Secrets of Wisdom from ex-Indian President and Rocket Scientist

Before I share with you the amazing synchronicity of what I found in the trash (old bucket to be precise), I need to share a little back story.

Both my grandparents, on my mum’s side, died a few years ago.

They came to the UK from East Africa. Following a revolution and losing all their possessions and property, they got British Passports, and began life in London, starting from nothing.

They were both very spiritual, and went every week to a Hindu temple. The Swaminarayan temple in north London. It was in an old disused warehouse which they converted into a big hall.

My grandparents used to take me there from time to time as a child. I enjoyed prostrated in front of the statues - it made me feel like an adult! I remember the dusty carpet as my nose touched the floor, and feeling like it was so tiring after about a minute or two of bowing down and getting up. I was amazed how fit by grandad was as I struggled to keep up!

The temple was in a large hall - simple in design. It seemed quite large to me, as a child. But they had bigger plans.

When I was about 10 years old, I remember my grandfather collecting aluminium cans from the streets of London, to raise money for a new temple. I may have helped him once...I’m not sure.

He walked for hours in the cold to find those cans. The temple was using the collected cans to raise money for a grand project they had in mind. They had a big vision.

Ultimately, 7 million cans were recycled! It turned out to be one of the largest recycling projects in the UK.

A few years later, the community built the biggest Hindu Temple in Europe. Here’s what it looks like now!

neasden temple.jpg

As stated here, ‘In total, a hundred full-time volunteers and over a thousand part-time volunteers offered their time and talent over the two years, many taking extended holidays or a gap year, and some even leaving their jobs and businesses.’

The head of the religious organisation was Pramukh Swami Maharaj. He died recently - 13th August 2016.

You can see his picture and find out more about him on the temple website here.

I never really followed the religion, and mainly went to the temple on Diwali - the festival of light. In fact, it’s coming up again in a few weeks.

But the other morning, as I was walking to my local cafe, I saw a book, half-soaked with water, in a bucket, dumped outside someone’s house. I took a photo and picked it up, to read in my local cafe.

transcendence in the bin.jpg

The book was written by former Indian President, Abdul Kalam. I’ve heard lots of incredible stories about Kalam. A rocket scientist, turned Indian President. Many consider him one of the greatest presidents India has ever had.

Once I arrived at my cafe, order a cup of English Breakfast tea and after exchanging some banter with the barista I sat down.

I glanced through the table of contents, and decided to read the chapter on Compassion.

I chose this because just last week, I was attending the International Empathy and Compassion Conference in Oslo. I was invited with Awake Academy, to film with James Doty, Head of the Center for Compassion at Stanford University and Prof. Paul Gilbert, leading compassion researcher based in the UK.

As I read through the chapter on compassion, it talked about two teachers, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, and one of his key translators, Thubten Jinpa.

Here is the fourteenth Dalai Lama’s words on compassion, shared in the book:

Warm-heartedness is a key factor for healthy individuals, healthy families and healthy communities. Scientists say that a healthy mind is a major factor for a healthy body. If you are serious about your health, think and take most concern for your peace of mind. That’s very, very important.

Kamal goes on to quote Thupten Jinpa’s definition of compassion

‘A mental state endowed with a sense of concern for the suffering of others and aspiration to see that suffering is relieved’.

Thupten Jinpa highlights three elements of compassion:

Cognitive: ‘I understand you’.
Affective: ‘I feel for you’.
Motivational: ‘I want to help you’.

In the book, it shares how the Dalai Lama even visited one of their temples. The Dalai Lama said this of his visit:

‘Your Organisation is doing great service to mankind by spreading the message of goodness and joy. It is indeed commendable that the Swaminarayan movement has not limited its work to the movement alone, but has gone out in society and conducted a door-to-door crusade against the evils of society, to promote peace and harmony. I am deeply impressed by the fact that the youths are so actively involved in the activities of this movement.’
Dalailama.jpg

In another bit of synchronicity, my dad has actually read this book too. He enjoyed it. And he’s not religious as such, either. Apparently the President worked with Pramukh Swami as he has a network of many volunteers in India.

Strange how I discovered all this through the book in that bucket.

When I was little, Pramukh Swami wasn’t that famous. He used to visit homes. And he visited our home!

So, in his honor, I’d like to finish this post with these words from Pramukh Swami Maharaj, from the end of the book Transcendence, which I found in that bin.

Kalam concludes with two quotes. He starts with Albert Einstein:

Strange is our situation here upon earth. Each of us comes for a short visit, not knowing why, yet sometimes seeming to a divine purpose. From the standpoint of daily life, however, there is one thing we do know: That we are here for the sake of others...for the countless unknown solus with whose fate we are connected by a bond of sympathy. Many times a day, I realize how much my outer and inner life is built upon the labours of people, both living and dead, and how earnestly I must exert myself in order to give in return as much as I have received and am still receiving.

