A Time to Reset, Reflect and Change?

Despite all the challenges that recent events have brought, this moment could be an opportunity for each of us to make a positive decision to invest some time and change the way that we react and behave – to be a better version of ourselves. Maybe now is the time to “Reset, Reflect and Change” – a time to rethink our values, our priorities and our choices.

As the covid-19 pandemic spread, so too did fear and uncertainty. As countries entered lockdown people became worried about their jobs, their finances or for the wellbeing of their loved ones and themselves.  The recent period of isolation may have caused many to experience episodes of anxiety or low mood.

Yet as the weeks have gone by the situation may have become more normalised – we feel safe at home and we have become reconciled to the uncertainties that the future may bring.  We may have engaged more with our neighbours – or kept-up online chats with family and friends.  We have certainly become more aware of the value of our key workers. Yet working at home may have caused people to question their relentless rush to work each day – as our children grow up and our parents grow old.  We may wonder if we have the right the work-life balance.

Through all these recent events, and the time to we have had to reflect, many of us may have started to change our outlook – causing us to reassess our values, our priorities and our way of life.  Some may wish to invest effort to change the way that we think, react and behave.

Whatever our circumstances we do have time right now. Could we use some of this time to become a better version of ourselves – so that in the future we can live the best life we can?

At this time, many people will feel that their priorities have been changed– so that they may “see life differently” from before.  If this is you, then you may find that you are resisting the pressure to return to your “old life”.  That’s OK.  You have that choice.

This what is called an “adjustment problem”.  You may feel that you have been changed… and that you are unsure that you want to return to your old life.    Or, some may rush back to their previous normality – to find that this “adjustment problem” causes them to experience anxiety or depression.

We are all changed by our experiences… a little every day, but especially by major events. Your experience of the covid-19 pandemic, and the challenges that it has brought, may well have changed you. How could it not?

Some people may find that they have become more introspective… or see the world as a less certain place: revising their values… beliefs… priorities … or reactions; and perhaps deciding to change their lifestyle and the things they wish to focus on.   Some may previously have been decisive … but have now become more empathetic or hesitant; while others may become more assertive or less patient …. or they may even experience a change in their level of self-confidence.

So, you have a choice – it’s not necessarily about returning to your “old life” …but it’s about making a positive decision to choose how you wish to change; and to start feel comfortable with “the person that you have become”.

A mindful approach to change and adjustment.

A “mindful approach” to this situation would be to become more aware of “when you seem to react or behave differently from your old self”… so that you can decide on which reactions are most appropriate for how you feel now.   Recording these observations, of different feelings and reactions, will help you understand the way that you have been changed by your experience.

Let’s think about how we react to situations.  We may often respond in haste – or become emotional, or, upset, aggressive, defensive – or we may feel insulted or let down.  These are all emotional responses – often made without proper reflection upon the situation.  For example – we may react without considering the pressures upon, or the anxieties of, those around us who may be reacting emotionally.  Do we have enough empathy for the situations faced by others?

What about our listening skills?  When we are so caught-up with our own objectives, it’s easy to miss the subtleties of what others are saying to us.

When we are in a group – do we allow others to voice ideas that may be different from our own?  Do we consider these ideas or do we ignore them? Are we really open to the opinions of others?  Research shows that teams of diverse people often make better and more durable decisions – but to do so such teams have to leverage the expertise and point of views of all of the different team members.  To allow everyone to contribute… to be able to say what they think without fear of being punished or ridiculed. This is called psychological safety.

When a crisis occurs at home or at work – we may feel pressure to react – yet it is often wise to pause and really try to understand the implications of what has happened and what may happen as a result of the various options available to us. But this takes self-confidence: to admit that you don’t have all the answers; and that you need to explore, think or even to reach out of advice or opinions.

And again, in a difficult situation, we may become irritable or short with people – and our poor behaviour may have long lasting impacts on our relationships or on the loyalty of our colleagues.

Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy… or MBCT… was developed at the universities of Massachusetts and Oxford; and research shows that MBCT will increase our resilience in a lasting kind of way… and it will allow us to have more authority of over how we react. This is called “emotional regulation”.

MBCT will improve your ability to concentrate and to focus, it will increase your empathy and compassion for others, and boost your ability deal with stress and pressure.  You will become more able to deal with “the challenge and uncertainty of change”; and this is empowering and will increase your self-esteem and self-confidence. MBCT will boost your performance at work or in sport, and increase your focus, your engagement and your “flow”. It will enable you to develop the skills to manage in challenging and disruptive business environments and to attain the objectivity, focus and emotional stability that you will require.

