Thursday, 26 January 2012

Mindfulness In Practice

What does Mindfulness mean in practice?

Part 1- Letting Go (or "Getting out of our own way")

When you hear someone say “just let it go” what does it mean and how can it sometimes be  helpful and at other (i.e: most) times just be  irritating and unhelpful? This week during  a hospital meeting I decided, in the heat of the moment, to make a comment about how I saw a clash between the mandate of administration (to keep the hospital on budget and to provide clinical care) and that of  the academic mandate of physicians (that includes clinical care but also teaching and research). While making “my point” I realized that the way I had framed what I said made the administration out to be the bad guys and the physicians out  to be the good guys. In retrospect my comment did not further creative problem solving and only reinforced the unhelpful and untrue  way of seeing the problem as residing in  “them=bad guys” and not at all with “us=good guys”. Thinking all of this over later on in the day I regretted having spoken at all and wished I had better thought through the intention behind my speaking. My intentions in fact included a desire to find reasons why "we"  were in the right and 'they" were in the wrong, yet again. Rarely is this a helpful position to take. Feeling regret over what I said I quickly reached a point where I learned what I could from the episode and further ruminating, further wishing I had not said anything at all, became pointless because no matter how hard I may re-imagine the past I really cannot go back and undo what was done. At that point all that is left to do is to “let go” of my disappointment in myself. But how to do this when the feelings (e.g. disappointment) appear to have a life of their own?

Mindful practice at that point would be to “stay with energy and drop the storyline”. That is, to be aware of the thoughts and feelings (i.e. regret and feeling bad), accept these thoughts & feelings as they are (rather than try push them away or deny them) and then, seeing the futility of repeating the unhelpful negative thoughts, make a conscious choice to stop the “repeating story line/internal narrative” and just accept the “negative energy=feeling lousy”. By doing this, that is stopping the thoughts from ruminating by seeing them for what they are, the energy (or mood if you prefer) is like a fire without fuel, it just dissipates on its own.

Seen in this way "letting go" is not something that we actively make happen but rather a process that happens on its own when we stop fuelling the fire of thoughts that are unhelpful.
So while we cannot make letting go happen we can stop getting in the way of its happening on its own. Getting out of the way means accepting the feelings and seeing unhelpful ruminating thoughts for what they are. After all, continuing to replay what already happened over and over again in our minds is like “continuing to wish for a better past”. 

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Mindful leadership training

The article below describes what a leadership program could look like if we applied what we already know from cognitive psychology to leadership training, namely; 

1. Developing people is a process — not an event.
2. Staying in just our heads  (cognition) is not enough, there needs to a lived experiential component  for learning/change to take place.
3. Mindfulness based on an "awareness of self" practice (that is not quite the same as practising "self-awareness") is a slow and steady way to cultivate progressive change in behavior (i.e. from reactivity to responsiveness) .
4. People grow best with others, in community
5. Everyone wants and deserves to grow (and i would add, to be happy).

What caught my attention in this article was the paragraph: "What if, instead of stuffing people with curricula, models, and competencies, we focused on deepening their sense of purpose, expanding their capability to navigate difficulty and complexity, and enriching their emotional resilience? What if, instead of trying to fix people, we assumed that they were already full of potential and created an environment that promoted their long-term well-being?"

This is from the Harvard Business Review.
Harvard Business Review Blog Polly LaBarre Polly LaBarre is the Editorial Director of the Management Innovation eXchange.

Developing Mindful Leaders Organizations invest billions annually on a success curriculum known as "leadership development," which ends up leaving so much on the table. Training and development programs almost universally focus factory-like on inputs and outputs — absorb curriculum, check a box; learn a skill, advance a rung; submit to assessment, fix a problem. Likewise, they leave too many people behind with an elite selection process that fast-tracks "hi-pos" and essentially discards the rest. And they leave most people cold with flavor of the month remedies, off sites, immersions, and excursions — which produce little more than a grim legacy of fat binders gathering dust on shelves. What if, instead of stuffing people with curricula, models, and competencies, we focused on deepening their sense of purpose, expanding their capability to navigate difficulty and complexity, and enriching their emotional resilience? What if, instead of trying to fix people, we assumed that they were already full of potential and created an environment that promoted their long-term well-being? In other words, what if cultivating a successful inner life was front and center on the leadership agenda? That was the question Todd Pierce asked himself in 2006 after years of experimenting with the full menu of trainings, meetings, and competency models in his capacity as CIO of biotechnology giant Genentech. He had just scoured the development reports of some 700 individuals in the IT department and found that "not one of them had an ounce of inspiration. I remember sitting there and saying, 'There's got to be a another way.'" At the time, Pierce was benefiting personally from work with a personal coach and had recently woken up to the power of the practice of mindfulness. He called in a kindred soul, Pamela Weiss, a long-time executive coach and meditation teacher, to help design an experiment that would cast out the traditional approach to leadership development to focus instead on helping people grow. "If you want to transform an organization it's not about changing systems and processes so much as it's about changing the hearts and minds of people," says Weiss. "Mindfulness is one of the all-time most brilliant technologies for helping to alleviate human suffering and for bringing out our extraordinary potential as human beings." Pierce and Weiss distilled a set of principles that form the basis of what became the "Personal Excellence Program" (PEP), now heading into its sixth year inside Genentech (Pierce left the company this fall after 11 years to join Together, these pillars offer up a short course in unleashing human capability, resilience, compassion, and well-being (and they're unpacked in even more detail in Weiss and Pierce's entry). 1. Developing people is a process — not an event. "Development is all too often considered a one-time event," says Weiss. She and Pierce designed PEP as a ten-month-long journey that unfolds in three phases, with big group meetings, regular small group sessions, individual coaching, peer coaching, and structured solo practice. 2. People don't grow from the neck up. Too much training focuses on the the mind — it's about transferring content. "We talk about the head, the heart, and the body," says Weiss. In fact, they do more than talk about it — they enact it every day at the start of every meeting. The "3-center check in" is the gateway drug to mindfulness. As Weiss describes it: "You close your eyes for a moment and you notice, 'What am I thinking — what's happening in my head center,' then you notice, 'What am I feeling — what's happening in my heart center.' then, 'What am I feeling — what's happening in my body.' It's a way in which people start paying attention and practicing mindfulness without ever practicing meditation." 3. Put mindfulness at the center (but don't call it that!). Weiss and her team were careful to keep the language of specific belief systems and religions out of PEP. The program revolves around three phases: reflection on and selection of a specific quality or capacity you want to work on (patience, decisiveness, courage); three months of cultivating the capacity for self-observation; and the hard work of turning insight into deliberate, dedicated, daily practice. 4. It's hard to grow alone. "People grow best in community," says Weiss. "People don't grow as well just reading a book, getting an online training, or just taking in information. There's an exponential impact in having people grow and learn together." That's why the PEP "pod" (small 6-8 person group) is the main vehicle throughout the year. 5. Everybody deserves to grow. Pierce felt strongly that PEP should be available to people across the board — not just the usual "stars" — and that it should be voluntary. "The program is by application and not declaration," he says. As PEP heads into its sixth year at Genentech, some 800 people have participated in the program. (Weiss added a graduate curriculum and a student training program to create "PEPtators" as few people want the journey to end.) The impact has been nothing short of transformative for individuals and organization alike. When Pierce took over the IT department in 2002, its employee satisfaction scores were at rock bottom; four years into the program, the department ranked second in the company and is now consistently ranked among the best places to work in IT In the world (even in the wake of Genentech's 2009 merger with Roche Group — always a turbulent and dispiriting experience).