Are you Mindful or is your mind full?

Mindfulness is a hot topic at the moment. It seems to be plastered all over the newspapers and has the business world all of a flutter. It has been prescribed by the NHS for depression since 2004, but recently mindfulness has spawned a whole industry of evening classes and smartphone apps. Big businesses such as Google, Twitter and Facebook are introducing it into their organisations as a key development tool for their employees and many more are jumping on the bandwagon.

 

So what is it and, more importantly, does it work?

 

We live in an increasingly busy and technological world where we are quite often multi-tasking as if our lives depended on it. We put the washing on whilst helping the kids with their homework and answer work e-mails – all at the same time!! Life is a constant juggling act to ensure we get everything done. How many times have you done something on autopilot? Or driven down a stretch of road without remembering how you got there?

 

Very rarely are we aware of the present moment as we become lost in our efforts to juggle balls and spin the plates of our conflicting demands. We are often “not present” in our own lives. We often fail to notice the good things about our lives, fail to hear what our bodies are telling us and get easily distracted.

 

Mindfulness is a way of paying attention to, and seeing clearly whatever is happening in our lives.  It will not eliminate life’s pressures, but it can help us respond to them in a more positive way. Kabat-Zinn calls it “paying attention on purpose, moment by moment, without judging”. In a nutshell, you stop thinking about the past or the future and concentrate on what is happening right now, in the present. In this exact moment.

How?

 

Mindfulness often starts by learning to focus on our breathing. Every time we notice that we are distracted and not thinking about our breathing we accept it, dismiss the thought, and return our attention to our breath. This process is very simple and easy to do anywhere. It isn’t about emptying the mind or filling the head with peaceful thoughts, rather being aware of physical sensations of the body and simply to notice what the mind does. When the mind wanders, simply notice it and acknowledge it. Don’t try to surpress it or make the thoughts go away.

 

The Science Bit!

Neuroscience informs us that the brain can change and rewire itself.  Studies show that practicing mindfulness leads to structural as well as functional changes in the brain as measured by MRI’s, SPECT scans, and EEG studies.MRI scans of the grey matter of the brain’s hippocampus, the area of the brain associated with learning, memory, compassion, introspection and self-awareness, have been shown it to increase in participants of Mindfulness programs. Conversely, the grey matter of the Amygdala, which is known to play an important part in stress and anxiety, has been shown to decrease.

 

Does it work?

Studies repeatedly show that practicing mindfulness helps reduce stress, improve work/life balance, increase creative thought and help people think more clearly.

From a business perspective, people who practice mindfulness at work report an improved ability to communicate clearly and more appropriate reactions to stressful situations. They also report a better ability to handle workplace conflict, improved teamwork and a better ability to “think out of the box”.

So, what have you got to lose by giving it a go? The very worst that can happen is you lose 20 minutes of your life by focusing on your breathing. The best that can happen is it opens up a whole new world of dealing with stress and making the most out of your life.

If you are interested in finding out more about mindfulness and how it can help you and your business, please come along to my workshop “An introduction to mindfulness” on Monday 30 June (9.30am -12pm) at Cantley House Hotel in Wokingham, Berks.

Contact me at: Katie@krccoaching.co.uk for further details.

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Is it all about the balance?

 

Image     Is it all about the balance?

 

Work/life balance is big business nowadays. Everyone seems to be searching for this mythical life which will lead us to the promised land, making us happy beyond our wildest dreams. But will it? What is work/life balance anyway? Before we go chasing this elusive paradise we need to stop and ask some pertinent questions:

1. What does it mean for you?

It seems to me that everyone is so busy striving for this mythical place that they don’t stop to define what the term really means for them personally. Whilst one persons work/life balance might mean working 10-2 and doing the school run, someone else’s might look very different. What areas of your life would you like to devote more time to and which areas are you expending too much energy on? Only once you have a really good idea of the gaps between where you are in your life and where you would like to be can you make steps to change.

2. Is what you are doing really so bad?

Before you start beating yourself up about answering work calls in the evening or taking time off for the school play, ask yourself is that what you needed/wanted to do at that particular time? If the answer is yes, then surely your work/life balance was right at that moment. Often, people are concerned about other people’s opinions. My clients will be unhappy if I don’t respond immediately; my children will feel abandoned if I don’t pick them up from school every day. If you take a step back you may realise that these are your concerns not those of the other people involved. If you asked them, they are happy with the time you devote to them and don’t have the unrealistic expectations you place upon yourself. The pressure is coming from you not them!

