Enhancing Your Performance at Work With Mindfulness – An Interview with Jacqueline Carter

Research says that the rapid pace of work is taking a huge toll on our ability to focus, be productive, remain engaged and be creative. A majority of people at workplace today seem to be struggling to cope with severe stress resulting from conflicting work priorities, hyper-connectedness, onslaught of notifications and information overload. How do we cope up with this stress? How do we address our lack of attention so that we can not only complete the things we start without getting too anxious, but also enjoy the process of doing so?

With these questions in my mind, I picked up the book “One Second Ahead – Enhance Your Performance at Work with Mindfulness” written by Rasmus Hougaard with Jacqueline Carter and Gillian Coutts. I loved the simplicity with which the authors have been able to demystify mindfulness by providing tools and techniques we can all start using to be more effective.

I caught up a conversation with Jacqueline Carter, one of the co-authors, a partner at The Potential Project and a contributor at Huffington Post on how mindfulness can help us perform better. Here is the interview:

[Tanmay Vora] Jacqueline, Thank you for agreeing to share your insights here. I read your new book “One Second Ahead – Enhance Your Performance At Work with Mindfulness” with great interest. The first thing that intrigued me was the title of your book. What does “One Second Ahead” mean with respect to mindfulness?

[Jacqueline Carter] One Second Ahead, both the book and the concept, is about applying mindfulness techniques to daily work life. From a cognitive perspective, being one second ahead provides a clear edge in effectiveness and productivity. It offers the space and freedom to choose your distractions and direct your mental energy, no matter what you are facing.

[Tanmay Vora] We certainly are in middle of a productivity crisis at work. Pressure, information overload and always-on culture inhibits our ability to truly focus on work. What makes mindfulness, a potent response to the crisis?

[Jacqueline Carter] It’s not hard to see how work life has changed radically over the past few decades. It is common for people to attempt to concentrate on work while dealing with a constant stream of distractions and data, impacting their focus and performance. But it is actually possible to train the brain to respond differently to today’s constant interruptions through the practice of mindfulness.

Simply put, mindfulness means trained attention. Mindfulness techniques enable people to manage their attention, improve their awareness, and sharpen focus and clarity. We need to learn to work differently so we are more focused, calm and have less clutter in our mind to be able to succeed at the things that matter most to us.

[Tanmay Vora] One of the first victims of stress resulting from our “always-on” culture is sleep and lack of proper sleep only adds to the stress we experience. How can mindfulness be used for enhancing the quality of sleep and what are your three tips for better sleep?

[Jacqueline Carter] It’s true that sleep deprivation is reaching near epidemic proportions all over the world. Studies are showing that even light sleep deprivation has been proven to negatively impact logical reasoning, executive function, attention, and mood. Unfortunately, as a result of our busy lifestyles, sleep is regularly pushed toward the bottom of our list of priorities. However, research has shown that regular mindfulness training improves the ability to fall asleep as well as improve our sleep quality significantly. Some simple guidelines for better sleep include:

1. Catching the Melatonin Wave—Melatonin, when released from the pineal gland inside your brain, makes us relaxed, drowsy and ultimately fall asleep in a natural way. The key to catching the melatonin wave is to be mindful; have awareness of the natural drowsiness and relaxation that occur toward the end of the evening and maintain that awareness as you prepare for bed. Getting in synch with your body’s natural rhythms and your own cycle of melatonin is a simple avenue to a better night’s sleep.

2. Turn off All Screens 60 Minutes before Sleep—Your smartphone, your tablet, your laptop, your television all stand in the way of you catching the Melatonin wave. Because of the blue-light waves that are emitted, production of melatonin is suppressed in the pineal gland. Your brain reads blue-light as if the sun is still up, when in reality, the sun is most-likely down and you should be sleeping. It might sound difficult to some, but turning off all screens 60 minutes before you go to sleep works. The impact it has on sleep quality—and therefore mental and physical performance—speaks for itself.

