Mindful Working

meditation-428382_1280I have shared the story of my five-day mindfulness retreat in Petaluma with multiple people, and I’m still trying to figure out what happened. First of all, who gets to go on a five-day retreat, leaving family behind, spending a chunk of cash, and being that selfish? Me, that’s who. Wow, am I grateful. In fact, I spent a lot of time being grateful while I was there. But we’ll get to that in a moment.

My intentions in going were to take the next step in my MBSR training (Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction) and to get some tools to cope with stress better. I’m often ‘stressed out’, and it affects how I treat people, especially my children. I may or may not become a certified MBSR teacher, but as Arianna Huffington said, “Meditation and mindfulness are no longer reserved for people who live in Berkeley. It’s mainstream now.” So I’m just following the trend. But unlike most trends, this one gives me hope.

For those who don’t know, No, seriously. Meditation too often seems like something reserved for “other people” or something we should do but never have the time for. Mindfulness gives those of us who suck at meditating a way to lower the water level of current and historic stressors in order to make better decisions in this now moment. Having a semi-regular practice of mindfully noticing, breathing, pausing, paying close attention, and being still, results in a state of mind that is more relaxed, focused, and adaptable. And all change, big or small, starts with noticing and acknowledging what is before you can ever hope to change it.

Trust me when I say that I am no paragon of virtue in this endeavor. Case in point was the retreat experience itself. The two facilitators, renowned experts in the field and trained by the Mindfulness Master himself, Jon Kabat-Zinn, irritated me from the get-go. There was no way they could be that mellow, grounded and centered no matter what anyone did or said. It was like Bob Ross was leading us with two heads, always mellow, sometimes hypnotic, and completely unflappable. (Ah, happy trees…) And they threw us in the deep end. Without remorse. I tried desperately to “trust the process”, but I went to bed Sunday night thinking, “I better feel more mindful soon.”

That first night was a warning. I didn’t know it then, but they were telling us that we were about to embark on a journey that would seriously mess with our heads, challenging the stories we have always held dear about ourselves, our histories and the world around us. How? By leaving us alone with our minds. I would be stuck in my own head, trying again and again to not attach to the thoughts that barge in. This isn’t the meditation style of “clear your mind completely”. Can anyone even do that? Like the guy on the top of the mountain after spending 7 years in Tibet. Can he do that? Or does even he suddenly think, “Did I leave the iron on? What am I going to say at the meeting? Am I happy?” My mind is never blank. Often the best I can do is force some of the thoughts into separate corners so I can just finish something. Like this post I started 3 weeks ago…

The first full day was sitting. And standing. And sitting. And walking. And then we learned how to sit better so our knees would forgive us later. (They could have said that earlier. Oh, hey, look! Judgement! sigh) More sitting. And we weren’t getting some guided imagery like walking through the woods into a cave, no. That would give us something to think about. We were focusing on our breath. Not changing it, just noticing it. (Who knew I was such a shallow breather? I’m sure I need more oxygen than that…) In and out. In and out. (Is anyone else having trouble with this? Be quiet!) In and out. In through the nose. Out through the mouth. (Is it better to breathe out through the nose? I thought that’s what they said in that yoga class I took with Mandypants. I wonder what she’s…Stop it!) In and out. (Wait, how much time did I lose in that last thought process? Did I…Knock it off!) In and out. Breathing. Breathing is good. (Oh, hell. It’s just now breakfast? I’m never going to survive 5 days of this…)  And on and on.

We did everything mindfully, with a huge focus on transitions. Normally I just stop doing one thing and start another. Or start another while I’m still doing the first thing. (I can multitask, you damn researchers, you!) And it was weird. It was like a really small ritual of saying goodbye to what I was just doing so I could go do something else. “And before we go to lunch, let’s take 3 breaths together.” Then I would walk mindfully to the lunch area, go through the buffet line, (I think I put more weight on my second tarsal bone. The air in the lobby feels different than the air in the ballroom.) and eat mindfully. Looking at, smelling, and thoroughly tasting everything I ate. I will forever be in love with roasted nuts. So amazing! And I ate a lot less, going slow and really getting into my food. Weird.

