The Messy Meaning of Mindfulness

Mindfulness. The word is getting attention.  The meaning of the word is getting attention.  Take Mindful Magazine’s recent response to New York Times’ “The Muddied Meaning of Mindfulness.” I read both articles.  I will admit that my first learning of the two articles came as an email from Mindful Magazine landing in my inbox; I’m a subscriber.  However, as a stress expert, mindfulness trainer, practical mindfulness research-practitioner and Founder at Mindful Effect, the great debate regarding the word ‘mindfulness’ and its meaning is in the forefront of everything I do at Mindful Effect as the meaning – both formally and socially constructed means are more than the 10,000+ lakes in Minnesota.  Maybe that’s a bit embellished but one cannot argue that too many definitions of one word exists.  And that in itself causes a lot of confusion, misconception, tension, and stress.

TheMessyMeaningofMindfulness-1

Reading both articles, I found myself not siding with one powerful position over the other.  Instead, I found myself siding with both; agreeing on points from Ms. Virginia Heffernan’s as mindfulness has become an “American Brand” and whose cynicism is appreciated as she calls our attention to the shadowed elephant of mindfulness. In as much, Mindful Magazine’s Publisher, James Gimian, and Editor-in-Chief, Barry Boyce, point out the many benefits and social contributions of mindfulness yet, they do not answer their own question: “Does it mean its meaning is muddied?”

I believe the meaning of mindfulness is more than muddied.  I believe it’s gotten messy. Regardless of what I believe, the proof is in the pudding.  Just Google the words “mindful” and “mindfulness” and see the number of hits related to definitions.  Better yet, for folks with access to peer-review journal articles (yes, I know…my doc side had to include this in here) such as any within the American Psychological Association, conduct a search within any academic database and again, many articles appear with authors positioning a crafted definition.

However, is this really the best use of our time – to engage in an infinite loop of definition positioning? Or should our awareness and attention be directed to the field and practice of mindfulness?

Mindfulness as a field, practice, and industry is unregulated.  Anyone can pick up a book and read works from Drs. Kabat-Zinn or Langer, conduct a Google Search, and the next day put out a shingle and claim they are a mindfulness coach, trainer, expert, consultant…you get the idea.

Where I tend to error on the side of caution is linking everything back to the moral obligation and ethics of “do no harm.” Yes.  As with any field of study and practice, moral and ethical practices exist.  However, mindfulness is a young mainstream modern concept. I am not saying that it hasn’t existed for many years.  I am saying that the term and practice is more in the forefront today than in previous years. Which begs me to ask fellow practitioners, researchers, teachers, and the media these questions:

  1. What and who will establish the ground rules of mindfulness to ensure science and practice upholds “do no harm?”
  2. Will mindfulness become muddied, inconsistent, and lack consensus similar to other professions such as Organization Development?
  3. Will the hording and positioning of “who came up with it first” continue to cloud progress?
  4. How will continued studies, formal and informal, maintain sound methodologies and methods standards to make valid claims and call to attention ad hoc?
  5. Will Cosmopolitan-like (sorry, Cosmo) magazine quizzes pose as valid when in reality make false claims which then readers take as truths and factual information; and then show to their primary care physician/psychotherapist (gasp!)?
  6. What, if anything, will be done to prevent preying “practitioner” behavior as this industry is directly linked to people who may be vulnerable due to mental health challenges such as depression, PTSD, ADHD, anxiety, and addiction? What about working with children, the elderly, veterans, and people with special needs?

While I can see both sides of Mindful Magazine and New York Times’ articles, I would like to point out, while the great debate continues, perhaps our awareness needs to focus less on the disparities of what mindfulness is and is not and focus more on how we can create a structure to an industry and practice, develop what the structure would look like along with its components, implement standards of practice housed similarly to the American Medical Association, integrate these standards into education and academic institutional programs such as with UMASS, all the while providing a lot of help to people around the globe.

