Today’s very special blog post from Julie Winkle Giulioni is based on her talk, “Using Mindfulness for Better Instruction and Performance,” which she’ll be giving at Training Magazine’s Training 2018 Conference and Expo in Atlanta. If you’re going to the conference, be sure to attend her session, February 12th at 8 AM.
Mindfulness continues to garner considerable attention worldwide. Thousands of organizations are implementing formal programs designed to enhance presence, attention and intention in their employees - because they’re sold on the power of mindfulness to the delivery of bottom-line business results.
Depending on the study, mindfulness is credited with everything from stress reduction to better decision making; from fewer accidents to stronger relationships; from enhanced focus to breakthrough innovations. As a result, many organizations are investing heavily in training on the topic.
But, what if your CEO isn’t a lifelong meditator who naturally buys into the idea? Or if your management isn’t sold on the benefits? Or if your organization is too small or doesn’t have the resources? What if you can’t infuse mindfulness into the organization with overt training?
The lack of adoption of an official mindfulness position or curriculum doesn’t mean that we can’t find ways to bring the benefits that mindfulness offers into the organization. Instead, it challenges L&D practitioners to get creative – to find ways to help people cultivate the presence, attention and intention needed to thrive in today’s chaotic environment. And, those who meet the challenge by incorporating key skills and approaches more organically into learning strategies may actually find their efforts more effect when/if mindfulness gives way to the next big corporate initiative.
L&D professionals who wish to leverage learning and quietly cultivate mindfulness can do so by drawing upon several high-impact instructional strategies that concurrently enhance participant learning while allowing people to experience and develop essential habits related to mindfulness - presence, attention and intention.
Less is ALWAYS more
With so many powerful models, thought leaders, ideas and resources available, the world is like a content candy store for learning practitioners. It’s always tempting to add one more great article, activity, or example. And then we wonder why participants are often overwhelmed or immobilized. Their minds are too full to be mindful. Combatting this means becoming ferocious editors of content. Employees need us not to just collect – but to curate information and then cull it down even more to the most crucial, compact content possible. And when we’re successful doing this, participants are better able to focus their full attention and begin building that muscle for use elsewhere at work and in life.
Too frequently participants arrive at training minds full – not mindful. They may be running from one meeting to another or from one priority to the next. They may have anxiety about why they were selected to attend a workshop or what they’ll be asked to do. You can pre-empt this cerebral clutter and allow employees to approach learning with greater mindfulness by offering a clear preview or overview of the activity. Attention is naturally enhanced when people know what to expect. And, when they have a chance to reflect on the topic in and its potential benefits in advance, people can focus all of their cognitive resources on the learning at hand.
Goodbye expectations; Hello intentions
Have you ever begun a workshop by charting participants expectations for the learning? Consider making a small change that can immediately infuse greater mindfulness into the experience. Shift the focus from ‘expectations’ to ‘intentions’. When we ask learners for expectations, it puts the onus on the facilitator to somehow deliver. When they instead articulate their personal intentions in advance, it allows them to take greater responsibility. And this self-imposed intention acts as a prism, focusing and magnifying individual energy and attention. In the process, people learn more about the specific topic while at the same time enhancing their ability to focus on intentions in other areas of performance.
Beyond action planning
As you migrate from ‘expectations’ for ‘intentions’, consider applying some similar verbal variety to ‘action planning.’ Over the years, this portion of a learning experience (if it’s done at all) has in many cases become more administrative than advantageous. People are asked to generate complex plans with detailed steps and deadlines that are frequently never reviewed or acted upon. We can create more momentum (and mindfulness) if we switch out ‘action planning’ for ‘intention setting’. Helping people clarify in a way that’s helpful for them how they intend to put what’s been learned into practice reinforces the importance of intention and provides a clearer and more actionable focus for attention.
Unlearning and decluttering
In many cases, we in the learning community undermine our best efforts on a daily basis. We forget that the human brain hasn’t grown exponentially like the memories in our computers. We keep throwing more and more at participants and wonder why so much of the great content we provide isn’t sticking. The reason is that participants minds are full – full of the skills, and models and to-dos that we’ve been layering on for years. So, before we can expect them to attend to and absorb more, we have to take something away. We have to help people declutter and engage in a little unlearning.
Unlearning involves releasing what one has known, how one has performed, and the practices that have worked in the past to make room for the new. It’s about shedding outdated mental models that no longer serve and consciously deleting old strategies, skills, approaches, tools, rules and procedures so that the mind is ready to take in and act upon new information that’s relevant today. It’s about giving permission and saying, ‘we’re not doing this anymore.’ Offering as much support for unlearning as for new learning sends a powerful message. This allows people to bring greater presence and mindfulness not just to learning – but to their work in general.
Without formal programs, initiatives, slogans or even meditation, you have plenty of tools at your disposal to help individuals and the organization as a whole quietly cultivate greater mindfulness and some of the benefits it offers. These five strategies enhance clarity, minimize complexity, and remove barriers. They give people a chance to be present, pay attention and focus on executing their intentions. And, organizations always need more of that focus.