Stress and the pressures of life

“The reason many people in our society are miserable, sick, and highly stressed is because of an unhealthy attachment to things they have no control over.” ― Steve Maraboli, Unapologetically You: Reflections on Life and the Human Experience

I have been silent for a while.

Not in the speaking sense, but from a blog posting perspective. Life and mostly work have been the focus for the past month. A major transformation programme got to launch position and from that day on, it has been full on. Not just for me, but for a whole group of people.

The teams involved have been working long hours, resolving issues as they came up. As someone said “Fixing the wings, at the same time as the plane was flying”.

This put a huge amount of pressure onto everyone involved, me included.

Some people reacted to the stress and pressure by going silent. Some by shouting and swearing. Others still, looked like they were carrying the world on their shoulders. Everyone was impacted in some way. I, too, felt the stress, but, I feel I dealt with it in a slightly different way.

I became more focused; but at the same time, more focused only on the moment at hand; rather than the whole situation. This is part of the mindfulness training and background that I have developed over the past few years. Experiencing “present moment awareness” and only the “present moment”. It is one of the cornerstones of Mindfulness practice and it is something that you can use, not only in a formal manner, but also day to day, even moment to moment.

So what is Present Moment Awareness?

So often, we let the present slip away, allowing time to rush past unobserved and unseized, and squandering the precious seconds of our lives as we worry about the future and ruminate about what’s past. Present-moment awareness involves monitoring and attending to your current experience rather than predicting future events or dwelling on the past. In effect focusing all your attention on the “now”. The present moment is all there ever is. If you don’t believe me, let me give you another premise.

I will do a follow-up article on some of the steps you can take to develop present moment awareness, over and above formal Mindfulness practice.

How long is “now”?

Ugghh? What on earth is Martin banging on about now?

Well, according to a number of studies, it is approximately 3 seconds. Yep, 3 seconds. Whether it is giving someone a hug (I would not necessarily recommend that at work), through reading an e: mail marketeers latest e: mail to you extolling the virtues of xyz; different studies suggest that “now” or the present moment is about 3 seconds in length. In fact, we go through life perceiving the present in a series of 3-second windows. Outside of that timeframe, we then start to either use memory as an aid, or we start to store what is going on around us in short term memory.

Part of my mindfulness awareness, is that I can not change the past, nor can I impact the future. I can only exist in the present moment. Neither can I influence the actions of others, or correct the mistakes that other have made. In addition, I am not responsible for the outcomes of others.

Does this make me more detached? Nope. In fact it helps me increase focus on the present activity and helps me deliver the task at hand. It also helps, as I am more calm and for those around me, that can help them as well.

Nope. In fact, it helps me increase focus on the present activity and helps me deliver the task at hand. It also helps, as I am calmer and for those around me, that can help them as well.

So being present is literally, as short as 3 seconds. I would not advocate using that as a reference when being at work, but I would say, that recognising life is lived in the present moment, is key to dealing with the stress of life.

If you would like to read the article on e: mail marketing or the article on hugs, which both reference the 3 second effect, check out the following links.

https://www.digitaldoughnut.com/articles/2016/march/your-marketing-email-has-only-3-seconds-to-capture

http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2011/01/hugs-follow-3-second-rule
In the mean time, I leave you with the following quote.

“I promise you nothing is as chaotic as it seems. Nothing is worth diminishing your health. Nothing is worth poisoning yourself into stress, anxiety, and fear.” ― Steve Maraboli, Unapologetically You: Reflections on Life and the Human Experience

What exactly is a Work Relationship?

“…there are people who try to look as if they are doing a good and thorough job, and then there are the people who actually damn well do it, for its own sake.” John D. MacDonald, Free Fall in Crimson

Further to the first article, I wrote “Work is a relationship” on the nature of work and the relationship we have with it, I got some interesting and thought provoking feedback:

“It is strange that work is so often NOT seen as a relationship.  Even though we hear the words ‘The Psychological Contract is strong (or broken)’.  The Psychological contract (whatever its state) is a relationship.  There is something in our culture that seems to want to keep the word ‘relationship’ off (or even under) the table.

Maybe it is time to wake up to the fact, there is more going on in the workplace than we have been acknowledging  in many instances!”

I completely agree that the idea the working relationship is often ignored.  If you consider that on average you spend over 50 years working and the majority of your waking week is spent at work (on average over 40 hours plus);  its importance is so often missed. People often refer to “employee engagement”, but it is more than this; much more. If you disagree, please feel to comment.