I believe it’s time to become mindful of where our awareness and attention is targeted, identify and understand our triggers which create an auto-pilot of continued confusion and debate, identify the overall purpose of mindfulness, and continue to let our awareness guide us with an ethical practice of service to others.  I mean…what could be wrong with that?

 

Mindful Change

Changebecause-youre1

Change.  Change is constant yet people resist change.  There are many reasons why people resist change; everything from it’s too different from what is ‘normal’ to being forced to change.

Though this is true reality, so are the advantages to change.  I find that many people already know benefits of change.  Heck, I’ve feel the same way myself and can write a laundry list of benefits.  What I’ve found is that in the sea of reasons and benefits, people seek questions to help them with the process of first, deciding on to make the plunge (or not), and second, people are looking for help with knowing what to ask themselves.

I’ve listed a few questions to help with these needs.  These questions are mindful questions; they address surface problems and uncover root causes.  Read them over.  Sit with them for a while.  Write down the first 10 answers that come to mind.  Review the responses later that day, a day later, and then 1 week later; make changes and adjustments to your responses.  After a week has passed ask yourself and answer the question: What do I want to do? Then you’ll have an answer.  For now.  For this moment in time.

  • Mindful Questions to the Advantages to Change
  • What are the advantages? To me, personally?
  • What are the results? What will they be? How would I describe/communicate them to others?  **If the details are unclear, revise to the point where they are clear and you could explain to someone else.
  • How do the advantages fit with my values and beliefs, the stuff I know to be “true” from experience and with my needs?
  • How will this work for me? What is my overall sense or “test” to know that it’s working?

How did this work for you?  Share with me your comments and questions!

Corporate Policies Gone Bad

Corporate policies. Every company has them, every leadership team develops them.  Once developed, employees are spoon-fed and even become cheerleaders of their company’s policies.  Employees take pride in memorizing and knowing by heart these policies! Corporate policies offer structure, a consistent way of doing things, ease of training during the on boarding process, and can even support strategic initiatives.  These all seem within reason and good business decisions, right?  Yes and no.  Yes, when they solve problems, provide guidance and structure, and are adaptable.  No, when corporate policies backfire quicker than Cher’s backhand to Nicolas Cage in Moonstruck providing a “snap out of it” wake-up call to both the customer, company  and the company.  Where might , you ask,  does this happen?  In the front lines…in customer service.

Have you ever called a company call center with a problem and were given the candid answer of, “I’m sorry, Miss, but our company policy is……” Yet, what the customer hears is, “I’m not going to solve your problem.”

I experienced two of these situations this week (hence, which prompted me to write this blog).  My first problem that I needed solving was with our home’s HVAC system.  In Minnesota, while it’s not snowing yet (yes, giggle if you will) we did experience a 40+ degree temperature drop.  The day I went to turn on the heat there was nothing.  Okay. Not a problem.  I pay for an extra service with our energy provider that allows us access to 24/7/365 emergency service.  When scheduling the customer service person suggested I check the batteries of the thermostat (that’s nice…thinking of possible solutions) and scheduled us for the earliest appointment on Sunday.  Again, I didn’t think it was a problem…we’d bundle up and get cozy and Sunday was only a few days away.  I did replace the batteries and still no change.

Then in typical Minnesota fashion, the temperature dropped even further.  Regardless if the body feels a drop from 100 to 60 degrees or 70 to 36 degrees, the first time during a season – it’s COLD!  Our house temperature was 65 degrees and tonight the temps are expected to drop even further.  Not a problem, (right?), as I thought I’d just call the utility company back and take advantage of our pre-paid emergency service.   WRONG!  When on the phone with customer service I explained that I’d like to receive same day service and was told, “We are not servicing same day heat or furnace related calls yet as it’s before our winter season service date.  The temperatures are not below freezing.” What?  Then I kindly (yes, I was kind and didn’t turn into Medusa) replied that I pay for this service and would like to get someone out today.  Again, I got the customer service representative proudly regurgitating company policy and she even said, “This is our company policy.” Did she provide me with a solution?  No.  Did she care?  No and that was clear from her tone.  Was she doing her job?  She was doing what she’s been told to do and say. What did I do?  I told her she wasn’t providing me with a solution and asked to speak to a manager.