MBCT develops our ability to observe the emotions that arise within us – without making impulsive responses. We learn not to judge these emotions– they are neither good or bad – they are just our reactions.  We can, if we wish, make a thoughtful response to whatever triggered such emotions.  Improving this ability means that we realise that we are no longer controlled by our emotions –  and this in turn increases our self-esteem and self-confidence so that we feel more able to deal with the situations that we may find ourselves in… and in fact we really are more able to deal with such situations. And this empowers us – and we reduce negative reactions to day to day events.  In this way we become more resilient.

MBCT can also improve our ability to avoid distractions and to commit to improving our health, our relationships and to perusing our own personal development.

You see, at whatever our age, our brains are pretty flexible and can always make new connections – and so we can “change our reactions and unconscious responses” – this is called “Neuro Plasticity”.   And even if you “think you can’t change” … you can.

So despite all the challenges that recent events have brought, this could be an opportunity for each of us to make a positive decision to invest some time to change the way that we react and behave – to be a better version of ourselves.

Is this a time when we may feel that we would like to “reset”; to think about the way we wish to live and the way that we behave with others?  It could be that this time is an opportunity to invest in ourselves… to change the way that we react and how we interact with others – to improve our emotional intelligence, our “focus in life” and our willpower to be the best that we can be.

Rezl is our smartphone app that delivers a full blown “Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy” course employing tutorials and guided meditations. Rezl runs on Android and iOS phones – why not try if, for about 15 minutes each day, and notice how it helps you to grow?

 

Take care of yourself

Dealing with our Feelings about the Future

As we wait to see how the world unlocks and how we can overcome the covid19 pandemic, many of us will be dealing with uncertainties and with anxieties – both for ourselves and for our friends and family.

We have produced a special audio session to explain how we can react positively to the current situation and how we can best deal with the challenges that we face.  Try it and share it with any friends or family that may find it helpful; and tell us what you think at: facebook.com/rezlapp  or follow us at twitter.com/RezlApp.

Take care of yourself.

Reduce Stress and Anxiety Caused by the Covid19 Pandemic

So most of us are in lockdown – while key workers provide healthcare and essential services.

The current situation will be causing many people to worry – about their own wellbeing or the wellbeing their love ones; or they may be facing short-term hardships or uncertainty over their employment as many companies may struggle to survive. Key workers may be finding things stressful and daunting.

It’s a worrying time… and for those who are dealing with anxiety or stress this may be a very challenging moment. Yet these are normal reactions for all of us when there are so many unknowns… or when we sense that our wellbeing may be threatened.  Most all of us will be experiencing these same emotions.

So right now, things may be uncertain – and it is true that we do not know how long it will take for this situation to pass – so be patient… things will become clearer.

Now Science shows us that mindfulness can help us to significantly reduce our anxiety and our stress. The Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy used within the Rezl smartphone app is scientifically proven to reduce anxiety and to help people to deal with stress – and the Rezl toolbox includes meditations to help with uncertainty and to avoid sleep problems.

Last month we set in place our offer of a free Rezl app. So, if you, or someone close to you, would like to try Rezl then please go ahead and take up our offer to use Rezl for free. Visit https://rezl.com/freerezl/ or email free@rezl.com

When so much is uncertain…  then “mindfully living in the present”, is a choice that you can make. The situation is changing… and so things will not always be this way.

To avoid becoming overwhelmed by our anxieties… it will help we can feel “more grounded”… and to find acceptance for life’s uncertainties…  even just for now – this minute… or hour… or for this day.

Take care of yourselves.

Rezl Unwrapped – the way that mindfulness will build up your resilience

The Rezl smartphone app uses mindfulness to build up our resilience. Our approach is to be very clear about the way that our brains work and how some habits may cause us problems.  Rezl explains how we can change the way that we react and respond so that we become more resilient.  In this post I want to explain a little more about how mindfulness can help each of us to change the way that we think.

What is resilience and what is mindfulness?

Our resilience is our ability to deal with pressure, challenges and setbacks. The good news is that resilience involves behaviours, thoughts and actions that can be learned and developed in anyone.

Rezl uses something called Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy… or MBCT… to build up our resilience.  MBCT was developed at the universities of Massachusetts and Oxford… and research shows that MBCT will increase our resilience in a lasting kind of way.

Signs that your resilience may be getting low include difficulty sleeping, irritability and moodswings, poor levels of concentration…. and restlessness. Scientific research shows that Rezl’s MBCT will help you to deal with stress and avoid problems like anxiety and low mood.

Mindfulness makes us more “aware of our thoughts” in an objective, non-judgemental way… so that we are better able to manage our “feelings and emotions”.  And this empowers us – so that we build up our self-confidence and our self-esteem; and we reduce negative reactions to day to day events…..  In this way we become more resilient.