3. Only Perceptual Activities 60 Minutes Before Bed—Too much thinking is an enemy of late evening natural relaxation and drowsiness. Conceptual activities, like intense conversions, replying to e-mails, working, or reading, can arose your attention and suppress your natural sleepiness. However, perceptual activities, like doing the dishes, going for a walk, or listening to music, can help you to catch the wave of melatonin as it rises. Just a small adjustment to your evening routine can go a long way toward enabling you to prepare for bed with a calmer mind that’s more in tune with the natural rhythms of your body. So save the dishes, walking the dog, or taking out the trash for the last hour of the evening. Sometimes procrastination can pay off.

[Tanmay Vora] How does mindfulness enhance our mental effectiveness in understanding complex problems, synthesizing experiences and addressing challenges?

[Jacqueline Carter] According to scientists, our mind is wandering over half of our waking hours. We are constantly thinking about events that happened in the past, or might happen in the future, rather than attending to what’s happening in the now. This limits our ability to address everyday challenges and accomplish meaningful results.

Yet, our thoughts are the foundation for everything we want to achieve in life. Thus, our ability to manage our mind becomes critically important. We are best able to manage complex problems when our mind is clear, calm and focused. This is true in all aspects of life, but especially in a work context. With a calm, clear mind, we are able to greatly enhance performance, effectiveness, creativity and innovation, which is foundational to business success. Mindfulness is the ultimate training for developing a highly functional and effectual mind.

Mindfulness is the ultimate training for developing a highly functional and effectual mind.

[Tanmay Vora] One common observation is that our openness to new learning and experiences decline as we mature in our practice and gather more experience. How can mindfulness help is break the shackles of our past experiences and make us more receptive to new learning?

[Jacqueline Carter] When we are exposed to the same experiences over and over again, there is a tendency to become complacent, to default to our pre-conceived notion of what should happen or may occur. We feel we’ve seen it all before, and we close ourselves off to being fully present. This can be problematic, and lead to what’s called cognitive rigidity—the inflexibility created by automatically relying on our habitual perceptions and past experiences.

Thankfully, mindfulness training shows us that we don’t have to give in to our habitual perceptions. When we allow ourselves to see things with a Beginner’s Mind—the ability to face reality as it is—we liberate ourselves from our habitual perception and approach all situations with fresh eyes and an open mind. Cultivating a beginner’s mind can be a wonderful way to change how you experience life. Regardless of your work environment, daily life can be filled with more wonders and possibilities when you see things with a fresh perspective.

[Tanmay Vora] What are your top three recommendations on mindfulness to those readers who are new to the concept of mindfulness?

[Jacqueline Carter] First, I would say to consider why mindfulness would be beneficial for you and be specific. The more clear you are on why you want to try mindfulness the more likely you are to be successful in incorporating it into your daily life.

Second, make a commitment to do 10 minutes of mindfulness training every day for the next 14 days and see what impact it has on you. I recommend downloading an app that has simple, easy instructions. Readers can download our app by searching for The Potential Project in their app store. Alternatively, there are many other great tools, just be sure to pick something that will work for you.

Third, I would say look for ways to incorporate mindfulness into your daily life. Notice times when it is difficult for you to pay attention and ask yourself what you could do about it. For example, if you find that you are constantly distracted by notifications try turning them off for an hour a day and see what happens!

[Tanmay Vora] These were really helpful insights! Thank you so much for sharing your lessons through the book and in this interview. I am sure readers will find these ideas very valuable.

[Jacqueline Carter] Thank you very much, Tanmay! It was a pleasure to connect with you and your readers on the topic of organizational mindfulness.

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You can get the book at – Amazon (IN) | Amazon Worldwide

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BONUS: When you have an hour free, check out this amazing video of Jacqueline Carter speaking at Microsoft on the topic of Mindfulness at work.

Mindset Shifts For Organizational Transformation

Businesses are struggling to keep the pace with rapid rate of change and disruption around. To keep up with the change, businesses try to diversify into newer areas, build products and services to cater to new market needs and innovate. Organizations on their transformation journeys cannot afford to rely only on the technology innovations because innovation is a result of something more deeper – innovation is a result of mindset, behavioral constructs, leadership and culture.

At ThoughtWorks blog, Aaron Sachs and Anupam Kundu have written an excellent post titled “The Unfinished Business of Organizational Transformation” where they outline the mindset shifts required when transforming the organizations to be more adaptable and agile.

(HT to Helen Bevan for sharing the post.)

While you can read the full post here (highly recommended), I created a quick sketch note to outline the shifts in our mindset and behavioral constructs to nurture change and enable organizational transformation.

