Reconciling the apparent dilemma between performance and well-being!
Why invest in workplace psychological well-being? Fostering psychological well-being at work is first and foremost simply the right thing to do as individuals at all levels are increasingly suffering. Also, individuals unleash the best of themselves when they are feeling safe, have a sense of purpose, and operate from a place of increased consciousness. It also happens to offer a competitive advantage and economic benefits over time, but this should only be a secondary reason.
At Mindspace, we have defined four critical pillars related to the development of a healthier mind. We are convinced that mastering the following elements is the key to living more meaningful lives and unleashing one’s potential.
Pillar 1- Presence … Stabilize your mind
The mind has historically never been as solicited as it is today. Under stress, excessive busyness, and information overload, the mind increasingly defaults to unhealthy fight, flight freeze type of behaviors to deal with this complexity, often getting stuck in thoughts, trying desperately to avoid the uncertainty, the unpleasant, or the perceived threats.
Self-awareness is key to shift our unconscious mind and reactions to deliberate, meaningful, and value-based responses. This requires a desire to see reality for what it is, objectively, without judgment. We need to learn to settle our minds, to feel our body, name our emotions, and observe the stories that we tell ourselves to best avoid feeding them and getting lost in them.
This skillset is called presence or mindfulness. The practices behind this teach us to recognize our thoughts, notice our innate negative bias and the narratives that lead to conditioned reactions that no longer serve us.
Through practice, we learn that we are not our thoughts and they need not define us all the time. Our thoughts are simply mental models that have been shaped through experience and guide our actions, most often unconsciously if we are not made aware of them. As we learn to observe them, increase our level of consciousness, then suddenly we increase our options to best respond with the wiser version of ourselves.
Quieting the mind and self-observation are therefore foundational practices to liberate the hidden treasures that lie within us.
Pillar 2 – Act with intention
If we do not give direction to our thoughts and actions, we can naturally end up repeating undesired behavioural patterns and generate harmful narratives about ourselves. This can lead to a life dominated by judgment, blame, rumination, procrastination, or other thoughts which are certainly not where we objectively want to land.
The articulation of our inner compass therefore becomes essential to provide our mind with a readily available path forward. It is one thing to stabilize our minds, embrace stillness, and the present moment but as human beings, we also value purpose and going in the direction of what we deem as important to us.
Our minds will go in the direction of our dominant thoughts. If we are not clear about what that is, the mind will naturally shift back into a protective state, avoiding the unpleasant and repeating what it has always done. By no means are we suggesting we should never go there. Of course, we need to scan our environment to avoid the unpleasant things in life when possible. Experience and research however show us that we spend way too much time there and that we exaggerate the actual threats.
Especially in times of turbulence, excessive access to data, on-going change, and increasing demands, we need to take stock of what is meaningful and important to us. We must reaffirm our values and how we consciously wish to live our lives, beyond relieving short-term discomforts or gaining immediate but unsustainable pleasures.
The more explicit and accessible the optimal version of ourselves is, the more choices we will have once our emotions are under control. We need to train our minds to quickly have access to this internal compass to override our habitual thoughts and behaviours we choose to move away from.
Pillar 3 – emotional regulation through acceptance
Unfortunately, we as humans do not change so easily, as Robert Kegan and Lisa Lahey explain so well in their book Immunity to Change. Insight, coupled with emotional agility are required to avoid falling back into old, inflexible, and limiting beliefs, patterns and behaviours, hardwired into our brains often after decades of conditioning.
This involves the development of “muscles” that allow us to observe our patterns, thoughts and reactions before or as they arise to ensure they are appropriate under the circumstances. We have all been conditioned by our past, whether these are beliefs that we are not enough of this or that, judgments about ourselves or others, a need to protect our self-image or identify, desires to please others and be seen. These and many more are often getting in the way of our values and our internal compass.
Our mind and body have gotten used to being who you have become. Unless you are clear about beliefs and behaviours that no longer serve you, then they will kick in naturally, especially when times are challenging, seeking out protection and comfort.
Learning to befriend beliefs and behaviours that are keeping us stuck in the past, is a learned skill. Alternatively, we tend to deny them, overly analyze them, numb them by seeking solace in immediate pleasures. We need to integrate all of what we are into one version of ourselves. Denial or avoidance strategies only serve to protect us but do not heal us. Only through acknowledging the presence of limiting beliefs, hurtful narratives about ourselves, and developing self-compassion can we slowly tame their impact and best focus on our desired path forward or internal compass.
Pillar 4- Connection with others
We can achieve all of the first pillars, focusing on our inner world, and dramatically improve our well-being. Going beyond our inner world and connecting to others is also crucial as we are also social beings. Studies clearly show that being surrounded by rich, secure, and harmonious interpersonal relationships is the factor most strongly correlated with well-being, including our longevity.
Historically this happened naturally. We lived, worked, and played with our trusted tribes. Today, however, we are increasingly disconnected from one another, distracted by the many things we believe we need to do, see and learn, leading to a continuous state of partial attention and independent living. We live in digital environments in which we connect with others indirectly through email, video conferencing, texts, Facebook, and other such distractions and numbing activities. This form of social isolation literally hurts. The neural footprint in the brain for physical pain is essentially the same as emotional pain such as social isolation. So the pain of social distancing and disconnection is actually seen as a threat by the mind and body.
It becomes important to develop empathy and compassion to not only strive but even to survive. Being around others allowed us to evolve into the human beings we are in 2020. We evolved from pack animals, needing to hunt, cooperate, effective problem-solving, love, and communication. These needs are still very present in humans.
There is chemistry behind social connexions. Studies show that oxytocin increases trust, generosity, empathy, pro-social behaviors, concern for others, builds, and strengthens social bonds. This social connection chemistry
makes your brain more efficient at noticing and understanding what other people are thinking and feeling, enhancing empathy and intuition. These quality connexions improve resilience, foster courage, dampen fear responses, suppress the fight, flight, freeze response.
Cultivating social connections can be supported by developing skill sets and reflexes on simple things such as mindful listening, practicing empathy, generosity, and having gratitude for those that surround us. To access these social skills, we however need to feel safe, aligned, and value such an important aspect of our lives. The four pillars of well-being are thus self-reinforcing and should all be cultivated in parallel.