Mindfulness at School

Does mindfulness have anything to do in schools?

Lately, I have been teaching mindfulness in schools to educators and teachers; this nice article features my work and asks some interesting questions. Read more here!

 

Communicating in challenging situations

Have you experienced any form of tension or difficult communication over the holiday period? If so, this post is for you!

Let me tell you that of course, difficult, tense conversations are a completely natural, normal part of life! Skillful communication is thus not about preventing such situations, it’s about knowing how to handle them when they arise.

Photo credit: Search Engine People Blog via Foter.com / CC BY

To learn new ways to handle challenging situations, we must first become aware of our habitual tendencies. The most common patterns of dealing with conflict are:

  • Conflict avoidance: attempting to avoid dealing with the issue at hand; suppression; pretending all is well
  • Opposition/Confrontation: attempting to deal with an issue using aggressive behavior, often characterized by a lack of interest or willingness to dialogue
  • Passive Aggression: indirect expression of hostility, often accompanied by verbal or other communication that “all is well”

When conflict arises, a cascade of effects run through our nervous system. With a perceived threat, our amygdala is activated and the fight-flight-freeze mechanism is stimulated. Anxiety, fear, anger, defensiveness and a host of other emotions can arise and course through the body. Shifting these responses takes time, and is best accomplished through small, incremental shifts. Over time, we will develop the capacity to stay present, grounded, and make clear choices about our dialogue in tense situations.

Here are three primary ways to handle one’s own reactivity:

  1. Monitor Activation: Get to know what happens when your nervous system is activated:
    1. Increased heart rate?
    2. Fast or shallow breathing?
    3. Tightening in hands, jaw, or stomach?
    4. Sweating, feeling hot or cold?
  1. Grounding: Learn to pause, ground, and track the reactivity in your body:
    1. Insert a pause in the conversation to re-balance.
    2. Ground your attention in the body by feeling gravity, your hands, feet, or breath.
    3. Orient to your surroundings by listening to sounds or looking around.
  1. Attend to Deactivation: Give some attention to any settling or easing of your experience.
    1. Pay more attention to the out-breath.
    2. Feel any sensations of relaxation, release, ease, or settling in the body or breath.

Attending to your own reactivity and judgements by grounding in the body can help us make wiser choices about what to say and when!

Photo credit: raiznext via Foter.com / CC BY

Sometimes, in spite of all of our skills and the best of intentions, we reach a point where we can no longer handle our own reactivity. In these instances there are a two things that are essential:

  • Know your limit: Learn how to recognize when you are approaching your threshold.
  • Honor your limit: Heed those signals and stop before you cross that threshold, hence allowing yourself to take a break!

Taking a break from a conversation involves two parts:

  1. Affirm the connection: State your desire to stay connected.
  • “I’m committed to working this out..”
  1. Request to stop: Alongside this statement, share your needs for a break:
  • “… and, I’m not sure anything else I say will be useful now so I’d like to take a break. Is that alright with you?”

Happy New Year!

Jenny

How to communicate mindfully and effectively

Communication is a skill that you can learn. It’s like riding a bicycle or typing. If you’re willing to work at it, you can rapidly improve the quality of every part of your life.” – Brian Tracy

You will appreciate that even though communication skills are so important to success in the workplace and everywhere else, many individuals continue to struggle with it, unable to communicate their thoughts and ideas effectively – whether in verbal, non-verbal or written format. They struggle to convey their thoughts and ideas in an accurate manner, making it difficult to move forward and nearly impossible to collaborate. Things even get more complicated when communication happens between actors of different cultures, backgrounds, ages and digital means of communication.

Jenny Ebermann_CommunicationsCommunication is like a “two-way street”. And, it involves not only two, but three components:

  • A receptive element: Listening
  • An expressive element: Speaking
  • A primary element: Presence, self-awareness

We have to be HERE first if we’re going to communicate. Communication is a flow of understanding; presence helps to create a ground for connection, and provides an important tool for examining and re-training our communication patterns. Let’s just think about how often you communicate with people during your day: you write emails, facilitate meetings, participate in conference calls, create reports, devise presentations, debate with your colleagues… the list goes on!

Our intention when communicating, forms the basis of our orientation in any conversation. What we need to do is to understand our motivation: where are we coming from, what do we want to achieve while communicating? Without a clear and solid grounding and the intention to connect, to understand, we run the risk of using communication tools to simply repeat old habits of interacting. This foundation is a systematic training of our attention to notice four basic components of our experience, as taught in Nonviolent Communication:

  • Observations: what we see/hear directly, separate from our evaluations or interpretations
  • Feelings: our emotions, distinct from thoughts and stories about what others are doing
  • Needs: fundamental, universal human needs or values; what matters most in a situation
  • Requests: asking concretely and clearly for what might help move things forward

Did you know that :

The single most powerful and transformative ingredient in dialogue is the intention to understand?

