Month: September 2017

Thriving in a World of Distractions

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Hannah Blog HeadshotDuring my final year of university, every Monday morning at 8:30, you could find me meditating amongst 20 peers and an unconventionally laid-back German professor. To be clear, I am not by any means a morning person. As a self-diagnosed insomniac, my only motive at that hour was to get away with stealing a nap under the guise of meditation. However, the premise of the course instantly captured my attention and interest. Later, the intangible transformations I noticed within myself managed to hold and heighten my curiosity.

Words have limited utility when understanding mindfulness. It can be roughly defined as the awareness that comes to mind when paying attention to the present moment – but this in itself doesn’t encompass the breadth of the mindful experience. One of my favourite metaphors to describe the mindful mindset is the following:

Imagine yourself alone in an empty room. No furniture, no windows, no technology. Just you. You’re deep in thought and enjoying your own company. Perhaps you’re meditating, or imagining a brilliant idea, or visualising a beautiful space, or just allowing your thoughts to lead you down unexplored pathways.

And then suddenly… your attention is drawn to a distinctive buzzing sound. A fly appears to have emerged out of thin air and now you’ve lost your train of thought. How dare this fly disrupt your creative space! You instantly decide that this persistent buzz needs to be destroyed. How else will you regain your state of peace?

You soon discover an unexpected issue: every time you successfully swat the fly, two more take its place. Eventually you’re surrounded by fly chaos – an orchestra of buzzing – without escape. You’ve spent all of your time and energy opposing the fly, and now you’re exhausted.

Maybe you shouldn’t have opposed the original fly, you think to yourself, but that infuriating buzzing surely would have driven you mad.

So really, what other option did you have?

Most of us operate in a reactive state, processing information on ‘auto-pilot’. When a fly enters your personal space, the automatic reaction is to judge it as an annoyance. This stems from an embedded belief that the fly should not be present – it should be resisted. Yet as Carl Jung, the founder of analytical psychology, asserted, “what you resist not only persists, but will grow in size”.

The same goes for distracting or distressing thoughts. Humans are genetically primed towards a negativity bias, meaning that unhelpful ways of thinking are easier to engage in. Through attempting to resist or eliminate negatively judged events, these events are more likely to leave lasting impacts on the human brain. This notion is exemplified through interpersonal relationships, where an estimated five warm and positive interactions are needed to counteract just one loss of trust interaction.

Mindfulness aims to change this conceptual mode of processing from automatic to intentional. Rather than eliminating negative emotions or stressors, the mindful perspective changes your relationship to them, allowing us to non-judgmentally accept their presence. In other words, worrying about, trying to eliminate, or distracting yourself from the fly aren’t your only options. Instead, by expanding your awareness to permit acceptance of the fly, adaptive growth and transformation can arise.

Hannah Blog Image

So, how can we embrace the mindful mindset? How can we begin to welcome the unwelcome distractions we experience on a daily basis?

The good news is, you don’t have to commit to three hours of meditation and reflection every Monday morning. You do, however, need a certain level of commitment in order to notice significant transformations in the way you think and react. Short daily practices have shown to have lasting impacts on mood and attentional control at both the behavioural and neuronal level. This mindfulness practice encompasses the classic breathing and body-scan meditations, but can also include mindfulness of routine activities (such as eating, walking, or running), or mindful movement (i.e. yoga).

I noticed the impact of mindfulness on my stress levels almost immediately. After class on Mindful Mondays, I was uncharacteristically alert and energised, and felt a general spike in mood. This translated to amplified focus and productivity throughout the day.

Picking up on these intangible transformations motivated me to practice independently. I began using that mindfulness app I had downloaded ages ago but never felt the need to open. When lying in bed restlessly, thoughts and plans encircling my mental arena, Headspace’s sleep meditation became my go-to fix.

From my perspective, one of the few things we have control over in life is how we react to things outside of our control. This is the core of what mindfulness taught me. But I’m still not a morning person. 

Learn more about how mindfulness can engender individual and organisational transformation by contacting: Hannah@hotspotsmovement.com

Digital Myth Debunking – Here’s why digital natives may not be as savvy as you think…

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RaphOn a summer’s day in 1994, I was born in Paris as a ‘digital native’ – part of the generation born into a world where technology was readily available – through smartphones to laptops to social media platforms. By the time I reached High School, technology was moving swiftly into the education experience and we were told that we would be required to use laptops in the classroom for note-taking instead of using paper. Rather than celebrating this advance – as you might assume a millennial would – me and my peers saw it as a ‘counterproductive’ system ‘ruining education’ whilst our Principal at the time, in his early 50’s, narrated to us just how great technology was for society and education.