Let’s go through that last paragraph again: mindfulness develops the ability to observe the emotions and responses that arise within us – without making an impulsive response. We learn not to judge these emotions – they are neither good nor bad – they are just our reactions.  We can, if we wish, make thoughtful response to whatever triggered such emotions.  Improving this ability means that we realise that we are no longer controlled by our emotions –  and this in turn increases our self-esteem and self-confidence… so that we feel more able to deal with the situations that we may find ourselves in… and in fact we really are more able to deal with such situations.

For everyone: Rezl will improve your performance in every part of your life.  You’ll become more positive and more able to take on challenges. Rezl will increase your empathy …. and you’ll be better able to process new ideas, improving all aspects of your working and home life. In fact mindfulness is used by the US special forces so that they can make better decisions when under pressure or in chaotic and high stress circumstances.

Elite performers, at work or in sport, are relentless in seeking out ways to improve.  If you want to increase your level of performance then experience shows that Rezl will improve your focus, your engagement and your “flow”… so that you see things vividly… and the steps to success become clear… so that you move up to the next level.

And for leaders and aspiring leaders… Rezl will develop your skills to manage in “challenging and disruptive business environments”.  Through Rezl you will attain the objectivity, focus and “emotional stability” that you will require in such situations.

So how does it work?

Rezl’s MBCT Foundation Programme is based on science and thousands of successful scientific trials all over the world.  To understand the way mindfulness works it is necessary to understand three things:

Firstly … All brains demonstrate the ability to make new connections and modify existing connections which changes the way we think and even changes the way we react subconsciously – it just takes some training and “practice”.  This is called “neuroplasticity” – and it is an ability we all have at any age.

Secondly … Our emotions can control of our reactions, especially if we are stressed or in danger. This can keep us safe; but it can also mean that we may react or respond without giving a situation proper thought.

And thirdly…   For most of our day we are unaware of the situations that we react to… or even that we are reacting to them!

It is our “Attention” which ensures that we “consciously notice” what is happening   …and how we react…  and how we feel. Yet for so many of our waking hours we are actually ‘un…conscious’.  Most days… for maybe eighty percent of our time… we are on ‘autopilot’.

You see, our brains are very good at processing events, information and feelings “in the background” – without our “conscious attention”.  And so, this means that many of our thoughts… our reactions and our emotions do not arise from conscious thought – they do not arise from “our attention” …that’s because we are on “auto pilot”, or, because our attention is elsewhere.

Our brains have developed to think in two different ways… a “hot” or an “emotional brain” that responds quickly, yet sometimes inaccurately, to what is happening – and a more analytical “cool” or “thinking brain” which requires more time to consider the different inputs and to figure out how we might respond.

Our emotional brains have evolved to protect us – so that when we are in danger, our emotions cause us to respond quickly to keep us from harm:– to run or  to protect ourselves.  And even today our emotions can be lifesaving …as they alert us to dangers… and cause us to defend ourselves instinctively.

As an example: if we walk below a cliff face, we become aware of movement above us. If we only had our intellectual “thinking brain”, by the time we had considered and assessed the risk of the falling boulder or rock – we’d be in trouble! Thanks to the “emotional brain”, and in this scenario, our first wave emotions, we can become aware of the movement above, perhaps see or hear the danger – and jump clear, all before the mind has fully appreciated what the danger is.  So, the “emotional brain” is a true lifesaver – by design.

Yet today, we have the addition of the “thinking brain” also. It’s slow, by comparison with the “emotional brain”, but if we can use the “thinking brain” to help us choose behaviours more appropriate than our emotional reactivity might otherwise provide, so we can exist more fully and peacefully. We can enhance our productivity, relationships, and general psychological and physiological health.

But we have a challenge here, because once the faster “emotional brain” has ‘hijacked’ its host – you and me – we may sometimes struggle to think clearly.

So, because we are so often not consciously aware of the situations around us, or of the emotions arising within us, we can find that our “emotional brain” reacts automatically; so we may become angry, upset, frustrated, or feel low or anxious without any conscious consideration by our “thinking brain”.

We can imagine our thoughts and emotions as a river rushing through a stretch of rapids –and we may find ourselves being tossed around…  and pulled under or hitting rocks… yet “mindfulness” is like being able to stand on the edge of the river bank and watch the currents and eddies within the river… without becoming overwhelmed …or starting to panic.

The definition of mindfulness is “to be aware of our thoughts and our reactions …. in an objective, non-judgemental way” ….   So, to be mindful we must first become aware of where are attention is and be able to observe our thoughts and the emotions that arise within us – accepting that our “emotional brain” may often start to react.  Yet by observing such reactions our “thinking brain” can chose a more thoughtful and appropriate response.