Businessman looking at his female colleague during conversation

The good news is, effective and mindful communication is a skill that can be practiced! In fact, habits of speaking, listening, and relating are learned. We have all had “communication training” by our family, our culture, our society, and our life experiences. But:

When our needs aren’t met, we have been conditioned to see things in terms of blame. 


Internal thoughts of blame however can provide useful information about what really matters to us! 
If we want someone to do something differently, to listen to or understand us, how useful of a strategy is it to blame them? 
Well, not that useful, right? So here’s what to do:

  • Principle 1: The less blame and criticism in our words, the more openness others will have to hear what’s going on for us and collaborate!
  • Principle 2: How we are speaking can be as important as what we say. Bringing curiosity and care makes it easier to get to what we really want to talk about!

Up for a try? Thanks for reading and have a great week,

Jenny

Linking Behaviour and Mood

Behaviour and mood are linked together…

Behaviour and MoodHave you ever noticed for example that when you are feeling “down” you sometimes simply have to engage in some stimulating breathing exercises or in doing something that nourishes you to feel much better? We tend to believe that all emotions last a long time but actually they don’t as it really depends which emotions we are talking about.

First, let us make the difference between “emotions” and “feelings”. In this article, the well-known neurologist Antonio R. Damasio, says the following:

“In everyday language we often use the terms interchangeably. This shows how closely connected emotions are with feelings. But for neuroscience, emotions are more or less the complex reactions the body has to certain stimuli. When we are afraid of something, our hearts begin to race, our mouths become dry, our skin turns pale and our muscles contract. This emotional reaction occurs automatically and unconsciously. Feelings occur after we become aware in our brain of such physical changes; only then do we experience the feeling of fear.”

Thus feelings are formed by emotions.

To test the length and effect of emotions, Philippe Verduyn and Saskia Lavrijsen from the University of Leuven in Belgium asked 233 students to recollect recent emotional episodes and report their duration.[1]. They found out that:

„Rumination is the central determinant of why some emotions last longer than others. Emotions associated with high levels of rumination will last longest“ (Professor Verduyn).”

Out of a set of 27 emotions, sadness apparently lasted the longest whereas shame, surprise, fear, disgust, boredom, being touched, irritated or feeling relief were over much faster.[2]

Mindfulness can help you  notice what’s going on in your body, inviting uncomfortable emotions and feelings in and letting them go, exactly as with positive emotions and wanted feelings. Being with yourself moment by moment helps you to stay anchored and not being “knocked-down” as well as feeling “helpless” when encountering strong emotions.

The following cartoon of Charlie Brown illustrates this in a fantastic way and it always makes me smile when I look at it! I hope you do so too….

Jenny

cartoon_charlie_brown

[1] http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2815719/Feeling-sad-FIVE-DAYS-shift-mood-Sadness-lasts-240-times-longer-emotions-study-claims.html

[2] The full research can be found here : http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11031-014-9445-y

 

Mindful Leadership in Organisations

Be the change that you wish to see in the worldMahatma Gandhi

It is no coincidence that today’s post starts with this important quote; I have indeed spent the last months figuring out the organisational culture of an international association being confronted once again with entrenched positions, misunderstandings related to poor communication, a lack of intercultural dialogue and pretty much negative mindsets.

Looking at all this with my trained “mindful” eyes and as always believing in the power of motivation, empathy and a transparent, strategic, positive way forward, I have begun to slowly impact this environment by simply “walking the talk“, looking at solutions rather than problems and listening to the various actors and their concerns to identify an appropriate way forward.

Photo credit: Moyan_Brenn via Foter.com / CC BY

Photo credit: Moyan_Brenn via Foter.com / CC BY

Among others, I reminded people that:

  1. Rome wasn’t built in a day meaning that what slowly came to undermine processes and hampered the motivation of people cannot be changed in a couple of weeks but takes time to evolve.
  2. Everybody has a role to play meaning that a culture of complaining will lead to even more complaints, whereas a culture of trust, empathy and positive focus will shift moods and move mountains.
  3. Intercultural and effective communications is a skill and can be learned. Working in Switzerland, where many different languages are spoken, being sensitive to different cultural habits and backgrounds is even more important than in other local contexts so that teams can productively work together.

The next mile stone on the road to a more mindful organisation is set: a creative vision finding workshop for staff and Board where unconscious wishes and thoughts will have a central role to play. Looking very much forward to seeing how people will react as this doesn’t follow the “usual” way to proceed!

Stay tuned for more insights from within,

Jenny

Photo credit: symphony of love via Foter.com / CC BY-SA

Photo credit: symphony of love via Foter.com / CC BY-SA

 

 

 

How many different hats can you wear?

