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Can we become a creature of habits

By | Blog | 958 Comments

Yes. No. Maybe? Here is my two cents about adopting new habits.

 

In November 2013, I decided to pay a visit a hypnotherapist for the first time. Let’s call her Tangerine to remain anonymous. Tangerine started asking me questions about the objective behind my visit:

Tangerine: So Amine, can you tell me about your goal today?

Me: I want to get rid of fear of public speaking.

Tangerine: Oh yes! I recall being there few years ago.. Why do you want to do that?

Me: Well, I am currently going through a professional transition and would like to conduct workshops about my new interests, mindfulness and design thinking.

Tangerine: Why do you want to do that?

Me: I believe I can contribute to my community through sharing some of my passions and knowledge.

Tangerine: Great! What is preventing you from doing that today.

Me: It’s the fear of public speaking. I feel very uncomfortable speaking before an audience.

Tangerine: Okay! Why do you really want to do that?

Me: Well, I want to expand my comfort zone. I want to hone my communication skills. I want to achieve my full potential as an individual.

Tangerine: That’s very good! Why do you want to achieve your full potential? What would you reap from that?

Me: hum?! This is a good question. My goal is to embrace change, ambiguity by connecting to a purpose higher than myself while having a positive impact on society at large. Ultimately, I‘d like to make the world a better place than I find it.

Tangerine: This is very interesting! It’s possible to help you that if you are open to work together.

Me: Sure! That’s why I am here today. Would it be possible to a do an unconscious treatment with the pendulum to remove that fear from the back of my mind? (I was thinking one treatment and I am back on track; that was my basic understanding of hypnotherapy as far as I heard of people’s stories removing fear of rats, spiders, etc.)

Tangerine: It is doable but not recommended.

Me: What do you mean?

Tangerine: In some instances, this method was used to help people quit smoking but it came up with drawbacks as they developed other addictions such as addiction to sugar. So I ‘d rather do the sessions with you while you are conscious.

Me: Okay and how long will it take to get there?

Tangerine: It depends on how open and fast you can go; I believe we can make great progress within 10 sessions.

Me: mmm this is not going to happen this way (in my mind).. I’d rather go with a drastic method: killing the beast in one shot, easy and sharp.

Tangerine: Amine! You seem to be someone very cooperative and I think I can take you there in a short amount of time.

 

At that point, I realized I needed to leverage this current session to get as much info as possible to heal myself on my own. I started asking questions to learn more about fear of public speaking root causes and Tangerine explained the primitive brain function (fight or flight response) along with the synapse connection, which quite intrigued me. We basically, as human beings, can create new paths/channels in our brain to allow information to flow (like water) . We can associate a meaningless action with a goal that is close to your heart. When such phenomena (synapses connection) occurs, we move out of our comfort zone and try new life experiences that might sound uncomfortable at first but we embrace them and adopt them as new habits. This deep insight was an eye opener for me as it encouraged me speaking before an audience through connecting this action to my ultimate goal. I became determined to take random actions everyday, one little step at a time, to get me closer to my goal. Joining toastmaster turned out to be a quintessential tool in my journey. I never had to visit any hypnotherapist since. Nevertheless, I am very grateful to Tangerine for the precious insights she shared with me.

 

To go back to the question I asked in the intro: Yes, I truly believe we can become a creature of habits as long as we connect a new habits to an objective that is dear to our hearts. We create a new synapse pathway in our brain where information flows freely with no obstacles and every small action becomes meaningful. It’s just of matter to commit ourselves to learn, trip over, fail, try again and ultimately succeed. Today, I can attest that resilience, practice and patience have positively contributed to my public speaking and leadership skills and I believe with further learning and integration, I can reach higher grounds.

The Power of postures

By | Blog | 1,786 Comments

Let’s start off with this quick question? Can you audit the way you are sitting without altering it: how many of you are making yourself smaller, maybe hunching or spreading-out? How many of you are leaning on one side or the other, or sitting in a cross-legged position? Is your back straight or curved? Pay attention to what you doing, we will come back to it in a few minutes. I am going to uncover how tweaking postures can significantly alter our body mind dynamic and the way our lives are to unfold.

 

What’s the matter with my posture?

People go through life situations wondering why certain outcome does not occur as expected. Here are some examples: speaking before an audience, going on a date, taking a leadership role or having a job interview.

Our postures create judgments, inferences and shape opinions. They can predict whom we hire, whom we promote and whom we ask on a date. All of us know that the mind influences the body but today leading social scientists have found that body mind is a two ways street. As much as the mind influences the body, the body also influences the mind. Many of us have difficult time to stick with disciplines such as yoga, tai chi or meditation to tame the mind. We as human beings tend to look for a quick fix, a magical pill to achieve the desired outcome.