The Rezl MBCT Foundation Programme starts by building-up our awareness – “turning off the autopilot” – so we become aware of when the mind wanders – and also try and reduce the internal distraction within the mind.

Two significant distractions for the “thinking brain” are thinking about the past and thoughts, or even anxieties, about the future – yet unless we are specifically analysing something from the past or planning for the future these thoughts can be distracting and will remove our awareness of the present – the here and now!

The Foundation Programme use meditations like the Bodyscan – to practice focusing only upon the topic under consideration – some part of the body; so that we can become practiced at focusing our attention and at reducing distractions that may cause the mind to wander.   And you’ve probably noticed that some Rezl meditations ask you to “focus on the breath” as a way to quieten and avoid distractions of the mind.  Focusing on our breathing is in itself calming and prevents us from thinking about the past or worrying about the future…. And it enables us to practice refocusing the mind whenever we find it wandering.

There are a few other themes within the programme:

The Foundation Programme asks us to practice observing the thoughts that may arise within us without automatically judging them as good or bad – if we automatically allow our emotional brain to judge things it may not always make the rights call – so it is always better to reflect and consider an appropriate response.  The problem with judging things is that in doing so we attach emotions to the events and this can make our  reactions even stronger.

The Foundation Programme also looks at how we see ourselves and how we measure ourselves by the reactions of others – and so we may find ourselves striving for things that will impress others or that will please others. It’s as if we have given the keys to our happiness to others.   This type of behaviour can leave us feeling that we are “not good enough” or that we are struggling to please others.

This introduces the topic of self-compassion. Sometimes, especially when striving to achieve something, we will encounter setbacks – and this is a normal part of the learning process – yet many people are far too hard on themselves. The programme encourages us to show ourselves compassion” just as we would do so to others.  In this way we become more positive about ourselves and even encouraging.

The Foundation Programme also considers how goals are useful to give us direction in life – yet if we are preoccupied by our goals, and the thoughts of achieving them or failing to achieve them, we can often become overwhelmed and distracted from the current steps that we have to focus on.

By becoming more mindful we are able to operate with conscious  self-authority  –  a clear understanding of our responses and actions rather than allowing our “unconscious brain” to take over’;  and we can increase our resilience to meet the challenges of life, to the impermanence of life and to changes … those which are welcome … and those less so. In creating for ourselves this “more harmonious, balanced and peaceful life”… we open the gates to creativity, relaxation, better quality sleep, improved relationships, productivity – and better general health and wellbeing.

Embrace it… to access the very best life.

Covid-19 – The Rezl Initiative:  Get the Rezl app FREE – to reduce anxiety and stress

As the World Health Organization officially declared the covid-19 virus a “pandemic”, cities across the world are implementing preventative measures such as self-isolation, restricting movement, social-distancing and better hygiene to try to mitigate the number of cases.

This is creating fear and anxiety… and may even lower peoples’ immune systems.

The Rezl Initiative:  Get the Rezl app FREE – to reduce anxiety and stress

In response, Carina Sciences is making its Rezl app available FREE to those worried by the situation or even those in isolation.

Rezl uses Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy which is scientifically proven to reduce anxiety, prevent you from feeling overwhelmed and enable you to deal with stress, challenges and uncertainty.

Rezl is an app for Android  and iOS phones that builds resilience. Our resilience helps us respond to challenges and setbacks, enabling us to focus on the things we wish to achieve in our lives.  Research shows learning to be ‘mindful’ can increase our resilience in a lasting way.

For more information about Rezl please watch this video

We are making 2000 FREE licenses available right now. Hurry to claim your free Rezl app.·

For a free Rezl app, email free@rezl.com

You will then receive instructions to install and activate the Rezl. · Use of Rezl is anonymous but we may send you a short questionnaire in a few weeks so we can improve Rezl and provide better help to people in the future. Thank you and we wish you well in these difficult times.

Take care of yourselves.

Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy for Children (MBCT-C)

I have been looking at the research showing the impact of mindfulness programmes for highschool students.

There is a good summary on the Forbes website here: “Science Shows Meditation Benefits Children’s Brains And Behavior” https://www.forbes.com/sites/alicegwalton/2016/10/18/the-many-benefits-of-meditation-for-children/#508590e0dbe3

The piece highlights the research cases to demonstrate the impact of mindfulness programmes for kids:

Increased attention – Studies have shown that it can help kids concentrate.  Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy for children (MBCT-C) has also been shown to help improve attention and behaviour problems, and reduce anxiety in kids who started out with high anxiety levels. A study  showed, that in boys with ADHD, it significantly reduced hyperactive behaviours and improved concentration..

