Happy Thoughts

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One goal I have always had with this blog is finding ways to create mental space throughout the day. Forget the mindfulness and leadership for a moment, and let’s focus on how we can keep you mentally fit, focused, and at your best even during the most stressful situations.

We all have those moments in which the fate of our day is teetering on a single moment. How we decide to handle this situation can either lead to a glass half full or half empty by the end of the night, and it’s critical you make the positive choice.

I have mentioned before in a previous blog, Stopping Negative Patterns, that just because you have a bad moment, you shouldn’t let it lead to a bad day, to a bad week etc, but how do you avoid the bad moment altogether?

CREATE SOME SPACE!

One of my ways to create some space and avoid these stressful and anxious situations throughout my day is to clear my mind and think about something happy in order to bring my focus back. Sound too much like the Disney movie Polyanna, or a Sound of Music song?

I use humor, others use show tunes, but bring yourself back to your best by creating space!

I use humor, others use show tunes, but bring yourself back to your best by creating space!

Yes I know it does sound a little cheesy, but by taking a deep breath and allowing your mind to reset around a happy thought or memory, you can regain your focus and energy and better equipped to conquer the tasks that are causing your stress and anxiety.

Positive Thoughts to Dwell On

When we get frustrated it can feel like we are ice-skating uphill, and it causes us to get mentally drained worrying about how to solve the main dilemma of the day. Tunnel vision sets in, and our thoughts get muddled and inefficient. This mental fog is debilitating and can completely throw off how you deal with tasks, or interact with others.

Think about the last few times you have lost your temper at work or at home. I can promise that your mind was stressing over some other matter, and the person you snapped at was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Imagine if you only had a moment to reflect upon what was really causing your stress, put it on hold, and dealt with the situation in a healthy and positive way? I know in my own circumstances it would definitely save me time in apologizing for my reactionary behavior during these irritable times.

My many ways of creating happy thoughts to refocus and respond:

-Thinking about former vacations
-Funny lines from my favorite movies
-Memories with my family and friends
-Upbeat songs (be careful not to break down and dance)
-Or by realizing that whatever is bugging you, will be forgotten in an hour

12 Happy Thoughts for Troubled Times

It’s okay to smile, laugh, and be calm even during the most stressful times. Life is always as easy as you make it, and by creating space you will be better focused, more productive, and at your mental best.

Take a second, create some space with a happy thought and see how refreshed and energized you will become when attacking your problems.

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A Mindful Leadership Foe: Social Cognition

Are your thoughts and action stuck in a rut?

Are your thoughts and action stuck in a rut?

“What do you think his story is?” My mom asked as we wandered through San Francisco’s Union Square. We had been sightseeing through the city all day, and just finished having dinner, when we saw him. She was pointing to a homeless man sleeping in the doorway of a closed shop.

My response was, “I don’t know, but I bet it isn’t as simple as we hope it is.” My mom looked puzzled, so I continued to explain. “We like to believe it’s something they chose upon themselves. A reason that is easy and clear-cut, a definitive mistake that we can easily point out and blame them for: drugs, alcoholism, or people actually WANTING to be homeless. This allows us to judge them rather than empathize, and it allows us to ignore them with a clear conscience.”

(Pretty deep thought huh? I was even taken back by it myself.)

How Mindfulness Can Improve Self Knowledge

I continued: “Instead of addiction, laziness, or choice, it could be something more complicated. Maybe he has a mental illness and his mother who took care of him recently passed away. It could be possible that he started a business that wasn’t TOO BIG TO FAIL and he lost everything. The possibilities are definitely unique to each person and infinite if you really think about it.”

Since practicing mindfulness, I have seen life in more detail, and can put greater perspective into my thoughts. I have been better at avoiding what I like to call “in the rut thinking,” and I am better at seeing the ripple effect my thoughts have on my own moods, feelings, and choices. With an open mind it is easier to see new possibilities and solutions to chronic and habitual problems, and this was one of those “AH-HA moments.”
Instead of seeing this guy as a GROUP of nameless and faceless homeless people, I finally saw this man as an individual, a unique person, who I chose not to categorize.

When constantly faced with the same stimuli, our brains get desensitized to it. When we see the same things over and over again it is easy getting stuck in categorical thinking. The scientific name for this is social cognition, and it has been a useful skill throughout mankind’s evolution. Think of it is a file cabinet of previous thoughts, emotions, or other stereotypes that your brain stores for easy reference. This increases your cognitive efficiency because instead of having to rationalize and investigate each situation on a unique and individual level, your brain simply goes back to a former frame of reference and makes comparisons.

