|When we live fully in the moment, there is an aliveness that comes easily.|
When we are fully present, we offer our whole selves to whatever it is that we are doing. Our attention, our integrity, and our energy are all focused in the moment and on the task at hand. This is a powerful experience, and when we are in this state, we feel completely alive and invigorated.
This kind of aliveness comes easily when we are absorbed in work or play that we love, but it is available to us in every moment, and we can learn to summon it regardless of what we are doing. Even tasks or jobs we don’t enjoy can become infused with the light of being present. The more present we are, the more meaningful our entire lives become.
Next time you find yourself fully engaged in the moment, whether you are making art, trying to solve an interesting puzzle, or talking to your best friend, you may want to take a moment to notice how you feel. You may observe that you are not thinking about what you need to do next, your body feels like it’s pleasantly humming, or your brain feels tingly. As you enjoy the feeling of being located entirely in the present moment, you can inform yourself that you may try to recall this feeling later. You might try this while driving home or getting ready for bed, allowing yourself to be just as engaged in that experience as you were in the earlier one.
The more we draw ourselves into the present moment, the more we honor the gift of our lives, and the more we honor the people around us.
When we are fully present, we give and receive aliveness in equal measure.
For today, try to be fully present in your daily activities and watch a new reality open for you.
Because there are lessons more difficult than others, we may need the teacher for a longer time and in a deeper relationship. Sometimes the lesson will come like a bolt and that person may come in and out of life.
“Every person we meet is our teacher and student.” iPEC Core Principle
We attract people into our lives for a reason, a lifetime or shorter and always for a two-way learning experience. They constantly add something to our life journey.
The nature of the relationship may determine which topic we are learning or teaching. For example, we may learn the dos and don’t’s of social interaction from our family and people at school. We discover how to behave at work from colleagues, managers, and mentors.
“The purpose of a relationship is to remember more of who we are… in relation to another.” Bruch Schneider, founder of iPEC
Covid has been a collective experience with numerous lessons and counting. I am now reflecting on the investment I have made in my current and past relationships. We now have other sources of ‘teachers and students’. And the importance of having a solid family structure is more apparent now than ever.
This week I reconnected with an old friend. We talked for a long time catching up with our current lives and strolling through memory lane of times that were simpler and more fun. This encounter made me realize how much I missed having her friendship all this time, how much we encouraged each other back then, and how those decisions we made changed our paths forever.
A few months ago my team was moved to another group resulting in having a new leader. I have learned so much from this relationship. It has been like an immersion on knowing myself, how I want to show up as a leader, and in changing the order of what is important in our jobs.
With every new and old encounter and relationship, I learn something about myself and how I want to approach life. I realized that trust and empathy are at the top of my list when I think about how to show up as a leader. My old friend reminded me about openly expressing thoughts and feelings. I tend to be more reserved and self-conscious.
Great leaders focus on people: what to learn from them and how to show up for each person. They know that each of us is a treasure of experience, views on life, values, and feelings. Amazing leaders channel their essence to create growth, encourage others to fulfill their potential, and to inspire them to take the leap.
By Gertrudis Achecar
There are so many messages on how we’re supposed to live life, and on how to do it well. This can feel overwhelming, even paralyzing. So if you want to live the best life possible, how do you figure out what to do?
It’s simple. Get in the habit of going light. When you take this route you’ll make the right choices for you.
This seems like such an obvious suggestion, but as humans, we‘re naturally drawn to the rich fabric of anything complicated, chaotic, and dramatic. This heaviness ends up distracting us from true peace, joy and contentment. And we’re so overwhelmed by our own clutter—all the physical, mental and emotional stuff we’re carrying around day-in and day-out, that we miss out on the things that matter most.
So what can clutter look like?
Mental clutter is just as real as physical clutter (what we own and what we eat). Examples of mental clutter are thoughts that you should be or shouldn’t be doing something. Thoughts that you’re not enough or that you’re too much. Thoughts that you need to do it all to be lovable.
Experts claim we have 60,000+ thoughts a day, with 80% being negative and 95% a repeat of the thoughts we had the day before. How’d we get this way? We no longer have to watch out for threats of our ancestors like sabertooth tigers or wooly mammoths. Instead, we have impossibly full schedules with long lists of to-dos and fast-food easily available on every corner. As a result, we are living in a constantly stressed state—both mentally and physically.
Emotional clutter stems from mental clutter that things should be or shouldn’t be a certain way. Emotional clutter consists of feelings that keep you trapped in a reality that you don’t like. Usually, these feelings stem from thoughts that cause us to feel shame, want us to blame, or lead us to complain. One way to know that you’re carrying some emotional clutter? Wishing things were different but not doing anything to make them different.
So what do we do?
How do we uncover and honor the things that matter most?
We pause. We sit still. We create gaps in our thoughts and we listen. And then when confronted with a choice, we intentionally simplify and choose to go light.
I don’t say go light, lightly. Going light isn’t superficial, it’s one of the most powerful pathways to intentionality there is. So trust the deep knowing inside of you. Ask yourself, does thinking this thought, feeling this feeling, or taking this action feel light or heavy? If it feels light go with it. If it feels heavy, that’s where you have work to do. So go ahead and get quiet. And then when you’re ready, take a deep breath and choose to go light.
With every decision—what you eat and drink, how you move your body, what time you go to bed, who you hang out with, how you spend your time and money—you have the power to choose simplicity over complication.
One thing is for sure. You won’t go wrong if you go light. When you go light, life feels easier, you find your flow and you can’t help, but flourish.
Based on an article from Heather Aardema
I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.– American inventor, Thomas Edison
According to legend, Thomas Edison made thousands of prototypes of the incandescent light bulb before he finally got it right. And, since the prolific inventor was awarded more than 1,000 patents, it’s easy to imagine him failing on a daily basis in his lab at Menlo Park.
In spite of struggling with “failure” throughout his entire working life, Edison never let it get the best of him. All of these “failures,” which are reported to be in the tens of thousands, simply showed him how not to invent something. His resilience gave the world some of the most amazing inventions of the early 20th century, such as the phonograph, the telegraph, and the motion picture.