A bump in attendance and grades in school  –  scientific evidence, suggests that meditation in schools helps improve the things that school officials like to see – grades and attendance. A study found that mindfulness helped kids during high-stakes testing, by reducing their anxiety and boosting working memory.

A reprieve from outside trauma – Not all problems faced by kids are from within the schools. A lot of kids are dealing with major stressors at home. Mindfulness has been shown to help kids who are dealing with stressors.

Better mental health – A study  of MBCT-C showed the children who started out with high anxiety had reductions in anxiety symptoms at the end of the 12-week treatment. Another study found that an afterschool program consisting of yoga and meditation helped kids feel happier and more relaxed.

Self-awareness and self-regulation – Mindfulness is intimately connected to self-awareness (it’s almost the definition of it), and this extends naturally to self-regulation. That is, if you learn to be more aware of your thought processes and reactions in the present moment, it follows that you would be more in charge of your emotions and behaviors.  And the research has backed this up: one study found that kids who learned mindful awareness practices had better executive function (see previous blog post here) after eight weeks of training twice a week.

Social-emotional development  –  A study found that a social-emotional learning program coupled with mindfulness was more effective than a classic “social responsibility” program in several measures. Kids demonstrated greater empathy, perspective-taking, and emotional control, compared to the control group.

Yet, in addition to the wellbeing and the behavioural benefits, there are the academic performance benefits.  The UK’s Mindfulness in Schools Project provides link to  paper by Professor Katherine Weare of the University of Southampton who reviewed the research in support of the claims above (here) – affirming the positive impact of mindfulness on depression, anxiety, stress and the avoidance of self-harming and eating disorders; and the improvement of cognition and concentration… leading to better grades.  It seems a no-brainer.

Let’s look at a study by  University of Cambridge (Ref The lancet Public Health, Dec 2017):

At Cambridge University they measured the mental wellbeing of over 1000 students and then gave half of them an 8 week mindfulness course.  They measured the stress levels of the students prior to any training and then during their exam periods.

After the training,  “Mindful Group” showed lower stress levels: –

  • They were a third less likely to  less likely demonstrate stress levels above the threshold normally seen as meriting support.
  • Their stress levels at exam time peaked at levels that were actually below those before taking the course! Suggesting that the mindfulness training had  a long lasting effect to increase their resilience against stresses.

“The evidence is mounting to show that that mindfulness training can help people to cope with accumulative stress.   It appears popular, feasible, acceptable… and without stigma.”  – Professor Peter Jones (Neuroscience, Cambridge University).

So what exactly is Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy for Children (MBCT-C)?

MBCT-C is a psychotherapy for anxious or depressed children adapted from MBCT. The primary aim is to improve affective self-regulation (= retraction to events and emotions)  through development of mindful attention and decentring from thoughts and emotions. The program consists of 12 weekly therapy sessions lasting 90-minutes, conducted individually or in small groups of 6-8 children. Activities are designed to be engaging and developmentally appropriate for children ages 8 to 12.

MBCT-C is described in the book “Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy for Anxious Children: A Manual for Treating Childhood Anxiety” by Randye J. Semple and Jennifer Lee.  The scheme applies the ideas of MBCT in a way that is suitable for children through fun thought exercises and activities –  it includes actives to be done with the family in the home… though please note that the foreword makes it clear then such a programmes.

I hope more schools and colleges will embrace such MBCT-C programmes – not just for those kids with poor wellbeing… but for all pupils.

 

Mindfulness for Teaching Staff

According to some well known newspapers,  whatever is wrong with society… obesity, teenage pregnancy, drugs, drinking, homophobia, racism end even a lack of resilience… it’s always down to education… and to teachers.

Most teachers I know are stressed by the relentless stream of government driven changes in education, the need for schools to be excellent (…ofsted) or to produce the right GCSE results to inch up the league tables – the possibility of failure may cause pupils to vote with their feet and with them goes the funding… and the lower the funding then the less money to pay for resources and classroom support…. leading to an even bigger workload for the teachers.

It is not surprising that the government’s Teacher Wellbeing Report  (July 2019) shows that  teaching staff and education professionals have the highest rates of work-related stress, depression and anxiety in the UK. The report shows that  “While teachers love their profession, enjoy teaching and seeing pupils flourish, the negative elements outweigh the positives. Staff are suffering from high workloads, a lack of work-life balance, access to limited resources and a perceived lack of support from senior leaders, and this leads to poor occupational wellbeing for many teachers.”

The report goes on to say that Despite the positive feelings towards teaching as a vocation and towards their workplace, many teachers believe that the advantages of their profession do not outweigh the disadvantages and that their profession is undervalued in society.”

So teachers are demoralised and feel undervalued – …that they can never be “good enough” – if a friend was saying these things then we would take them to the doctors!