Where does the level of personal engagement come into it?  Like all relationships, is it the level of commitment to deliver; often in challenging and difficult situations; versus just turning up?  Is it commitment, or is it engagement built on trust? This got me thinking about what is the “work relationship”? What are its key characteristics? Is it, in fact, any different from a personal or social relationship?

I want to see if the work relationship is a fallacy or is in fact real. Also, what is your understanding? I believe the following are elements that go to make a “work relationship”:

  1. Having common Values – nor necessarily the corporate ones, but a sense of belonging to a common set within the workgroup
  2. How you get along with each other – how you work, talk, engage, and interact with each other
  3. Respect each and every person – consistent and truthful respect, is the glue
  4. Emotional Intelligence and Responsibility – this is a separate topic in its own right 
  5. Empathy, Compromise, Patience, Flexibility, Acceptance and Openness – speaks for itself

  6. Simple kindness – to one another and to oneself
  7. Mental flexibility – to deal with the stress of the work environment
  8. A sense of humour – laughter, fun, affection and connection
  9. Conflict – how you manage and handle conflict. In addition, how you learn through conflict
  10. Trust – that you support each other for the highest good
  11. Finally, something unsaid; a feeling; an untold emotion. Or to use a phrase, “Je ne sais quoi” – an indefinable, elusive quality,

I think the list is pretty comprehensive, but if you feel that there are other aspects that need to be added, please feel free to comment.

In addition, it would be interesting to see if there are differences across the generations. For instance, is there a stronger work commitment for those who are Generation  X (born between the 1960’s and the 1980’s)  than Generation Y (those born between the 1980’s to 2000)?  For those that are Generation Z (2000’s onwards) who are just starting to enter the work world, what is their perception?

I aim to follow up on the work relationship elements in subsequent posts, as well as the difference across the generations and would appreciate your insights and feedback.

Finally, I believe the general world of work is changing. And it’s changing fast. It’s rare that a week goes by without new evidence proving this. The World Economic Forum believes a ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’ is imminent, and that the role of humans in the workplace will change in favour of smart machines and automation. Something, I’d like to follow up on as well.

In the meantime, I leave you with the following quote which really struck a chord with me.

“Do not depend on the hope of results. You may have to face the fact that your work will be apparently worthless and even achieve no result at all, if not perhaps results opposite to what you expect. As you get used to this idea, you start more and more to concentrate not on the results, but on the value, the rightness, the truth of the work itself. You gradually struggle less and less for an idea and more and more for specific people. In the end, it is the reality of personal relationship that saves everything.” Thomas Merton

 

Work is a relationship

“Work is about a search for daily meaning as well as daily bread, for recognition as well as cash, for astonishment rather than torpor; in short, for a sort of life rather than a Monday through Friday sort of dying.” Studs Terkel

Like it or not, but work does define your life. I know some people will argue it does not, but for many of us, it does, We spend more time working than ever before. We have moved way beyond the 9 to 5 Monday to Friday work life of our grand parents. According to one survey, we are working over 42 hours per week. Our culture has become an “always on” one. We are travelling further and working longer than ever before.

However, it is not just the amount of work that we are doing, it is how we are now engaged in the world of work that I think is important. What often gets ignored is that just like the personal relationships we develop, we also develop a working relationship. I don’t mean with the people at work, I mean with the work itself. For many of us, the type of work that we do, also impacts how we engage in a broader sphere.

For some people, putting on the uniform or suit in the morning is like putting on a suit of armour, ready to go to battle. For some, work is about being authentic and consistent. For others, the focus is trying to help and support others around them. I feel that work defines us in so many ways. Ways we sometimes forget.

I worked for a long time for a US technology company, called Hewlett Packard. When I applied to the company it felt as if I was joining a special group of people. The work was hard, the hours were long and the level of commitment expected was high. However, in those early days, I did not feel at all that I was just part of a work machine. Perhaps that is a rose-tinted view in hindsight, but I don’t think so. I felt that I could grow, develop and enjoy myself. I felt that I was recognised both as an individual, as well as for the contribution that I made.

Leap forward in time and I don’t think the world of work is the same. Many people I know that work in many different companies and work environments are mentioning to me a similar set of questions, along the lines of: “How am I recognised as an individual”; “Work does not hold the same meaning anymore”; “I feel I am not achieving what I set out to do”; “How can I help make a difference?”  “What does work mean to me now?”

Perhaps it is an age thing? I don’t think so. Perhaps it is a perception thing? I am not sure. What I do know is that for the vast majority of us, what work we do defines us and the relationship we have with work also impacts how we interact with the world.