It’s hard to imagine what our world would be like if Edison had given up after his first few failures. His inspiring story forces us to look at our own lives – do we have the resilience that we need to overcome our challenges? Or do we let our failures derail our dreams? And what could we accomplish if we had the strength not to give up?
The Importance of Resilience
Resilience (or resiliency) is our ability to adapt and bounce back when things don’t go as planned. Resilient people don’t wallow or dwell on failures; they acknowledge the situation, learn from their mistakes, and then move forward.
According to the research of leading psychologist, Susan Kobasa, there are three elements that are essential to resilience:
- Challenge – Resilient people view a difficulty as a challenge, not as a paralyzing event. They look at their failures and mistakes as lessons to be learned from, and as opportunities for growth. They don’t view them as a negative reflection on their abilities or self-worth.
- Commitment – Resilient people are committed to their lives and their goals, and they have a compelling reason to get out of bed in the morning. Commitment isn’t just restricted to their work – they commit to their relationships, their friendships, the causes they care about, and their religious or spiritual beliefs.
- Personal Control – Resilient people spend their time and energy focusing on situations and events that they have control over. Because they put their efforts where they can have the most impact, they feel empowered and confident. Those who spend time worrying about uncontrollable events can often feel lost, helpless, and powerless to take action.
Another leading psychologist, Martin Seligman, says the way that we explain setbacks to ourselves is also important. (He talks in terms of optimism and pessimism rather than resilience, however, the effect is essentially the same.) This “explanatory style” is made up of three main elements:
- Permanence – People who are optimistic (and therefore have more resilience) see the effects of bad events as temporary rather than permanent. For instance, they might say “My boss didn’t like the work I did on that project” rather than “My boss never likes my work.”
- Pervasiveness – Resilient people don’t let setbacks or bad events affect other unrelated areas of their lives. For instance, they would say “I’m not very good at this” rather than “I’m no good at anything.”
- Personalization – People who have resilience don’t blame themselves when bad events occur. Instead, they see other people, or the circumstances, as the cause. For instance, they might say “I didn’t get the support I needed to finish that project successfully,” rather than “I messed that project up because I can’t do my job.”
In our Expert Interview with Dr. Cal Crow , the co-founder and Program Director of the Center for Learning Connections, Dr. Crow identified several further attributes that are common in resilient people:
- Resilient people have a positive image of the future. That is, they maintain a positive outlook, and envision brighter days ahead.
- Resilient people have solid goals, and a desire to achieve those goals.
- Resilient people are empathetic and compassionate, however, they don’t waste time worrying what others think of them. They maintain healthy relationships, but don’t bow to peer pressure.
- Resilient people never think of themselves as victims – they focus their time and energy on changing the things that they have control over.
How we view adversity and stress strongly affects how we succeed, and this is one of the most significant reasons that having a resilient mindset is so important.
The fact is that we’re going to fail from time to time: it’s an inevitable part of living that we make mistakes and occasionally fall flat on our faces. The only way to avoid this is to live a shuttered and meager existence, never trying anything new or taking a risk. Few of us want a life like that!
Instead, we should have the courage to go after our dreams, despite the very real risk that we’ll fail in some way or other. Being resilient means that when we do fail, we bounce back, we have the strength to learn the lessons we need to learn, and we can move on to bigger and better things.
Overall, resilience gives us the power to overcome setbacks , so that we can live the life we’ve always imagined.
Build Up Resilience
The good news is that even if you’re not a naturally resilient person, you can learn to develop a resilient mindset and attitude. To do so, incorporate the following into your daily life:
- Get enough sleep and exercise, and learn to manage stress. When you take care of your mind and body, you’re better able to cope effectively with challenges in your life.
- Practice thought awareness . Resilient people don’t let negative thoughts derail their efforts. Instead, they consistently practice positive thinking. Also, “listen” to how you talk to yourself when something goes wrong – if you find yourself making statements that are permanent, pervasive or personalized, correct these thoughts in your mind.
- Practice Cognitive Restructuring to change the way that you think about negative situations and bad events.
- Learn from your mistakes and failures. Every mistake has the power to teach you something important; so don’t stop searching until you’ve found the lesson in every situation. Also, make sure that you understand the idea of “post-traumatic growth” – there can be real truth in the saying that “if it doesn’t kill you, it makes you stronger.”
- Choose your response. Remember, we all experience bad days and we all go through our share of crises. But we have a choice in how we respond; we can choose to react negatively or in a panic, or we can choose to remain calm and logical to find a solution. Your reaction is always up to you.
- Maintain perspective. Resilient people understand that, although a situation or crisis may seem overwhelming in the moment, it may not make that much of an impact over the long-term. Try to avoid blowing events out of proportion.
- If you don’t already, learn to set SMART, effective personal goals – it’s incredibly important to set and achieve goals that match your values , and to learn from your experiences.
- Build your self confidence . Remember, resilient people are confident that they’re going to succeed eventually, despite the setbacks or stresses that they might be facing. This belief in themselves also enables them to take risks: when you develop confidence and a strong sense of self, you have the strength to keep moving forward, and to take the risks you need to get ahead.
- Develop strong relationships with your colleagues. People who have strong connections at work are more resistant to stress, and they’re happier in their role. This also goes for your personal life: the more real friendships you develop, the more resilient you’re going to be, because you have a strong support network to fall back on. (Remember that treating people with compassion and empathy is very important here.)
- Focus on being flexible. Resilient people understand that things change, and that carefully-made plans may, occasionally, need to be amended or scrapped.
“The essence of our practice can be described as transforming suffering into happiness,” says Thich Nhat Hanh. Here, he offers five practices to nourish our happiness daily.
We all want to be happy and there are many books and teachers in the world that try to help people be happier. Yet we all continue to suffer.
Therefore, we may think that we’re “doing it wrong.” Somehow we are “failing at happiness.” That isn’t true. Being able to enjoy happiness doesn’t require that we have zero suffering. In fact, the art of happiness is also the art of suffering well. When we learn to acknowledge, embrace, and understand our suffering, we suffer much less. Not only that, but we’re also able to go further and transform our suffering into understanding, compassion, and joy for ourselves and for others.