The manager came on the line, confirmed my account, and then made the comment, “yeah, the recent drop feels really cold.  Would you mind holding for a moment and I’ll speak to a dispatcher to see if we can get out servicing you sooner.”  Wow!  This team lead lady made me feel like at least she heard and understood my problem and was doing something to help to solve it.  When she came back on the line I was told someone would come out today.  Which is great.  Problem solved.

As a business owner though, I cringe at this company policy.  It will deter current customers from renewing this extra option which means loss of customers which means loss of renewing revenue – OUTCH! I’d say to the company leaders: go back and review these corporate policies and create something that solves your customer’s problems (not to mention keeping those renewal revenues accumulating).

The second corporate policy fiasco this week was with scheduling tennis lessons.  While it might seem frivolous, those of you who’ve been reading my twitter feed know that I’ve recently taken tennis lessons which is all part of use-of-mindfulness-for-self; doing the things that you’ve “always” wanted to do is a common outcome of Mindful Living.  For me, one of those things is playing tennis and love it; it helps me reduce stress, I’ve gotten stronger, and it’s a nice way to connect with others.  At my gym, the fall tennis schedule came out and as a mom I’m juggling everyone’s schedules – thank goodness for my iPhone!

I contacted the tennis desk asking about the Saturday morning class.  The time is perfect and right after the kid’s swim classes which to me means let’s-get’it-done-efficiency.  The service person shared that the club wouldn’t start the class with only 1 person registering and the tennis manager would call to talk with me about the class.  Okay.  Cool.  NOT!  After  playing voice-mail tag and talking twice without a solution, then talking to 2 other instructors,  I was without a solution to the problem due to corporate policy.  Corporate policy dictates a minimum of 2 registered people to start a class.  Fine. My husband registered as the second person.  Oh, but wait…the company policies get better…each tennis pro manages their own schedules; one pro was not teaching on Saturday, another could teach but only 1 of the 4 classes, and the tennis manager offered me this, “well, I guess I could do some calling and see if we could get other people to join and then start a class…and I’ll have to find someone to teach….”  All of this back and forth volley was a waste of time.  One thing I don’t like to waste is time.

This company had a customer, not just 1 but 2 practically begging for tennis lessons saying, “PLEASE TAKE OUR MONEY – WE WANT TO BUY” and yet the club lost 2 sales because of corporate policies and because their people could not provide a solution to solve their customer’s problem.  Does the problem still exist?  Nope.  I came up with an alternative and “bought” from someone else.  Would I have preferred buy from my club?  You bet.  But given the situation, I got creative and solved my own problem.  Will I buy from them again?  I’m not sure.  As a business owner, again, I cringe at seeing these types of situations where employees hold to their heart corporate policies that do the exact opposite of what’s intended, that create more problems, provide dissatisfaction instead of a WOW customer experience, and bleed the company’s revenue sources.  Club leaders take note – this isn’t working….

In practical mindfulness, sticking to something that no longer serves its purpose, no longer works, and adds to problems…that’s called “mindlessness.”  Other terms and phrases to describe “mindlessness” are “lights are on but no one’s home,” “zombie,” and auto-pilot.  These corporate policy situations are examples of “mindlessness.”   When employees lack of awareness they become mesmerized (heck, hypnotized) by corporate policies that don’t work and contribute to the already stack of business problems organizations face every single day.  So, be mindful, be aware, people.  Reevaluate corporate policies, reflect, and answer questions such as:  what’s created to work and is it working, what’s being done because we’ve been told to, does it make sense (really?), does it solve our customer’s problems, and if not, then change it!  Create corporate policies where employees can be mindful and aware, that solve customer problems, and provide both financial (renewals) and non-financial (wowed customers) rewards to the organization.