Was this clash between my grade and the Principal predictive of millennials and how we feel about technology today? Given that the older generations developed, introduced and fostered this digital world, would it not make sense for us, millennials, to be most critical of it? With these questions in mind I highlight the importance of questioning the assumption that millennials prefer and work better with the digital world than previous generations.

Let’s have a look at some of the myths or assumptions about the older generations and their interaction with digital:

Myth #1: They have more difficulty using technology than millennials

Older generations do not necessarily have more difficulty using technology than millennials in the workforce. A study by Dropbox and Ipsos Mori surveying over 4,000 information workers in the United States and Europe found that people over 55 use 4.9 forms of technology per week, compared to an average of 4.7. More importantly, older workers have less trouble when working with multiple devices compared to millennials, with just 13% reporting issues when working with multiple devices, compared to 37% of millennials.

Myth #2: They find technology in the workplace to be more stressful than millennials

Older generations do not necessarily find technology to be more stressful in the workplace than their younger counterparts. In fact, the same study found that older workers experienced less stress at work because of technology – 25% experienced stress compared to 36% of 18 to 34 year olds. The findings in this study were also replicated in a State of Workplace Productivity Report published by Cornerstone onDemand. This study focused on information and technology overload and found that 38% of millennials reported experiencing technology overload compared to only 20% of employees from older generations. These figures again challenge the existing myths about younger people and their engagement with technology.

Myth #3: Millennials are naturally gifted when it comes to technology as they are born ‘digital natives’

Perhaps the most interesting myth however is that millennials are naturally gifted when it comes to technology as they have been exposed to it for their entire lives. This myth brings me back to the story about my underclassmen in high school being told to use laptops in class instead of taking hand-written notes. If this generation were indeed working with computers so closely throughout their upbringing, would this correlate with how tech-savy they would end up being in the workplace? Pew Research Center found that when it comes to knowledge about the web, there are very few differences between millennials and older generations. Whilst millennials knew better for example that Wikipedia was collaboratively edited, older generations had better knowledge on what the acronym, URL, stood for, and so on. In addition to knowledge about the web, studies have also shown that actual knowledge about computer skills is also not significantly higher for the younger generation. A recent study in Austria, for example, indicated that only 7% of 15-29 year olds had very good computer skills. Fuelling this myth is millennials’ own misconceptions about their abilities when it comes to technology. Whilst 84% of surveyed millennials expressed that they had ‘good’ or ‘very good’ computer skills, over 40% scored ‘badly’ or ‘very badly’ when it came to the actual practical test. In fact, the study added that the biggest gap between perceived and actual skills was consistently found in the 15 to 29-year-old participants.

It is incredibly important to question the myths around generations and the digital world. The question remains however as to why millennials may have more difficulties with technology in the workplace than older generations. Here are some ideas:

• First, millennials may have more difficulty with technology than older generations as they are more likely to get distracted in the workplace due to technology. For example, a study by Nextrio found that whilst 50% of employees younger than 43 access personal websites and emails at work, only 13% of employees aged 44-60 do so. With technology creating more distractions for millennials at work, this could explain why stress levels associated with technology are higher for millennials and why difficulties may arise when millennials try to handle multiple devices, as they are overloaded with distractions online.

• Second, millennials have more of an expectation of technology to work all the time. Growing up with immediate access to simple technology (Facebook, iPhones, Google etc), millennials may be less tolerant of issues with technology at work, causing more stress and difficulty with digital programs. In turn, older generations who have seen the development of technology first hand, witnessing the struggles of slow servers, crashing programs and more, are more tolerant of technological issues and better at navigating around them. Almost 60% of millennials would bring their own device to work compared to less than 40% of older generation employees.

pexels-photo-267392Returning to my story with the laptops being introduced for note-taking, I personally believe that older generations have less difficulty with technology as they are more likely to actively choose to incorporate technology into their lives without assuming it to be the only way. As a millennial who has not had the option of technology, I cherish human face-to-face interactions with as little technology imposed on me as possible. In fact, I believe that being a millennial makes me appreciate opportunities away from the chaos of the digital world in the workplace even more than older generations, as it is something quite rare and special. Five years have passed since my graduation in 2012 and I still firmly believe that my school’s addition of laptops for note-taking was a terrible and detrimental idea for its students. What would be interesting would be to give the students an actual choice about whether to use technology in the classroom or not and then explore which of these students perceive and interact with technology most positively in the future.