 

What are the root causes?

Our inner emotions, past experiences, family patterns and DNA shape the way we sit, walk and talk. On one hand, someone who is feeling sad, anxious or stressed will always have a close crunching position or C shape (shoulders up, head down, arm holding the chick, tend to look at floor). On the other hand, someone who is happy, joyful and victorious will rise in V shape (shoulder back, head up, constant gaze, eye contact with the surrounding).  We, as humans beings,  love to expand, stretch out, spread out and flourish. Nonetheless, sometimes we are dragged by unconscious and conscious feelings that we may or may not be aware of. Studies (featured in the TED talk) are showing people postures impact their hormones and cortisol levels. As a result of these findings, we can increase our chances of becoming better individuals and notably better communicators and speakers just by consciously shifting our body postures and gestures when we sit, talk and walk.

 

How can we mitigate it?

According to the TED’s talk below; There is definitely a way to shift the mind by consciously training the body to alter postures. Various experiments have been conducted on the matter. When you rise (hands up in a V shape) before giving a business presentation, an interview or any challenge life throws at you, a shift in the energy level and perceptions happens. Here is my two cents; another suggestion would be to practice asanas such as sun salutation regularly during the day to unconsciously provoke this shift.

I hope these few insights and cues about the power of postures will help you achieve the desired outcome. For more info, check out the TED’s talk here:

 

 

Leadership golden values

By | Blog | 940 Comments

How many of you would like to become the next Richard Bronson, Angela Merkel, Bill Gates, Oprah Winfrey or Nelson Mandela. I believe  today’s world is full of candidates with the potential to become one of these icons. A realistic view would say that some of us will give up, some others will follow someone else’s path, and only a few will stick on the leadership journey. I did not write off this post to predict the future but to share my vision about three golden leadership values.

 

Leadership has changed dramatically over the years from authority to inspiration, from intimidation to persuasion and from “me” to “we” mentality.  Nowadays, we live in an era of satiety, flexibility, liberty, possibility and opportunity that our parents and grand parents did not have and could not wish for. We not only look up to leaders that are successful in their professional lives but also in their personal lives. Leadership essence has shifted to an equilibrium in all aspects of life: from private self to enlarged entourage: home, work and community. Leadership is a skill to develop. Leadership is an adventure to explore. Leadership is an art to master.

To be part of this journey, there are three golden values to stand for:

Be real 

Let’s act with authenticity with our life partner, fellow family members, colleagues and peers. Let’s consistently embody the values we advocate for regardless of the context. I personally went through unpleasant situations at work; bamboozling colleagues: while working on a myriad of projects. I had to send out subsequent emails and chase some of them down to get a follow-up response. Let’s hold our selves accountable and communicate in timely manner to maintain a genuine relationship with each other.

Be whole

Let’s act with integrity by clarifying expectations, aligning interests and building a supportive environment. Whenever I receive a request for a mentorship at the Toastmaster club, I send out a form asking my mentees to clarify their expectations for the next 3 to 6 and 9 to 12 months. I also share with them my availabilities and the type of support I am willing to provide them with. I am grateful to my mentees for this unique opportunity to brush up my leadership skills. We are all here to help each other burgeon. My growth is their growth and vice versa when we act with integrity.

Be creative

Let’s challenge the status quo and find new ways of doing things to stand out of the crowd. The world we live in is full of ambiguity and individuals who embrace change courageously and fearlessly are the leaders of tomorrow. Any task performed joyfully and lovingly lead to creative outcomes. So, let’s shift our perceptions and create a culture of innovation wherever we go.

 

Leadership is an art that can be cultivated by embodying these three attributes: authenticity, integrity and creativity. When we incorporate these values on a consistent basis, people would baptize us ship captains by acclamation. Polishing up these values create a sense of connection & coherence among all areas of our lives. One change can have ripple effects on all area of life.  We attract like-minded people and inspire fellow family members, colleagues and peers to achieve a common purpose. I would like to leave you with this quote from a Persian poet and Sufi mystic, Rumi, who lived in the 13th century: “Yesterday, I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today, I am wise, so I am changing myself”.

 

 

Presenteeism: How to turn employees into sources

By | Blog | 929 Comments

We live in a demanding society where we feel sometimes being pushed to the edge of our limits. We look like chicken running with no heads all over the place, holding back-to-back pointless and long meetings, operating beyond regular business hours to meet projects deadlines and keep upper management happy. Such attitude would likely lead to mental and physical health deterioration. Such attitude would likely lead to absenteeism. Such attitude would likely lead to burnout. But prior to these, there is a critical stage that is less known to many people and businesses that is called Presenteeism.