 

 

 

Some Facts About Stress

Everyone experiences stress and yet there is a lot of information floating around about stress.  Some of the information is correct while some information is incorrect.  Just yesterday I read an article from a Twitter link that was clearly incorrect.  I thought about responding to the Twitter feed and including a source that would have invalidated the article.  However, I decided to post a blog that shares accurate information.  Also, the situation reaffirmed my commitment to producing sound scientific research in an applied environment, adhering to the ethics and practice of “do no harm,” and to share this information for the betterment and legacy of people, organizations, societies and our planet.

So, here are some facts about stress:

  •  For over 9 decades, studies of stress have been gaining popularity within the behavioral, social, and health sciences. The term stress originated from the field of physics to denote how manmade structures must resist deformation caused by external forces. In physics, stress referred to the external pressure or force applied to a structure, while strain denoted the resulting internal distortion of the structure (Hinkle, 1974). Borrowing the term from physics to apply it to the behavioral sciences, Hans Selye (1974) adopted the term stress and changed its usage to mean circumstances that place physical or psychological demands on an individual. Historically, the three main theorists of stress are physiologist Walter Cannon, endocrinologist Hans Selye, and psychologist Richard Lazarus.
  • Stress means different things to different people; therefore, there are several definitions of the term.  Stress researcher Hans Selye (1974) defined stress as “the nonspecific response of the body to any demand made upon it” (p. 14).  The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) defined job stress as “the harmful physical and emotional responses that occur when the requirements of the job do not match the capabilities, resources, or needs of the worker” National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health [NIOSH], 1999, p. 7).
  • Stress at work leads to a variety of consequences for both the employee and the organization.  In a 2011 study conducted by The American Psychological Association, 70% of Americans indicated that work was a significant source of their stress: a consistent finding of the past 5 years (American Psychological Association [APA], 2011). Another study conducted by NIOSH (1999) showed that 40% of employees indicated their jobs were very or extremely stressful.
  • Just as in the United States, workplace stress is a common problem worldwide. In a 2011 study conducted by The American Psychological Association, 70% of Americans indicated that work was a significant source of their stress: a consistent finding of the past 5 years (American Psychological Association [APA], 2011). Another study conducted by NIOSH (1999) showed that 40% of employees indicated their jobs were very or extremely stressful. While the United States and the Netherlands place more work demands on employees requiring longer working hours (Kenny & Cooper, 2003), countries such as Canada and the United Kingdom are finding that stress is a major contributor to employee disease, depression, and injury, and lowered company productivity (Price, 2004; Ryan & Watson, 2004).
  • The financial impact of workplace stress also affects businesses all around the globe. Workplace stress is estimated to cost United States organizations more than $300 billion dollars every year in lost productivity, absenteeism, turnover, and medical, legal, and insurance costs (Rosch, 2001). In Canada, the issue of workplace stress costs 6 billion Canadian dollars annually (Price, 2004). Further, the United Kingdom reports that an estimated 200 million working days each year are lost due to illnesses caused by workplace stress (Ryan & Watson, 2004). Additional financial effects include employee lawsuits for workplace stress with monetary awards (Rosch, 2001), an increase in workers’ compensation, and an increase in disability claims (NIOSH, 1999). These and other reports suggest that workplace stress is a growing global epidemic.
  • To address workplace stress, many organizations have responded by integrating stress management interventions (SMIs) such as mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) programs (Kabat-Zinn, 1990) and relaxation techniques such as breathing practices, meditation, guided imagery, and yoga (Feldman, Greeson & Senville, 2010; Schure, Christopher & Christopher, 2008). The purpose of these programs is to improve the workplace environment and reduce employee stress. Although they have been proven effective and continue to gain interest, these programs are not part of current standard business practices. One proposed reason for this is that executives require interventions to be effective and inexpensive, and require low time investment with an immediate change (Applebaum, 1975; Burke, 2008; Kotter, 1996). Secondly, in order to measure effectiveness, today’s researchers, clinicians, human resource professionals, and OD consultants use traditional quantitative surveys and questionnaires that were developed and validated 15-25 years ago (Beck, Ward, Mendelson, Mock, & Erbaugh, 1961; Brantley, Waggoner, Jones & Rappaport, 1987; Cohen, Kamarck & Mermelstein, 1983; Maslach & Jackson, 1981; Rosenberg, 1965; Vitaliano, 1985). While they are practical to use within business environments, these survey measurements are outdated and do not represent today’s workforce, organization, and global economy.