Then came Wednesday. The Silent Day. No taking, social media, or even eye contact. We heard only ambient noises and the facilitators gently telling us to transition to something else. I didn’t even make it to lunchtime. Something just swelled up inside of me. Not something. Anger. Pure, unbridled anger. Rage. I was so amazingly pissed off. I hated. I hated everyone and everything. That woman two yoga mats over doing advanced yoga moves when we were supposed to all be doing the same basic stuff. The facilitators and their smarmy calmness. The hotel and their stupid carpet pattern. All the people who have ever wronged or slighted me. All the people in power who were too dumb and/or selfish to be leaders. All the everything and everyone. Especially myself. All the things I woulda/coulda/shoulda done, my mistakes, my inaction, my fear. Ooooohhh, it sucked. Every time I tried to let go of a thought, it came back with a vengeance.

Being someone who would rather lose a finger than make a scene, (Can we say therapy?) I felt trapped. I had a wild urge to run out of the door. (They can’t keep me here!) I restrained myself only because I didn’t want to ruin everyone else’s experience — and because I had paid for this, dammit! So I did the only thing I could think of. I thought. I thought and thought and told myself stories and imagined myself starting a pie fight at lunch and running through the hotel screaming, “I am a fish!” I rebelled. I rebelled in my head, where I was in total control. I thought mean, absurd and naughty things. Because I could. So there. And then I walked to lunch, completely ignoring how I walked. I scarfed my food mindlessly. That will show them! But the anger didn’t dissipate. It seemed to get worse, and I still had almost two hours to kill before the next session. I was pacing in the hotel room. I had to do something. So I left.

The hotel is next to a wildlife preservation marsh with walking trails. I started running before I hit the trailhead. I ran like the Hounds of Hell were after me. I am so not a runner, but I didn’t stop. I kept running until my chest hurt and I was gasping for air. As I stopped to gasp for oxygen, I saw I was next to a pedestrian bridge. I decided to hide under the bridge. Like a troll. I’m sitting under the bridge, and an image of me jumping out in front of innocent passersby  booming, “I am the troll under the bridge! You cannot pass until you answer me a question!” just cracked me up. I sat there with a hand over my mouth trying not to stifle the laughter. I was being ridiculous. The whole thing was ridiculous. I crack me up. I went back.

After lunch we did a walking meditation with guided imagery, for the first time. It was called the Open Heart meditation. We were supposed to imagine our hearts opening up as we walked. Feeling like mine was already wide open and raw, I began to forgive. I forgave the yoga woman who was probably frustrated she couldn’t do her normal routine, all the people who may or may not have known they hurt me, and myself. I walked up and down a yoga mat naming every mistake, bad thing, and missed opportunity I could think of, and forgiving myself for them and being grateful. And I felt lighter, somehow. Like the anger was a stack of weights inside and I got rid of a few during my run. By the end I was smiling and crying. When they finally brought us out of the silence with a whispering activity, then talking, and finally sharing, I told everyone how hard it was and that I almost left. But that I had forgiven myself. The facilitators looked at each other, then at me, with those knowing smiles that told me they had heard this story before. Well, maybe they aren’t all that smarmy. Maybe my story just isn’t as original as I had thought.

But it is my story, and it continues. I unpack a bit more of what I uncovered at the retreat every day. I am definitely more committed to being mindful when I’m eating, walking, driving, and working. I have noticed hundreds of things in the past month that I didn’t before, mostly my own word choice, internal and external. (You know, I really am a decent cook.) I’ve started going to yoga classes, and I love it. I’m starting a new MBSR series next month. I’ve even managed to sit and meditate a few times. But most importantly, I’ve noticed a pause. Not a big one, but just a second or two has been added between when the kids do something that angers me and when I respond. I don’t feel like an amazing parent or anything, but I do feel like I have a bit more perspective and control over how I respond to things. Maybe that’s not much. But maybe it’s just the beginning.

Trigger Happiness

Hello, Community! You haven’t had a newsletter from me in over a month! I had the most amazing sabbatical/vacation of my life, which I will tell you about as soon as I close the loop on this series. In this final installment on Behavior Change, we talk about the ignition spark, or change trigger. Triggers are critical to help initiate and reinforce new behaviors. So, without further ado…

When I hear the word “trigger”, it brings to mind the concept of being influenced to do or say something involuntarily. Or a gun. So my mental model of the word is mostly negative.