Kalam goes on to say:

It simply overwhelms me to see how beautifully these words are summarised by the life and message of Pramukh Swamiji. It is like a scientific formula of spirituality.

In the good of others lies our own;
In the progress of others lies our own;
In the joy of others lies our own.

I hope you’re inspired to research further into this organisation, and to explore what service and compassion means for you.

If you have any thoughts or insights to share, feel free to do so.

Thanks!

 

Links:

BAPs Charities - secular charity, focusing on the spirit of service
Mystic India - award winning film, based on the life of Swami Narayan

If you are interested in teaching mindfulness in different settings, make sure you join our special program - next course launching soon!

New free 7 day Kindfulness Course started this week! Visit kindfulnessonline.com and get started in world's first online kindfulness program in collaboration with Awake Academy!

How to Teach Mindfulness to a Child

‘Jonny, it’s time for mindfulness!’

Do you wish you were taught mindfulness as a child? I do! I never knew that thoughts were not facts. No one told me a short exercise could leave me feeling relaxed and happy.

But how can you go about teaching mindfulness to a child? Here are some key points and tips that may help you teach mindfulness to children.

Remember the fundamentals of mindfulness

Mindfulness is a present moment awareness with ‘mindful attitudes’. Different mindfulness teachers emphasise different values, but for me, being kind is the most important. That’s why I call it kindfulness rather than mindfulness.

Here’s some key attitudes of mindfulness:

  • Present-moment awareness - being aware of any of your senses or inner thoughts and emotions. It’s the opposite of being lost in your thoughts or multi-tasking.
  • Kindness - learning to be nice and friendly to yourself and others in thoughts, words and actions. Sometimes, it’s called compassion.
  • Curiosity - being interested in the world around us and within us. Ideally, you would also be cultivating a sense of awe or wonder along with curiosity, which research shows is very good for you too - making you happier and healthier.
    • Allowing or acceptance - letting things be instead of trying to change them, especially when it comes to emotions and thoughts, and observing experiences instead of trying to control or fight them. Mindfulness has roots in Buddhism, and the Buddha essentially stated: To be happy, you need to let go of control. Grasping and controlling is the root cause of suffering and unhappiness.

Set a good example

As you probably know, children learn a lot more from your behaviour than from your words. Try these tips to help your child be more mindful.

Practise mindfulness regularly

I know this is easier said than done. But you can’t expect to tell your child to be mindful if you’re not very mindful yourself. That won’t work too well, I reckon.

BUT! Remember, mindfulness is more than just meditating all the time. It’s about being kind and forgiving of yourself and others. Kindfulness is what you’re really doing and sharing. Be kind to yourself each time you accidently snap at your child. Don’t beat yourself up for not being the perfect teacher or parent. Treat yourself as you’d treat a friend, and your self-compassion will shine through to your child.

Schedule time to be present with your child

If you’re super busy, it can be easy to forget to be present with your child. If you run your life on a calendar or diary, use it to schedule times when you can be mindful with your child. Listen to them, talk to them, play games with them. See if you can switch your phone off and have some quality time with your child while having digital detox yourself. As you spend time with them being mindful, they in turn will start being more present too.

Make it fun

Children are automatically attracted to anything fun. A bit like me! Try these approaches when sharing mindfulness with your child.

  • Short meditations

When sharing meditations with your child, keep them nice and short. Long meditations are not fun for children. And if they associate mindfulness with boredom rather than the pleasure of relaxation, they’re less likely to engage in it. Even one minute is a nice start.

  • Connecting with senses

Think about creative ways to get your child to connect with their senses. It could be listening to music, playing in the sand, looking at and drawing a tree, smelling different scents, tasting some food very slowly, or feeling lovely textures. Mindfulness can be done in all sorts of creative, artistic ways. Anything that gets your child out of their head and into the conscious moment of now is mindfulness.

  • Colouring in

Colouring is all the rage for adults nowadays, but don’t forget it can be great for children. Some kids love it, so give them time to carefully colour some positive images.

  • Simply playing

Playtime is obviously very good for children. I see playing as a key element of mindfulness. In play, children are letting go and engaging in the present moment. If you can let your child play in nature, they will have a beautiful way of developing a more mindful brain. As I said earlier, too much control is the cause of suffering, and letting go leads to a happier life. The more you can let go and let your child play, the more your child may pick up this subtle way of being and be less controlling in their own life too.

Adapt for different ages

Children of different ages need different approaches to mindfulness.

