Mindfulness – to level-up your performance.

Research shows that Mindfulness will increase sporting performance. For example, in one trial, mindfulness training enabled basketball players to achieve a 5% improvement in their shooting accuracy – it is on such fine margins that games are won and lost.

In this post I want to think about how mindfulness can help us all to be successful in our personal lives, our work or in our sport.  I am going to focus on sport because work is boring and personal lives are diverse. But as you will see that the same issues come into play.

The recent English Premier League soccer season finished with a flurry of matches.  What struck me is how often a losing coach stands before the media and says “We’ll take the positives and we move on”.  Of course he (…not many shes) is not going openly discuss his  true feelings… and taking the positives from defeat is good – so too is learning the lessons that must be addressed in the future. But what does “we move on” mean?  Well, we have often seen teams play badly, or individuals lose concentration or make mistakes at key moment, only for these problems to be repeated in a “downward spiral of form”…  so I expect that the coach means that he wants the players to feel positive going into the next game… rather than haunted …or even terrified that they will repeat their mistakes over and over.

Yet sportsmen and women spend a lot of time on fitness and technique – but do they spend enough time on gaining the mental skills that will enable them to focus upon their immediate challenges… and to be able to set aside both previous failures and also the way that today’s performance might impact up on their futures?

Now, research has shown that athletes need to avoid anxiety and low self-confidence – and they must believe in, and even envision, themselves performing well and achieving victory.  That’s the power of positive thinking.  Yet a string of recent poor performances can be carried from event to event.  Similarly, a soccer player who has made a mistake in the fifth minute may be wary of repeating such a mistake for the rest of the game.   So, it is essential that players are not distracted by the events of the past (including the very recent past) and not be distracted by thoughts of the future (good or bad).  The key is to be able to focus on the current moment without these distractions.   This is where mindfulness comes in.  Athletes need to give their full attention to their current situation.

The relationship between mindfulness and sporting performance is demonstrated in this conference paper: “Effects of Mindfulness on Sport, Exercise and Physical Activity: A Systematic Review.” Rivera et al, International Conference on Physical Education and Sport Science, Paris, Volume: 77, 06/2011.  Here.

This review looked at a number of research trials to demonstrate both ability of mindfulness to increase the “flow state” of athletes and also to increase sporting performance.  (I say more about “flow“ below).

So how does mindfulness cause such improvements in sports performance?

Well, a number of papers have been successful in demonstrating correlations between mindfulness and secondary attributes that are shown to improve sport performance.  For example, a paper from 2017 (“Mindfulness Mechanisms in Sports: Mediating Effects of Rumination and Emotion Regulation on Sport-Specific Coping” by Josefsson et all Mindfulness volume 8, 2017) showed that increased mindfulness reduces “rumination” and boosts “emotional regulation” leading to an improvement in an athlete’s “Athletic coping skills inventory”  (a set of traits which are shown to improve both training and performance).  Here.

The Athletic Coping Skills Inventory (Smith et al. 1995) is a 28-item scale and consists of seven subscales (coping with adversity, coachability, concentration, confidence and achievement motivation, goal setting and mental preparation, peaking under pressure, freedom from worry).

It is worth noting that “rumination” is described as “highly self-focussed, repetitive and unstoppable negative thoughts”.  It seems reasonable the rumination, and a lower ability to deal with emotional reactions that may arise, will lead to distraction and a loss of self-belief both in training and in competition. (“Emotional regulation” refers to the capacity to manage negative and/or challenging emotions.)

I am impressed by the work in this French paper “Mindfulness and Acceptance Approaches in Sport Performance” from the Journal of Clinical Sport Psychology, Human Kinetics, 2009, 3 (4). It explores the impact of mindfulness on elite performers in the fields of swimming and golf.  Here.

The first investigation within the paper looks at the ability of the athletes to achieve “flow” – a state of absorption and focus on the current moment as they prepare for, and execute, their swimming races.  I have written about flow before. (Here https://rezl.com/2019/12/11/the-happiness-of-flow/) Flow is a state of engagement and heightened awareness while participating is some activity. According to Jackson and Roberts (1992), the state of flow in sport represents the psychological state underlying peak performance, which is characterized by the level of accomplishment.

The research showed that all of the elite swimmers were experiencing five of the characteristics of flow:

  • the autotelic conceptual dimension (e.g., “I felt really happy, and I just wanted to go!”)
  • total concentration (e.g., “I was focused on what I was going to achieve, on what I was going to do”)
  • challenge-skills balance (e.g., “I was confident about what I did before, and I knew that I could do better in the final”)
  • sense of total control (e.g., “I had the sensation of being in control of what I did, so everything seemed easier! I was the one who was totally in charge of what I did, and nobody could change that!”)
  • unambiguous feedback (e.g., “At this time I knew I swam very well. I had very good bodily sensations and my technique was smooth”) were present in 8 of the 10 accounts of optimal experiences.

Four conceptual dimensions were less common in the interviews:

  • merging of action and awareness (e.g., “I didn’t control what I was doing anymore, as if all my movements had become automatic! Everything had become natural”)
  • clear goals (e.g., “I knew I was there to do the time required, so I only had to fight against myself”),
  • time transformation (e.g., “Indeed, I wasn’t aware of time anymore. Everything went very slowly at the beginning . . . and everything went so fast after!”),
  • loss of self-consciousness (e.g., “Just before my race, I felt that I was one with everything…I felt myself in harmony with the environment”) were present in only three optimal experiences.

It appears that achieving the flow state is common within these athlete – so surely practice to both enhance the ability to enter into a flow state and also to remain there might be helpful to any aspiring athlete. In my previous post I explained how Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) can be key here.

 

The second investigation used an MBCT intervention.  A set of twenty elite golfers were divided into an “intervention group” and a “control group”.  The intervention group was guided though an MBCT foundation course.  The researchers then worked regularly with the golfers (both the intervention group and the control group) to assess their performances over a season.

The results were impressive: the golfers in the intervention group all enhanced their national ranking, while only two golfers in the control group did so.  Wow!

The intervention participants demonstrated a number of advantaged and improvements.

  • the mindfulness and acceptance training allowed them to more effectively begin each round (“quickly settling into the swing of things!”)… producing enhanced his performance on the early holes.
  • Believing themselves, more aware and lucid in their approach to golf.
  • perceived that they significantly enhanced their performance in competition.
  • It seems that a key was in focus and decision making – choice of club or choice of shot as well as in quality of execution
  • Statistical analyses showed that the golfers improved their “activation”, which has been defined as, “the process by which individuals heighten their physiological and mental states in situations where they need to increase their energy, motivation, or focus”

So, it seems that the mindful golfers were able to settle into their game quicker and to focus without being distracted by previous holes, shots or of the consequences of their game… and thereby make better decisions, avoid mistakes and to execute shots more consistently.