3. Shall I quit my job and work for myself?

There are many people out there who say “take a risk, work for yourself. Flexible working and an easy life”. I would advocate caution before you rush in and make that leap. Yes, working for yourself can mean you determine your own working  hours to a certain extent but, ask any small business owner, at the beginning you devote many, many hours getting your business of the ground. Also, because there is no guaranteed salary at the end of every month you work harder to  make your money. Yes, you may be able to do school pick up but it is rare that you do not work into the evening and often, late into the night. It can be incredibly rewarding but presents different challenges to a salaried job. If you need to put food on the table, flexible working won’t help much!

If you enjoy your work, think about ways in which you could tweak your hours (or way of working) to make it work for you. Could you work from home one day a week? Could you ask your boss for more flexible working? If you are unhappy in your work then, by all means, consider working for yourself. Make sure you have a viable idea, a market to pitch it to and a buffer of cash to see you through the first lean months.

4. Should we be searching for happiness anyway?

Are we spending so much time searching happiness that we don’t stop to enjoy the time we have? Do we worry so much that we are not deliriously happy all the time that we lose the moments of true happiness we have in every day life? Sometimes, I think if we could just stop and count our blessings, we would realise that actually our lives are pretty, damn good! Sure, there are things I might want to change in my life and I would love more hours in the day but, all things considered, life is good. That is not because I have mastered the art of work/life balance but because I recognise that some days are good and some not so good but I just need to make themost of the good times. As the Serenity Prayer says: God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference!

Coaching can help identify what work/life balance means for you and work out what is right for you. Contact me at katie@krccoaching.co.uk for a free consultation.

 

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Coaching the leaders of tomorrow

According to a new report by the Ashridge Business School in the UK, middle managers are passed over when it comes to training and development. Apparently, while 73% of middle managers say they work in an environment that claims to support learning and development only around a half of them are actually experiencing it in practice and a quarter of them believe that in reality their companies actually see personal development as something of a luxury.

This seems incredibly short-sighted. Many middle managers have been promoted to their role through demonstrating their excellence in a technical or professional field. As a result, there may be a shortfall in soft skills such as communication, change management or team leadership. It is all too easy for an organisation to believe that leadership and team management comes through experience but these skills can be honed through an effective coaching programme.

For an organisation to work well, middle managers need to be able to lead a team, influence their peers or external clients and speak with authority to a management board. Leading a team is so much more that being able to do your job. A middle manager must be able to motivate their employees, develop the talent within their team and make difficult decisions. Without these skills, a team cannot perform to their optimum.

Time and money spent investing in middle management can reap significant returns on investment. Working with a coach develops can turn the middle managers of today into leaders of tomorrow.

Contact me to discuss your middle management coaching needs.

Katie Rowland http://www.krccoaching.com 

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My love-hate relationship with stress

How many times this week have you said “I’m so stressed!”? How do you define stress? What does it mean for you?

For me, I feel stressed when I feel overwhelmed by life, by the sheer quantity of things I have to do on a very tight deadline. I feel like all the plates I am juggling are spinning out of control and there is a very real fear that something terribly important will drop off and be forgotten. 

Whilst ‘stressing’ about the ridiculous number of projects I have willingly agreed to take on I realised something quite extraordinary. Yes, I felt overwhelmed and panicky. Yes, I wasn’t entirely sure how I could possibly achieve everything I needed to get done…

BUT….there was also a part of me which felt excited by the challenge and got quite a buzz from the plate spinning that was going on. I felt alive! I felt like I was achieving and the extra time pressure served to spur me on further.

So, whilst one part of me was moaning how stressed I felt, the other side was secretly revelling in it. It almost felt like a guilty secret that I dare not confide, in case others thought this was always the case and withdrew their support. 

Stress isn’t always a bad thing. You can use it to your advantage and yes, even enjoy it. Understand that it is possible to have a real love-hate relationship with stress.

I now just have to learn how to manage this relationship and not get stressed when I feel stressed!

 

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Back to school

Wow – the summer holidays seem to have flashed past! Autumn is knocking on the door and school term has begun. Now is a really good time to re-energise your business and refocus your activity. Just like starting a new year at school, the following tips can help!

*  Check your kit and buy new stationery

Remember the thrill of buying new pens, pencils and notebooks in preparation for the new school year! Now is a good time to make sure that you have all the equipment you need for your business. Buy new pens and stationery – it really can make you feel like you’re breathing fresh air into your working day! Is everything working as well as it needs to or do you need to update some stuff? This can be anything from a new computer mouse to updating your website to ensure it is working effectively.

*  Be brave and meet new people.

Just as a child has to be brave and walk into a room full of new people at school, push yourself to meet new people and get new leads. Attend a networking meeting or even cold call potential clients. 

*  Learn new things.

School is all about learning new things. What new skill can you learn which may benefit your business? Are there courses which would be useful or shadowing someone for a day?

*  Read, read and read some more.

