you “wishing it was Friday”; “Saying, I can’t wait for the weekend/holidays”?  This is living in the future, not in the moment.  If you monitor your thoughts and actions, you can become increasingly aware of when you are not focusing on the present moment.

5.  Catching Negative Thoughts

We discussed earlier how negative thoughts can harm your self-esteem and negatively impact on others you come in contact with. If you monitor your thoughts, particularly when you are getting agitated, you will be able to notice your negative thoughts and address them.

As you grow in mindfulness you will develop self-awareness; in turn, focusing on developing self-awareness will contribute to your growth in mindfulness.

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

Image source: courtesy of geralt on Pixabay

 

3 Minute Journaling

One of the most powerful things that we did during the two days of the Search Inside Yourself public program  in Sydney was a process described as 3 Minute Journaling.

The basic idea is to write your responses to a number of stimulus questions without lifting your pen from the paper.  Often there are three questions.  These penetrating questions are combined with the three minute time limit to reduce the likelihood of “editing” – to get past your rational mind and allow your thoughts and feelings to flow unimpeded by self-censorship or the felt need for grammatical editing.

Given the time limit, you do not have time to form proper sentences or to worry about logical flow – you just write in a free form manner, akin to “speed writing”.  Often this quick approach to journaling, involving a “stream of consciousness“, is used within the context of more formal daily journaling.

The surprise comes when you read what you have written.  The process of 3 Minute Journaling invariably turns up some remarkable insights into your own motivations and behaviours and opens the way for greater self-knowledge, awareness of your environment and the feelings of others.  In lots of ways it is a journey into yourself.

Some of my posts on this blog have flowed from using the process of 3 Minute Journaling before I sat down to write the actual blog post.  You can use a simple idea or insight to start the process or alternatively write responses to two or three questions that have some relevance to you and that encourage you to explore some unexplored terrain or to go deeper into familiar terrain.

Below is an example of three stimulus questions used during the Search Inside Yourself Program in one of a series of three minute journaling sessions:

  • When I feel understood, I…
  • When I’m at my best, I…
  • What I really care about is…

These are penetrative questions that get to the heart of what motivates you and what you really enjoy doing and care about.

I have often used 3 Minute journaling within the context of a manager development program.  One of the sets of questions I ask relates to the role of the manager in creating the culture of their workplace:

  • What kind of culture are you trying to create in your workplace?
  • How congruent is your own behaviour with that culture?
  • What kinds of messages are your words and actions giving?

3 Minute Journaling is a powerful process that takes so little time but provides rich results in terms of self-awareness.  If you undertake it on a consistent basis, you are well on the way to growing the habit of mindfulness.

Image Source: Courtesy of Pixabay.com