It is interesting to consider how the MBCT based intervention differs from more popular sports psychology which teaches athletes how to address, or alter, their negative thoughts (or cognitions, sensations, and emotions). The mindfulness intervention here, sought to teach the golfers how to perform while experiencing any unpleasant or distracting thoughts. i.e. to playing golf in spite of unhelpful thoughts and to be able to commit to each shot by focusing on the relevant issues.  I expect that some athletes would prefer one approach while others might prefer another. However, MBCT may offer the enhanced possibility of attaining and remaining in a flow state as well as other “executive function” advantage as such a focus and detachment form distractions and emotions. I was surprised to find that the statistical evidence that conventional sports psychology helps to boost sports performance is a bit thin!

 

Let me circle around and back to soccer.  I recall England centre back Rio Ferdinand saying that England players were unable to play with abandon due to being wary of making any mistakes… and worrying about how such mistakes would be reported by newspapers.  And this was during games!  The thoughts of previous performance (good or bad) – are clearly going to be a distraction that all athletes can do without, and similarly, thoughts of the future and of the consequences of their performance are also a distraction.  Athletes need to give their current situation their full attention:  to avoid errors, to make the right decisions and to relax into their automated performance.

Many Premier League footballers earn £50,0000 to £100,000 per week or more – surely their employers do not want them to be distracted at work!  It looks like an MBCT intervention might be well worth a few minutes per day.

So working on your mindfulness really will enable you to get into your flow state quicker, reduce rumination and improve emotional regulation… so that your “Athletic coping skills inventory”  is raised leading to enhanced performance.

Finally, in this post, sport can be regarded as a metaphor for whatever activity you like.  At home or at work we are happier when in a flow state.  And we will be more effective if we are able to eliminate errors, make correct decisions (even when under pressure) and to perform to our best.  So, try an MBCT intervention to boost your flow… and to focus on the current situation without distractions from the past or the future.

Lockdown knocked metal health – especially in young women.

I have posted before about how young adults, and especially young women, are prone to common mental health disorders; and while the Covid19 pandemic has worsened metal health in general, its biggest impact has been on young women.

Before going on,  I remind any of you… young or old, of whatever gender… that if you are experiencing difficulties with anxiety or low mood then please try our Rezl app for free – it includes an Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) programme that is shown  to build reliance… and on average, to be as effective than medication for reducing anxiety, depression and stress  symptoms.  Just click here to try Rezl for free.

Recently I spotted that University College London had released a report examining the mental health of over 18,000 people aged between 19 and 62 during the lockdown.  Here.

The report shows that:

  • Women were more likely than men to be experiencing mental health issues across all ages.
  • During lockdown: Young women are the most likely group to have suffered high levels of depression, anxiety and loneliness – 19-year-olds were the most likely to be experiencing poor mental health – with 30-year-olds being the second most likely group to endure this.
  • Just over one third of 19-year-old women were suffering from symptoms of depression, compared with just under one quarter of men of the same age. 45% of 19-year-old women and 42% of 19-year-old men had felt lonely during this time.
  • Just over one third of women all and one quarter of men all were feeling lonely.
  • Only 7% of 62-year-old men and 10% of 62-year-old women cited symptoms of depression.

Dr Praveetha Patalay, the report author, said: “Our findings clearly show the high levels of difficulties being experienced by young people aged 19 and 30, especially young women. More needs to be done to support these age groups and to limit the impact of the pandemic on their future health and wellbeing.”

You can read the full story from the Independent  here:

The Independent suggests that “The new research comes as councils in England are failing to urgently invest in mental health and other crucial local services will weaken attempts to help the UK get back on track after the coronavirus outbreak. In a joint report with the Centre for Mental Health, it says mental health issues cost UK employers £35 billion a year due to sickness absence, lessened productivity and employee turnover.”

Again I have written about he very “judge world” that today’s young women inhabit (here).

Maybe more should be done to build resilience and to promote objectivity in young women at an earlier age.

PTSD. Can we better prepare so we are less likely to develop PTSD?

A few weeks ago, I noticed a headline in The Times: “Alarm over surge in suicides by veterans of Afghanistan war.” The sad news was that there’d been a spate of suicides among former soldiers who took part in the bloodiest fighting in Afghanistan. In drawing attention to the facts, Johnny Mercer, the minister for veterans, said that he would expedite government plans for a new mental health service for veterans.

The piece revealed that fourteen former and soldiers have taken their own lives in the previous two months. A high proportion were veterans of Britain’s combat mission in Afghanistan between 2002 and 2014, and were described by Mr Mercer as “a specific unit that served at a specific time in Afghanistan . . . the bloodiest time”.  To his credit, Mr Mercer confirmed that plans would be brought forward for a “high-intensity” mental health programme which will treat post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and help veterans with problems such as addiction and debt. https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/alarm-over-surge-in-suicides-by-veterans-of-afghanistan-war-0vjcls5q6

The Times went on to report: Reflecting on the possibility that some of the veterans may have been suffering from delayed-onset post-traumatic stress disorder, which research suggests can occur about a decade or more after a traumatic event, the minister [Mr Mercer] said: “I’m scratching around looking at evidence from across the globe, including the US, Israel and Australia, to understand if there is an event at the ten-year point. I’m yet to see a conclusive basis for that.”

However, data sets are scarcer than they could have been: the Ministry of Defence has been criticised because it did not collect data on veterans – unlike the US, Canada and Australia. It is now doing so.  I fear that the British “stiff upper lip” has led to a denial of the need to capture data that could have aided our understanding.

Yet, while Britain plays catch-up, other counties have made progress by investigating the ways that such “causalities of war” may be reduced.

Before going further, I will add that PTSD is not just related to military experiences.  Many people develop PTSD as a result of significant, traumatic, horrific or highly stressful events including terrorist attacks, accidents, bereavement, bullying, childbirth and physical, mental, sexual or child abuse.  Sufferers often associate emotions such a fear, guilt, shame and distress with events, or with their own reactions and actions… even where such emotions are not logical or appropriate.  They may start to recall the event(s) and to re-experience these emotions. They may find it difficult to control their emotions or may seek to avoid situations, people or topics that may trigger recollection of the event and of the  emotions that they associated with it.  People with PTSD often develop anxiety and depression. They may become irritable or experience emotional swings.  They are prone to becoming addicted to substances or to gambling as they seek to avoid episodes of PTSD symptoms.  It is estimated that half of us are exposed to traumatic events at some point in our lives and 20% of these will develop PTSD (https://www.ptsduk.org/what-is-ptsd/)

So, while it is important that we understand the way that PTSD symptoms can increase over time, and how best to address such problems, we might also seek out ways to help to avoid developing PTSD in the first place… kind of “inoculating people against developing PTSD”.

Back in 2011 the US Marine Corps ran a trial to see if mindfulness could help combatants to deal with the stresses war and reduce the longer term emotional scars that can cause PTSD.