One of the most difficult things for us to accept is that there is no realm where there’s only happiness and there’s no suffering. This doesn’t mean that we should despair. Suffering can be transformed. As soon as we open our mouth to say “suffering,” we know that the opposite of suffering is already there as well. Where there is suffering, there is happiness.
According to the creation story in the biblical book of Genesis, God said, “Let there be light.” I like to imagine that light replied, saying, “God, I have to wait for my twin brother, darkness, to be with me. I can’t be there without the darkness.” God asked, “Why do you need to wait? Darkness is there.” Light answered, “In that case, then I am also already there.”
One of the most difficult things for us to accept is that there is no realm where there’s only happiness and there’s no suffering. This doesn’t mean that we should despair. Suffering can be transformed.
If we focus exclusively on pursuing happiness, we may regard suffering as something to be ignored or resisted. We think of it as something that gets in the way of happiness. But the art of happiness is also the art of knowing how to suffer well. If we know how to use our suffering, we can transform it and suffer much less. Knowing how to suffer well is essential to realizing true happiness.
The main affliction of our modern civilization is that we don’t know how to handle the suffering inside us and we try to cover it up with all kinds of consumption. Retailers peddle a plethora of devices to help us cover up the suffering inside. But unless and until we’re able to face our suffering, we can’t be present and available to life, and happiness will continue to elude us.
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There are many people who have enormous suffering, and don’t know how to handle it. For many people, it starts at a very young age. So why don’t schools teach our young people the way to manage suffering? If a student is very unhappy, he can’t concentrate and he can’t learn. The suffering of each of us affects others. The more we learn about the art of suffering well, the less suffering there will be in the world.
Mindfulness is the best way to be with our suffering without being overwhelmed by it. Mindfulness is the capacity to dwell in the present moment, to know what’s happening in the here and now. For example, when we’re lifting our two arms, we’re conscious of the fact that we’re lifting our arms. Our mind is with our lifting of our arms, and we don’t think about the past or the future, because lifting our arms is what’s happening in the present moment.
To be mindful means to be aware. It’s the energy that knows what is happening in the present moment. Lifting our arms and knowing that we’re lifting our arms—that’s mindfulness, mindfulness of our action. When we breathe in and we know we’re breathing in, that’s mindfulness. When we make a step and we know that the steps are taking place, we are mindful of the steps. Mindfulness is always mindfulness of something. It’s the energy that helps us be aware of what is happening right now and right here—in our body, in our feelings, in our perceptions, and around us.
With mindfulness we are no longer afraid of pain. We can even go further and make good use of suffering to generate the energy of understanding and compassion that heals us and we can help others to heal and be happy as well.
With mindfulness, you can recognize the presence of the suffering in you and in the world. And it’s with that same energy that you tenderly embrace the suffering. By being aware of your in-breath and out-breath you generate the energy of mindfulness, so you can continue to cradle the suffering. Practitioners of mindfulness can help and support each other in recognizing, embracing, and transforming suffering. With mindfulness we are no longer afraid of pain. We can even go further and make good use of suffering to generate the energy of understanding and compassion that heals us and we can help others to heal and be happy as well.
The way we start producing the medicine of mindfulness is by stopping and taking a conscious breath, giving our complete attention to our in-breath and our out-breath. When we stop and take a breath in this way, we unite body and mind and come back home to ourselves. We feel our bodies more fully. We are truly alive only when the mind is with the body. The great news is that oneness of body and mind can be realized just by one in-breath. Maybe we have not been kind enough to our body for some time. Recognizing the tension, the pain, the stress in our body, we can bathe it in our mindful awareness, and that is the beginning of healing.
If we take care of the suffering inside us, we have more clarity, energy, and strength to help address the suffering of our loved ones, as well as the suffering in our community and the world. If, however, we are preoccupied with the fear and despair in us, we can’t help remove the suffering of others. There is an art to suffering well. If we know how to take care of our suffering, we not only suffer much, much less, we also create more happiness around us and in the world.
Why the Buddha Kept Meditating
When I was a young monk, I wondered why the Buddha kept practicing mindfulness and meditation even after he had already become a buddha. Now I find the answer is plain enough to see. Happiness is impermanent, like everything else. In order for happiness to be extended and renewed, you have to learn how to feed your happiness. Nothing can survive without food, including happiness; your happiness can die if you don’t know how to nourish it. If you cut a flower but you don’t put it in some water, the flower will wilt in a few hours.
We can condition our bodies and minds to happiness with the five practices of letting go, inviting positive seeds, mindfulness, concentration, and insight.
Even if happiness is already manifesting, we have to continue to nourish it. This is sometimes called conditioning, and it’s very important. We can condition our bodies and minds to happiness with the five practices of letting go, inviting positive seeds, mindfulness, concentration, and insight.
1. LETTING GO
The first method of creating joy and happiness is to cast off, to leave behind. There is a kind of joy that comes from letting go. Many of us are bound to so many things. We believe these things are necessary for our survival, our security, and our happiness. But many of these things—or more precisely, our beliefs about their utter necessity—are really obstacles for our joy and happiness.
Sometimes you think that having a certain career, diploma, salary, house, or partner is crucial for your happiness. You think you can’t go on without it. Even when you have achieved that situation, or are with that person, you continue to suffer. At the same time, you’re still afraid that if you let go of that prize you’ve attained, it will be even worse; you will be even more miserable without the object you are clinging to. You can’t live with it, and you can’t live without it.
If you come to look deeply into your fearful attachment, you will realize that it is in fact the very obstacle to your joy and happiness. You have the capacity to let it go. Letting go takes a lot of courage sometimes. But once you let go, happiness comes very quickly. You won’t have to go around searching for it.
Imagine you’re a city dweller taking a weekend trip out to the countryside. If you live in a big metropolis, there’s a lot of noise, dust, pollution, and odors, but also a lot of opportunities and excitement. One day, a friend coaxes you into getting away for a couple of days. At first you may say, “I can’t. I have too much work. I might miss an important call.”