Presenteeism occurs when employees show up at work but are distracted by personal emotional and/or physical issues, which results in limited job performance and productivity.

Although it is often not measured as closely as absenteeism, presenteeism is a major issue in the workplace today. The term was coined in the 1990’s by professor Cary Cooper, a psychologist specializing in organizational management at Manchester University in the UK. According to a study published in “the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine” in US, employees reported going to work in spite of illness 50 percent of the time. It is estimated that the costs of presenteeism in Canada is 7.5 times greater than the costs of absenteeism. For example, if a company has 150 employees and salary costs totalled $6,240,000.3 Absenteeism would cost the employer about $187,200 while presenteeism would cost about $1,638,000.[1] In a paper published in the Harvard Business Review, the author states that presenteeism may be a $150 billion problem in US. [2] Various other studies evaluate presenteeism costing Canadian economy $15 to 25 billion each year, the Australian economy $9.96 billion per year and the UK economy $25 billion per year.[3] These figures are unbelievable. These figures are staggering. These figures are alarming!

 

Presenteesim is ubiquitous in time of economy downturn where jobs are scarce and in people with children, middle managers and front liners who have hard time setting boundaries when confronted with excessive demands. Heavy workload was found to be the most important predictor of increased presenteeism: employees are not equipped to deal with such stressful situations: they do not use sick days due to various countries and corporations policies and rather avoid utilizing their limited vacation days. In addition to this, most corporations are not aware of the matter and thus cannot educate workers. They have a misconception of presenteeism impact on their bottom line as they only concentrate on ways to reduce and cut costs. They view staff members as resources (not sources) such as coal, petrol, (you use it and it’s gone).

 

The best way to reduce presenteeism within the workplace is by building hale and hearty habits, a happiness hallmark for all employees:

 

– Health and wellness programs: This means encouraging employees to focus on key health behaviors such as increasing physical activity and improving eating habits. Every employee can find a sport activity that matches his or her personality from gym, swimming to yoga classes. Many organizations offer discounted rates for fitness clubs and often times carry free yoga classes. Wellness programs benefits include reducing health care costs, health-related absences, improving employee morale and retaining employees. It notably reduces presenteesim and elevates productivity in the long run.

 

– Mindfulness training and coaching programs: It is acknowledged by a grand number of employers that comprehensive mindfulness meditation training is beneficial for both employees’ health and the company’s bottom line. Mindfulness consists of emotion regulation training by observing everything in the realm of experience including our thoughts and feelings. Neuroscience has showed that mindfulness is effective in reducing stress, depression, anxiety and in increasing creativity and productivity. Mindfulness expenditure is very minimal compared to presenteeism opportunity cost.

 

Few companies acknowledge employees as sources, not resources and treat them accordingly. Whole Food, Patagonia, Tata Group, Google and Zappos, just to name a few, are leading the less traveled path and demonstrating to the business world how consciousness is embodied in their business DNA. A conscious business energizes people, a conscious business empowers people, and a conscious business engages people in a meaningful way while taking good care of them. As examples: Google takes care of the minds of its employees by proposing mindfulness courses designed to teach them emotional intelligence through meditation. Zappos invests heavily in its enlarged community. They implemented a new indicator ROC (return on community) besides the usual ROI (return on investment), which surprisingly augmented city resident productivity and innovation by 15% (when cities double in size).



[1] http://www.mentalhealthworks.ca/media/presenteeism

[2] http://www.cidmcorp.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/PRESENTEEISM-CID-Management-White-Paper.pdf

[3] http://www.thehousepartnership.co.uk/therapy-for-stress-london/the-hidden-cost-of-presenteeism-at-work-article/

Meditation is medication

By | Blog | 1,083 Comments

Close your eyes for a few seconds. Bring all your senses into the present moment: feel your fingers and toes moving, touch your heart, hear the sound of silence (or maybe a bird twitter, an ambulance siren) and watch your mind. Visualize a medical sign while breathing: science proves meditation is medication.

What is meditation?

Many of us experience meditation without even realizing it. It can arise spontaneously in moments when a sense of ourselves as separate individual appear to merge into a oneness with all life, as if boundaries dissolve and we become one with all things. Meditation is the act of getting the mind focused in the present moment with no influence by the past or the future. Meditation is a good tool to study oneself as it teaches us that we are no different from other people; it shows us the nature of mind (nothing is wrong or right).