Camp Pendleton in California is the training base for the Marines known for turning out some of the military’s toughest warriors – and they studied how to make troops less prone to problems through meditative practices based on mindfulness. Facing a record suicide rate and thousands of veterans seeking treatment for post-traumatic stress, the US military sought for ways to reduce strains on service members burdened with more than a decade of fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Marine Corps experimented with a series of mental exercises called “Mindfulness-Based Mind Fitness Training” to see if they could enhance the performance of troops, and their preparation to better handle stress.  The study involved 160 Marines who were taught to focus their attention by concentrating on their body’s sensations, including breathing, in a period of silence. The Marines practiced the calming methods prior to being immersed in a mock Afghan village with screaming actors and controlled blasts to expose them to combat stress.  Another 160 other Marines went through the mock village with no mindfulness-based training, acting as the control group.

The paper was published in American Journal of Psychiatry (2014 August). The research was led by Naval Health Research Center scientist Douglas C. Johnson.

So, what did they find?  Well, in comparison with the control the group the marines prepared by the mindfulness programme:

  • Demonstrated less apprehension prior to the exercise
  • Demonstrated a more rapid recovery (breathing and heart rate) at the end of the exercise
  • Exhibited bio markers representing lower levels of stress and associated physical responses
  • MRI scans showed reduced emotional responses to stimuli after the exercise.

The research concluded that the results showed that mechanisms related to stress recovery can be modified in healthy individuals prior to stress exposure, with important implications for evidence-based mental health research and treatment. Here’s the paper:  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4458258/pdf/nihms690084.pdf

The paper states: Our investigation yielded three main results. First, mindfulness altered heart rate and breathing rate recovery following stressful training. Second, mindfulness modulated a strongly correlated set of peripheral biomarkers before, during, and after exposure to a stressful training session. Third, the neuroimaging results support the hypothesis that mindfulness affects brain structures that are important in integrating information about the internal physiological state and the body’s response to stress. Thus, the mindfulness programme demonstrated beneficial effects across multiple domains indicating enhanced recovery from stress. …. Taken together, these findings constitute evidence for the prevention and treatment of stress-related pathology.

We ask combatants to put their “lives on the line” and to be exposed to chaotic, stressful and even horrific experiences.  It seems to me that we owe them the best possible preparation and aftercare.  This research demonstrated the insulating effect of a simple 20-hour mindfulness programme that provided some protection against longer-term stress related illness.    Mr Mercer is now, quite rightly, amping-up the aftercare for those impacted – but what about improving the preparation for combat?

Even if we British have not carried out the research, then surely, we can at least implement the programmes shown to be effective by the research trials run by others.

“Mindful Organising” – for highly reliable performance.

Some time back I read Matthew Syed’s book “Black Box Thinking: Marginal Gains and the Secrets of High Performance”.  It’s a great book.  It contrasts the attitude “to reporting and learning from errors” of the commercial aviation industry and with that found in healthcare organisations.

Any failures or errors within the aviation industry are reported openly and investigated. Recommendations are mandated… thereby ensuring that lessons are learnt and similar failures are avoided.  Unfortunately, in many healthcare settings, any unexpected outcome – like death – is often be put down to “unexpected complications” or an “inability of the patient to respond”.  Worse in many situations there is a lack of “psychological safety” to enable staff to report concerns or errors without jeopardising their careers… and there may even be a keenness to avoid blame and any subsequent claims.  Hopefully healthcare organisations are addressing these barriers to improvement.

This week I have been reading about organisations which set in place structures to detect and correct errors.  It’s called “Mindful Organising”. This 2016 report in “Industrial and Labor Relations Review” surveyed 95 hospital nursing units in 10 hospitals. They found that for each significant increase in a team’s organising according to collective mindfulness principles, 10% fewer medication errors and 33% fewer patient falls were recorded. See here.

Achieving highly reliable (nearly error-free) performance in a high-risk setting requires the rapid detection and correction of anomalous or unexpected events. Several case studies – including those focusing on naval aircraft-carrier flight decks, nuclear power-plant control rooms and air traffic control operations – qualitatively linked “mindful organising” and “nearly error-free performance”. Case studies in healthcare contexts connected “mindful organising” with reductions in errors and to “highly reliable performance”. They provided quantitative evidence that “mindful organising” is associated with improved patient safety.

So, what is “mindful organising”?

The report defines “mindful organising” as “the application of respectful interaction to detecting and correcting errors and adapting to unexpected events”. It entails a set of actions and interactions through which members of a work group anticipate, prevent, and dynamically respond to errors and unexpected events by:

1) regularly discussing the various ways in which things can go wrong and collectively analysing early indications of trouble;

2) frequently questioning the adequacy of existing procedures and discussing potentially more reliable alternatives;

3) sharing with each other the most current information about their unique skills and knowledge;

4) committing to recovering quickly from setbacks by thoroughly analysing, discussing, and learning from them;

and 5) deferring to expertise rather than authority when resolving problems.

“Respectful interaction”, including “honest reporting”, enables employees to identify where potential threats reside and to more readily notice even weak signals of impending danger by fostering “perspective taking” (…acting with awareness of how one’s actions affect others) and “shared understanding”.  Promoting a culture offering “ psychological safety” is also essential (see my previous post here).

It seems that the openness, empathy, listening skills and objectivity of mindfulness practice might be a way of equipping staff with the attitude and skills to engage in “mindful organising”.  I hope so. I remain very keen to identify an organisation – perhaps in the care sector – who may be interested in a controlled programme to explore the benefits of becoming a Mindful Organisation.

MBCT Helping Students to Deal with Life at College.

This coming academic year, it seems that the student experience may be more isolating than ever before.  And this may mean that mental wellbeing is more of a problem for students.

Now, I believe that “prevention is the best form of cure”… so just like the US military, who use mindfulness training  to reduce the possibility that their personal will develop PTSD,  it seems to make sense to provide students with mindfulness training ahead of time.

In this post I am looking at two studies investigating the positive impact of Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) upon students.

 

First, a study from Bristol university, published in Education Research International to measure the efficacy of Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) on medical students. https://www.bristol.ac.uk/news/2019/march/mindfulness.html

In this trial, the students were required to undertake MBCT training for two hours each week and commit to 30-minutes of daily home practice. MBCT adds mindful awareness to traditional cognitive therapy techniques, to help subjects change not only what they think about, but also how they process incoming information. It teaches participants how the mind works, how stress impacts one’s life, and gives them an awareness of stress triggers, the signs of stress symptoms, coping techniques, meditation practice and the importance of self-care.