But finally he convinces you to leave, and an hour or two later, you find yourself in the countryside. You see open space. You see the sky, and you feel the breeze on your cheeks. Happiness is born from the fact that you could leave the city behind. If you hadn’t left, how could you experience that kind of joy? You needed to let go.
2. INVITING POSITIVE SEEDS
We each have many kinds of “seeds” lying deep in our consciousness. Those we water are the ones that sprout, come up into our awareness, and manifest outwardly.
So in our own consciousness there is hell, and there is also paradise. We are capable of being compassionate, understanding, and joyful. If we pay attention only to the negative things in us, especially the suffering of past hurts, we are wallowing in our sorrows and not getting any positive nourishment. We can practice appropriate attention, watering the wholesome qualities in us by touching the positive things that are always available inside and around us. That is good food for our mind.
One way of taking care of our suffering is to invite a seed of the opposite nature to come up. As nothing exists without its opposite, if you have a seed of arrogance, you have also a seed of compassion. Every one of us has a seed of compassion. If you practice mindfulness of compassion every day, the seed of compassion in you will become strong. You need only concentrate on it and it will come up as a powerful zone of energy.
Naturally, when compassion comes up, arrogance goes down. You don’t have to fight it or push it down. We can selectively water the good seeds and refrain from watering the negative seeds. This doesn’t mean we ignore our suffering; it just means that we allow the positive seeds that are naturally there to get attention and nourishment.
3. MINDFULNESS-BASED JOY
Mindfulness helps us not only to get in touch with suffering, so that we can embrace and transform it, but also to touch the wonders of life, including our own body. Then breathing in becomes a delight, and breathing out can also be a delight. You truly come to enjoy your breathing.
A few years ago, I had a virus in my lungs that made them bleed. I was spitting up blood. With lungs like that, it was difficult to breathe, and it was difficult to be happy while breathing. After treatment, my lungs healed and my breathing became much better. Now when I breathe, all I need to do is to remember the time when my lungs were infected with this virus. Then every breath I take becomes really delicious, really good.
When we practice mindful breathing or mindful walking, we bring our mind home to our body and we are established in the here and the now. We feel so lucky; we have so many conditions of happiness that are already available. Joy and happiness come right away. So mindfulness is a source of joy. Mindfulness is a source of happiness.
Mindfulness is an energy you can generate all day long through your practice. You can wash your dishes in mindfulness. You can cook your dinner in mindfulness. You can mop the floor in mindfulness. And with mindfulness you can touch the many conditions of happiness and joy that are already available. You are a real artist. You know how to create joy and happiness any time you want. This is the joy and the happiness born from mindfulness.
Concentration is born from mindfulness. Concentration has the power to break through, to burn away the afflictions that make you suffer and to allow joy and happiness to come in.
To stay in the present moment takes concentration. Worries and anxiety about the future are always there, ready to take us away. We can see them, acknowledge them, and use our concentration to return to the present moment.
When we have concentration, we have a lot of energy. We don’t get carried away by visions of past suffering or fears about the future. We dwell stably in the present moment so we can get in touch with the wonders of life, and generate joy and happiness.
Concentration is always concentration on something. If you focus on your breathing in a relaxed way, you are already cultivating an inner strength. When you come back to feel your breath, concentrate on your breathing with all your heart and mind. Concentration is not hard labor. You don’t have to strain yourself or make a huge effort. Happiness arises lightly and easily.
With mindfulness, we recognize the tension in our body, and we want very much to release it, but sometimes we can’t. What we need is some insight.
Insight is seeing what is there. It is the clarity that can liberate us from afflictions such as jealousy or anger, and allow true happiness to come. Every one of us has insight, though we don’t always make use of it to increase our happiness.
The essence of our practice can be described as transforming suffering into happiness. It’s not a complicated practice, but it requires us to cultivate mindfulness, concentration, and insight.
We may know, for example, that something (a craving, or a grudge) is an obstacle for our happiness, that it brings us anxiety and fear. We know this thing is not worth the sleep we’re losing over it. But still we go on spending our time and energy obsessing about it. We’re like a fish who has been caught once before and knows there’s a hook inside the bait; if the fish makes use of that insight, he won’t bite, because he knows he’ll get caught by the hook.
Often, we just bite onto our craving or grudge, and let the hook take us. We get caught and attached to these situations that are not worthy of our concern. If mindfulness and concentration are there, then insight will be there and we can make use of it to swim away, free.
In springtime when there is a lot of pollen in the air, some of us have a hard time breathing due to allergies. Even when we aren’t trying to run five miles and we just want to sit or lie down, we can’t breathe very well. So in wintertime, when there’s no pollen, instead of complaining about the cold, we can remember how in April or May we couldn’t go out at all. Now our lungs are clear, we can take a brisk walk outside and we can breathe very well. We consciously call up our experience of the past to help ourselves treasure the good things we are having right now.
In the past we probably did suffer from one thing or another. It may even have felt like a kind of hell. If we remember that suffering, not letting ourselves get carried away by it, we can use it to remind ourselves, “How lucky I am right now. I’m not in that situation. I can be happy”—that is insight; and in that moment, our joy, and our happiness can grow very quickly.
The essence of our practice can be described as transforming suffering into happiness. It’s not a complicated practice, but it requires us to cultivate mindfulness, concentration, and insight.
It requires first of all that we come home to ourselves, that we make peace with our suffering, treating it tenderly, and looking deeply at the roots of our pain. It requires that we let go of useless, unnecessary sufferings and take a closer look at our idea of happiness.
Finally, it requires that we nourish happiness daily, with acknowledgment, understanding, and compassion for ourselves and for those around us. We offer these practices to ourselves, to our loved ones, and to the larger community. This is the art of suffering and the art of happiness. With each breath, we ease suffering and generate joy. With each step, the flower of insight blooms.
From No Mud, No Lotus: The Art of Transforming Suffering, by Thich Nhat Hanh. © 2014 by United Buddhist Church. Published with the permission of Parallax Press. www.parallax.org.