How many roles are you playing in your life?

Usually, we all have many… to name only a few:

  • You are a mother/father: with all the different activities, challenges, joys that come with it
  • You have a role to play in your working life, be it at home or outside of your home
  • You are a human being with its own needs and dreams
  • You are a daughter or son dealing with all sorts of issues
  • You are for sure also a partner, spouse, friend, sister, brother or many of these at the same time
Photo credit: noricum via Foter.com / CC BY-SA

Photo credit: noricum via Foter.com / CC BY-SA

All of these roles require your attention, your energy and commitment; sometimes it is difficult to switch from one to the other and/or to combine some of them at the same time. You might feel stretched to your limits, having not enough time to rest and for yourself leading to becoming irritable and stressed. There might be moments of doubts: “Am I a good father or mother? Or “All other spouses are surely doing a better job than myself”.

Photo credit: holyshared via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

Photo credit: holyshared via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

Feeling overwhelmed yourself very often leads to less patience: with your children, partner and other people surrounding you and of course with yourself. You react upon triggers not being able to calmly approach problems and challenges.

  • How about learning to cope with daily stress by learning how to introduce “brain breaks” into your daily routine, re-discovering your creativity and capacity of resilience?

Becoming familiar with and practicing mindfulness techniques is a skill that will help you deal with the stresses, uncertainty and complexity of life in the 21st century. By being more mindful yourself, you will also see that your relationships will change. They will unconsciously feel the change and respond to it with their own nervous system!

Of course you will still wear the same hats as you did before, but you will be able to remain yourself, non-judgmental and less prone to being hijacked by your own emotions, feelings and body sensations.

“We have more possibilities available in each moment than we realize.” – Thích Nhất Hạnh

Photo credit: Wicker Paradise via Foter.com / CC BY

Photo credit: Wicker Paradise via Foter.com / CC BY

Mindfulness and Mountains

One of the best ways I find for recovering my inner strength and recharging my batteries is being in the mountains. Living in Switzerland, I feel very lucky as I can quickly escape and in a couple of hours be in places of extreme beauty.

Wallis Panorama

Last year, I published a nice post about mountains and especially the so-called “mountain-meditation” from Kabat-Zinn. Today, I found another guiding text that I want to share here with you now. It also comes from Kabat-Zinn and is adapted from “Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life“. Enjoy!

The mountain meditation

When it comes to meditation, mountains have a lot to teach us. The image of a the mountain held in the mind’s eye and in the body, can refresh our memory of why we are sitting, and of what it really means to dwell in the realm of non-doing.

 

Picture the most beautiful mountain you know – or can imagine. Notice its overall shape, the lofty peak, the base rooted in the rock of the earth’s crust, the sloping sides. Note how massive it is, how unmoving, how beautiful.

 

See if you can bring the mountain into your own body – your head becomes the lofty peak; your shoulders and arms the sides of the mountain; your buttocks and legs the solid base rooted to your cushion on the floor or to your chair.

 

Notice any emotions you are feeling and your mood as though they are the weather around the mountain. Is your weather right now sunny and calm or stormy with lashing rain, is it icy or warm? Allow your personal weather to be the way it is, noticing if it intensifies, changes or stays the same through the meditation.

 

Fully become the breathing mountain, unwavering in your stillness, completely what you are – beyond words and thought, a centred, rooted, unmoving presence.

 

As the light changes, as night follows day and day night, the mountain just sits, simply being itself. It remains still as the seasons flow into one another and as the weather changes moment by moment. Storms may come, but still the mountain sits.

 

Calmness abiding all change.

Glimpse on the Matterhorn

 

 

 

How assumptions can mislead us

Perceptions, assumptions and thoughts can lead us completely in the wrong direction sometimes

To illustrate what I mean by that, I would like to share a story with you; something that you might have experienced as well, in one form or another. It is entitled “Cookie Thief” from Valerie Cox.

A woman was waiting at the airport one night,
With several long hours before her flight.
She hunted for a book in the airport shop,
Bought a bag of cookies and found a place to drop.

She was engrossed in her book, but happened to see,
That the man beside her, as bold as could be,
Grabbed a cookie or two from the bag between,
Which she tried to ignore to avoid a scene.

Photo credit: Mrs Magic via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

She read, munched cookies, and watched the clock,
As the gustly “cookie thief” diminished her stock
She was getting more irritated as the minutes ticked by,
Thinking, “If I wasn’t so nice, I’d blacken his eye!”

 

With each cookie she took, he took one too.
When only one was left, she wondered what he’d do.
with a smile on his face and a nervous laugh,
He took the last cookie and broke it in half.