In this trial, upon follow up, the students described:

  • improved empathy and communication skills
  • an ability to notice their own thoughts and feelings
  • improved ability to better manage their workload
  • a new ability to notice automatic judgmental thinking (such as not being good enough) without identifying with these thoughts
  • enhanced learning skills – using the mindfulness practices to refresh and regain concentration during long days of study
  • an ability to steady themselves during stressful situations in clinic or during exams

The researchers concluded that “MBCT had helped the students to: reduce anxiety, excessive worry, negative thought patterns and to improve resiliency to stress, emotional wellbeing and professional development.”

Dr Alice Malpass, Research Fellow in the Bristol Medical School and co-author of the paper, said: “This study has shown how mindfulness can help students who might be struggling… to find new ways of relating to the difficulties that arise in their clinical work, studying and wellbeing”.

 

Now let’s look a study by the University of Cambridge, published in The Lancet Public Health (Dec 2017), where the wellbeing impacts of MBCT were measured using standardised test procedures.

https://www.thelancet.com/action/showPdf?pii=S2468-2667%2817%2930231-1

In this trial, the researchers measured the mental wellbeing of over 1000 students and then gave half of them an eight-week mindfulness course.  They measured the stress levels of the students prior to the mindfulness training and then during their exam periods in comparison to the control group.

After the training, the “Mindful Group” showed lower significantly stress levels and the effect was long-lasting: –

  • 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 – this suggests 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.”  said Professor Peter Jones – Professor in Neuroscience at the University of Cambridge.

 

Now to quantify the problems that mental wellbeing poses to young adults in education, here are some findings from a yougov poll in 2017:

  • Over 1 in 4 (27%) of students report a Common Mental Disorder (CMD) higher than in whole pop – 19% male v 34% female
  • Of these 77% have symptoms of depression and 75% have symptoms on anxiety (– about 50% have both)
  • 6 in 10 students (63%) say they experience stress interfering with their daily life and  performance
  • Causes of stress: 77% “fear of failure; 71% course work; 39% employment prospects; 35% family, 23% relationships and 23% friends
  • 31% of students say they are lonely

And from other research:

  • At 16 years:  70% are regularly sad or anxious; 22% everyday (Barnardos)
  • 16 years stress factors: school (83%); future (80%) (then home, bullying, weight) (Barnardos)
  • FE Students: only 9% confident about their exams (PushOn/Ryman)
  • FE Student stress factors: themselves (70%); teachers (68%); parents (39%) (PushOn/Ryman)

Wow, three quarters of students have anxiety; and about two thirds says that stress is interfering with their lives and their performance. It seems that pressure to meet their own expectations and to meet the expectations of others is a significant driver. And nearly one third are lonely at college.

So, we can see that starting at college can be a difficult time:  perhaps moving away from supportive structures; feeling stressed by course work and feeling like they are struggling in comparison with others who look to be doing fine (…whatever they are feeling inside); finding new friendships; and dealing with their own expectations and the expectation of others… it looks like these are all draining the pools of resilience within even the most self-confident and positive students.

Given these figures it suggests that many students will be struggling to learn (or to continue to learn) throughout their course…  and will struggle to perform well in exams – imagine how much better they would do if we could help to reduce these problems.

I notice that in Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the USA, mindfulness training is part of the undergraduate medical curriculum but sadly, such an idea has yet to be implemented in the UK despite recommendations from the General Medical Council (GMC), who called for the use of mindfulness training to increase wellbeing and resilience to stress of students.

So, it is clear that the mental wellbeing of young adults in education is a significant problem. Yet the two studies above demonstrate the value of preparing students with a course in MBCT.

If someone in your family is planning to go off to college, or if they’re already at college, and you believe that they would benefit from trying the Rezl MBCT foundation course then please email us. Rezl is our smartphone app that includes a complete MBCT foundation course and a toolbox with specific toolbox sessions on dealing with starting college and dealing with stress and pressure

The Science Behind Rezl

Our Rezl app uses Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) to build resilience… and more.  So, I wanted to answer some questions about Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy and to explain why we chose it as the basis for Rezl.

If you wish to cut to the chase, then further down this post I have set out some very interesting research papers to demonstrate the impact of mindfulness and of MBCT in particular.

But first, let’s go back a few years.  At Carina Sciences we started our journey by investigating ways to support the personal development our users. Initially, we were interested in the application of “deliberate practice” and the ways to increase willpower, or grit, to sustain a long-term pursuit of improvement.  We became interested in how “executive function” can help to avoid distractions and in the importance of good habits. We also looked at the development of improved interpersonal skills that would enable people to acquire opportunities; and in the development of the thinking skills – to remain objective, to make good decisions and to demonstrate strong leadership.

Yet what stood out to us was that, for most people, their biggest barrier to improvement and growth was a lack of resilience – or in many cases, their use of their precious resilience dealing with day to day challenges.  And so, we chose to focus on the development of resilience.

So, what is resilience?  Well, our “resilience” is what helps us to respond to “challenges and setbacks” so that we can focus on the things that we wish to achieve at work and in our private lives.  It’s as if each of us has a tank of resilience inside us – and as we encounter challenges, this resilience is used up. And when we’re on empty problems can start.  So, it makes sense to build-up our resilience so that we’re ready to deal with whatever life throws at us.

Now we quickly identified the volume of scientific research showing that by learning to be mindful we can increase our resilience in a way that lasts. Mindfulness it is about honing the skills to meditate – so that we can become more aware of our thoughts and our reactions …. in an objective, non-judgemental way ….  so that we are better able to manage our feelings and emotions.   This empowers us… so that we build confidence and self-esteem… and we reduce negative reactions. And this enables us to become more resilient.

In particular, our review of the research led us to a particular type of training called “Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy” – or MBCT – which was developed at the universities of Massachusetts and Oxford.

So for Rezl, we chose to work with MBCT for two big reasons: –

  1. It is a formalised programme – an eight-step programme – as we knew that many people using mindfulness apps find them a little open-ended and so while these apps are relaxing… they can lack a sense of progress.
  2. The impacts of MBCT have been extremely well researched over the last 25 years.  It was clear that the benefits were very significant.

So What is MBCT?

Jon Kabat-Zinn, professor at University of Massachusetts, together with Mark Williams and Danny Penman from the University of Oxford have set out the formal mindfulness foundation methods known as “Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy” – MBCT.

MBCT normally comprises an eight-week foundation course and an ongoing maintenance programme. The research shows that MBCT helps people to deal with stress and pressure; it reduces absenteeism and staff turnover; it improves concentration…reducing mistakes and increasing productivity;  it makes people more open and more empathetic; improves self-esteem and job satisfaction; reduces anxiety and depression; and in a change management situation, it enables people to embrace change… positively

Comment on MBCT and CBT:

When someone has some common mental wellbeing problem (e.g.  anxiety, depression, phobia, attachment or obsessive/compulsive behaviours etc.) the traditional approach was psychanalysis – to go back into their past to identify what caused them to develop such a problem.   Yet by the late 20th century it was clear that this approach works for some but not for others (- off the top of my head, it was about half and half). In fact, going back can, in some cases, simply “cement” the issues (e.g. “my mother didn’t love me” is a shattering realisation that might be difficult to move on from, even with the best counselling and absolution).

