Daily Gratitude

To me, gratitude is the antidote to negativity. Yes, life sucks sometimes but when we focus on what we have, we feel better.

In the Stress Less Take 5, the Daily Gratitude practice is taking 5 minutes at the end of each day to write down a couple of things you are thankful for in the day that has passed. Pretty simple, huh? And yet sometimes it can be tough: we get so down in the weeds with office politics and the minutiae of the day to day that we forget to notice the good things…like the fact we have a job!

I tell the team this is personal and won’t be checked, and I’ll commit to keeping it private. Whatever you write is what you write, no judgement. One specific instruction I give is that’s it’s important to be grateful to yourself. Perhaps you pushed through with a difficult task and solved a problem. Perhaps you faced a fear and delivered a presentation even though you hate public speaking. No doubt how your day went, there was undoubtedly something you owe yourself thanks for. Look for it.

One of the best lessons from my mindfulness training taught me was to love and value myself as I would one of my dearest friends. It was a hard lesson: like many people I was unconsciously beating myself up all the time. Realising that was tough. I want different for myself, and I want different for my team, so part of the practice is about being kinder to ourselves.


Daily Breath

There are so many reasons to include a breathing practice. Obviously we need breath to survive, but we take it for granted. We know that breath control is important for women delivering babies, and for athletes, musicians and other performers. It’s core yoga and meditation practices, SCIENCE says it’s good for us, and best of all its costs absolutely nothing and everyone can do it.

Physiologically, the reason to control the breath is that we can use our breathing to turn on our parasympathetic nervous system. When we perceive a threat, our bodies the sympathetic nervous system is dominant and it redirects your resources to respond to the threat. Simply by breathing slowly and deeply in and out through the nose we can turn on the opposite system, the system that  is in charge of resting and digesting. It’s pretty cool: here’s a detailed explanation if you are interested.

Simply by making a habit of some deep breath practice, we can significantly control our own response to stress.

Let me repeat that: you can control your own stress.

Sounds too good to be true, right?

My own experience is that its incredibly powerful. I have breathed my way through a 45 minute full body MRI, 6 months of chemo. I’ve taught my colleagues called the practice I was taught on a wellness program:

The 4 breath technique

The idea it to find 5 times in the day when you stop and takes 4 slow, deep breaths, using your thumb to count each breath on a finger. Focusing on counting with the thumb and fingers as you listen to your breath helps anchor you in what the body is doing, which helps stop your mind from bouncing around.

You can set alarms to remind yourself (good when starting) or do it when it’s convenient, what is key is to make it something you do every day, multiple times.

 Training the puppy

Some people talk about the monkey mind but I like the analogy to training a puppy, it’s so much kinder somehow. Your mind’s job is to jump up at every little thing and be excited and pee on the floor…ok maybe that’s taking the analogy too far…your mind is meant to make up stories about things but it is an excitable little puppy and it barks at shadows. You can’t respond to every bark, so you need to train it to only bark when its important. You do that by taking charge of it: by breathing slowly and deeply through the nose, and letting go of all thoughts.

Reverse engineering

My favourite thing about this is even when you are genuinely stressed, you can trick yourself into being calm. And once you get your cognitive brain back in charge, you can start telling helpful stories to yourself.

And it all starts with daily deep breathing practice.

Infographic showing benefits of breathing

Mindful Mondays

Mindful Monday is the first practice in the Stress Less Take 5 and it’s all about collectively setting intentions for the week, as well as making mindfulness part of the workplace language.

So far I’ve lead them all, but I hope other team members will step up if I can’t be there. I’ve had some very positive comments and some thanks, and quite a few people practice mindfulness so I hope they will.  We’ve had three Mindful Mondays now, and a Mindful Tuesday in Toowoomba and a Mindful Thursday in Ipswich, and a Mindful Moment during a planning day and a training day with our casuals.

It’s very simple: at 9.00am every Monday, we all gather in one room and I talk them through a short meditation, starting (of course) with focus on the breath. I don’t have a script, just a simple schema:

  • Start with breathing: slowly and deeply, through the nose
  • Have them notice their bodies
  • Remind them to let go of thoughts
  • Remind them they can return to their breath at any time
  • Remind them of our intentions: practice calm, work from strength, permit joy
  • Encourage them to stretch and move before they start their day.

I leave spaces where I do not speak for several breaths, to allow them to be alone with their breath.

Most people are participating with an open mind. One or two seems to be resisting. I hope they’ll be influenced by their peers over the three month pilot.


The beginning

This week I launched my Stress Less idea at work: I scheduled an early meeting called “Positive Team Culture” and invited everyone in my department who was scheduled to work from our offices to attend.

There were only 4 people: 1 person was on leave and 2 were actually at a different office. I talked them through the idea which, put simply, is:

Practising calm at work will reduce stress & create space for joy.

Having explained why I am doing this, and setting out some basic principles, I took them through the first Mindful Monday. It seemed to go down well. Later in the week I introduced it to colleagues at another campus. I’m tasking my reports to participate, and inviting people I don’t supervise to participate if they choose.

I’ve pitched it as a 3 month pilot, to be reviewed towards the end of the period, and I’m mainly focusing on the people who work at the same office as me (my department is split across three locations) as I’m not sure the practice will develop without me there to champion it. I will introduce it at the other locations as I travel around, though, and invite people to join in. We will see how that goes!

I’ll confess to feeling shy about taking this step. I have to practice mindfulness to keep doubt from creeping in. I’m sticking my head above the parapet here. Two things: I am highly motivated to keep my own stress levels down, and I genuinely believe this sort of program can make it a difference. Follow along to find out. I’ll be explaining the theories and providing links to some of my sources as I go.