By Raphael Korine, Research, Hot Spots Movement

To find out more about generational myth debunking, contact me on raphael@hotspotsmovement.com

References:

  1.  http://www.cio.com/article/3103893/it-industry/think-older-workersstruggle-with-technology-think-again.html
  2. http://logicaloperations.com/insights/blog/2013/11/11/114/are-youngpeople-struggling-with-technology-in-the-workplace/
  3. http://www.pewinternet.org/2014/11/25/web-iq/
  4. Ronald Bieber “Survey: computer skills in Austria (2014)”, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BtAFgBiTb5g.
  5. http://www.nextrio.com/generation-gap-technology-workplace/

Guest Blog – Discharging my ‘Loyal Soldier’

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Beth Bundy Image

Over the last few years I’ve been working with a fabulous mentor who has been instrumental in helping me find strategies to deal with my ‘inner critic’ or ‘imposter syndrome’.

Initially, my interest in this area was entirely personal and driven by the experience of the ego ride first appointment into a senior executive role. But, as I read more and shared more articles online, it became clear that I’m not alone. Maybe it’s the taboo subject of our generation, and is in some way linked to our connected device driven world where our social media lives belie reality. However, my experience is that when I raise it as an issue professionally it’s as if I just pointed to the elephant in the corner of the room and everyone wants to talk about it, just not in groups. So, I’m raising it here, with some reflections on the practices I use to manage it.

Being accountable to a mentor

Just having a mentor has helped me to identify the problem, and be held to account about what goes on in my inner world. I need to do this monthly, I’m a better person for it.

Understanding the internal voice

Possibly my mentor’s greatest gift to me was ‘Falling Upward: How to live the second half of life well’, by Richard Rohr. Richard is a Franciscan priest, and boy is he calm. In this book my epiphany moment was his description of our need to ‘discharge our loyal soldier’. This is the voice that served us well as we grew up, through our 20’s and into our early 30’s. It regulated our behaviour, guided us through what was ‘right and wrong’ and set us ‘the rules by which we should live in order to be something’. However, once we’ve got there, this voice isn’t as helpful. Once we can learn to recognise this, we can thank that voice when it makes and appearance and discharge it.

If I’m bluntly honest I think my loyal soldier only got louder when I got to that place where it had nothing to really regulate, and therefore became more of a distraction. So I’m also interested in how it can interfere with the work of an executive team who are all managing their own inner critic and their sense of place around the table, or ego. It’s definitely still a taboo subject in that setting, but maybe its the reason why so many organisations now provide mentors to their executive teams.

Healthy habits

I’m also on the mindfulness wagon. In the same way that I avoided WeightWatchers for years because ‘I don’t need that’, I had avoided this. Then along came ‘HeadSpace’, again like WW it grabbed me because it’s an app. It means I can do this completely solo when it suits me. I recently had a conversation with my husband at the end of a work day, we both have big jobs and our end of day debriefs can be intense. On this occasion I had done a HeadSpace practice, he hadn’t. After a few minutes of listening to him ramble, I gently said ‘honey, go do a HeadSpace’ then call me back. The subject matter changed completely, and for the better. Finally, I journal now, I have a routine / structure to the content and it involves active gratitude.

Beth Bundy Featured Image - Final

Reality check

Managing the inner critic is a bit like physical exercise. When it’s going well, life is great, but let’s be real we get thrown off balance a lot. So I’m also not going to say that my life is a bed of roses. Even with all these great strategies, I recently reached a point where sleep was just not possible and the inner critic was in charge at 1am, 2am, 3am, you get the picture. So in this world where we’re connected 24/7, we have to give intentional thought to how we can disconnect individually and how do we model this as leaders because I’m certain the alternative is not sustainable. I’m sure it starts with talking about it, taking the temperature of our team regularly and figuring out what works for each person.

Beth Bundy is Group People & Organisation Director at Auckland University of Technology