Like birds flying in a “V,” when we feel the presence of others moving along side of us, there is little we cannot accomplish.
As they swoop, drift, and glide, inscribing magnificent patterns across the sky, birds are serene displays of grace and beauty. Long a source of inspiration, birds can be messengers from the spirit realm, or a symbol of the human soul, as they cast off their earthly mooring and soar heavenward.
An upturned wing, a graceful flutter, all so effortless and free… More magnificent still is the inspiring sight of birds migrating, progressing steadily across the horizon in a solid V formation that is a singular pattern too unique to be mere chance.
Pushing steadily forward, this aerodynamic V reduces air resistance for the whole flock. With wings moving in harmony, the feathered group continues its course across the sky, covering more ground together in community than as individuals.
When the bird at the front gets tired, she will move to the rear of the formation where the wind drag is lowest, and a more rested bird can take her place.
By learning from the example of our winged guides, all of us can feel empowered to take on daring challenges as we chart adventurous courses.
Feel the strength of others moving alongside you, as their presence lends power to your wings during this journey across the sky of life. When buffeted by unexpected gusts, we can choose to find refuge in the loving shelter of friends and family. We may even marvel as an otherwise difficult day passes by like a swift wind, as a kindred spirit charts a way for us through the clouds and rain ahead.
If your wings begin to ache on your journey, look around for somebody else to fly at the front for a while. All of us move faster when we move together. Let your ego drop earthwards as we all soar ever higher.
At the start of the pandemic, when many of us were asked to stay home to stem the spread of the coronavirus, it seemed like a lot of people had one of two reactions. Some embraced sheltering in place, thinking to themselves, “Why not use this big ‘pause’ to do something I always wanted to do?” — whether that meant cleaning out the closets, picking up a home renovation project, or learning a new language. The rest of us — including me — had no such plans. My goal was never to come out of quarantine a different, more improved person. It felt like everything in the world was so overwhelming, and getting by — day by day — would be more than sufficient.
As time went on, however, many of us — myself included — came to realize that we can’t help but evolve and come away changed by these times. But rather than let change happen to us, we can be intentional and actively participate in our transformation.
Some of us will make small but meaningful tweaks to our lives. Others will strive for a larger, sweeping “reinvention.” There’s no one right way to go about change; the important thing is to be deliberate and purposeful, and keep moving forward.
Here’s what’s been working for me, as I take this opportunity to contemplate who I want to be and how I want to evolve. Perhaps some of these techniques can help guide you on your own journey.
Revisit your goals. I’m not a big fan of New Year’s resolutions — not because I don’t think they’re useful, but because I don’t think we should limit ourselves to reassessing the trajectory of our lives just once a year. Why not do that right now? Consider this turbulent time in our nation — both with the virus and the seismic reckoning over racism that we’re in the middle of — an ideal opportunity to review what you want to accomplish and who you want to be.
We’re living through something we’ve never lived through before, and that gives us all the chance to look at our lives from a different angle. Do your personal goals continue to make sense and resonate with your values? Have your priorities changed? If you realize you need to pivot some aspect of your life, make that choice now rather than waiting for next month, or next year.
Reflect on the events of this year. Are there things you’ve learned, or that you’ve been thinking about, that have troubled you? Were you bothered by the lack of human connection you felt during quarantine? Did you crave a more active lifestyle when you were spending most of your time at home? Reflecting on what didn’t work for you can be a great tool to help you decide if you want to do something differently going forward.
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, I was pretty much on an airplane every week for work. These past few months have been the longest stretch of time I’ve been home in approximately 10 years. I have discovered a new passion: I love being home. This experience has made me realize that I can be an effective leader, colleague, and influencer without getting on a plane each week. It’s better for me and my well-being, for my family, and for the environment. Now that I have realized this, it excites me to think: How do I evolve to do all the things I want to do, but do them in a different way?
Use your own personal data to fuel change. Your emotions give you information — in fact, I think of my emotions as data. During this time, whether because of COVID-19 or racial injustice or economic challenges or any other circumstance, what were the highs and lows of your emotions? And what can you learn from them?
Observingmy emotions has highlighted the importance of finding joy in everyday moments. I always believed in it, but I was often too busy to fully recognize the joy in little things and hold onto that joy. Before, if my puppy did something funny, I’d laugh in the moment — then move onto whatever was next. Now I laugh and realize that she has no clue about what’s going on in the world; she is just living in the moment and living her best life.
Educate yourself. Sometimes in order to create change — personal as well as societal — we need to commit to learning more about why things are the way they are. I am a passionate advocate for mental health awareness and access, and I am constantly looking for ways to further the conversationi around mental health .
Lately, as the pervasiveness of systemic racism has become a larger conversation in our country, I’ve spent a lot of time learning about the history of mental health in the Black community. Our mental health system needs to do better for everyone, and specifically for the communities of people of color. One way we can affect change is by elevating BIPOC voices in the mental health and well-being space. We can’t allow their voices to go unheard anymore.
Recognize your power. Even the most personal changes we make can have a powerful ripple effect through communities and our society as a whole. Think about the collective impact we could have if we all made one small positive change and put that out in the world. If we all decided “I’m going to travel less for work,” the impact that could have on the environment would be immense. Or if we each made the commitment to volunteer with an organization we’ve never worked with before, or committed to learning about racism and how we can all amplify BIPOC voices, the results could be transformative. Simply put, when we embark on positive change in our individual lives, everyone benefits.
By Thrive Global
Amidst the pandemic, each of us has encountered unique challenges and stressors. While the economic, mental, and emotional difficulties are real — and there’s no easy “fix” or escape — how we view our experience can make a big difference. In fact, science tells us that what we tell ourselves in challenging moments matters. Even one negative word can activate the fear center of the brain and impact our ability to reason. On the contrary, empowering or perspective-shifting words or phrases can help us reframe and course-correct from stress in real time.
We asked our Thrive community to share with us the mantras that are helping them stay optimistic and resilient during this time. Which of these will you try?
“I don’t break, I bend.”