However, triggers can be a good thing when they are intentional and you are trying to wisely change or influence a behavior. You can actually design your environment and your day to include positive triggers to keep you on the path you desire.

First of all, there are obvious triggers like alarms and announcements. In this modern digital age, all the reminders, pop-ups, and banner ads can be really obnoxious. They are also ineffective most of the time.  For a trigger to work, it needs to have three key characteristics:

  1. Noticeable – Keeping your workout clothes in your passenger seat is a good trigger to get to the gym, but putting them in the trunk won’t work as well. Noticeable means it needs to be in front of your face.
  2. Associative – When something is associative, it always reminds you of the same thing. A broccoli sticker on your fridge will remind you to eat five servings of vegetables, but a picture of a puppy doesn’t, no matter how cute.
  3. Timely – Timeliness is the holy grail of the marketing industry. Activate the right trigger precisely when you are ready and able to respond, and you probably will. A note on the front door to remind you to grab the kids’ permission slip is helpful, but a note in the same spot reminding you to pay bills, not so much.

Without becoming Pavlov’s Dog, you can use triggers in your life to serve you and make your life easier.

BJ Fogg Behavior Model, Stanford University

BJ Fogg Behavior Model, Stanford University

Let’s say you want to remember to take stretch breaks at work. We know our posture gets worse as the day wears on, and how healthy it is to give our eyes a break and move our bodies, if even for 10 seconds. But who remembers? Well, if you set your phone or computer timer to play your favorite dance tune every half hour, it might motivate you to stand up and move!

Along the same lines, if you want to stop a behavior, you can remove a trigger. When my mom wanted to quit smoking, she had to remove her biggest trigger – her morning coffee and cigarette. Not able to give up her coffee at the same time, she made it in a travel mug to take with her so she couldn’t sit down next to the ashtray. Later, she removed the ashtray.

Use technology to your advantage, and trigger yourself for change!

This is the last installment in our series on the causal factors of behavior change, based on the Fogg Behavior Model (FBM). The FBM shows that three elements must converge at the same moment for a behavior to occur: Motivation, Ability, and a Trigger. When a behavior does not occur, at least one of these three elements is missing.

I hope this series has given you a good basis for looking at behaviors that you want to stop, change, or adopt, and to begin designing your environment in support of that goal. Make it easier for you to do the right thing, and you can make change happen in your own life.

And hey, here’s a trigger right now! Click in the comment section below to share your ideas for positive triggers and to let me know what you think of this series. I’d love to hear from you!

Core Motivators

Change is hard.

“The only constant is change.” — Heracles of Ephesus

It is both validating and frustrating to me that I am not the only one that continues to struggle with getting things done within the context of life balance. Let me explain.

We all struggle with getting things done.

In order for our lives, and our work, to progress the way we want them to, there are certain things that actually need to be accomplished. Do you want to improve staff morale? You need to get executive buy-in, establish a baseline, identify interventions, etc. Is it time to implement an important change? Your to-do list includes performing a needs assessment, writing the business case justification, drafting the project charter and communication plans, etc. Usually, there is more to do than we can fit into a day.


In fact, everyone seems to be drowning in “To-dos.”

Whether at home or in the office, having a list that is too long is overwhelming and anti-motivational. Narrow your to-do list to just 2 or 3 important items you want to accomplish today. That means 2-3 items that, if you get just those done, you will feel accomplished. (Have more? Narrow them down by setting boundaries.)  

In our last newsletter, we introduced you to the research of Dr. BJ Fogg from Stanford University. We talked about increasing your ability to make a change by utilizing the six simplicity factors to help you succeed. Odds are, you are trying to improve something in your life right now, so making it easier to do, setting yourself up for success, is a mindset you can practice immediately. But what about those big changes you haven’t started yet?

How do you turn a “To-do” list into a “Done” list?

To actually get going in a work environment — to reach down inside and find the strength and energy to change direction — there are three core motivators you should know about: Sensation, Anticipation, and Social Cohesion. Each of these has two sides: pleasure/pain, hope/fear, and acceptance/rejection. (behaviormodel.org) Knowing these not only makes it easier for you to get going, but can also help you motivate your team and organization.