An alternative approach was CBT – to give people an understanding of their emotions, thoughts and reactions that can cause problems, and, giving subjects some methods (practice or tactics) to intervene and to deal with such thoughts.

Mindfulness is such a technique – so it is fair to say that “mindfulness is a CBT”.  The problem is that mindfulness can just be mediation for relaxation (…to set aside ruminations of the past and anxieties about the future) – and most of the popular apps do this… but that doesn’t really give people authority over their thoughts and feelings.

MBCT was developed as programme to teach people how their brains work and to learn the mental skills and habits so that they can become more authoritative: – to understand why particular emotions arise, and to choose appropriate responses rather than “knee jerk responses”.  MBCT teaches the subject to be aware (of their thoughts and reactions) with their “thinking brain”.  It also allows people to build self-compassion (…”don’t be too hard on yourself”) and it considers the ego and the correct impact of goals.   It is a formal eight step programme.

So MBCT combines the skills of mindfulness with techniques from cognitive therapy so that we become aware of how the brain works – and change not only what we think about, but also how we can observe incoming information; so that we notice our emotions and thoughts that may be triggers and we become able to choose how we respond.

You see… 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.

The Research pointed to MBCT

At the bottom of this post I have included some of the research papers that we were able to gather – and that persuaded us of the power of MBCT.

In summary, from the user’s perspective, then working with Rezl will:

  • increase your resilience – the signs that your resilience may be getting low include difficulty sleeping, irritability and mood swings, poor levels of concentration and restlessness
  • improve ability deal with stress, pressure, challenges and uncertainty.
  • make you more empathetic open to the views of others
  • increase positivity and self-esteem – increase self confidence
  • teams with mindful team-members are more effective and more likely to collaborate towards achieving team goals.
  • increase job satisfaction and life satisfaction
  • reduce absenteeism and staff turnover
  • US special forces use mindfulness to help them to improve their decision making in high pressure situations
  • boost your performance at work or in sport, increase your focus, your engagement and your ‘flow’.
  • enable you to develop the skills to manage in challenging and disruptive business environments and to attain the objectivity, focus and emotional stability that are required.

There are a lot of benefits there – but it is important to stress that  Rezl isn’t just about helping those with mental wellbeing issues – Rezl can help all of us to achieve more in our lives. It’s for everyone!

 

So, what’s inside Rezl?

Rezl includes:

  • An Introduction – explaining the background facts and statistics and how the mindfulness programme will help you to build up your resilience, together with clear instructions on how to use Rezl.
  • A Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy Foundation Programme – an eight-stage course to enable you build up your resilience using MBCT – which is scientifically proven to build up your resilience.
  • A Maintenance Programme – with options for frequency and duration of use – to enable you to continue to reinforce your regular use of Rezl.
  • The Rezl Toolbox – a set of tutorials and meditations to help you to overcome particular problems or challenges that you may face – including living with uncertainty, dealing with stress or change and avoiding sleep problems.

The Rezl Foundation Programme is an eight steps and for each step there is a tutorial and meditation.

 

Summary of Research

 Here I have summarised some of the research papers that we collected to demonstrate the power of MBCT:

For people suffering depression or anxiety – then MBCT is shown to be as effective as prescription medications – in fact slightly more so –  yet without the side-effects or the problems with withdrawal. Here are three papers looking at the effectiveness of MBCT for such conditions:

In this 2014 study by University of Sussex – the first published randomised controlled trial (RCT) of MBCT self-help.  Titled “The effectiveness of self-help mindfulness based cognitive therapy  in a student sample: a  randomised  controlled  trial” and published in “Behaviour Research and Therapy” (Lever Taylor, Billie Lever, Strauss, Clara, Cavanagh, Kate and Jones, Fergal). The research investigated the effectiveness of self-help mindfulness-based cognitive therapy in a student sample: a randomised controlled trial, measuring the impact on not only mental wellbeing, but also  on life satisfaction, self-esteem and self-compassion (which is key In dealing with set back and challenges).
Results showed significant reductions in depressive, anxiety and stress symptom severity…  There were also significant improvements in life satisfaction, mindfulness and self-compassion, with medium to large effects.  Moreover, improvements for participants were maintained at a ten-week follow-up.” http://sro.sussex.ac.uk/id/eprint/57138/1/Self-help%20MBCT%20(accepted%20pre-proofs).pdf

 

From the Journal Consulting and Clinical Psychology (April 2010) “The Effect of Mindfulness-Based Therapy on Anxiety and Depression: A Meta-Analytic Review” (by Stefan G. Hofmann, Alice T. Sawyer, Ashley A. Witt, and Diana Oh).

This review of many MBCT trials showed that improvements on depression scores and anxiety scores were robust (repeatable and consistent) and significant; both for those with the conditions and for those without these conditions. – i.e. Even for those who were not suffering from depression or anxiety their mood was raised and worry was lowered – it’s not about a return to the normal – it is an elevation in mood and ability to avoid worry.  The researchers said that “[MBCT] improves symptoms of anxiety and depression across a relatively wide range of severity.” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2848393/

 

Journal of Evidence-Based Practice: April 2020  “Is mindfulness-based cognitive therapy effective in the treatment of anxiety?” (Cass, Alvah R. MD, SM; Abara, Ndidi O.I. MD; Bueso, Francisco J. MD; De La Cruz, Nathaniel R. MD; Linebarger, Carol A. MBBS.) This research involved a systematic review of studies to investigate the effectiveness of MBCT for patients with anxiety. The researchers concluded that “Mindfulness therapy protocols including MBCT generally lead to moderately large reductions in anxiety systems.”

https://journals.lww.com/ebp/Citation/2020/04000/Is_mindfulness_based_cognitive_therapy_effective.14.aspx

 

Looking at the impact of dealing with pressure and stress, then this paper demonstrates how  MBCT helps US Special Forces to perform in pressured situations:

Professor Amishi Jha from the University of Miami published a paper in 2018 on the effectiveness of mindfulness among members of the US Special Operation units.  The research shows that the soldiers are “better able to discern key information under chaotic circumstances and to demonstrate increased working memory function”; plus the soldiers reported making fewer cognitive errors than those who are not trained in mindfulness.  Prof Jha pointed out that members of the special forces are chosen for their ability to focus and so the fact that they experience an improvement speaks to the power of the mindfulness training. https://news.miami.edu/stories/2018/11/ensuring-success-in-demanding-roles.html

Professor Jha added: “They ‘re the best and what they are trying to do is the hardest. When the US Special Forces do something not only does the rest of the US military pay attention, the rest of the world’s militaries  pay attention”.

