Archive for the ‘Mindfulness’ Category

Why You Don’t Actually Need Work/Life Balance

yinyangArticle contributed by guest author Aimee Teesdale

Years ago, I was struggling to do what I thought I was supposed to do: study, graduate, find a job, work… I believed that all I needed to do was figure out the right work role and then everything else would fall into place for me.

Like many people, I also assumed I would have my work on one side, and my life on the other, and I would simply switch between the two every day. A successful person, we are told, carefully manages both of these, i.e. they find that elusive “work life balance”.

In coaching others, I’ve met countless people who struggle with this same “imbalance”. Our jobs feel disconnected from the rest of life. At work we’re supposed to dress differently, speak differently, behave differently. It’s as though we put on a mask when we enter the workplace; the mask of a “teacher” or “manager” or “accountant”. The idea is that true professionals never allow their messy emotions to get in the way of their jobs. We’re not meant to let the “life” part creep into the “work” part. Our hopes and dreams are not relevant. Our disruptive opinions are not workplace appropriate.

And what about our authentic selves? What about our deeper yearning for purpose? About our fears? Well, there’s a place for that, but it’s only later in the day when you get home, and finally get to take off the mask. Only then are you allowed to “be yourself”.

I’m a big fan of the concept of balance in life, but something about this just didn’t sit right with me. The more I worked with people who experienced this, the more I learnt that the problem wasn’t that people failed to find balance between their professional and personal lives, but that they saw them as two separate things to begin with.

Balance vs. Alignment

I originally believed the right role for me was “psychologist” or maybe “HR consultant”. At the time, I had just ended a long-term relationship that left me feeling completely lost; struggling with making friends in a big new city, launching a career, and finding my place in the world.

During those challenging years, I worked hard on my own personal development. I travelled. I pushed out of my comfort zone and found my passions. I worked on my professional development too, by training hard as a personal performance life coach and starting my own business. Which was all great.

But the real magic happened when I realized that my private life and professional life were really two different expressions of the same thing. I had an epiphany: development in one inevitably led to development in the other.

I quickly found out that my career was the most fulfilling when I approached it as a whole, authentic person and not simply as someone who was playing a part, or wearing a mask. I realized that so many of my clients weren’t struggling with work/life balance but rather with a lack of alignment between the two.

Emotional Intelligence is the Key

When I learnt to bring my genuine self to my work, my world changed.

When I learnt to let go of fear of change, fear of rejection, fear of failure and fear of the unknown, my work became something truly exciting.

Your success at your chosen profession is so much more than your achievements and your qualifications. While they’re important, your skills and experience are only a small part of what makes you the complex human being you are. You are also blessed with emotions, thoughts, beliefs and dreams, and by cutting this part of yourself out of the workplace, you limit what you’re capable of, and stunt your development in both areas.

Personal and professional success are not zero-sum; rather, they both stem from the same source: emotional intelligence. Cultivating self awareness, knowing how to take control of thoughts and emotions …these are the skills that transform you from a cog in someone else’s machine to something much more powerful. A thinker. An entrepreneur. A creator or healer.

Today, I would not be able to help my clients in my professional life were it not for the insights I gained in my personal life. And my personal life would not be as rich as it is now without the skills I am learning in my professional life. I was only able to really grasp this when I stopped seeing work and life as two things that ought to be separated.

Your hopes and dreams are not just something to bring out of hiding when your work is done for the day. How can you develop the courage to bring your complete, full, wonderful, flawed self into your work, right now?

• Instead of finding ways to squash yourself into a pre-defined role, ask how you can create a role of your own
• Remember that you are not solely defined by the work that you do, or the title that goes along with it
• Instead of finding ways to separate out the personal and professional, deliberately blend them. Become curious about the ways your personal development can fuel your professional development – and vice versa

What’s the Big Deal With Mindfulness?

Article contributed by guest author Renelle Darr.
I have been doing yoga on a fairly regular basis for about 15 years and began getting into meditation almost 5 years ago. Yoga is amazing but a good mediation session takes it to the next level (and good doesn’t always mean “feels good” but rather “good for you”). For a long time, I really thought meditation and mindfulness was about sitting and training your mind to have no thoughts and perhaps no feelings. I couldn’t do it! Impossible! No way! Well, the more I’ve learned about meditation and mindfulness, I now realize that goal really was impossible! I’ve spent more time studying and practicing mindfulness over the last year and want to share some of the key insights I’ve gleaned along the journey so far. I’ve studied the fascinating book How God Changes Your Brain: Breakthrough Findings from a Leading Neuroscientist, took a local class on “Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction” (MBSR) based on the work of Jon Kabat-Zinn, Ph.D. and various other lectures and sessions along with deepening my own mindfulness meditation practice. A few brief insights:
 1. Mindfulness Defined. Jon Kabat-Zinn says “fundamentally, mindfulness is a simple concept. Its power lies in its practice and applications. Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgmentally.” I believe the part of the definition about “non-judgmentally” is the hardest part for most people in being truly mindful . So it’s not about emptying the mind after all, but about being aware without judgement.
2.  The Concept of Touch and Go. Mindfulness is about paying attention to what is coming up for you, truly feeling it and moving into the comfort or discomfort but not attaching to that one thought. When a thought or feeling comes up touch it and then let it go, even if it is a tough one, a trigger or something that is weighing heavily on your mind. The real trick is also doing this with positive feelings.
 3. Positive Feelings Are the Tough Ones. Our positive feelings are sometimes the hardest ones to detach from. We don’t want them to go away and because of that our positive feelings can cause us the most pain if we are unable to “touch and go”. 
4. Stress Can Be Transformational. What? Don’t we always hear that stress is bad? Typically, we are problem-focused (what can I do to fix this and make it go away?) when managing stress. We are much less emotion-focused (becoming aware, accepting and able to make sense of emotions) or meaning-focused (turning tragedy into triumph as written by Viktor Frankl in Man’s Search for Meaning). Putting focus in these other two areas changes how our brain responds to stress and mindfulness is a path to get there. Kelly McGonigal has a great TED Talk on this subject.
5. Mindfulness Leads to Emotional Intelligence. Just 8 weeks of daily mindfulness practice (say a sitting meditation for 15 minutes a day) will shrink our amygdala. The amygdala is that tricky little part of our brain that signals “DANGER – fight or flee now!” and has been the culprit for many misunderstandings and interpersonal issues between humans.
6. Sample Mindfulness Practices.  Sitting meditation is one of the more common forms of mindfulness practice. While not the only way to practice, I’ve come to realize that a brief sitting meditation practice is an important part of the mindfulness journey. Other practices are body scans, mindful yoga and intentional yawning (that’s right, yawning is a form of meditation and has positive impacts on the brain). Here is a short article I wrote that expands on how to practice sitting meditation.
My mindfulness practice is a journey.  I don’t always meditate every day as I desire.  I still have thoughts and feelings I touch and then can’t seem to let go.  I do know I’m paying more attention, I see things more clearly, my kids are more adorable and yes, sometimes the pain is much deeper but I’m moving through it all lighter and with less judgement.  The shift is subtle yet profound.

Do you want to be an emotionally intelligent leader? Do you want to manage your stress better? Do you want to improve your health? If so, I highly recommend embracing mindfulness and starting your own journey.

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