The key points from the report state:

  • Workload is high, affecting work–life balance
  • Staff perceive lack of resources as a problem that stops them from doing their job as well as they can
  • Poor behaviour is a considerable source of low occupational well-being, and teachers do not always feel supported by senior leaders and parents with managing it
  • Relationships with parents can be a negative factor and a source of stress
  • Educators feeel they do not have enough influence over policy, which changes too quickly
  • Educators also feel that Ofsted inspections are a source of stress
  • Findings on overall support from senior leaders are mixed
  • Staff need more support from their line managers

Now clearly some of these issues are related to funding and resources – yet so many of them are related to the emotional impact of the education system on its employees.

It seems essential that more needs to be done to support the wellbeing of our teachers… and to help them to deal with their mood, anxiety and self-esteem… and to avoid taking the issues so personally.

Last year, when we were developing the rezl toolbox sessions to help people deal with pressure and stress, we listed the types of  situations that can cause people to feel stressed:

  • We may have too much to do – and feel overloaded…   working long hours…   
  • We worry that we can’t get things done in time – or achieve the quality we want – and we may feel that we will “let people down” by not delivering on our promises.
  • Or it may be that things are not going as we wish  …that we feel we are continually failing … and we may start to become desperate to turn things around    
  • We may have pressure to succeed …where we feel we are failing to meet “the expectations of others”…. or to meet our own expectations.
  • Or we start to fear being held responsible (….justifiably or not…) and feel ourselves becoming defensive.
  • It may be that our recent performance has left us feeling judged as incompetent; we may feel humiliated.
  • And sometimes, we may get stressed, when we face difficult challenges or issues  that we fear we can’t resolve at this moment and so we feel anxious.

(NB: we address an approach to all these things within the toolbox session.)

It seems to me that most teachers I know will be stressed by pretty much all of these dynamics.

Where “resource issues” are in play, and teachers feel overloaded with work,  then even the most conscientious teachers may start to feel that that they can’t “achieve/deliver the quality that they would wish– and this feeling is especially stressful.

Meanshile Ross McWilliam, founder of MindsetPro, and Claire Kelly, director of curricula and training at Mindfulness in Schools Project have published an article saying that schools and colleges should engage with mindfulness programmes  in order to ensure that they support their beleaguered staff https://edexec.co.uk/lowering-stress-levels-balancing-wellbeing-and-building-emotional-resilience/

They say It’s important to be aware of mental health; self-esteem, confidence and resilience are key components which underpin positive mental health and from which good mental health and wellbeing can be grown and nurtured. How do we take personal responsibility for this, and what can senior leaders do to nurture this desired outcome?”

They go on to suggest that research indicates that the regular practice of mindfulness can help teachers and senior leaders experience a reduction of stress, fewer sleep difficulties, increased emotional self-awareness and compassion and greater potential to create positive changes both in and out of the classroom. … and that this will be good for staff and for the students.

I looked at some of the research in a previous blog post about the positive results of providing such mindfulness programmes to education workers:  https://carinasciences.com/2019/06/04/mindfulness-staff-in-the-education-sector/

Studies had  found that academics are often isolated and anxious, in a system they feel is driven by financial targets – and that 55% of higher education professionals describe themselves as stressed and nearly 40% had considered leaving the sector in the past two years as a result of health pressures.

Yet research by K Weare  of University of Exeter highlighted evidence on the impact of mindfulness on the wellbeing and performance of school staff:

  • reductions in stress, burnout and anxiety, including a reduction in days off work and feelings of task and time pressure,
  • improved ability to manage thoughts and behaviour, an increase in coping skills, motivation, planning and problem solving, and taking more time to relax.
  • better mental health including less distress, negative emotion, depression and anxiety.
  • greater wellbeing, including life satisfaction, self-confidence, self-efficacy, self-compassion and sense of personal growth.
  • increased kindness and compassion to others, including greater empathy, tolerance, forgiveness and patience, and less anger and hostility.
  • better physical health, including lower blood pressure, declines in cortisol (a stress hormone) and fewer reported physical health problems. 
  • increased cognitive performance, including the ability to pay attention and focus, make decisions and respond flexibly to challenges.
  • enhanced job performance, including better classroom management and organisation, greater ability to prioritise, to see the whole picture, to be more self-motivated and autonomous, to show greater attunement to students’ needs, and achieve more supportive relationships with them.

Further,  a 2019 paper from Bristol University demonstrated that mindfulness-based interventions contribute to the overall educator wellbeing and this may increase students’ sense of connectedness to teachers without themselves undergoing any intervention:

  • lower levels of perceived stress
  • reduced sleep difficulty
  • higher levels of mindfulness
  • increased self-compassion
  • better emotion
  • Improved students’ sense of connectedness to teachers

I am certain that mindfulness really can really help to address the stress and anxiety of education workers; and colleges and schools must to introduce such initiatives.  They make fiscal sense (reducing absenteeism and staff turnover), educational sense and fulfil the moral obligation to their stressed-out staff.