Younger children—stories and games

I don’t have exact ages here, but each child is different, and if you know them, you’ll know what they like. Stories are very engaging for young children in particular. Find some ‘mindful’ stories online or in books, and read them to your child. Ideally, find a story which includes a little mindful exercise or some deep breathing.

I mentioned games and fun activities earlier. What sorts of games cultivate mindfulness? Here are a few games you can play with your child:

  • Play memory games. For example, have your child look at a tray of objects while they try to memorise them, and then ask them to recall the objects.
  • Listen to the sound of a bell until it dissipates into silence.
  • Do ‘spot the difference’ exercises.
  • Put a teddy bear on their belly, and ask them to watch their teddy go up and down as they breathe.
  • Let them colour.
  • Teach them how to do origami.
  • Teach them fun children’s yoga poses described as different animals.
  • Sing and dance with them.
  • Sleeping lions - This is where children have to be as still and quiet as possible as they lie on the floor. That’s great for young children and fun for the adults to see, too!

Older children

Older children, teenagers and above, may start appreciating more serious meditations. You could try getting them to listen to:

  • Body scan meditation
  • Awareness of breath meditation
  • Short loving-kindness meditations
  • Mountain or Lake meditations

You can get these audio tracks when you buy most books on mindfulness, including mine. In fact, in my book Mindfulness for Dummies, there’s a whole chapter on teaching mindfulness to children. But try a few out different audios, and pick a voice and guidance that works well for your child.

Conclusion

When teaching mindfulness to children, setting an example is most important. Making it fun is key, especially for younger children. Be creative so it’s fun for you to share mindfulness in different ways. If you’re excited to share mindfulness, the young child will sense that too.

Use nature to cultivate mindfulness—spend time in nature with your child if possible. Even planting seeds in a pot is valuable.

Finally, short meditations are an important skill to teach children, so sharing some short guided mindfulness exercises with your child, whether you do the guiding yourself or via audio, is a great idea.

Do you know any other tips, resources or good ideas of teaching mindfulness to children? Please share in the comments below so we all learn together.

To find out more, and if you’re in London on Tuesday, 27 September 2016, attend a talk with Richard Burnett of Mindfulness in Schools and Beyond with Action for Happiness.

Mindfulness for Beginners: Tips and tricks

Have you ever wondered, ‘what exactly is mindfulness?’

Or maybe thought ‘I understand it, but maybe not.’ If so, read on... This blog post may just answer your mindful prayers.

What is Mindfulness?

Mindfulness is about cultivating a conscious, present-moment awareness.

Most of the time your mind wanders, unconsciously, to thoughts about the past and future. Through practising mindfulness, you discover how to be more present to your experiences in the here and now.

Mindfulness often also embodies mindful attitudes like being kind to yourself, cultivating a sense of curiosity about your experiences and accepting whatever experience is arising for you.

Mindfulness is great, but is in some sense only the beginning. It’s important for mindfulness to be cultivated together with kindness and compassion for yourself, and others. This is what I call kindfulness.

Everyday Mindfulness

Mindfulness can be cultivated every day and in every moment. Here are some examples:

Home

At home, any repetitive physical task is ideal for being mindful. When washing the dishes, notice the temperature of the water, the colour of the bubbles, any tensions in your body. When having a cup of tea (as we often do here in the UK), be aware of the colour of the tea, the weight of the cup and the pleasurable feeling of enjoying the taste. Hmmm.

Work

Notice your feet on the floor as you walk from one room to the next. Be conscious of your bodily posture and sensations as you sit down and stand up. Take a few moments to pause and breathe at the end of one task and the start of another.

Relationships

When your partner, friend or colleague is speaking, practice listening non-judgmentally. No need to constantly plan what you’re going to say next. Instead, just listen as deeply as you can.

Ask follow up questions rather than being tempted to keep stating your own ideas. Be present to their words, body language and tone of voice.

Travelling

If driving, spend less time talking on your phone or listening to the radio, and more time being present to the experience. When in traffic, take time to notice the sky, the clouds and the rain. When cruising, watch the road ahead and be aware of your bodily sensations from time to time too.

If you’re on a train or bus, notice your surroundings. Be aware of the view outside - trees, birds, sky and people. Notice people inside too, and see if you can drop your usual judgments of other and be more curious and open instead.

Mindfulness Meditation

Mindfulness is most powerfully boosted through practising mindfulness meditation.

Mindfulness meditation is when you take the time to stop for a while and just practice mindfulness exercises. I like to meditate every morning. But you can practice whenever you like.

Here’s an easy one for you to try:

1.    Sit or lie down. Get as comfortable as you can.

2.    Take a few deep breaths and notice your body relax a bit

3.    Spend a minute or so feeling what your body feels like. Use your mindful awareness to notice how your body is feeling. Adjust your posture now so you’re even more comfortable.