 

The following paper looks at how the US Marines are using mindfulness training to reduce the possibly of PTSD:

The US Marines, known for turning out some of the military’s toughest warriors, have studied how to make troops even tougher through meditative practices based on mindfulness. Facing a record suicide rate and thousands of veterans seeking treatment for post-traumatic stress, the US military sought for ways to reduce strains on service members burdened with more than a decade of fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4458258/pdf/nihms690084.pdf

The Marine Corps experimented with a series of mental exercises called “Mindfulness-Based Mind Fitness Training” to see if they could enhance the performance of troops, and their preparation to better handle stress.  The study involved 160 Marines who were taught to focus their attention by concentrating on their body’s sensations, including breathing, in a period of silence. The Marines practiced the calming methods prior to being immersed in a mock Afghan village with screaming actors and controlled blasts to expose them to combat stress.  Another 160 other Marines went through the mock village with no mindfulness-based training, acting as the control group.

The paper was published in American Journal of Psychiatry (2014 August).  The research was led by Naval Health Research Center scientist Douglas C. Johnson.  The research showed that inn comparison with the control the group the marines prepared with the mindfulness programme:

  • Demonstrated less apprehension prior to the exercise
  • Demonstrated a more rapid recovery (breathing and heart rate) at the end of the exercise
  • Exhibited bio markers representing lower levels of stress and associated physical responses
  • MRI scans showed reduced emotional responses to stimuli after the exercise.

The research concluded that the results show that mechanisms related to stress recovery can be modified in healthy individuals prior to stress exposure, with important implications for evidence-based mental health research and treatment.

The paper states: Our investigation yielded three main results. First, mindfulness altered heart rate and breathing rate recovery following stressful training. Second, mindfulness modulated a strongly correlated set of peripheral biomarkers before, during, and after exposure to a stressful training session. Third, the neuroimaging results support the hypothesis that mindfulness affects brain structures that are important in integrating information about the internal physiological state and the body’s response to stress. Thus, the mindfulness programme demonstrated beneficial effects across multiple domains indicating enhanced recovery from stress. ….Taken together, these findings constitute evidence for the prevention and treatment of stress-related pathology.

 

This research looks at how Mindfulness training can help prepare subjects to deal with stressful events:

Dealing with stress: Less burnout… rapid brain recovery from highly stressful events (…ref: elite performers) … less stress… less PTSD –   http://ucsdnews.ucsd.edu/pressrelease/war_and_peace_of_mind

 

Both these studies, one in UK and one in Canada show how absenteeism was reduced by 30% though the implementation of a mindfulness programme:

Transport for London case study:   https://www.personneltoday.com/hr/how-practising-mindfulness-in-the-workplace-can-boost-productivity/
Toronto Healthcare  (Quan) case study:  http://www.changemanagementreview.com/pages/mindfulness-innovative-change-management-wendy-quan/

 

This paper looks at how mindfulness training can reduce staff turnover:

This 2016 trial reduced staff turnover by 13% within Dutch hospital nurses . Dierynck et al (2016). “The Role of Individual and Collective Mindfulness in Promoting Occupational Safety in Health Care”. Medical Care Research and Review. http://www.themindfulnessinitiative.org.uk/images/reports/MI_Building-the-Case_v1.1_Oct16.pdf

 

This paper looks at how mindfulness increases job satisfaction:

The trail increased Job satisfaction: a lasting mean improvement in Job Satisfaction (MBI) scores of 18%.  “Abbreviated Mindfulness Intervention for Job Satisfaction, Quality of Life, and Compassion in Primary Care Clinicians: A Pilot Study” Fortney et al http://www.annfammed.org/content/11/5/412.full.pdf+html

 

Finally, I like this Dutch research that show how MBCT can significantly reduce anxiety ion cancer patients:

This 2018 Dutch study “Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy for Psychological Distress in Patients With Cancer” publish in the  Journal of Clinical Oncology., studied  245 patients using Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy  (MBCT) to reduce anxiety.  See here: https://www.ascopost.com/News/59063?utm_source=TrendMD&utm_medium=cpc&utm_campaign=The_ASCO_Post_TrendMD_0

The study compared patients treated with the usual psychological support with those receiving an eight-week course in either “therapist lead” MBCT or self-help (internet based) eMBCT. Each of the cancer patients taking part in the study was categorised as experiencing “psychological distress” — I.e. demonstrating a score ≥ 11 on the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale (HADS). The results demonstrated that both face-to-face and internet-based self-help mindfulness based cognitive therapy significantly reduced psychological distress in patients with cancer – reducing fear of cancer recurrence and improving mental health–related quality of life.

The results showed:

  • “Usual treatment” produced a change in mean HADS score from 17.04 at baseline to 16.37 at post-intervention
  • “Face to face MBCT” achieved a change from 18.81 to 13.25
  • and the “eMBCT group” achieved a change from 17.24 to 11.87 – almost eliminating  “psychotically distress” as defined

So, both MBCT and eMBCT significantly reduced fear of cancer recurrence and rumination and increased mental health–related quality of life, mindfulness skills, and more positive mental health compared with usual treatment.  The investigators concluded, “Compared with treatment as usual, MBCT and eMBCT were similarly effective in reducing psychological distress in a sample of distressed heterogeneous patients with cancer.”

 

I hope that these papers are of interest and demonstrate the broad benefits of MBCT.

Better Decision Making

The financial impact of recent events means that many of us are having to make decisions.  This week I was chatting to a friend who has built up a service business yet now he is spending real money on overheads with no immediate prospect of business.  Another friend is trying to decide if it is wise to go ahead with a house purchase – he and his wife love the house, but is the price now too high and is his income secure enough to take on the mortgage?

This got me thinking about the way people make decisions.  And in particular how can we avoid making the poor decisions… and make the right decisions more often.

I recalled this Harvard Business Review article from a while back: “Why good leaders make bad decisions.”  The authors looked at 83 decision which, with hindsight, they were able to classify as bad – either based on error or having adverse consequences or both.  Here.

In summary, the paper suggests that when confronted with a situation (1) we rely on pattern recognition – to inform us if we have seen a similar situation before, and (2)  we are influenced by subconscious emotional tagging which may bias our reactions and our responses.  The problem here is that we often unconsciously process a situation without proper analysis.  Thus our pattern recognition may seize on similarities yet miss subtleties or even significant differences between our current situation and some previous situation.  Similarly our emotional tagging can introduce misplaced confidence or even emotions that may bias us away from some interpretation or to avoid certain actions.

The article says way out is to prevent these thought  processes to be done “automatically”.  From a mindfulness standpoint, we would say you need to be objectively-aware and questioning.