“The mantra, ‘I don’t break, I bend’ has helped me remain resilient over the course of the last few months. This mantra reminds me that I am flexible, adaptable, and unshakeable in the face of adversity. When fear creeps in, I am reminded that I can handle it and will not fall victim to it. When I’m having a bad day, I write this on a sticky note and stick it on my monitor to help keep me going.”
—Alyssa Swantkoski, executive assistant, Denver, CO
“Clear on the outcomes, flexible on the approach.”
“For the past fifteen years, I have lived by a simple but powerful mantra. During the pandemic, this mantra has resonated more than ever before. Everything from working to exercising to raising children has been upended. Staying focused on critical outcomes — for example, quarterly revenue goals, health benchmarks, and educational goals for children — is critical. You might not be able to approach your goals as you did in the past, but it doesn’t mean you can’t keep reaching and exceeding your goals. Shifting focus from uncertainty to outcomes is a great way to reclaim efficacy.”
—Dr. Camille Preston, business psychology at AIM Leadership, Cambridge, MA
“Trust the process.”
“My family members are all huge basketball fans. I am more of a casual basketball observer. Even though I am not a loyalist, I am a fan of the 76ers motto, ‘Trust the process.’ It has become my go-to affirmation during this time. Although there will continue to be uncertainty, I believe having patience, faith, hope and trusting the process will help us grow and rebuild.”
—Monique Johnson, nonprofit COO, Richmond, VA
“I am not alone in this.”
“In these high stress moments, I sometimes get momentarily lost in the personal challenges COVID-19 has created for me. In those moments, I try to shift my focus by repeating the following mantra: ‘I am not alone in this.’ I remind myself that there are so many others who are facing greater challenges through this pandemic. It gives me perspective, and helps me feel grateful that I am able to manage my challenges.”
—Marcia J. Hylton, corporate marketing strategist, El Paso, TX
“My mantra that I like to repeat to myself is ‘Warrior.’ I keep telling myself that I am a warrior and I’m strong enough to face any adversity that comes my way. When anything happens, I ask myself: ‘How would a warrior behave in this scenario?’ It’s a simple way of getting yourself into the right frame of mind to face any challenge!”
—Celia Gaze, managing director, Bolton, UK
“Live right. Be worthy. Make a difference.”
“Resilience is a journey of grace and forgiveness — for myself and others. This phrase helps me feel grounded, hold myself accountable, reinforce my dedication to serving others, and know that we are all worthy of love. It’s been my go-to mantra throughout this time.”
—Elizabeth Blackney, activist, Williamsburg, VA
“Turn fear into fuel.”
“I use this mantra as a reminder to myself that being scared is not a reason not to do something that could be productive, interesting, or put myself or my business in forward motion. And the added bonus is that if it is something I need to say this about, then typically I am that much more proud of the accomplishment when it’s done.”
—Suzy Haber Wakefield, apparel design consultant, Montclair, NJ
“I am the hero of my own life.”
“This is the title of a guided journal by Brianna Wiest, and repeating this mantra reminds me to always focus on what I can control, rather than what I can’t. It reminds me that nearly everything is in my hands and that I can choose to respond to whatever I’m faced with however I want. It also reminds me to consistently demand the best for myself: whether that’s how I spend my time, the projects I say yes to, or the people I work with. It reminds me not to settle for ordinary or to hold back when I know I have something worthwhile to contribute.”
—Jodie Cook, social media agency owner, UK
“Small progress is still progress.”
“Working in senior living and healthcare, this has been the mantra I’ve been living by during the pandemic. These are words of encouragement for those who have struggled. Our landscape has changed each day, often hour to hour, and everyone has brought something to the table to provide some hope and stability to our residents and families.”
—Tamara White, training and education partner, Kitchener, ON, Canada
“Whenever I start feeling out of sorts, triggered, or anxious, I remind myself to breathe. I then immediately start focusing on my breath, and with awareness, my breath automatically starts to change; it starts deepening and becomes fuller. This mantra is my reminder to expand on consciously deepening my breath. I stay in the moment, breathing in and out, which calms my body and mind, and grounds me. It works every time.”
—Donna Melanson, yoga teacher, Boca Raton, FL
“I have wisdom within.”
“One phrase that I have found powerful during this time has been ‘I have wisdom within.’ This small mantra reminds me daily to slow down the mind chatter and tune into the knowledge base that exists in my bones. It has been so powerful that I have shared it with friends as a way to remind ourselves to tune in and listen, versus tune out and give our power away.”
—Dr. Tricia Wolanin, clinical psychologist and community wellness consultant , Bury St. Edmunds, UK
“You are already everything that you want to be.”
“When I wake up in the morning, the first words that come out of my mouth are ‘You are already everything that you want to be.’ It’s my belief that most of us tend to want things from a place of lack which only attracts more lack. Knowing and stating that I already have what I want takes desperation out of the equation. It always helps me reframe.”
—Wemi Opakunle, author and coach, Los Angeles, CA
Do you have a go-to mantra that helps you stay resilient in difficult situations? Share it with us in the comments.
by Thrive Global
By Christian Greiser, Jan-Philipp Martini, Liane Stephan, and Chris Tamdjidi
Does mindfulness foster an organization’s collective intelligence? A recent study conducted by Boston Consulting Group (BCG) and Awaris demonstrated a connection: 31 teams (totaling 196 people) that participated in a ten-week mindfulness program showed an average increase of 13% in collective intelligence, as measured by tests developed by the MIT Center for Collective Intelligence.
The concept of collective intelligence—the capability of a group of people to solve complex problems—is not new. But the increasing interconnectedness of knowledge work and the growing variety of problems have raised the profile of collective intelligence as a competitive differentiator. So, companies need to understand the concept more systematically and scientifically.
One key to unlocking the potential of collective intelligence is mindfulness—a state of being present in the moment and leaving behind one’s tendency to judge. Leading companies have introduced programs to unleash the power of mindfulness among their employees. But most of these companies have not focused explicitly on the opportunities to use mindfulness to foster collective intelligence.