The first core motivator is Sensation, with the dual nature of pleasure and pain. It is very motivating to do things that would avoid pain, like addressing performance issues so you don’t get fired. On the other side, being recognized for your achievements is a pleasure that motivates most professionals.

The Anticipation motivator is slightly more abstract, with the outcome not being as certain. We can hope that the new product will bring in more customers, and so we give it a try. The fear of something bad happening to your bottom line can also be motivational, prompting a change of course or intervention.

Social Cohesion motivation is gained from the sense of acceptance you feel from your peers when they support your project or idea. Fear of social rejection, however, can keep you from expressing a concern or challenging an idea in a group meeting.

There are many ways to motivate yourself, and others, to change.

When you spend quality time thinking about the changes you want to make, and applicable human motivators, you improve your chances of success. Here are some ways this knowledge is directly applicable in your work life:

Pleasure: Can you show how there will be recognition by peers or an outside agency?

Pain: Can you demonstrate how frustrating it is to work under current circumstances?

Hope: Do you reflect your belief that this change will make things better?

Fear: Do you have examples of what could happen if you don’t change?

Acceptance: Is everyone else in your field doing this already?

Rejection: Will your vendors, customers, and competitors look askance at you for not changing?

These are just some examples to think about within the context of the three core motivation categories in the Stanford behavior model. Change is hard, and having a toolbox full of direct interventions can support you and your team in the absence of more intrinsic motivation.

In our next newsletter, we will talk about how to kick off a change by utilizing triggers. In the meantime, I’m sure you have a list of things you use to personally motivate yourself, like mine here.

I would love for you to share your motivational techniques in the comments section below. I’m always looking for new ideas!

Motivating Myself

My toolsGit ‘Er Done

With all this focus on getting things done, especially those big projects that have been weighing me down, I reached out to my tribe to solicit ideas. I wanted to know how people motivate themselves to do things they don’t necessarily want to do.  There are plenty of things that are important that need to be done (taxes come to mind), but getting up the gumption to sit down and complete them can sometimes seem impossible. Here are some of the things recommended by the people I know, as well as some uncommon things that have worked for me in the past:

My Anti-procrastination Toolbox

  • Set up my workspace: Clear the desk/table, get water/tea, put on music
  • Find “Accountability Buddies,” people who love you enough to help hold you accountable
  • If there’s no distraction-free space at home, schedule time on my calendar to go to a coffee shop
  • Turn off notifications on my phone and close my email programs
  • Chant, meditate or even take 5 deep breaths before starting work to set my intention/attention
  • Envision doing the task for someone I love
  • Ask for help from groups I belong to, friends, and/or my circles
  • Lean on what others appreciate about me to get the job done (strength, connection to others, achievement, vitality, etc.)
  • When stuck, do 20 jumping jacks (get heart rate up) and/or have weights nearby
  • Take breaks/do something else for 15-20 minutes instead of getting lost in email or social media
  • Procrastination is our emotional response to a task. Sit with the feeling and see what comes up.
  • Use a voice recording program to brainstorm ideas & get started on writing stuff. It’s easier to edit than create.

This list has really helped me stay focused on the mountain of writing I’ve committed to do, most notably my upcoming eBook! (Stay tuned for that!)  Do you have even more ideas? I’d love to hear them! Please share in the comments section below.

Making Lasting Change

BJ Fogg, Stanford University

BJ Fogg, Stanford University

Yep, it’s that time of year.

Here it is, February of a new year, and I return from my writing hiatus to be inundated with messages of self improvement and change.

All the magazine covers are touting New Year’s resolutions and promoting solutions for the most popular ones: lose weight, exercise more, eat healthy, etc. I am happy to see topics that include meditation, gratitude practice and being a better parent/partner/person, but do these articles really make a difference? They show up, year after year, and still the numbers for how many people keep their resolutions is abysmal.

How do you even make a permanent improvement in your life?

There are many studies on human motivation, behavior and change. Despite what you see on the magazine covers, the popular idea of repeating a new behavior for 15, 21 or 31 days for a permanent change is a bit simplistic. Let’s talk about a more realistic framework for making real, lasting change.