Related Posts and Sketch notes:

Leadership in VUCA World: Perspectives on #IndiaHRChat

Today’s business environment is best described as VUCA – Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous. VUCA is, quite simply, the expression of the fact that the rate of change is outpacing our ability to adapt. As a result of this, businesses, industries and careers are disrupted faster than ever before. We have to seriously rethink about how we lead ourselves, others and our organizations. Old ways of leadership have to give way to newer mental models based on agility in decision making, critical thinking, adaptable learning, people orientation and responsiveness to change.

What challenges does VUCA world pose to us as professionals, leaders and learners? This was the topic of June Edition of #IndiaHRChat in presence of special guest Faisal Hoque – an entrepreneur, author of Everything Connects – How to Transform and Lead in the Age of Creativity, Innovation and Sustainability (McGraw Hill, Spring 2014) and contributor to FastCompany and Huffington Post.

The vibrant and thriving community members of #IndiaHRChat from all across the globe jumped into this conversation and added nuggets of their wisdom to enrich the collective lessons of all participants.

Here is a snapshot of the chat with a few selected tweets that capture the essence of ideas to lead in the VUCA world.

Is VUCA more hype than reality? How have you experienced it in your work?

The world was always VUCA. Accelerated rate of change has just made it more prominent. ~ @tnvora

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We can call it whatever we want — overcoming #adversity is what work and life is about. ~ @faisal_hoque

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VUCA is real. Business models are being challenged and disrupted. Pace of change is increasing. Its crazy! ~ @siddharthnagpal

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High level of adaptability and flexibility with agile mind that is buoyant is necessary for survival today ~ @vivekparanjpe

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Speed and breadth of change only increases the potential of disruption and makes it overwhelming. ~ @tnvora

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It’s about #mindfulness, #devotion, and #authentic path to find our true callings. That’s where #inspiration come from. ~ @faisal_hoque

What is the biggest challenge of living in a VUCA world as an individual/organization?

Creative destruction is the essence! Fuelled by choice! ~ @_Kavi

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@_Kavi absolutely! And building one’s learning agility :) http://bit.ly/1ji1EV6 ~ @GautamGhosh

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There are no prototypes to fall back on. No check lists. No maps. ~ @tanvi_gautam

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CHALLENGE IS IN HAVING A VISION. Challenge is in evolving road map every day to reach what’s planned. ~ @vivekparanjpe

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Staying positivity, building resiliency, and be focused on impact while balancing the short term and the long term. ~ @faisal_hoque

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From local to global to now social, the time to adapt has crunched, can be volatile and complex to deal with for many ~ @pujakohli2

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Agility – tuning and shifting technology, processes, people and structure constantly for adapting to change. ~ @tnvora

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Every day/ every moment is unique, no historical data, no road map on guidelines. Look for answer within, adapt. ~ @paraskhatri

How should learning journeys shift to adapt to a VUCA world?

The ‘building your plane as you’re flying it’ analogy describes the challenges of the VUCA world ~ @sundertrg

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Orgs must learn at the speed of the business. In a VUCA world, Learning Now > Retrospect ~ @sundertrg

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The most resilient among us will often find a way to fight it by embracing it. ~ @faisal_hoque

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Learning must move from a rail road (fixed path) model to a sail boat (responsive to winds of change) model. ~ @tanvi_gautam

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Leadership development focused on learning agility, self-awareness, comfort with ambiguity, & strategic thinking ~ @vivekparanjpe

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VUCA is about on-the-go. Contextual.Dynamic. If learning isn’t readying you for this, it isn’t learning ~ @_Kavi

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Constant learning, re-learning (in line with given context) and unlearning is vital. ~ @tnvora

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Learning in a VUCA world is experiential. All about experiencing and developing responses ~ @JoyAndLife

How are VUCA world careers different from the old economy careers?