4.    Let your breathing be natural as best you can. Count 10 breaths. If you lose count, start again.

5.    When your notice your mind has wandered to other thoughts, just smile. You’ll naturally come back to the present moment, in that moment.

6.    Gently end the exercise when you’re ready to do so, with a little stretch. Notice how you feel and the effects of the meditation.

What’s the secret to successful mindfulness meditation?

There’s two secrets actually!

1.    Don’t try to get anything out of it - it sounds crazy, I know, but the more you want to be relaxed or peaceful or anything - the more you’re stressing your mind. Instead, let it be. The Beatles knew what they were singing about.

2.    Be incredibly kind to your body and mind. Let your body be really comfortably and cosy. Be totally forgiving to your mind each time it wanders off. Infact, let it wander off if it wants to, and smile to welcome it back when it does come back. It always will.

Overcoming common problems

Too much thinking

If you find you just can’t control your thoughts, don’t. Instead, just stop controlling. For goodness sake, let your mind wander and just observe it. Trust me on this and you’ll discover something amazing within minutes. Everyone wants to constantly try and control their mind and that’s when the problems start.

If you still want another technique, try counting your breaths, or use a mantra. Each time you breathe in, say ‘peace’ and each time you breathe out say ‘let go’ in your mind. Once your mind calms, you can stop doing that.

Not enough time

Think you’re too busy to meditate or be mindful? Then you really need to do this mindfulness stuff!

Start with 1 minute everyday. Take deep in and out breaths and really feel them. The benefits of improved focus and relaxation will probably gain you an extra 10 minutes in the day, if not more. Mindfulness is the ultimate investment of time. That’s why CEOs and top leaders do it too, even though they are more busy than you are.

But I can’t concentrate!

Mindfulness is not concentration. It’s not about trying hard to focus. It’s about LETTING GO. At the beginning of your meditations, your mind will go wild and think a lot. Have courage and faith in the process. With time, one day, you’ll find your mind calms. It takes a lot of patience but it well worth the time. Everyday will be different. Some days are easier than others, for sure.

Tips for success

Smile

This is one of the best tips. Most people take mindfulness far too seriously. And physically smiling on your face as you practice a mindfulness meditation is a ‘game changer’. Give it a try if you’ve never done it before. One of those little subtle smiles works well, just like on the Buddha statues!

Relax

Meditation is about relaxing your body and relaxing the mind. Don’t try too hard. Don’t worry if you can’t focus or your mind wanders. How do you relax? By being aware of whatever comes into your awareness, and being kind to it.

Let go of wanting

Wanting, desiring, craving...these are all dragging you out of the present moment. They are all saying, this present moment is not good enough. This present moment is good enough. Try accepting this moment just as it is, with a smile, and your natural mindfulness will flourish.

Conclusion

Mindfulness is about being present to your moment-to-moment experiences, ideally with a sense of kindness, curiosity and acceptance. Through practising mindfulness everyday and/or mindfulness meditations, you’ll feel more relaxed, be more focused and be happier. The secret is to be kind to yourself as you practice, and to let go of trying to achieve a particular goal as you practice. If you have any questions or tips, share them below!

10 Ways to Be More Mindful at Work

Mindfulness may seem like a great idea, but how do you become more mindful in the context of a busy work day? You may have emails, phone calls, meetings and presentations to deal with. And, of course, your own work! In the middle of all that, how can you apply the principles of mindfulness so that you feel more alive and present, as well as being productive? This chapter pulls out a few popular and other more radical ways to be mindful at work.

1. Be Consciously Present

Mindfulness is, above all, about being aware and awake rather than operating unconsciously. When you’re consciously present at work, you’re aware of two aspects of your moment-to-moment experience – what’s going on around you and what’s going on within you. To be mindful at work means to be consciously present in what you’re doing, while you’re doing it, as well as managing your mental and emotional state. If you’re writing a report, mindfulness requires you to give that your full attention. Each time your mind wanders to things like Helen’s new role or Michael’s argument with the boss, just acknowledge the thoughts and bring your attention back to the task in hand (see how to stop thinking). This scenario sounds simple, but many aspects of your experience can get in the way.

Here are some ideas to help you stop being mindless and unconscious at work and more mindful and consciously present:

Make a clear decision at the start of your workday to be present as best you can. Pause for a few moments before you start your work day to set this intention in your mind.

✓ Make an effort to work more consciously, even if that means that you need to work a little slower at first – doing so pays in the long run.

✓ Keep all the advantages of working mindfully in mind to motivate you.

Connect with your senses rather than getting lost in trains of thought when you’re doing a task.

✓ Give your full attention to seemingly mundane tasks like washing your hands, opening doors, dialling phone numbers and even just feeling your breathing as you’re waiting in a meeting room. These little moments add up to make the day a more mindful one.