First of all, let’s assume you’ve thought about your life and decided on a SMART goal for improvement, right? That’s a goal that is Simple, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-based. An example of rewriting a goal to be SMART is going from “I want to be more healthy,” to “By summer, I want to be able to climb three flights of stairs without being out of breath.” Look to www.wikihow.com/Set-SMART-Goals for additional help. Note that this process can be equally applied in business and in your personal life.

The real challenge is how to make a change “stick”.

The magazines are purchased because they promise quick solutions to (e.g. “21 Days to Great Abs.”) The research of Dr. BJ Fogg, Stanford University, honors that is is not always that simple (or we’d all have great abs). There are three core motivators, six simplicity factors, and three type of triggers that combine to give the statistical likelihood that you will succeed in implementing a behavioral change. (http://www.behaviormodel.org) The mathematical formulas look pretty complex, but the good news is that you can just focus on increasing the odds in your favor. Today we will discuss the simplicity factors.

You set yourself up for success by making your desired change as simple as possible.

Simplicity is defined as the minimally satisfying solution at the lowest cost. (“Cost” is your most scarce resource.) From the list below, decide which resource(s) you have the least of, which is/are your biggest personal and situational roadblocks, and which you can address to make a positive change more likely to stick.

  1. Time – I’ve never heard anyone say they have plenty of time, but certainly starting an exercise program during finals or holidays is putting additional obstacles in front of you. Can you break up your change into smaller chunks you can fit in? Is there a creative two-fer (2 activities in one) you can create, like dancing while brushing your teeth or stretching while waiting in lines?
  2. Money – 99% of us don’t have ‘enough’ money, so let’s just take that off the table. If your change absolutely takes an increase in money, then that’s an entirely separate goal to look at. Let’s assume there is a more creative solution at this point and not use money as an excuse.
  3. Physical Effort – If it’s a big rigmarole to go home, get your stuff together, change into workout clothes, drive to the gym, put your stuff in a locker, etc., the odds of you attending that class is pretty slim. But if it’s across the street for where you’re going anyway to pick up the kids, and you keep workout clothes in the car, you just might make it.
  4. Brain Space – How much do you have to think about it? Is the workout bag in the front seat where you will see it? Can you set an alarm or recurring calendar event so you don’t have to rely on your memory?
  5. Sociability – Is everyone else doing it? You are more likely to walk during your work breaks if other people are. Find those people. Hang out or connect with “buddies” that have similar goals to you, as the accountability and support will help you stick to it.
  6. Routine – If something is so opposite to who you are and how you live your life, it will be hard to incorporate it. Instead of starting some new class, put on hyper kid music and dance around the house.

The goal is the result, not the activity.

Do you really have to walk, lift weights or do push-ups to be healthier? In reality, these are just a few ways to reach an end goal. Find something that fits you, your lifestyle and your priorities, and you’re more likely to succeed.

There are a lot of demands on our time, resources and brain power.

I personally have been trying to get eight hours of sleep every night since my children were born. That was over seven years ago. But each stage of their growth, especially since there are two of them now, presents its own challenges with regards to my sleep. But I keep trying, mostly because I now know how fundamental good sleep is to all other facets of my life: health, mood, brain function, etc.

The point is to keep trying different things until you find something that works for you and the behavior you’re trying to change. With sleep, it might be moving your bedtime up half an hour, finding a bedtime routine that calms your brain chatter, herbal supplements, reading a boring book, or in times of desperation, temporarily leaning on medication. (Yes, sleep is *that* important, as I wrote about here.)

Yes, but what does any of this have to do with being a change agent superhero, Tess?

Why on Earth do I write about personal growth-type topics when my company primarily focuses on helping small and medium-sized businesses implement effective, intentional change? I was asked that question (more or less) over the holidays. My answer? Look in the mirror. Who do you think *makes* those changes?

I support you because I support what you are trying to do. I encourage you to redefine success as the journey itself and acknowledge that you are taking the road less traveled. You are part of the small percentage of the population that is constantly looking to improve yourself and your world. You are a seeker and an improver. Take pride in that. I know I do. And I’m proud that you’re on this journey with me.

Please share some of the ways you make change easier on yourself in the comments section below!