Solving Today’s Complex Problems Requires Collective Intelligence
Companies today must manage rapid innovation cycles and the deep interconnectedness of knowledge work. To address the challenges, many companies are investing in setting up cross-functional, agile teams. But to transition to truly dynamic ways of working, a company must fundamentally transform how cross-functional teams interact and collaborate. This requires bringing forth an emergent property of their system: the collective intelligence of their teams
We define collective intelligence as a group’s ability to perform the wide variety of tasks required to solve complex problems. Collective intelligence is not dependent on team members’ IQ, knowledge, or ability to think logically or on the team’s composition. Instead, it is largely driven by team members’ unconscious processing: their emotional intelligence (people’s awareness of, and ability to manage, their own emotions and those of others) and emergent properties such as trust, emotional and psychological safety, and equality of participation. This description is supported by studies conducted by the MIT Center for Collective Intelligence and Google’s Project Aristotle. BCG’s experience across a large number of transformations to new ways of working and agile methods also points to emotional and noncognitive factors as the key drivers of collective intelligence.
Tapping into the Power of Diversity
Diversity is among the foundational elements of a team’s collective intelligence. In this context, diversity should not be limited to gender or functional and educational backgrounds. What’s required is a diversity of cognitive styles—that is, different ways of thinking about, perceiving, and remembering information or simply different ways of solving problems or seeing the world.
To tap into the power of diversity—with respect to both expertise and world views—a company must create an environment in which individuals are willing to risk stating their opinions and to be receptive to listening to others. This requires integrating a team’s diversity.
Teams whose members are not well-integrated exhibit many dysfunctions. Members often lack a sense of joint purpose and struggle to engage in teamwork. The failure to properly integrate a team’s diversity can actually diminish its collective intelligence.
Mindfulness Provides a Potential Solution
Companies already apply approaches that foster collective intelligence. They are increasingly proficient at setting up diverse teams, breaking down organizational silos, and implementing open information systems. However, companies often do not explicitly recognize how these efforts relate to collective intelligence and thus they fail to capture the full benefits.
Most notably, companies are not doing enough to identify and address inadequate emotional safety and trust among team members. That is because most companies are not sufficiently aware of people’s unconscious interactions and do not understand how unconscious factors influence team performance. Most companies also lack the skills and perseverance to constructively address issues related to emotional safety and trust.
Mindfulness provides a potential solution for meeting these challenges. Many companies have introduced mindfulness into their organizations, primarily to help their employees maintain well-being and improve their clarity of thinking, cognitive abilities, and ability to stay calm. However, only a few organizations (progressive entities including the European Commission, Google, Hilti, and SAP) have also applied mindfulness to transform the collective capabilities of teams.
Most people who regularly practice mindfulness have an intuitive understanding of its connection to collective intelligence. What’s more, the effect of mindfulness practice on collective intelligence is objectively measurable. Awaris and BCG conducted extensive research to confirm the hypotheses of this article. We measured the collective intelligence of 31 teams, totaling 196 people, from a large German automotive company and a political organization. We took measurements twice—before and after a ten-week mindfulness program. (See the sidebar “About the Study.”) After the mindfulness program, the teams’ collective intelligence—measured through four diverse problem-solving tasks—increased by an average of 13%. (See the exhibit.) Moreover, we found that mindfulness is significantly associated with emotional intelligence and that individual and group mindfulness scores predicted a team’s collective intelligence.
Mindfulness practice fosters collective intelligence by allowing us to redirect our mental attention skills (for example, capabilities of the working memory or our ability to focus on the task at hand) toward more expansive, awareness-based skills. More specifically, mindfulness practice strongly influences a person’s self-awareness of the body’s internal state (interoception) and mental processes (metacognition). Interoception and metacognition help us regulate our reactions to emotions and behaviors. By improving our ability to get in touch with our own emotions, we also enhance empathy—our ability to vicariously share the experiences of others.
By increasing self-awareness and empathy, mindfulness impacts two areas that directly promote collective intelligence:
- Communication and Prosocial Behavior. Team members who embrace mindfulness are better listeners and can react in an emotionally intelligent way when tension or disagreement arises. Their style of interaction encourages other team members to speak up and participate in creative processes and allows them to integrate their diverse cognitive styles.
- Leadership. Mindfulness training helps leaders improve their ability to self-reflect. Mindfulness is also associated with important leadership capacities such as flexibility, authenticity, and humbleness.
Three Steps to Applying Mindfulness
To use mindfulness to foster collective intelligence, a company must take three steps.
- Provide mindfulness training. Mindfulness practice comprises a set of mental and emotional exercises that affect the functioning of the brain in a measurable way. Several proven methods of mindfulness training can help team members and leaders establish a personal mindfulness practice.
- Anchor mindfulness in teams. Mindfulness can evolve from a practice to a state and eventually become a trait—when the various underlying skills have become embedded in a person’s mental and emotional makeup. Team interactions provide valuable opportunities to embed these skills. To promote mindfulness, organizations must clearly state that teams should practice three simple types of habits that foster psychological safety and collective intelligence:
- Attention and Focus. Teams need to establish specific habits that promote attentiveness. For example, a team can observe one minute of silence before the start of each meeting. In addition, how team members deal with devices, listen to each other, and speak can significantly affect the degree of presence and openness in the meeting.
- Care and Positivity. When people feel trust, efficacy, and appreciation, they engage and contribute. When they do not, they hold back and divert their energy to other things. As a result, demonstrating care and positivity in teamwork—noticing what colleagues have achieved and done well and appreciating their contributions—can be very important to improving the sense of bonding and community.
- Emotional Awareness. Allowing emotions to surface and be expressed becomes a natural part of what it means to work together. Processes for surfacing emotions include having check-ins during which team members share how they feel emotionally before a meeting, as well as regular retrospectives in which members share their feelings on the interactions within their team.
- Establish metrics and track behavior changes. Just as manufacturers meticulously track physical safety on their shop floors, companies should track emotional or psychological safety in their knowledge environments. As a starting point, companies can use surveys and interviews to ask employees whether they believe the company has clearly articulated that emotional safety and psychological safety are goals and whether they understand how to create such safety.