2. Use Short Mindful Exercises at Work

Mindful exercises train your brain to be more mindful. The more mindful exercises you do, the easier your brain finds it to drop into a mindful state, thus optimising your brain function. In the busy workplace, finding time for a 30-minute mindful exercise can be difficult. So does that mean you can’t be mindful at all at work? Nope. Mindful exercises can be as short as you wish. Even one minute of consciously connecting with one of your senses can be classified as a mindful exercise. You don’t need to close your eyes. You don’t even need to be sitting down. Be creative about finding slots in the day to practice mindfulness exercises. At times of excessive pressure at work, practising a short mindfulness exercise can be a saviour. The process helps to rebalance your nervous system, toning down the fight-or-flight response and engaging the wise part of your brain, so that you make reasoned decisions rather than automatically react to situations.

3. Be a Single-Tasker

flower in focus

 

Single-tasking is doing one thing at a time. Multi-tasking is trying to do two or more tasks at the same time or switching back and forth between tasks. Nobody can actually multi-task. In reality, your brain is madly switching from one thing to the next, often losing data in the process. Most people know multitasking is ineffective nowadays. If multi-tasking is so inefficient, why do people still do it? The reason was uncovered in a study by Zheng Wang at Ohio State University. She tracked students and found that when they multi-tasked, it made them feel more productive, even though in reality they were being unproductive. Other studies found that the more you multitask, the more addicted you get to it.

Here are a few ways to kick the multi-tasking habit and become a mindfulness superhero:

Keep a time journal of what you achieve in a block of time. Work out when you’re single-tasking and when you’re multi-tasking. Note down what you achieved in that time block and how mindful you were.

✓ See whether you can notice your productivity going up when you single-task – noticing the benefits can motivate you to do one thing at a time in a mindful way.

Group tasks in categories. For example, put together emails, phone calls, errands and meetings. Then you can do them all together in one block of time rather than switching from emails to calls to running an errand.

Switch off as many distractions as you can. Silence your phone, log off from your email account and so on. Then set a timer for the amount of time you need to work, and record how much you get done. Do what works for you to focus on one task for a fixed period of time.

Practise mindfulness in your breaks between tasks. Stretch, take deep breaks or go for a mindful walk.

4. Use Mindful Reminders

The word ‘mindful’ means to remember. Most people who’ve read about or undertaken training in mindfulness appreciate the benefits of mindful living. Unfortunately, they keep forgetting to be mindful! The reason you forget to be mindful is because your brain’s normal (default) mode is to be habitually lost in your own thoughts – running a sort of internal narrative. When you’re going about your usual daily activities, your brain switches you into this low energy state, which is unmindful, almost dreamy. Doing some things automatically, without thinking, is fine but research undertaken at Harvard University showed that 47 per cent of a person’s day can be spent lost in thoughts. The same research found that day dreaming can have a negative impact on well-being. Being on auto-pilot means that you’re not fully present and awake to the opportunities and choices around you. You can’t be creative, plan something new or respond appropriately if you’re operating mechanically.

By using some form of reminder, you can be mindful again. The reminder shakes you out of auto-pilot mode. Try these reminders:

Setting an alarm on the phone – even a vibrating alarm that doesn’t disturb others can work well.

Putting mindfulness in your calendar – setting an appointment with yourself!

A small note or picture on your desk to remind you to be mindful.

Associating certain activities with mindfulness, such as meal times or meetings or when finishing one task and starting another.

Using the sound of bells and rings in the workplace as ‘bells of mindfulness’.

So, every time your phone rings, you take a mindful breath. Every time you hear the ping of a text message, you pause to be mindful of your surroundings rather than immediately reacting by checking the message. All these things are opportunities to come back into the present moment, to see yourself and your surroundings afresh. You take a small step back and reflect rather than automatically react to what’s coming at you in the form of demands, tasks and challenges.

5. Slow Down To Speed Up

Mindfulness at work does seem counter-intuitive. You’re considering the fact that, by stopping or slowing down, you can become more efficient, productive, happy, resilient and healthy at work. You may not think that slowing down and being conscious can have such an effect (see How to Stop for more tips on that)

Imagine being asked to stop sleeping for a week. Sleeping is resting – and resting isn’t work. So, simply stop sleeping and just keep working. Maybe you’ve experienced this when studying for exams or trying to meet a deadline at work. Eventually your efficiency drops to almost zero; you’re completely living out of the present moment and perhaps even hallucinating! You need to sleep at least seven hours every night to be able to function effectively.

Clearly, rest can increase efficiency. If you do manage to get about seven hours of sleep and achieve a certain amount of work, imagine what would happen if you also did a few mini-mindfulness exercises during the day? Your brain would become even more efficient, focused, effective at communicating with others and better at learning new skills.