Chances are your holiday reading didn’t include great business tomes. Now is a good time to catch up on reading articles or books relevant to your business. Trawl online for great blogs to keep up with business trends, explore Pinterest and Twitter.

*  Invest in your future.

Revise your five year plan. Like a teenager choosing A levels for a future career, make sure your everyday working is aligned to where you want to be in five years. Review your client base and marketing plan and keep checking that your long-term vision remains the same.

So, start your new term at your business school!

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Remember to breathe!

Mindfulness:

“paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgementally” Jon Kabat-Zinn

How often do you “stop and smell the roses?” Don’t tell me – you don’t have the time! How can you take time to smell the roses when you have so much going on right now?

At the recent Henley Coaching Conference, I learnt how important doing just that can be! The wonderful Liz Hall from Coaching at Work explained the concept behind ‘Mindfulness’ and how it can significantly improve both our business and personal lives.

Mindfulness is about pressing pause on what is going on, taking a breath and focusing on what is happening to you right now. In a coaching environment it has a whole host of positive benefits for the client including:

  • Becoming more self-aware
  • Managing stress
  • Managing reactions/responses
  • Improving wellbeing.

This, in turn, leads to better strategic thinking, clearer decision- making and greater resilience.

There are a lot of scientific facts to back up the idea of taking time every day to build mindfulness into your life. The idea is that practising mindfulness can go some way towards rewiring the brain and form new neural pathways. Studies have shown increased health benefits including:

  • Decreased cortisol (Tang et al 2007)
  • Boosted immune system (Davidson et al, 2003)
  • Improved medical conditions including type II diabetes, cardiovascular disease, asthma and chronic pain (Walsh and Shapiro, 2006)

A simple way to incorporate mindfulness into your life is by meditating. This can be anything from 30 minutes a day to taking 3 minutes breathing space. This can be practiced anywhere – on the bus, in the office or in a coaching session. Take time to focus on your breathing and let your mind go (don’t worry it is natural for your mind to wander). Become aware of how each part of your body feels – don’t try and change it, just accept that is how it feels and let it go. Mindfulness is all about taking that breath and accepting without judgement.

So next time you feel too stressed and pushed for time to stop and smell the roses, take a breath, centre yourself and remember – 5 minutes spent now could change your life!

 

Katie Rowland    KRCCoaching.com

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Great mother, great leader?

Reading a number of ‘mum’ blogs recently, I was struck by how similar many of the basic tenets of parenting are to the principles of great leadership. So, my question is – does great parenting skills mean great leadership skills?

Below is some key parenting advice, let me know what you think!

  • Stop yelling

Leaders who have to raise their voice to be heard are not effective leaders. It suggests a loss of control, making the recipient angry and resentful thus missing most of the message. How is your team supposed to know with clarity what is required of them if their leader is barking a stream of orders at them?

An effective leader keeps control of their emotions, speaks clearly and with authority, gaining respect from his team.

  • Let them make their own mistakes 

As a child grows it must be given responsibility and given permission to make mistakes. This will help them learn about consequences and realise they can solve their own problems. It also gives them ownership over their actions.

Similarly, in a work environment, an employee must be given autonomy and trusted to carry it out. If mistakes are made (providing they are not catastrophic for the firm!) you can bet that they will learn from them and perform better next time.

This is all part of their learning and development. It encourages autonomy, raises self-esteem and grows leaders of the future.

  • Positive praise

When a child is constantly criticised it leads to low self-esteem and bad behaviour. There is no incentive to behave well!

If your boss is constantly criticising your work, why bother to work hard? Why go that extra mile when called upon?

A small dollop of praise can go a long way. People naturally want to please someone who recognises the potential in them. That doesn’t mean you can’t criticise your team. Just make sure that it is constructive and will help them grow and develop. Ask them how they might have done things differently – a technique often used in parenting!

  • Encourage healthy habits

Just as a child becomes cranky and difficult if they don’t have enough sleep or have been gorging on e-numbers, a workforce who is regularly made to work long hours without proper breaks will not be productive. They will soon lose motivation and become demoralised.

A good leader will encourage his team to go home on time unless absolutely necessary and take regular meal breaks. They will know when their team needs a morale boost or if someone is under particular stress and respond accordingly.

  • Remember you are the parent!

As a parent, there will be times when you have to be firm regardless of your child’s demands. You are the parent and, as such, it your responsibility to decide what is best for the family. As a leader, it is your role to make tough calls from time to time. However hard those decisions may be it is your responsibility to make them for the good of the team and the good of the business.

A great leader looks after his team and makes them feel valued. He will inspire and motivate his team. They, in turn, will rise to challenges and push themselves to be the best they can be.

Maybe we should all practice our leadership skills on our kids – or our parenting skills on our team?

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