So, what can we do about this? Well, for starters this is one of the reasons why I built a company founded from my doctoral research.  Our continued applied research is scientifically sound, practical, and uses an innovative device for stress measurement.  Our proprietary processes are proven to reduce employee stress and increase employee well-being as well as increase performance and productivity. To find out more or request a complementary consultation, contact us at info@debralindh.com.

References:

American Psychological Association. (2011). Stress in America: Our health at risk. Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/stress/2011/final-2011.pdf

Applebaum, S. (1975). Management development and organizational development: An integrative approach, Business and Society, 16(1), 25-30. doi:10.1177/ 000765037501600104

Beck, A. T., Ward, C. H., Mendelson, M., Mock, J., & Erbaugh, J. (1961). An inventory for measuring depression. Archives of General Psychiatry, 4, 561-571. doi:10.1001/archpsyc.1961.01710120031004

Brantley, P. J., Waggoner, C. D., Jones, G. N., & Rappaport, N. B. (1987). A daily stress inventory: Development, reliability, and validity. Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 10(1), 61-73.

Burke, W. (2008). Organization change: Theory and practice. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Cohen, S., Kamarck, T., & Mermelstein, R. (1983). A global measure of perceived stress. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 24(4), 385-396.

Feldman, G., Greenson, J., & Senville, J. (2010). Differential effects of mindful breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, and loving-kindness meditation on decentering and negative reactions to repetitive thoughts, Behavior Research and Therapy, 48, 1002-1011. doi:10.1016/j.brat.2010.06.006

Hinkle, L. E. (1974). The concept of “stress” in the biological and social sciences. International Journal of Psychiatry in Medicine, 5(4), 335-357. doi:10.2190/91DK-NKAD-1XP0-Y4RG

Kabat-Zinn, J. (1990). Full catastrophe living: Using the wisdom of your body and mind to face stress, pain, and illness. New York, NY: Bantam Dell.

Kotter, J. (1996). Leading change. Boston, MA: Harvard Review Press.

Kenny, D. T., & Cooper, C. L. (2003). Introduction: Occupational stress and its management. International Journal of Stress Management, 4, 275-279. doi:10.1037/1072-5245.10.4.275

Maslach, C., & Jackson, S. E. (1981). Maslach Burnout Inventory: MBI.–. Consulting psychologists press.

National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. (1999). Stress at work. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/docs/99-101/pdfs/99-101.pdf

Price, C. (2004). Workplace stress costs billions. Benefits Canada, 28(12), 83.

Rosch, P. J. (Ed.). (2001, March). The quandary of job stress compensation. Health and Stress, 3, 1-4.

Rosenberg, M. (1965). Rosenberg self-esteem scale (RSE). Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. Measures Package, 61.

Ryan, D., & Watson, R. (2004). A healthier future. Occupational Health, 56, 20-21.

Schure, M., Christopher, J., & Christopher, S. (2008). Mind-body medicine and the art of self-care: Teaching mindfulness to counseling students through yoga, meditation, and qigong, Journal of Counseling & Development, 86, 47-56. doi:10.1002/j.1556-6678.2008.tb00625.x

Selye, H. (1974). Stress without distress. London, England: Transworld.

Vitaliano, P. P., Russo, J., Carr, J. E., Maiuro, R. D., & Becker, J. (1985). The ways of coping checklist: Revision and psychometric properties. Multivariate Behavioral Research, 20(1), 3-26.