And don’t underestimate the impact on the “connectedness of teachers to students – how can we expect depressed, anxious teachers to be inspiring motivating and encouraging to their students?  Surely the enhanced wellbeing of staff must drive better academic results.

In my next post -I will look at the impact of mindfulness programmes on the kids themselves – improvements in behaviour, mood, mental heath… and academic results.

Executive Function (EF) – the key to success.

I have been reading Walter Mischel’s excellent book “The Marshmallow Test”. The book explains Mischel’s work around the topic of self-control.  The title comes from an experiment to see if preschool kids were able to delay gratification – by having a choice between “one marshmallow now” or “two marshmallows later” (after say 10 minutes).  This test, or variations of it (- there were rewards other than marshmallows…) measured the child’s self-control or willpower.  It turns out that the test is a predictor of how the kids can control their behaviour, how they do at school, how they interact with others; and even into adulthood: their careers, relationships and their health (..connected to the ability to make healthy choices).   The original researchers in California and New York were able to track the progress of the kids for 40 years or more.

Basically, the book highlights the ability of participants to use their thinking brain – their “cool brain” – to avoid being highjacked by their emotional or “hot” brain.  This “self-control or willpower” is referred to as Executive Function or EF. The successful younger kids often used distraction or their imagination to “cool” the reward… or even tactics like reciting rules such as “I will wait for the two marshmallows” over and over.

Yet Mischel’s research also shows how all of us can develop our EF through training and practice – and at any time in our lives.  You see, our brains always have the ability to make and to remake connections – this is called “neural plasticity” – and this neural plasticity can be put to work to improve our EF.

For example, EF is shown to be improved by cognitive therapies including mindfulness… as we become more objective and aware of our responses and have better agency over our emotions, our unconscious reactions and our impulses.  This makes sense – mindfulness is all about non-judgemental awareness and becoming able to make appropriate responses.

So, for all of us it is never too late to improved our EF.  Good news!

The book also pointed me in the direction of a trial in British Columbia by Adele Diamond and her colleagues who carried out the first randomised controlled test to investigate the impact of some education games and exercises called “Tools of the mind”  (see https://toolsofthemind.org/  ) which were designed to improve the EF of five-yearolds – thereby making them more able to avoid distraction, to be able to focus on their work and to adopt a growth mindset.  The results were so good that some of participating schools asked for the experiment to be halted so that they could provide the same programme to the control groups kids.  This work is described in a paper titled “Randomised control trial of Tools of the Mind: Marked benefits to kindergarten children and their teachers” (here) ..

Diamond and her colleagues state: “This study replicated that Tools [of the Mind] improve reading and shows for the first time that it improves writing (far exceeding levels the school districts had seen before), self-control and attention-regulation in the real world (e.g., time on task without supervision).”

Within an eight months of commencing the trial three times more children on the programme than in control classes were reading at the grade one level …. and three times more children on the programme than in control classes were able to write a full sentence they themselves composed or multiple consecutive ones. Wow!

“This study found that Tools [of the Mind] not only improve academic outcomes in reading and writing, but also shows for the first time that Tools improves EFs in the classroom (…being able to stay on task and quickly resume work after a break), markedly reduces teacher burnout and children being ostracized or excluded, and increases the joy students and teachers experience in school.”

Even better than making a great start in their education – these kids will carry this improved EF throughout their whole lives. The icing on the cake is that these kids will see themselves as achieving and will develop a positive self-image that will help them to achieve more and to reduce the possibility of mental health problems.

Isn’t it time we paid more attention to teaching our kids how to use their brains – and teaching us adults too?

Resilience for Entrepreneurs – have your “beginner’s mind” available

I have been looking at research on building resilience for entrepreneurs.  Starting-up a new venture brings many challenges; and requires an ability to cope with increasingly complex, competitive and uncertain environments.   To prevail, an entrepreneur will need to master new skills… and quickly; and will need to work through many trials. They will undoubtedly need to be resilient.

The research shows that Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MCBT) builds resilience to enable entrepreneurs to avoid wellbeing problems and to remain mindful throughout challenging periods. It shows that MBCT  is scientifically proven to develop long-term resilience; and it is a positive tool for to business leadership.  The research indicates that MBCT is increases life satisfaction, vitality and the quality of interpersonal interactions.  It shows MBCT can  reduce problems related to stress, anxiety and depression .  MBCT is shown to empower people to view events more objectively and impassively… and it enables them to regulate their thoughts, emotions and physiological reactions more effectively .  Good stuff.