Portfolio careers: One person, many careers are here to stay! ~ @tanvi_gautam

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VUCA careers of the future will be like that of film stars, you play different roles in every second movie :-) ~ @ideabound

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Never say I am specialized in this or that. Careers are about saying I open to do what is needed. I am open to learn ~ @vivekparanjpe

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A VUCA resume isn’t about a set of companies worked in. But about a bag of expertise picked up! ~ @_Kavi

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The only way that we can deal with our blind spots is to find people who have different ones ~ @faisal_hoque

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Careers are being built on – I CAN rather than IQ ! ~ @tanvi_gautam

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You have to craft your own career. It is not the responsibility of HR, your boss, your company. Wake up ! ~ @tanvi_gautam

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Inclusion, diversity and collaborating through an inter-generational workforce would be the hallmark of success ~ @nohrgyan

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"Portable skills" combined with powerful big-picture view is the key to succeed in VUCA world. ~ @tnvora

What skills enable one to survive & thrive in a VUCA world ?

First – Learning agility. Everything else after that. If you don’t have Learning Agility, it’s game over. ~ @JoyAndLife

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Adaptability & buoyancy ~ @sandeepcen

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Lean into the challenges and be energized with change ~ @tnvora

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Sense making from ambiguity, social intelligence, novel thinking, cross culture competency, design, digital. ~ @yagiwal

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"Water is fluid, soft, and yielding. This is another paradox: What is soft is strong." ~ @faisal_hoque

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Compassion for self and others would be a great need in the VUCA world ~ @nohrgyan

Willingness to reconfigure plans in a short notice. ~ @tanvi_gautam

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Critical thinking dealing with complexity ambiguity and speed will be critical in #VUCA world. ~ @vivekparanjpe

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The ability to visualize our dreams creates a mindset that makes our ambitions possible. ~ @faisal_hoque

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A mindset of collaboration not competition.Fluidity not fixatedness.Fundamentals not formulas. ~ @tanvi_gautam

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Ability to turn on a dime.To destory your own plans and adopt another’s.To quickly tweak or reinvent. ~ @JoyAndLife

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Adversity inherently invokes pain. Accepting and growing through our pain is part of our personal growth. ~ @faisal_hoque

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In a VUCA world must learn to “color outside the lines” recognizing the artificial boundaries that keep us from progress ~ @SusanMazza

What is the ideal profile of a VUCA world leader?

The ideal profile is a person of opposites. Humble but self-assured. Decisive but seeks opinion. Analytical but intuitive.~ @JoyAndLife

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To read much from a few words.to distill. To disrupt.To demand. And of course to design the future ~ @_Kavi

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Is True to the vision.Communicates clearly. Has Deep understanding of business. Agile.Empathetic. People oriented. ~ @tnvora

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A6 to realize that he/she is not a leader :) ~ @GautamGhosh

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They Curate Talents ~ @faisal_hoque

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They Power Innovation ~ @faisal_hoque

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The leader who leads from the BACK of the crowd & harnesses the power of diversity.~ @tanvi_gautam

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VUCA is not build for ideal. Stereotypes won’t work & we don’t know what will. It’s the process of figuring out & adapting ~ @sundertrg

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Vision Understanding Clarity Agility – (VUCA) are few key Leadership skills ~ @shweta_hr

 

What is the opportunity presented by living in a VUCA world ?

Appreciating, Accepting and Adjusting are the three A’s to cope up in a VUCA world ~ @khushbootanna21

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To create your own sliver of the world :) ~ @GautamGhosh

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The opportunity to renew.To serve. To relearn & most importantly – To stay young! ~ @_Kavi

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Opportunity to be learning constantly and meeting so many fine people is the greatest personal gift of the VUCA world ~ @nohrgyan

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The gift of VUCA – learners for life.Appreciation for the here and now.Interdependence of goals. ~ @tanvi_gautam

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In VUCA world – Ideas are winners. Not people, not lineage & certainly not experience ~ @sundertrg

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Forces us to connect with ourselves and others — as result we have better opportunity to create and impact. ~ @faisal_hoque

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In VUCA world – Opportunities end where the imagination does ~ @sundertrg

 

That’s it from this edition of #IndiaHRChat. In just about one hours time, 1153 bite sized ideas were posted by 95 contributors reaching more than 400000 people. Amazing, isn’t it?

Happy Leading!

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Also Read at QAspire:

Fostering Emergent Leadership: Bite Sized Insights on #IndiaHRChat

Bite Sized Insights on Personal Branding #IndiaHRChat

Coaching Culture: The Art and Science of Success #IndiaHRChat

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