Being in a panicky rush leads to bad decisions and is a misuse of energy. Instead, pause, focus on listening, stroll rather than run and generally take your time when at work. Effective leaders, workers and entrepreneurs slow down and reflect to make the best decisions and actions – they slow down to speed up. That’s a mindful way of working.

6. Make Stress Your Friend

Recent research conducted at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, asked 30,000 people the same question: ‘Does the perception that stress affects health matter?’ The results were astonishing.

The researchers found that people experiencing high levels of stress but who believed that stress was good for them had among the lowest mortality rates. Whereas highly stressed people who believed that stress was bad for their health had the highest chance of dying. Your beliefs about stress clearly affect how they impact on your health and well-being. Another study even found that the blood vessels constricted (as is seen in those with heart disease) in people who believed that stress was bad for them, but stayed open and healthy in those who believed that stress was good for them.

If reading this didn’t make you go ‘wow’, try reading it again. It’s the most exciting research I’ve (Shamash) read this year!

So if you want to make stress your friend, you need to change the way you think about it and, in turn, your body’s response to it.

Mindfulness can help you achieve this change in perception. The next time you’re facing a challenge at work, notice how your heart rate speeds up and your breathing accelerates. Observe these responses and then switch your attitude – respond to your stress creatively rather than negatively. Be grateful that the stress response is energising you. Note that your body is preparing you for your upcoming challenge and that a faster heart rate is sending more oxygen around your body. Be grateful that the process is sharpening your senses and boosting your immune system. By viewing the stress response from this perspective, you see your upcoming problem as a positive challenge and recognise your body preparing to meet it. This small change in attitude can literally add years to your life and improve your productivity and achievements in the workplace.

7. Feel Gratitude

Thanks to pixabay - labelled for re-use

Thanks to pixabay - labelled for re-use

Humans have a ‘negativity bias’. Essentially, this means that you’re much more likely to focus and dwell on something that’s gone wrong than on things that have gone well. Behaving in this way every day means that you ultimately adopt an excessively negative and unbalanced way of thinking.

Gratitude is the antidote. Plenty of evidence suggests that actively practising gratitude makes you feel better and has a positive impact on your creativity, health, working relationships and quality of work. Gratitude makes being at both work and home more positive experiences.

If you feel like you’re stuck in a job you don’t enjoy, the first step is to practise gratitude. What’s going well in your job? Maybe you’re grateful for the money? Even though it may be less than you’d like, you probably prefer it to having no salary at all. You may not like your manager, but maybe you’re friends with a couple of colleagues? You hate the office politics, but they give you insight into what you don’t like in a job, so in the future you know what to look for. After practising gratitude, you can then consider whether you want to continue in that role or need to find another job.

Being mindful of what’s going well at work helps to improve your resilience. Rather than allowing your mind to spiral into anxiety or dip into low moods as you brood over all the aspects of the job you don’t like, you can feed your mind with thoughts of gratitude to raise your well-being. Then, if you do decide to find another job, your positive mental state can help you select an appropriate position and optimise your performance in the interview. People hire positive people, not those who just complain about what’s going wrong. Use gratitude to neutralise your brain’s natural negativity bias.

8. Cultivate Humility

Humility comes from the Latin humilis, meaning grounded. Humble people have a quiet confidence about themselves and don’t feel the need to continuously remind others of their achievements. Humility may seem counter to our culture of glorifying those who make the most noise about themselves, grabbing our attention. But actually, humility is attractive – no one enjoys being around those who continually sing their own praises, and most people enjoy the company of those who are willing to listen to them rather than talk about themselves all the time.

In Jim Collin’s hugely popular book Good to Great, he identified leaders who turned good companies into great ones. He found that the companies exhibiting the greatest long-term success (at least 15 years of exceptional growth) had leaders demonstrating all the skills of your standard leader but with one extra quality – personal humility. They were willing to work hard, but not for themselves – for the company. If things went wrong, they didn’t seek to blame other to protect themselves. And if things went well, they immediately looked outside of themselves to congratulate others. They didn’t have an inflated ego that needed protecting all the time.

Humility is often confused with meekness or timidity but they’re not the same. Humility does not mean seeing yourself as inferior; rather, it means being aware of your natural dependence on and equity with those around you.

How is humility linked to mindfulness? Mindfulness is about accepting yourself just as you are, and being open to listening to and learning from others. Mindfulness is also synonymous with gratitude – you appreciate how others have helped you. And someone who is grateful for the contribution of others is naturally humble.

