Mindful Awareness Life Skills
Mindful awareness practices are a vital component in any Stress Readiness, Responsiveness and Resiliency Toolkit as minding the gap between our conscious and subconscious mind and being able to self-regulate how we deal with stressors that come our way without getting stuck in the vicious cycle of reactivity, bad coping habits, and perpetual lack of awareness of is one of the most valuable Life Skills mindful awareness can provide us in both our personal and professional lives.
To have the power to consciously choose whether we will be pulled into knee jerk reactivity in the blink of an eye, or whether we will respond with equanimity is part of what gives a leader the sense of calmness, focus and the ability to execute deliberate, effective actions during times of stress, change and crisis.
Viktor Frankl was a holocaust survivor who went on to write Mans Search for Meaning, and if he was able to mind the gap between stressful stimuli and his response to it and make it out of that nightmare alive, we all can learn how to use our human superpower of choice to learn how to do the same. What's imperative though when bringing in mindfulness skills and its accompanying self-reflective and calm-inducing practices as an effective intervention for dealing with stress, make sure its part of a holistic, synergistic suite of sustainable healthy self-care and behavioral habit change tools, approaches and strategies.
In his 1946 psychological memoir Man’s Search for Meaning, he wrote that people are primarily driven by a "striving to find meaning in one's life," and that it is a sense of meaning that enables people to endure the most severely adverse conditions. Frankl wrote that without a sense of meaning people fill the void with hedonistic pleasures, materialism, hatred, boredom, or neurotic obsessions. Frankl did not offer a one-size-fits-all explanation for the meaning of life, instead suggesting that it is up to the individual to find one’s own unique path. When asked how, he quoted Goethe: “How can we learn to know ourselves? Never by reflection but by action. Try to do your duty and you will soon find out what you are. But what is your duty? The demands of each day.”
He said, “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms - to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
Learning & Growth Mindset
And most importantly, it is critical to understand what "right" mindfulness is, and to not get swayed by improperly trained "modern mindfulness" opportunists that aren't formally educated in human behavior and psychology and do not place a strong emphasis on the ethical components of mindfulness, which have unfortunately been removed from Westernized mindfulness programs that promise to make you a "stress free, high-performing and productive" employee without addressing the "elephants in the middle of the room" of a stressful leadership and a toxic workplace culture.
Anecdotal Evidence/Case Study:
Mindful awareness skills in action in Ethics and Compliance
Applying the Tools
Kalwant Dhindsa, a Compliance Director by profession, first came across the use of mindfulness when she was working in a high pressured senior legal and compliance position. She was lucky enough to be taught right mindfulness rather than the commercialized ‘wrong’ mindfulness that promises increased productivity and relaxed, happy employees.
The impact of the sessions were profound. The effects were felt immediately at a personal level as well as a professional level. Her health improved and she started to sleep soundly at night. In the workplace, she felt more able and equipped to challenge the status quo, in particular with senior leaders, speaking up when things were not right and addressing the root causes of non-compliance rather than focusing on fixing the symptoms through yet more tedious compliance training.
Seeing the changes in her own life and those of others with whom she shared her practices, led her to complete an MSc in Gurmat Metaphysical Sciences & Gurmat Psychospiritual Therapy and become a teacher herself. She began teaching it as part of her compliance program and the results were noticeable within weeks. Previously stressed-out employees who were on the verge of burning out, showed new levels of resilience, reported an improvement in their personal relationships and health. Fatigue, headaches, nerves about coming into work, were drastically reduced and left them feeling more confident within themselves and able to cope with the pressures of a fast paced workplace.
SOBER stands for:
Stop – i.e. literally stop, sit back, close you eyes and stop to focus on what is happening internally at that moment
Observe – observe what is happening in the body by doing a quick scan from head to toe or toe to head and notice what is happening e.g. the heart is beating quickly, there is tension in the head or stomach, tightness in the chest,
Breath – focus on the breath and watch it slow down as it is being observed,
Expand awareness to the body again and
Response – respond to the stress-filled situation which required a time out in the first place. This practice takes 1- 3 minutes and can be done anywhere, although preferably and best done alone in a quiet space, sitting comfortably.
If one has more time, a short Body Scan is a fantastic tool to use first thing in the morning and last thing at night to check in with oneself before the mind takes over and either frets about the day ahead or ruminates of the day just gone.
Alternate nostril breathing, known as nadi shodhana pranayama in Sanskrit, is a popular form of clearing nervous energy and restoring balance to the mind and body within minutes. One takes their thumb and ring finger and places it on right nostril to close it, inhale through the left nostril, and then close the left nostril to release the air through the right nostril. Continue to repeat this pattern of breathing alternately through one nostril at a time for the time you have available. A minute or two breathing this way lowers stress levels considerably by balancing the right and left energy channels, reduces blood pressure, improves one’s heart rate variability (the heart beats much faster when you are feeling any kind of stress). Any nerves the individual felt are calmed down and the mind cleared to enable one to focus on the task at hand.