Meditation is a mean of training the mind to recognize the internal drama, chatter and panic; it gives an opportunity to acknowledge the various habits and patterns of the mind and cultivates new and more positive ways of being.[1] Regular practice leads to a state of deep peace where the mind becomes calm and silent. To make an analogy, meditation is to the mind what gym is to the physical body. In other words, meditation trains the mind to mental attention that awakens us beyond the conditioned mind and habitual thinking, and reveals the nature of reality.

The practice of meditation is found throughout history, and in various religions today from Hinduism, Judaism, Christianity and Islam. It initially took place as repetitive, rhythmic chants, which today are commonly called mantras. Scholars find out that the first written imprint came from the Hindu traditions around 1500 BCE. For the sake of most recent scientific studies, I am going to focus on meditation, which derives from western Buddhism.

Common types?

1/Mantra: is an instrument of the mind, a powerful sound or vibration that you can use to enter a deep state of meditation. As you repeat the mantra (e.g. the easiest mantra to use is OM (pronouced mmmm, the sound of satisfaction), it creates a mental vibration that allows the mind to experience deeper levels of awareness. Repetition of the mantra helps us disconnect from the thoughts filling our mind.

2/ Shamatha meditation: Shamatha means serenity or tranquility, a quiet mind. It cultivates the concentration in action; we slowly learn to become more attentive and receptive to all experiences we encountered, regardless of their nature

3/Vipassana meditation: Vipassana means insight, insight into the true nature of our minds, the true nature of reality. In this meditation: People sit quietly in an alert posture with eyes closed while breathing through the nose. As thoughts arise, we simply put them aside (don’t force them) and bring our awareness back to the sensations of breathing in the body (no analysis of neither thoughts nor feelings). With Vipassana, we acknowledge what happens in our mind and let it go.

4/Tonglen meditation: Tonglen means “giving and taking” and is a method for connecting with suffering —ours and that which is all around us— everywhere we go. It is a method for overcoming fear of suffering and for dissolving the tightness of our heart. Primarily it is a method for awakening the compassion that is inherent in all of us, no matter how cruel or cold we might seem to be. We begin the practice by taking on the suffering of a person we know to be hurting and who we wish to help. For instance, if we know of a child who is being hurt, we breathe in the wish to take away all the pain and fear of that child. Then, as we breathe out, we send the child happiness; joy or whatever would relieve their pain.[2]

5/ Lovingkindness meditation: This meditation uses words, images, and feelings to evoke a lovingkindness and friendliness toward oneself and others. We can use the following recitation: “May we be happy and accept the roots of happiness”, we are expressing an intention, planting the seeds of loving wishes over and over in our heart.[3]

Some benefits?

1/Immune system:  Meditation boosts antibodies including recovering cancer patients. A study at the Ohio State University found that progressive muscular relaxation, when practiced daily, reduced the risk of breast cancer recurrence. In another study at Ohio State, a month of relaxation exercises boosted natural killer cells in the elderly, giving them a greater resistance to tumors and to viruses.[4]

2/Stress Management: A study published at the faculty of Washington in May of 2012 showed that the mediation group reported less stress as they performed the multitasking test than people from other groups. Meditation helps us gain a new perspective on stressful situations. It basically builds skills to manage stress by slowing down our heart rate and breathing and normalizing the blood pressure. It helps using oxygen more efficiently, and makes us sweat less. [4]

3/ Productivity: Meditation has a lasting effect on concentration, memory. A  researcher at the Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging at Charlestown found that people who practiced mindful meditation had the ability to ignore distractions and incorporate new facts quite rapidly which lead to an increase in productivity.[5] 

4/Creativity: A study conducted by some researchers at Leiden University in the Netherlands on both focused-attention and open-monitoring mediation to see if there was any improvement in creativity afterwards. They found that people who practiced focused-attention meditation did not show any obvious signs of improvement in the creativity task following their meditation. For those who did open-monitoring meditation, however, they performed better on a task that asked them to come up with new ideas.[6]

 

 


[1] https://thebuddhistcentre.com/text/what-meditation

[2] http://www.shambhala.org/teachers/pema/tonglen1.php

[3] http://www.jackkornfield.com/2011/02/meditation-on-lovingkindness/

[4] http://blog.ted.com/2013/01/11/4-scientific-studies-on-how-meditation-can-affect-your-heart-brain-and-creativity/

[5] http://lifehacker.com/what-happens-to-the-brain-when-you-meditate-and-how-it-1202533314

[6] http://meditation-research.org.uk/2012/05/meditation-and-creativity-some-first-evidence/