To develop a little more humility, try the following:

Undertake mindful exercises: Mindfulness reduces activity in the part of the brain that generates the story of your self – sometimes called the narrative self. Giving too much attention to you and your own story is unhealthy. Mindfulness practice helps you to be more connected with your senses – the present self. Your attention widens and you can see how much others contribute to your everyday successes.

Consider who has helped you right now: Spend a few minutes thinking about the number of people who have enabled you to read this page: your parents, guardians or teachers who taught you to read: your employers who help you afford to pay for it; the people involved in writing, editing and producing the copy; the distributors, sales people, providers of ink; the trees that were used to make the paper. We could go on. Think in this way from time to time to identify just how many people help you every day.

Show appreciation: When someone helps you out, in whatever way, show appreciation. It sounds obvious, but doing so is an act of humility and reminds you to value the contribution of others: the driver who let you into her lane; the postman who delivered your letters; the person who held the door open and the cleaner who vacuumed your office – they all count.

Value other people’s opinions: If someone makes a point that challenges yours, suspend judgement. You can easily jump in and argue – but that implies that they’re wrong and you’re right. How can you be so sure? Stop and consider in what ways they may be right, too. This is true mindfulness in action – non-judgemental awareness together with curiosity and respect.

9. Accept What You Can’t Change

Acceptance lies at the heart of mindfulness. To be mindful means to accept this present moment just as it is. And it means to accept yourself, just as you are now. It doesn’t mean resignation or giving up. But it does mean acknowledging the truth of how things are at this time before trying to change anything.

Here’s a workplace example. If you went £20,000 over budget, that’s a fact. It’s already happened. As soon as you accept that, you can move forward and try to deal with the situation. Lack of acceptance can lead to denial of the fact (maybe causing you to go even more over budget) or avoidance (you keep skipping meetings with your boss) or aggression (you vent your anger at your team unnecessarily, adversely affecting relationships and motivation). Instead, you can accept the situation, talk to the necessary people, learn from your mistakes and move on. Acceptance actually leads to change.

Personal acceptance is even more powerful. Self-acceptance is embracing all facets of yourself – your weaknesses, shortcomings, aspects you don’t like and those you admire. When you accept yourself, you cut down on energy-draining self-criticism. You’re then much better able to enjoy your successes and smile at your shortcomings. Through self-acceptance, you can create a clarity of mind that allows you to work on those aspects of yourself you wish to improve. The starting point of self-improvement and personal development is self-acceptance.

10. Adopt a Growth Mindset

Mindset by Carol Dweck

According to Carol Dweck and her team at Stanford University researcher, people essentially adhere to one of two mindsets – a growth or a fixed mindset.

People with a fixed mindset believe that their basic qualities, such as their intelligence and talents, are fixed traits. Instead of developing their intelligence and talents, they spend their time hoping their traits will lead to success. They don’t seek to develop themselves, because they think that talent alone leads to success. They turn out to be wrong – brain science has proved otherwise.

People with a growth mindset believe that they can improve their intelligence and talents with effort. By applying themselves, they think that they can get better. They see brains and talent as just the starting point, and build on them with hard work and determination. Brain scans have actually revealed that effort does lead to growth in intelligence and enhancement of initial talent over time. People with this mindset have a love of learning and demonstrate greater resilience. Success at work depends on having a growth mindset.

Mindfulness is about adopting a growth mindset. Mindfulness is about giving attention to the present moment and not judging your innate talent or intelligence, but being open to new possibilities. When you adopt a growth mindset at work, you don’t mind getting negative feedback as you view it as a chance to discover something new. You don’t mind taking on new responsibilities because you’re curious about how you’ll cope. You expect and move towards challenges, seeing them as opportunities for inner growth. That’s the essence of mindfulness at work – believing that you can improve and grow with experience, moving towards challenges, living in the moment and discovering new things about yourself and others.

Use the following four steps to develop a growth mindset, based on research by Dweck and colleagues:

1 Listen to the voice of a fixed mindset in your head. This is about being mindful of your own thoughts when faced with a challenge. Notice if the thoughts are telling you that you don’t have the talent, the intelligence or if you find yourself reacting with anxiety or anger when someone offers feedback to you.

2 Notice that you have a choice. You can accept those fixed mindset thoughts or question them. Take a few moments to practice a mindful pause.

3 Question the fixed mindset attitudes. When your fixed mindset says ‘What if I fail? I’ll be a failure’, you can ask yourself ‘Is that true? Most successful people fail. That’s how they learn.’ Or if fixed mindset says ‘What if I can’t do this project? I don’t have the skills’ reply with ‘Can I be absolutely sure I don’t have the skills? In truth, I can only know if I try. And if I don’t have the skills, doing this will help me to learn them.’

4 Take action on the growth mindset. This will make you enjoy the challenges in the workplace, seeing them as opportunity to grow rather than avoid. Use the above system if you mind starts leaning towards the fixed mindset.