I came across a really interesting infographic on the changing dynamics of work. You might want to check it out here.

https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/274388

I leave you with the following quote.

“People are more difficult to work with than machines. And when you break a person, he can’t be fixed.”  Rick Riordan, The Battle of the Labyrinth

Dealing with difficult discussions?

““Strong minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events, weak minds discuss people.” ― Socrates

In the world of work having difficult conversations, whether it is with your boss, a co-worker or a customer, are an inevitable part of management. How should you prepare for this kind of discussion? How do you find the right words in the moment? And, how can you manage the exchange so that it goes as smoothly as possible?

What the Experts Say
“We’ve all had bad experiences with these kinds of conversations in the past,” says Holly Weeks, the author of Failure to Communicate. Perhaps your boss lashed out at you during a heated discussion, or your direct report started to cry during a performance review; maybe your client hung up the phone on you. As a result, we tend to avoid them. But that’s not the right answer. After all, tough conversations “are not black swans,” says Jean-Francois Manzoni, professor of human resources and organisational development at INSEAD. The key is to learn how to handle them in a way that produces “a better outcome: less pain for you, and less pain for the person you’re talking to,” he says. Here’s how to get what you need from these hard conversations — while also keeping your relationships intact.

Change your mindset
If you’re gearing up for a conversation you’ve labelled “difficult,” you’re more likely to feel nervous and upset about it beforehand. Instead, try “framing it in a positive, less binary” way, suggests Manzoni. For instance, you’re not giving negative performance feedback; you’re having a constructive conversation about development. You’re not telling your boss: no; you’re offering up an alternate solution. “A difficult conversation tends to go best when you think about it as a just a normal conversation,” says Weeks.

Breathe
“The more calm and centred you are, the better you are at handling difficult conversations,” says Manzoni. He recommends: “taking regular breaks” throughout the day to practice “mindful breathing.” This helps you “refocus” and “gives you the ability to absorb any blows” that come your way. This technique also works well in the moment. If, for example, a colleague comes to you with an issue that might lead to a hard conversation, excuse yourself —get a cup of coffee or take a brief stroll around the office — and collect your thoughts.

Plan but don’t script
It can help to plan what you want to say by jotting down notes and key points before your conversation. Drafting a script, however, is a waste of time. “It’s very unlikely that it will go according to your plan,” says Weeks. Your counterpart doesn’t know “his lines,” so when he “goes off script, you have no forward motion” and the exchange “becomes weirdly artificial.” Your strategy for the conversation should be “flexible” and contain “a repertoire of possible responses,” says Weeks. Your language should be “simple, clear, direct, and neutral,” she adds.

MY HELPFUL TIP: Rather, I use a technique I picked up as part of a retreat. It is called “Pause, Reflect, Act”.

When I find myself in a stressful situation or in a discussion at home or at work, there comes a point where you get caught up in the moment, diving into the words and not recognising the context and flow. That is when this technique comes into its own. I say the words in my head. You might have them written down on a piece of paper. You might even count the fingers on your hand. Whatever works for you.

That split second pause before you answer is just enough to give yourself a moment to reflect on “am I reacting to the way someone is saying something. AKA, I am feeling threatened / rejected / lost / alone / whatever” or what is it I want to communicate.

Do I remember to do this all the time? No. Does it help when I do? Absolutely. Is it something I have shared at work and at home? Yes. And it has helped.

This technique, along with regular mindfulness practice has certainly helped me to create a more integrated life. I know I still have many “life boxes that I manage”, but they are far fewer than I had before and I certainly feel that life is a road easier to travel.

I leave you with the following quote.
“Don’t raise your voice, improve your argument.” [Address at the Nelson Mandela Foundation in Houghton, Johannesburg, South Africa, 23 November 2004]” ― Desmond Tutu

Work is a Relationship thing

 

“Work is about a search for daily meaning as well as daily bread, for recognition as well as cash, for astonishment rather than torpor; in short, for a sort of life rather than a Monday through Friday sort of dying.” Studs Terkel

For many people here in the UK, this is the first full week back at work. It certainly felt like it with the level of commuting traffic on a Monday morning. This got me thinking that like it or not, but work does define your life. I know some people will argue it does not, but for many of us, it does. We spend more time working than ever before. We have moved way beyond the 9 to 5 Monday to Friday work life of our parents. According to one survey, we are working over 42 hours per week. If you add on the commute time of an average of 3 hours per day, to and from work, you are talking about 52 hours per week, of work related time. Our culture has become an “always on” one. We are travelling further and working longer than ever before.