At certain times of our life, social cognition is very useful. It’s a “herding instinct” that can prove crucial in times of chaos. When others are running away from something, it’s best to join them. It’s also great at providing intuition, letting us know if a situation is dangerous or if a person is acting suspiciously. Social cognition can serve its purpose, but it can also be detrimental.

One of my favorite quotes in life is a great example of social cognition at its worst: “If you always DO what you always DID, you will always GET what you always GOT.” There are times in our life when we need to be able to see beyond the mental constraints our brain places upon us. Moments that call for a revolutionary change, or times where we have become so desensitized to the stimuli around us that our thoughts are locked into a mindless rut.

Your brain is a muscle, and like any muscle, it can be trained and improved. By using mindfulness meditation and clearing your thoughts on a regular basis, the world will show itself in a whole new perspective. You will begin to analyze your routines and actions, and snap out of these mentally dormant stages when social cognition takes over.

Give your brain a mindful workout!

Give your brain a mindful workout!


Great leaders and companies are proactive in overcoming these plagues of social cognition. They see constraints as only temporary obstacles, and work hard to create new strategies to solve problems that others see as the status quo. The cliché of “thinking outside of the box” comes to mind, but I hate that overused term with a passion!

I challenge you to look at your daily routines for you and your workplace, and try to analyze them with a clear and open mind. By examining the routines of not only yourself, but your workplace as well, you will see the inefficient routines and complacent thoughts that you have overlooked for quite a while.

Create space, and respond!

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“One of those people”

TONY-OVERHEAD-DRUM-CIRCLE

I think for many people the thought of trying mindfulness can be quite overwhelming. I remember when I first began doing my mindful meditations I was worried about what others would think, and I was wondering if I wanted to be one of “those types.”

You know what I’m talking about, one of those overly “granola, homemade clothes, organic, free-range, non-processed, alternative, free-spirited, know-it-all, snotty, new-wave types of people that annoy us all. I’m talking of those crazy hipsters that over-share every gimmicky thing they have ever done, and pass on their judgments and experiences without solicitation.

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(I am having flashbacks of traumatic Starbucks conversations that I’ve accidentally overheard.)

The 9 Most Annoying People at Starbucks

If it wasn’t for the mindful leadership class I took as a part of my MBA program, I highly doubt I would ever have had the courage necessary to try mindfulness. There is something to be said about trying something new, but for me I enjoy my comfort zone too much. New experiences usually only occur when I’m being forced, or I stumble upon it accidentally.

Mindfulness is nothing more than creating space, and you’ve probably been doing it for years. Do you remember when you were getting angry and your mom told you to, “count to ten” to calm down? Or have you ever felt that moment of relief after taking a deep breath during a hectic day?

You had a mindful moment.

So you're telling me the peaceful lake isn't included with my meditation package?

So you’re telling me the peaceful lake isn’t included with my meditation package?

We all find our ways of calming down whether it is through prayer, a nap, a favorite song, or exercise. What makes mindfulness so beneficial is its portability. All you need is to focus your thoughts, concentrate on your breath, and sharpen your mind. It’s not about flowing robes, reading the latest books, stacking rocks, or sand gardens.

How to Bring Mindfulness Into Your Life

Mindfulness is about maximizing the most of the present, ignoring the static that distracts us, and putting all of our attention and focus to those things in life that are most important. We are so overwhelmed with the saturation of information of around us that our minds simply cannot keep up.

Mindfulness In Everyday Tasks

How do you take a stand against this constant chatter we are subjected to? That’s what mindfulness does for me. It’s allowing myself 20 minutes every day to sit, reflect, and slow the world down. Don’t worry mindfulness is okay for normal people too.

How much time would you give to have clearer thoughts?

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“WWOJD?”

What Would Old Josh Do?

What Would Old Josh Do?

One benefit of mindfulness is that it allows you to be quite reflective on your life. Those past moments where you may have reacted poorly to a situation become more apparent with this clearer hindsight, and it helps you to avoid making the same mistakes.

With this clarity, it is quite clear that I have made only several thousand mistakes that I wish I could “redo.” When I look back at many of the mistakes I have made, I see several patterns:

-There were times in life where my impatience made the situation worse.
-I often leapt before I looked, and reacted instead of responded.
-I was stubborn when I should have been flexible and compromised.
-I was angry and jealous when kindness and compassion were needed.
-I would say things without thinking (over and over again)
-I was often reckless, and didn’t see how my actions would affect others

Mistakes are only bad if you don’t learn from them. Now with mindfulness I’m more present in these emotionally charged situations, and I am better at recalling past lessons that I learned the hard way. I like to ask myself, “What Would Old Josh Do?” and it helps me to regain my focus to find a positive solution.

The “Old-Josh” was before I began practicing mindfulness: the impatient, cynical, bitter, stubborn, and self-centered person that I have been slowly changing one meditation at a time. I was very impulsive and immature, and let my emotion drive my behaviors.