Over time, you’ll find yourself habitually of a growth rather than fixed mindset, leading to greater success and personal mastery that before.

This post is extracted from my book Mindfulness at Work for Dummies by Alidina and Adams. 

For lots of tips and advice in working mindfully and compassionately in the workplace, together with guided mindfulness audio specially for the workplace, consider purchasing the book. Thank you for reading!

6 Steps to Deep Happiness in Your Everyday Life

Contentment = Deep Happiness

Contentment comes from accepting and being grateful for the way things are - even if things go ‘wrong’.

I’ve really enjoyed exploring what it means to be content this year...one example of how I’ve done this is during my recent trip to Kathmandu, Nepal.

After a weekend packed full of fun and transformation bringing the Museum of Happiness to CreativenessFest, I fell ill. I got sick with a stomach bug...but that’s normal - it’s Nepal! I didn’t fight it - I was quite surprised how well I accepted it.

Consequently, I missed a flight to see Mount Everest the next morning and lost my deposit - again, I accepted that too. I can see it on Google Maps anyway. At least I didn’t release more greenhouse gases or wake up for an early flight!

Picture thanks to Whitegadget

Picture thanks to Whitegadget

My body ached and I got a temperature - that’s normal - at least I didn’t need to go to hospital.

I had many other things to be grateful for: the extra time in the city gave me an opportunity to meet with locals, discover Artudio, help them find a new web designer, get this blog post done, and finalise my presentations for Teach Mindfulness @Work program. I even had time to prep my talk for Mind Conference at Google Berlin. Great!

I missed out on a trip trekking in the mountains, but instead had a personal trek within myself, and had time to discover so much more about awareness, kindness, contentment, expectations and happiness. Thank you stomach bug (and thank you paracetamol too!).

Wealth consists not in having great possessions, but in having few wants
— Epictetus

To be content, rather than making the world match your expectations, make your expectations match the world.

You will have an annoying boss. There will be be traffic on the roads. You will miss your train.

That’s not negative thinking - that is realistic thinking, and will save you a whole load of stress when it inevitably happens.

Although you don’t expect things to always go well, you can train yourself to see the bright side of the situation anyway...and that feels awesome!

He who is not contented with what he has, would not be contented with what he would like to have.
— Socrates

Yes, some situations are destructive and you need to take action to move on and of course that’s the sensible thing to do. But usually, life is going just fine the way it is, and all that’s required is a gentle shift in your attitude.

When you want something more, you can’t enjoy what you already have
— Ajahn Brahm

Long-lasting contentment arises when you stop waiting for happiness. Instead, you relax into the moment and accept things just as they are.

Are you thinking...

But how do I feel more content? I’m stuck in this cycle of negative thinking and in this very frustrating relationship and job...it’s easy for you to say wandering around in Kathmandu, but what about me?’ 

...then try the following exercise.

This exercise is designed to cultivate a deep sense of contentment, peace and happiness.

Relaxing Contentment Exercise

  1. Right here and now, as you’re reading this, decide if you want to do this exercise for the next few minutes or not. If you decide yes, please make yourself comfortable and relaxed and give the exercise your full attention. That decision is important.
  2. Become aware of your body. Get a sense right now of how your whole body feels. You may notice some sensations that you don’t like...See if you can accept the sensations you feel with a loving awareness. Readjust your posture if you need to, so you’re even more comfortable...that’s an act of kindness for yourself.
  3. Feel all the sensations in your body...take your time.. feel your body with a caring awareness...a friendly awareness...with mindfulness and kindness...say to yourself, words like ‘I’m happy with this experience, just as it is’....or….’let it be’....smile as you feel your body. Enjoy the experience of being with your body...as you let go of wanting things to be different, enjoy any feeling of contentment grow within you...you can even be content with a lack of contentment...just be with your breath and body…
  4. If you find your mind wandering a lot it’s because your mind wants to be somewhere else. Your mind isn’t enjoying the experience...So, give attention to your mind...be kind to your mind rather than fighting, ignoring or controlling….You’ll find your mind will soon get bored of wandering to the same old boring thoughts, and will want to go back to feeling and relaxing your body with softness, gentleness and peace.
  5. Rest in this experience for as little or as long as you wish...the exercise will naturally come to an end when it feels right for you...it may be just for a minute...or maybe for an hour...a longer or shorter time is not better or worse, as there is no time ultimately...there’s just now…all you need to be aware of, is now...
  6. As you re-engage with whatever you do next, carry any positive experience of contentment with you...the peace can be profoundly healing and pleasant.
Be content with what you have; rejoice in the way things are. When you realize there is nothing lacking, the whole world belongs to you.
— Lao Tzu