However, it is not just the amount of work that we are doing, it is how we are now engaged in the world of work that I think is important. What often gets ignored is that just like the personal relationships we develop, we also develop a work relationship. I don’t mean with the people at work itself, I mean with the work itself. For many of us, the type of work that we do, also impacts how we engage in a broader sphere.

For some people, putting on shirt, tie and suit in the morning is like putting on armour, ready to go to battle. For some, work is about being authentic and consistent. For others, trying to help and support others around them is important. For many though, people are more often feeling part of a work machine. Work defines us in so many ways. Ways we sometimes forget.

I worked for a long time for a US technology company, called Hewlett-Packard. When I applied to the company it felt as if I was joining a special group of people. The work was hard, the hours were long and the level of commitment expected was high. However, in those early days, I did not feel at all that I was just part of a work machine. Perhaps that is rose-tinted hindsight, but I don’t think so. In nearly all the years I worked there, I never felt part of a machine. I felt that I could grow, develop and enjoy myself. I felt that I was recognised both as an individual, as well as for the contribution that I made.

Leap forward in time and I don’t think the world of work is the same any more. Many people I know that work in many different companies are mentioning to me a similar set of questions, along the lines of: “I don’t feel recognised as an individual”; “Work does not hold the same meaning any more”; “I feel I am not achieving what I set out to do”; “How can I help make a difference?”  

Perhaps it is an age thing? I don’t think so. Perhaps it is a perception thing? I am not sure. What I do know is that for the vast majority of us, what work we do defines us and the relationship we have with work also impacts how we interact with the world.

I came across a really interesting infographic on the changing dynamics of work. You might want to check it out here.

https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/274388
As always, I leave you with the following quote.

“People are more difficult to work with than machines. And when you break a person, he can’t be fixed.”  Rick Riordan, The Battle of the Labyrinth

Mindfulness at work – how to practice?

 

“If, then, I were asked for the most important advice I could give, that which I considered to be the most useful to the men of our century, I should simply say: in the name of God, stop a moment, cease your work, look around you.” ― Leo Tolstoy, Essays, Letters and Miscellanies

Earlier this week, I took part in an event for World Mental Health day, where we hosted over 385 people on two webinars to talk about Mindfulness. It was great to talk about what mindfulness is all about, but the biggest part of the discussion and questions from people was how you can practice mindfulness at work.

How do you practice Mindfulness at work? Does your work environment encourage you to practice? I was given the opportunity to describe how I practice.

Think about being present and not just on auto-pilot

  • Make a clear decision at the start of your workday to be present as best you can. Pause for a few moments before you start your work day to set this intention in your mind.
  • Focus your attention on the people and the discussions you have. Don’t just nod and agree. Really try to listen.
  • Don’t skim read emails, articles, and documents. I read from the bottom of emails back to the top to make sure I focus on the content.
  • In meetings, don’t do your emails at the same time.

Use Short Mindful Exercises at Work. I use the Three-minute Breathing Space meditation during the day, normally at lunchtime. 

Use short breathing exercises before or after meetings; telephone conversations or when you feel stressful

  • The exercise we shared this week was the 4,7,8 exercise. You place the tip of your tongue against the back of your top teeth. Breath in at your normal pace for the count of 4. Hold your breath for a count of 7. Then exhale for a count of 8. Repeat this at least three times and you will feel less stressful and more relaxed.

Use Mindful Reminders

  • Use some form of reminder to be mindful to take you out of auto-pilot mode. I use a reminder in my Outlook diary and set an appointment every day.Mine is set for 12:30 every day. It just gives me a little nudge, “have you been mindful so far today?”. Perhaps place a picture on your desk to remind you to be mindful. I have a mindful workplace mat that I glance at during the day.

Be a Single-Tasker

  • Single-tasking is doing one thing at a time. Multi-tasking is trying to do two or more tasks at the same time or switching back and forth between tasks. Nobody can actually multi-task. In reality, your brain is madly switching from one thing to the next, often losing data in the process.
  • Group tasks in categories. For example, put together emails, phone calls, errands, and meetings. Then you can do them all together in one block of time rather than switching from emails to calls to running an errand.
  • Switch off as many distractions as you can. Silence your phone, log off from your email account, and so on. Then set a timer for the amount of time you need to work, and record how much you get done. Do what works for you to focus on one task for a fixed period of time.

Pay Attention to the Small Stuff

  • When you are working, focus on the immediate task and the single element in front of you. Don’t worry about all the other tasks around you. Being present on.