The authors highlight three “red flags” which if present can lead to misleading pattern recognition and unhelpful or erroneous emotional tagging) conscious or unconscious –

  1. The presence of self-interest, attachments to things ideas, bonuses etc.
  2. Presence of distorting attachments – people, places, processes, structures – in which we have invested time, effort… hope (dreams) and even our personal reputation.  We don’t want to make decisions that is detrimental to these attachments or represent a retreat.
  3. Misleading memories – these can quickly cause is to skip over details or differences ( – and memories are often not accurate ); or we may attach emotions to these recollection that increases their influence upon us.

I would add that we all have biases… confirmations bias, or even cognitive dissonance when the facts start diverging – so we must always be wary of any tendency to be biased.

The article suggests working with someone who does not have the attachments or previous experiences or to go through the situation and out analysis objectively.

Yet I would go further.

When a crisis strikes people often expect leaders to demonstrate confidence and a clear route out of the situation.  Yet this can cause leader to feel pressured to make snap decisions. IMO, a leader should resist kneejerk interpretations and responses – by remaining aware and curious – without rushing to judge.  This can be difficult, as people expect a leader to act decisively… and it will take self-confidence to say “Hold on – we need to look this a little more.”

The McKinsey paper “How to demonstrate calm and optimism in a crisis” is a useful guide here.  In any crisis a leader should exhibit calmness and realism – being open about the uncertainties and the unknowns while being optimistic that a solution will be found.  The leader can then set in place the activities to deal with the situation, to analyse the information and to identify and plan the actions to be taken.

This mixing of confidence, hope and realism is the key.  Humans are wired to pick up on signs of uncertainly and bewilderment from others.  So, all communication needs to be carefully planned to avoid in appreciate phrases and to emphasise the key messages.

The McKinsey paper introduces “Integrative awareness” – being aware of the changing reality in the outside world and how you are responding emotionally and physically –  to ensure that leader can make the right assessments and to assess the merits of the different actions available, before proceeding with the execution of the chosen actions.

And I would go further still.

A great book on my shelf is an old copy of “Crisis Management” by Michael Regester.  This book taught me that in any crisis there are some key things that a leader must do:

  1. Empathise with those impacted by the situation – so that they know that you are aware of their experiences and difficulties. This reduces their need to tell you.
  2. Implement remedial actions – to clean things up and provide immediate relief (provide a pump and mop).
  3. Implement temporary processes or solutions to prevent any re-occurrence or worsening of the situation, yet allow activity to continue safely. (Turn the water off and provide bottled water.)
  4. Start to work a longer term solution – through investigation and then careful selection of the appropriate actions.

But is it this forth point that brings us back to the decisions we have to take – what is happening and what are we going to do?  Analysis and Response.

To facilitate “clear thought” in a time of crisis there a few of things to put in place ahead of time.

  • I have said before that in any crisis we don’t want to start questioning the integrity of any data /information streams – so if you don’t trust them now then change them before any crisis emerges.
  • Further, it is important that we have a team of diverse colleagues with whom you can consult… and these should be from outside your business or organisation and from a wide variety of backgrounds (discipline, sex, age, race and economic demographics  – see Matthew Syed’s “Rebel Thinking”). These colleagues may have different experiences of analogous situations – to help you determine what is going on and ways to address the situation – or they may spot downsides to any possible actions that you may have missed or have been insensitive to. Be ready to make contact with them and seek their input. Answer their questions.
  • Work on improving you own mindfulness skills – both to become more aware and objective without rushing to judge situations and also to respond better to the behaviours and emotions of others.  In any crisis people will believe they are seeing the real you.

So, when the dirt hits the fan, is our analysis right?  And, In terms of the responses available to us, “our choices”, then have we considered the impacts of these choices… both if our assumptions are right and if they are wrong?

We can also note that choices with no downside and little cost may be taken in parallel with more significant actions (as safety nets or hedging out bets); while choices with the possibility of serious downsides may mean we need to further validate the situation more before going ahead.

I suggest that someone on your team (not you) should consider the following checklist – then you should discus and improve it:

Your analysis – understanding of what is happening:

  • If your analysis of the situation is right then what will happen next – are there any signs that this is happening?
  • If your analysis of the situation is wrong then what will happen next – are there any signs that this is happening?

Your choices of response:

  • Look at your options and write down the downsides
  • If your chosen actions fail – then how could put safety nets in pace?   (Belt and braces)
  • Look at the actions that might be helpful if your analysis is wrong (hedge your bets).
  • Are there any low cost, yet low downside, actions to cover other versions of the situation?

Monitoring the effectiveness of you actions:

  • If your actions are effective what will the early signs be?
  • If your actions are ineffective then what will the early signs be?

 

The final aspects to consider are the execution and the communication.

The execution must be realistic.  It should include ongoing monitoring for any early signs that the analysis on which your decisions were based continues to be valid and for any signs that your actions are not effective.  Further, it is important that at every stage you should engage with staff and ask them if they have any concerns going forward – this will empower them to flag up any flaws that they foresee, but that you may have missed.

It is essential that all communication – with staff, customers or stakeholders –  is carefully planned and that you consider the questions that may be raised.  If you get a hard question then don’t ignore it. Explain that you are trying hard to get this message or that message across so that everyone understands what you are saying; yet be ready to accept that there are still some uncertainties or decisions to be taken… and that as things become clearer it will be problem to make better informed decisions. Be clear that there is a way forward.  Calmness, realism and optimism.

Re-entering the work place

If not already, then in the coming weeks and months many of us will be re-entering the workplace – and we may be challenged by a need to change.

Some may be returning to their previous workplace or employer – but may find that they are required to adjust to new structures, processes, practices or to new consumer demands. Others may be starting over in a new role or with a new employer.

So, we may feel angry that our workplace has changed or that we have been forced to take up new employment – yet we must accept that we can’t expect everything to remain the same. There wouldn’t be a future in working in a role that is no longer required or within a company that can no longer compete.  It is best to accept and embrace the challenge… and to focus on how we can successfully make this transition… both in terms of our performance and our wellbeing.

Embarking on a new role or in a new job can be an anxious time. To feel some anxiety about starting a new job is completely normal. In fact, science tells us that people are “hard-wired” to feel anxious in pretty much any new situation. With the added pressure of wanting to make a good first impression with your new boss, or to excel in your job right off the bat, it’s no surprise that making the career move, by choice or by necessity, can be a very anxious time.

Joshua Klapow, a clinical psychologist says, “For a lot of people, starting a new job taps into old fears — like your first day of school. There’s also what we call anticipatory anxiety.” So, to be clear, in such situations, then some nervousness or anxiety is to be expected and is completely normal.  Even those co-workers who don’t appear to be nervous are just better at hiding it.   Remind yourself that some anxiety is not only normal, but helpful: i.e. some level of anxiety helps to keep us focused and to keep us engaged.  Tell yourself that you are experiencing anxiety because you care about what you’re doing.

So wherever you are in your career, starting a new job can be scary.  You may be worried about performing well, you won’t know anyone, you’ll be oblivious to the team dynamics and politics, and even your job role may be a mystery to you. Who isn’t scared of the unknown?