If I could only go back in time and teach him what I know now! It still frustrates me to think of all of the problems and stressors that I used to let get in the way of me being a happier and more productive person!

Now I am better at being positive, and I have found there is an upside to so many past mistakes, and I am bound and determined to learn from them. In order to not fall into the same emotional traps, you have to be better at seeing these situations before they occur. Mindfulness helps you maximize your focus in the present moment, and is very helpful in recognizing these patterns.

How to Stop Making the Same Mistakes

We all have those moments where we get frustrated with ourselves for making the same mistakes over and over again. That moment when you walk away and say to yourself, “Why did I just do that?” It could be that moment when your stress gets the best of you, and you yell at your spouse or child, when they were doing nothing wrong. It’s in these situations when we let our emotions trump our rational thoughts that we do the most damage to those around us.

10 Negative Thinking Patterns to Avoid

Mindfulness is great at helping you avoid your knee-jerk reactions and the negative patterns you create for yourself. Even now I’m nowhere close to being perfect, but I am improving in how I handle difficult situations. I still have moments where my initial reaction to a problem is wrong, but I’m better at correcting myself and finding a positive solution, instead of making things worse.

Even though I wish I had started practicing mindfulness long ago, I am thankful I’ve found it now, and I can use these skills to make less mistakes in the future.

Which mistakes are you constantly repeating in your life? Take a mindful moment and examine what you can do to break those patterns!

MISTAKE QUOTE

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Mindfulness for Kids

Peace for Children = Peace for Parents

Peace for Children = Peace for Parents

As many of you may know, I am becoming a father soon. My stay of execution of only having to take care of myself is roughly about six more weeks. Soon my wife and I will be responsible for our son, and I have been exploring mindfulness techniques for new parents. While conducting this research I found several sources about how to start meditations with children, and I wanted to pass those along.

There are several techniques out there, I found these 4 Activities to start meditations for kids at MindBodyGreen.com:

1. Listen! Bell Meditation – Invite kids to sit up tall in “criss-cross applesauce” and let their eyes close. Ring a bell or singing bowl, and ask kids to use their sense of hearing to explore the sound. Ask them to listen very carefully, and as soon as they hear it stop, raise their hand. They can then practice attentive listening without the bell. Close your eyes and listen to the sounds in your space. Which are closest to you? Which are far away? Which to the left, or right? You can also try this meditation while walking down the street or lying in bed before falling asleep.

2. Sing! Relaxation Song – This meditation combines song with touch and brings even the youngest of kids to a place of peace. Invite kids to sit up tall. Sometimes we sing the syllables Sa Ta Na Ma, or sometimes an English affirmation like “I Am Strong.” With each syllable, touch a different finger to your thumb, starting with the pointer finger and moving to the pinky. We practice singing, whispering, and singing quietly to ourselves in our minds. This is a self-soothing exercise and can be done discretely anywhere kids want to calm down, from the train to the classroom desk to the dinner table.

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3. Breathe! Take Five Breath – Your breath is always with you. Learning to check in to it from an early age is a major tool. Try “take 5 breath” where you inhale for five, and exhale for five. Use your fingers to count as you breathe. Slowing your breath will slow down your mind. Can you feel your heart rise and fall as you breathe? Can you feel the breath enter and leave your nose?

4. Watch! Cloud Gazing – Sitting quietly, pay attention to your inhale and exhale. When thoughts or feelings come up, think of them like clouds passing through your mind, which is like the sky. You can watch the clouds come and go just like you can watch clouds in the sky move and shift in their shapes. Kids may not sit too long, but just introducing this concept is a great preparation for adult meditation. And the awareness that things are always changing and things do pass is important to share and practice observing with kids.

child-meditating

Children who practice mindfulness have experienced reduced stress, increased creativity, and improved decision making. Students who have autism and ADHD have also seen improvements in some initial studies. Would you be willing to try any of these activities with your children, or are there other techniques you use to calm and focus your child?

This soon to be Dad would really appreciate your insight!

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Does EVERYone deserve a second chance?

Mistakes are only bad if you don't learn from them.

Mistakes are only bad if you don’t learn from them.

“Everyone deserves a second chance.” It sounds overly optimistic to me, I absolutely hate blanket statements, but yet I still feel this is true given the appropriate situation. Of course I believe that in situations of gross negligence, theft, violence, or severe disrespect that employees should be dismissed immediately, but I think a lot can be said about a leader in how they deal with failing employees.

I was watching an interview last night of a CEO talking about how he every time he has given an employee a second chance, they have let them down, and he ended up terminating them all over again. He now has a flat policy that if someone has quit and/or been fired, they will never be allowed to work for his business again.