“Pause, Reflect, Act” rather than “Fire and forget” on emails

  • We live such a reactive hectic work live that we have a tendency to “fire and forget”. When that email comes in from a colleague asking for help; raising an issue; complaining; or whatever, we have this insane habit of reacting immediately to the email. Get it done and out of the way. I see it all the time. People do not take the time to either read the email or to fully understand the context. You can end up in an email war of words. Instead, “Pause, Reflect and then Act” before responding. Take time. Even 24 hours before responding. I will even pen a response but hold it in my “draft items” for up to 24 hours before responding. It tends to take the heat out and you can more calmly review what you are writing.

Feel and Share Gratitude

  • Humans have a “negativity bias.” Essentially, this means that you’re much more likely to focus and dwell on something that’s gone wrong than on things that have gone well. Behaving in this way every day means that you ultimately adopt an excessively negative and unbalanced way of thinking.
  • Gratitude is the antidote. Plenty of evidence suggests that actively practicing gratitude makes you feel better and has a positive impact on your creativity, health, working relationships, and quality of work. Express gratitude to those around you, even if they do not respond. It is amazing how much a simple thank you and smile impacts others.

Cultivate Humility

  • Value other people’s opinions: If someone makes a point that challenges yours, suspend judgment. You can easily jump in and argue—but that implies that they’re wrong and you’re right. How can you be so sure? Stop and consider in what ways they may be right, too. This is true mindfulness in action—non-judgemental awareness together with curiosity and respect.
  • Show appreciation: When someone helps you out, in whatever way, show appreciation. Say thank you and really mean it.
  • Consider who has helped you right now: Spend a few minutes thinking about the number of people who have helped you at work today.
  • Humble people have a quiet confidence about themselves and don’t feel the need to continuously remind others of their achievements. Humility is attractive—no one enjoys being around those who continually sing their own praises, and most people enjoy the company of those who are willing to listen to them rather than talk about themselves all the time.

Finally, Make a Habit of It

  • For mindfulness to work at work, it helps to have both a formal practice of mindfulness – such as the 3-minute breathing space meditation as well as informal practices that you can do during the day. What is more important, though it to practice some of the elements I have mentioned every day. A little and often is far better than one practice, one day every month.

 

I would love to hear from you on how you practice Mindfulness at work. Do share your thoughts, practices, tips and advice.

I leave you with the following quote:

“Work is about a search for daily meaning as well as daily bread, for recognition as well as cash, for astonishment rather than torpor; in short, for a sort of life rather than a Monday through Friday sort of dying.” ― Studs Terkel

385 mindful people

 

“Imagining the future is a kind of nostalgia. (…) You spend your whole life stuck in the labyrinth, thinking about how you’ll escape it one day, and how awesome it will be, and imagining that future keeps you going, but you never do it. You just use the future to escape the present.” ― John Green, Looking for Alaska

Yesterday was World Mental health day and at the company where I work, the HR lead for wellbeing hosted two webinar events on Mindfulness, called “Mind full or Mindful?”.

The webinar is a Web-based seminar, that is transmitted over the Web using video conferencing software to share presentations, videos, and audio. A key feature of a Webinar is its interactive elements: the ability to give, receive and discuss information in real-time.

The webinar was an opportunity to share what world mental health day is all about; a brief overview of what Mindfulness is and a personal view of what Mindfulness is.The HR specialist knows I practice Mindfulness and asked me to come along and present my own journey into mindfulness.

Little did I know what I was letting myself in for. I just thought it was going to be a local event, with a few people dialing into a conference call, such are most of the calls that I have. No, it was not. The event was published across the whole of the UK organization; with emails out to all the staff; an advert on the internal web portal and flyers at major offices. By the end of last week, there were over 200 people registered for the two events.

Come Monday and I traveled to the office to be with the other two presenters for the events. I have spent the weekend thinking about the content for my section:

  • How I came to Mindfulness.
  • The Programme that I followed and the benefits.
  • How I practice on a daily basis.
  • What does Mindfulness mean to me and finally,
  • how I use Mindfulness at work.

Come the time, come the people.

Over 182 for the first event and 203 for the second. Over 385 people in total tuning in to hear about Mindfulness. The hour for each session flew by. Many people asked really positive questions during the webinars. I have continued to get feedback and corridor conversations a day later. It just goes to show the level of interest people have on the subject of Mindfulness. I plan to blog some further details of what I shared later in the week.

I leave you with the following quote:

“Don’t say you don’t have enough time. You have exactly the same number of hours per day that were given to Helen Keller, Pasteur, Michaelangelo, Mother Teresa, Leonardo da Vinci, Thomas Jefferson, and Albert Einstein.”

H. Jackson Brown Jr.