Now, before going on, I want to introduce three topics: Change, Imposter Syndrome and Self-Compassion.

Change

When we are asked to make some change we may encounter a series of emotions: denial (that the change has to happen), anger (that change is being imposed up on us); grief (for the loss of a familiar workplace or colleagues); through to acceptance and then on to positively embrace the change.

Yet change can be disconcerting for us; as it may wash away the work and processes that staff have previously striven to implement or to master. It may feel as if the work we have done before, or, our previous accomplishments are no longer of value.

Without change, organisations would be unable to adapt to compete or even to survive.  There would be no future working in an organisation clinging to the past.  So, change is inevitable at work – and in our lives.

I previously posted about the benefit of Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) in any change management programme.  Here.

Research from “change management initiatives” demonstrates that training in mindfulness makes employees: more open to new ideas ( – less resistant, less anxious, less denial); better able to deal with stress and challenges; more self-confident with greater self-esteem – to embrace change.

A study of employees given MBCT training prior to a major change project (processes, systems and jobs) showed:

  • 83% said meditation helped them through a significant change
  • Those who rated their resilience as “High” increased from 10% to 70%
  • Those who rated their ability to handle stress as “High” went from 11% to 66%
  • Emotional awareness (11% to 89%) positivity (16% to 84%) feeling in control (28 to 72%)
  • MBCT Prevents loss in trust and increase in job satisfaction

The Rezl Toolbox includes a tutorial and a meditation on the subject of dealing with change – try it.

Imposer Syndrome

When starting a new job, it can appear that everyone else knows so much, or, that you have so a lot learn; and you may wonder if you will be able to make the grade.

Impostor Syndrome is where a you start to doubt that you are good enough… and so you may fear being exposed as a fraud.  A voice inside your head tells you that you are not as good as your colleagues, or, that you do not have the skills, ability or experience to be doing your job.  You start to believe that you have no right to be doing what you are doing; that you do not deserve success; and that sooner or later you will be exposed… as a fraud… as an impostor.

I previously wrote about Impostor Syndrome here.

Yet a mindfulness-based approach is very effective in reducing these feeling.   Tell yourself that you are gaining skills, experience and knowledge – and that there is no reason why you cannot be as effective as your colleagues… and probably better.  It is just a case of effort and practice so that you will learn how to be the most effective member of the team.  Accept that you cannot be expected to know everything and that you will make errors sometimes…  but that you will learn from these experiences so that you  will not repeat such errors – everybody learns and develops in this way.

You are “good enough” –  so set aside any emotional reactions that may chip away at your confidence and cause you to develop impostor syndrome.

Self-Compassion

Self-Compassion is our ability to show ourselves understanding and compassion when we encounter a set-back or when we endure a difficult situation.  If a friend was experiencing a loss or suffering, we would show them empathy, compassion and support – so why not show ourselves the same?

If we are too hard on ourselves then we may start to imagine that we are not good enough and that we are doomed to fail – this may cause low mood or even anxiety about our future.  So, it is good to take time out to acknowledges our successes (even small ones); … and we should also show ourselves self-compassion and encouragement where things have not gone as we had hoped.

The Rezl Foundation Programme includes a tutorial and meditation on the topic of self-compassion.

So below, I have set out some thoughts to help you deal with your feeling when starting a new job or role:

Get a note book.  There will be a lot to take on board – new processes, how to do things, where things can be found so write it all down: general instructions, system login information, passcodes, or a to-do-list… even the names of key colleagues or contacts. So, it’s always best to have a notepad and a pen to hand to write all this stuff down as and when you hear it. You’ll be bombarded with a lot of information on your first day alone, and it’ll be an impossible to fit it all in your head in amongst the excitement and nerves.

When you have ten minutes – review your notes and write down any supplementary questions you may have or things for clarification – these can be quickly answered by consulting with co-workers or by asking your line manager.  Taking notes presents a professional and organised approach to your work.

And be sure to ask where any processes or rules are documented and be sure to follow up by reading though them.  Again note down any questions or issues for clarification.

Accept that you won’t know everything – but will not be expected to do so.  All you need to do for now is keep up a good level of confidence, avoid coming across arrogant, and most importantly, display a real willingness to learn.

Your boss expects you to be unsure of things at this stage, so don’t be afraid to ask questions – and try not to panic too much if you make a mistake. Errors are all part of the learning process, and your employer will generally be understanding of any mistakes you might make early on. Just make sure you take accountability for your actions. You’re far better off admitting to anything that goes wrong, and trying to find a resolution than trying to hide it. It could be easier to fix than you think, and trying to brush it under the rug isn’t very tactful – or professional.

Accept that you are the newbie. Try not to say anything that you would not want repeated.  You have to accept that for a while people will talk about you – but this will pass once everyone gets to know you better.  Try to be on you best behaviour and don’t me mean spirited about others.

Avoid office politics.  If someone explains some kind of ongoing arguments or warns you of some problem then you can just say “thanks or the heads-up” without giving an opinion.  If you are put on the spot you can say “I haven’t really thought about it yet”.  If you do see something that is worrying then ask to talk to you manager about it.  Your priority is to settle in… not to join a battle.

Rather than worry – just focus on the job.  Go over the job description for your new role, and remind yourself of your responsibilities. That way you’ll be able to go in with a real sense of purpose, not to mention know what to expect as the weeks progress.

Think about what made you want the job, and what helped you land it in the first place. Remember that the employer obviously has faith in your abilities and believes you’ll be a great fit for the role – so you should believe it too.

Don’t be too big for your boots.  Try not to make promises you might not be able to keep in an attempt to impress; or to criticise or to point out things that you think may need to change.  Right now, you need help to learn the rope from your co-workers.

Control Your anxiety.  If you are feel anxious then try some slow deep breathing on your way to work, take frequent bathroom breaks as appropriate, and make sure your breathing is slow and steady, not the most important [step to overcoming anxiety], but it’s the first thing you do.”

Some anxiety is not only normal, but helpful as it keeps us focused and it keeps us engaged. Tell yourself that some of your anxiety is being driven because you care about what you’re doing.

Within one to two weeks of beginning your new job or starting in your new workplace anxiety should subside. However, if it doesn’t, it may be time to consult your doctor about the possibility you have an anxiety disorder. Try the meditations in the Rezl toolbox.

Take time to make friends.   Ask your colleagues about themselves and their situations.  If necessary, note down the names of their kids and their ages.  Find and share things that you have in common – places, music, sports, films, pets even family given names – anything.  Research shows that people feel better deposed to others with whom they have things in common.  Even small things! And Get to know the people around you. Find someone to go to lunch with. Accept invitations to socialise.

Starting a new role or a new job is a challenging time. Remember, everyone was new once.  It’s not a race – take you time and you will settle in just fine.

Take care.

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.