Most researchers approach this topic by viewing resilience as comprising three domains: affective, cognitive and self-regulatory…yet they’re interdependent. The “affective domain” refers to the experience of positive or negative emotions and the ability to regulate, or have authority over, ones emotions.  The “cognitive domain” includes constructs that reflect individual’s thoughts, beliefs and evaluations of themselves (i.e. their understanding of their own abilities and their self-esteem) and their interpretation of the situation (i.e. perceived control).  The “self-regulatory domain” refers to the process of self-regulation –  and strategies for persistence, willpower and grit… and for coping with their emotions, impulsiveness, pressure or stress. The entrepreneur will benefit from nurturing all three domains so that they build up the psychological fitness needed to enable them to respond to challenges.

What caught my eye in some of the material were references to self-awareness and the value of retaining a “beginners mind”.

You see,  many would-be entrepreneurs  have a lot of self-confidence (…and I mean a lot…) – which can be good… but it can cause blind spots!  It can manifest as a lack of self-awareness, referred to as  “cognitive/negativity bias” where a person suffers from “illusory superiority” by  mistakenly assessing their ability as greater than they possess. The danger is that they can fail to recognise their own limitations and/or weaknesses.  This an academic way of saying they are “overly self -confident”… and that can lead to problems!

One way around this, without battering the entrepreneur’s self-confidence, is to promote awareness –  including awareness of their own abilities and weakness… yet  also to learn to observe situations objectively – with curiosity – without prior assumptions – with a “beginner’s mind”

“Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind” by Shunryū Suzuki is a thought provoking book.    Suzuki’s tells us “If your mind is empty, it is always ready for anything… it is open to everything”.

Of course an expert mind is invaluable in many situations … but it’s not “either-or” – it’s both.  When things are unexpected or unexplained then it is important to investigate the situation and to carefully select the right solution…  it might be unhelpful if you are misdirected by your own current wisdom.  You should always stand back and be curious with your “beginner’s mind”…assuming nothing.

So – don’t be deceived by your own self-belief – always be ready to approach a situation with your beginner’s mind.

 

The Joy of Rajio Taisou

Over the last 40 years, a number of Japanese manufacturers have established factories in the UK.  They brought “just in time” and Kanban methods to their factories here …and also their habit of having staff take part in daily communal exercises.  In Japan, they call it “Rajio Taisou” – “rajio” which means radio and “taisou” which means physical exercise.

Studies have suggested that this daily exercise  leads to better employee health (i.e. less illness and reduced longer-term conditions like heart disease etc) leading to less absenteeism; and also to fewer accidents in the workplace – perhaps the exercise increases strength and co-ordination.  Employees say that the exercise fosters a stronger sense of community within the workforce.

Yet I am interested in the impact of Rajio Taisou upon mental wellbeing.  It would seem that such an exercise regimen provides a useful “cue” – to enable people to “get ready to work” – but I think it is deeper than that.

In a previous blog I looked at the way we can often take our mood (anger, aggression, upset, depression or anxiety) from one area of our lives into the next. Rajio Taisou often uses slow “co-ordination exercises” that require concentration – providing an opportunity to “decompress” and free the mind from chatter, rumination and anxiety.  This may well have the effect of setting aside the emotions that the staff bring into work with them… allowing them to then focus and engage in their work without such “internal distractions”.  In fact the evidence does show that concentration is improved and mistakes are reduced.  And it may lead to an “endomorphine rush” or even an absorption, or “flow experience”, that could both create a feeling of happiness.

Finally,  studies show that we often take habits from one part of our lives to another.  Starbucks was at one point the USA’s largest educator as it sought to teach its staff “self-reliance” (i.e. personal organisation and wellbeing so that staff increased their self-confidence and ability to engage with customers).  It seems that by becoming better organised in their domestic arrangements then they would bring these habits into their sport, their work, their diet and their interpersonal relationships.  It could be that Rajio Taisou achieves a similar effect of  introducing organisation into the start of the day.

The Starbucks case study is a fascinating story – as is the case whereby industrial giant Alcoa was transformed by a programme that had the whole company focus on safety… but curiously this had the effect of boosting productivity and empowering staff to increase innovation… such that the business results were very impressive.

As you might expect I am very interested  to identify a company that might become the “mindful company” – so that by focusing on supporting staff to improve their mindfulness the results would go beyond the immediate gains of reducing absenteeism, staff turnover and mistakes – but could also empower staff and increase openness and psychological safely to drive  innovation and change.  I am thinking that any kind of consumer facing or care or educational organisation might be right for such a programme. Please contact me if you might be curious.