Learning more: About the Study
Thirty-one teams, composed primarily of people with managerial responsibilities, participated in a ten-week mindfulness training program that was specifically adapted to the work context. The study focused on investigating whether a team’s collective intelligence can be enhanced by mindfulness training of its members.
To measure collective intelligence, we used a set of four diverse tasks developed for this purpose by the MIT Center for Collective Intelligence:
- Moral Reasoning. Teams received a case study of a problem that presented conflicting interests among several parties. We asked the teams to determine, from an ethical perspective, the most suitable solution for all parties. Responses were scored by the degree to which the groups considered the balance of competing perspectives in the problem.
- Creativity. Teams had to build a complex Lego structure while taking into consideration tight constraints relating to size, quality, and aesthetics. The resulting Lego structure was scored on the accuracy of meeting those constraints.
- Output Optimization. Teams were scored after performing a shopping exercise in which they had to maximize the quantity and quality of goods purchased while minimizing the costs of goods and time spent shopping.
- Judgment. Teams had to estimate and agree upon quantities for 20 diverse questions (for example, “What was the highest recorded temperature in the US?”). Teams were scored based on the accuracy of their estimations.
The selection of the tasks was based on Joseph McGrath’s model of group tasks. This ensured that we covered major aspects of collective intelligence, such as decision making, task execution, generation of innovative ideas, and negotiation.
In the first session of the program, we randomly assigned one, or in some cases two, of the tasks to each team. We scored each team’s performance of its task. During this initial session, we also conducted an individual assessment of each team member’s mindfulness (using the “Five Facet Mindfulness Questionnaire”) and emotional intelligence (using the “Reading the Mind in the Eyes” test).
In the final session of the mindfulness program, we repeated the process. We asked each team to perform one or two of the tasks that it had not previously performed. We then scored its performance on the new task and conducted another assessment of mindfulness and emotional intelligence.
At the conclusion of the study, we used the arithmetic mean of the improvement of teams’ performance scores for the four tasks to determine the increase in collective intelligence. We also correlated the results of the individual assessments of mindfulness and emotional intelligence to determine the extent to which these two attributes are associated and predict collective intelligence.
About the Authors
Christian Greiser is a managing director and senior partner in the Düsseldorf office of Boston Consulting Group. You may contact him by email at email@example.com. Jan-Philipp Martini is a consultant in BCG’s Düsseldorf office, supporting clients around the world on enterprise-wide agile transformations. You may contact him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Liane Stephan is a co-founder and managing director of Awaris. You may contact her by email email@example.com. Chris Tamdjidi is a co-founder and managing director of Awaris and is responsible for the organization’s efforts relating to neuroscience research and technology. You may contact him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
It’s a common dilemma. There never seems to be enough time. In my twenties and well into my thirties this was a frequent complaint of mine. “I just don’t have enough time”! Or “I will when I find the time.” As if time was playing hide and seek with me and I just needed to keep looking for it.
I was obsessed with time. Always wearing a watch, always checking to see where those precious hands were pointing. And scared to waste a mere minute on something trivial or, God forbid, fun. Scheduled to the minute with no breathing room, time was my nemesis.
My relationship with time began to change when I had my first child. Time began to change right in front of my eyes. It became more treasured and precious. But it also changed consistency and become more malleable.
It appeared I could change my perception of time, stretching it out. I couldn’t do the impossible, and add more minutes into my day, but I could slow down the time I had been given.
Unconsciously at first, I began to make small changes that seemed to give me the time I thought was missing. I felt like a child in a candy-shop at first, like I’d uncovered special sci-fi secrets that bent time against its will.
These three changes have stuck with me over the years and are tools I always lean on if I find myself out of time.
Having children meant more to do. More laundry, more mess, more everything. And at first pass, it’s tempting to buy into the illusion that multitasking will help save time. Washing the dishes, while baking the cookies. Hang the washing and pull those weeds that have popped up.
But what I found (aside from burnt cookies), was that rather than helping, multitasking just made me feel chaotic and even more pressed for time.
Instead, what I found was that by doing just one thing at once, and finishing it before starting the next thing, I felt calmer and more relaxed. And it made me feel like I had been gifted a few more minutes!
I have been a chronic over-scheduler my whole life. And when I thought about why I was doing this (and consequently running late, or feeling robbed of time), I realized it was often because I was underestimating how long tasks or appointments would take.
So I started to overestimate. Hair appointment? Three hours. I have very thick hair! Grocery shopping? At least an hour in a small town where I know every third person.
And this overestimating did two things. It automatically reduced the length of my daily to-do’s. With each task taking an average of 30 minutes more, I simply didn’t have space for so many.
And second, it made me feel as though I had the luxury of more time. Sometimes we forget that it’s only ever ourselves in charge of how we spend our time.
I also found myself noticing more. Rather than rushing through each task on autopilot, I found that if I paid closer attention to what I was doing, time seemed to go a little slower.
From little tasks, like watering a plant, to bigger ones like making a meal, I paid deeper attention to the mini-tasks inside each job. I took closer notice of what the plant looked like, and I paid attention to the texture and smell of each vegetable I cut.
This deep noticing, a mindful activity, gave time a sluggish feel. I began to feel a sense of happy meandering instead of thoughtless rushing.
And I began to feel as though I had found more time.
Change your perception. Change your life.
Neuroscientist David Eagleman has called time a ‘rubbery thing’, stating; “It stretches out when you really turn your brain resources on, and when you say, ‘Oh, I got this, everything is as expected,’ it shrinks up.”
Research by Eagleman and others in this field has shown that mindfulness meditation increases the perceived duration of a task. Essentially slowing down the feeling of time.
When we focus our attention on the here and now we can change the way our brain stores information via attentional processes.
For me, this change in perception is life-changing. The freedom that comes with no longer feeling so rushed, busy and out of time is priceless.
Of course, there are still times when I slip back into autopilot, but now that I know the secret to slowing my time, it doesn’t take long to pull out my tools again.
And it’s no longer a secret. Extra time is available to anyone willing to turn off autopilot and try something a little different.
You don’t need to hunt for lost time anymore. Just pay deeper attention to the time you have. It works. I promise.
By Emma Scheib