He offered her half, and he ate the other.
She snatched it from him and thought, “Oh brother,
This guy has some nerve, and he’s also so rude,
Why, he didn’t even show any gratitude!”

She had never known when she had been so galled,
And sighed with relief when her flight was called.
She gathered her belongings and headed for the gate,
Refusing to look at the “thieving ingrate”.

She boarded the plane and sank in her seat,
Then sought her book, which was almost complete.
As she reached in her baggage, she gasped with surprise.
There were her bag of cookies in front of her eyes!

“If mine are here,” she moaned with despair.
“Then the others were his and he tried to share!”
Too late to apologize, she realized with grief,
That she was the rude one, the ingrate, the thief!!!!

 

What did you think reading this? Have you experienced something similar in your life before?

What can we learn from this? Well, next time you find yourself in a difficult, challenging situation, take a moment to be mindful and challenge your assumptions, checking what the reality really looks like instead. Maybe you are getting entangled in your mind’s stories, triggering emotions, sensations, judgements…

Things are not always as they appear and taking a moment to pause and observe what is will allow you to respond more skillfully and to communicate more effectively.

The effects of being kind and attentive

Did you know that being kind to yourself and to others has considerable consequences? Everybody knows that responding in a mindful, curious, open, non-judgmental and kind manner in situations of interpersonal communication is a key to effectively transmitting your message and generating a fruitful dialogue.

Kindness

Photo credit: katerha via Foter.com / CC BY

But what I am sure you did not know is that a Japanese researcher was actually able to demonstrate the effects of kind words versus mean words/insults in water crystals. During many years, Masuro Emoto  took photographs of various water crystals. He then exposed them to words, pictures, emotions, even music that were either more of a positive or a negative nature. The shapes and forms of the water crystals positively influenced became even more beautiful; the ones receiving a negative treatment became ugly and even deformed.

If you think about us humans composed of 60% of water, it is incredible to imagine what effect positive words, thoughts or else can have on our system…

There apparently is an experiment that you could try out at home to see this for yourself (I still have to do it):

Fill two small glasses with a little bit of cooked rice; add some water on top of the rice. On one of the glasses, put a label on which you would write the words you would typically use when insulting/being mean to somebody (for example: “You idiot”). On the other glass, you put a label writing a nice thought, kind and pleasant words.  (For example: “You are beautiful”). Please chose your own words!

Now put the two glasses away from each other and every day, for the next three weeks you will now:

  • Insult the glass with the “mean” label
  • Very gently and kindly speak to the glass with the “kind” label.

Progressively you will perceive the effects: the glass with the “mean” label will begin to smell badly and even decompose (rot). The “kind” glass will release a pleasant odor, sometimes even somewhat sweet. The rice will still be white, whereas in the other glass the rice will become dark.

Please be sure to let me know what you found out!

Body Language – Keys to Non-verbal communication

You all know this: very often when speaking to other people, we only pay attention to the verbal clues that are given to us but not to the non-verbal ones. Very bad habit! I am sure you will be surprised but as already discussed in an earlier post, the verbal aspect in communications only accounts for 7 % (hence the content of what you are saying) when it comes to the relevance in terms of understanding information, thus to effectively communicating.

  • 38 % on the other hand come from the paraverbal aspect of communication (intonation, cadence, volume or pace) and
  • 55 % from the non-verbal aspects.

Intercultural CommunicationsSo when meeting somebody for the first time or when in a situation of negotiation, take a moment to see how confident your counterpart is.

Typical things to look for in confident people include:

  • Posture – standing tall with shoulders back.
  • Eye contact – solid with a “smiling” face.
  • Gestures with hands and arms – purposeful and deliberate.
  • Speech – slow and clear.
  • Tone of voice – moderate to low.

But be careful! As well as deciphering other people’s body language, you could also use this knowledge to convey feelings that you’re not actually experiencing…

Difficult meetings and defensiveness

Some of the common signs that the person you are speaking with may be feeling defensive include:

  • Hand/arm gestures are small and close to his or her body.
  • Facial expressions are minimal.
  • Body is physically turned away from you.
  • Arms are crossed in front of body.
  • Eyes maintain little contact, or are downcast.

By picking up these signs, you can change what you say or how you say it to help the other person become more at ease, and more receptive to what you are saying.

Working with groups and disengagement

Some of the typical signs and signals of people not being engaged. Some of these signs and signals include:

  • Heads are down.
  • Eyes are glazed, or gazing at something else.
  • Hands may be picking at clothes, or fiddling with pens.
  • People may be writing or doodling.
  • They may be sitting slumped in their chairs.

And finally, a tip:

To help practice and further develop your skill in picking up body language, engage in people watching. Observe people – be that on a bus/train or on television without the sound – and just notice how they act and react to each other. When you watch others, try to guess what they are saying or get a sense of what is going on between them!