WHEN TO GIVE EMPLOYEES A SECOND CHANCE

Obviously I do not know the exact circumstances as to why each employee for this man was fired, but it seems to me that having such a rigid policy could be detrimental to a company. Often when an employee fails it isn’t just the employee who is at fault. I think blame can also lie with leaders as well.

Maybe it’s the (soon to be) former teacher in me, but most experiences lend themselves to teachable moments. Often when there is a failure to meet expectations, it could be due to many reasons, not just employee incompetence. An effective leader must analyze the situation deeper, and reflect on their actions in regards to employee performance.

Effective leaders must ask themselves the following questions:
1. What have you done to ensure employee success? Could you share in the blame?
2. Were your expectations clear and attainable?
3. Can this serve as a lesson to help further strengthen the employee’s skills?
4. Were your requests of the employee reasonable?
5. Do you hold yourself to the same standards you expect of others?

Employees must be encouraged to take risks, and as long as these risks are taken in the best interest of the company, leaders must be willing to accept failure from time to time. Allow these shortcomings to be coachable opportunities in which you can reflect with your employees, analyze their mistakes, and collaborate on new strategies to ensure success in the future.

Employees who take risks can achieve incredible rewards.

Employees who aren’t afraid to take risks can achieve incredible rewards.

By treating subpar moments as a more positive learning opportunity, your employees will actively seek your advice, and are more likely to utilize your suggestions. If failure is met by a negative confrontation in which employees are belittled and/or they feel their job is threatened, employees will do their best to cover up their mistakes. Employees will be more loyal, and work harder for a leader that supports them even when they fail.

HOW GREAT LEADERS HANDLE BAD NEWS AND CREATE OPPORTUNITIES

Does every employee need a second chance? I guess it all depends. Are you doing everything you can do to make that employee successful? Maybe their shortcomings are a reflection of the work environment you are creating for them. Create space, reflect, and see if there is something you can do to improve the situation.

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When Weakness Becomes Strength

Weakest-Link

Through mindfulness I’ve been better at more accurately analyzing my behavior, perceptions, and thought processes. I had these thoughts while trying to write about leadership. To my surprise, my perceptions changed, and I was able to see what I once thought was a weakness in my leadership style, as strength.

Who was your best leader? What was it about them that made them worthy to follow? I asked this question to myself today and it took quite a while for me to think who my best leader was, and even still I could not reach a consensus.

Assessing and Improving Your Leadership Skills

Instead, what popped into my head were specific leadership strengths that each person had. Certain leaders in my past had completely opposite ways of motivating me. Some of my favorite bosses would motivate me with praise, while others would motivate me by doubting my abilities, and even others would model the expectation and lead by doing.

As this cyclone of leadership memories engulfed my mind, one thing became clearer: there are many ways to be a leader. I see this in my 5th grade team each and every day. We all skin our cats in very different ways, and even though we all have our own unique styles, we are all very effective. Each member of the team has unique backgrounds and experiences, and that has shaped our own excellent leadership styles.

I still find even this slightly perplexing. It’s easier to analyze things when there is one exact formula, but when it comes to leadership there are so many variables to factor in! If there is no standard way to gain leadership skills, how do you know if you’re being a good leader?

What's the formula for effective leadership?  I hope it's not this complicated.

What’s the formula for effective leadership? I hope it’s not this complicated.

At first I thought this was a weakness for me. At times I do not know what makes me a good leader. I am constantly analyzing my behavior, decisions, and interactions with others. I am also very observant of other leaders (both effective and ineffective) and continuously using their behaviors as lessons to adjust my own leadership style. I thought a good leader should always know what they are doing at every moment, stick to their technique and be consistent. Shouldn’t a good leader be confident in their style and not critique it?

When I’m most critical of my leadership style is when things are going smoothly. When my leadership style flows seamlessly is when I get the most analytical and observant. Why is it going well? What am I doing right? How can I make it better? I felt this was a weakness in the sense that I should just go with the flow and let it happen naturally. It took great self-reflection to realize that this continual goal for improvement is what is making me a better leader.

I have to once again credit mindfulness for this self-assessment and improvement in my life. My “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” attitude is slowly changing in all facets of my life. It’s okay to strive to be better in all we do, and even if things are going well, it can get better. My perceptions of situations are getting clearer and more accurate, and I’m able to use what I see to make the appropriate decisions and adjustments. It really is an amazing feeling when the bigger picture comes into focus clearer than ever before.

Mindful Leadership: A new way to sustain effective leadership

I strongly suggest that you try mindfulness meditation and see what it can do for you on both a personal and professional level. It has provided a deeper level of thoughts and clarity than I thought possible. Create some space in your life, and see what happens.

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