Selected Podcast

Mindfulness in the Workplace to Improve Performance

Date: February 24, 2020
Shalini Lulla explains how being mindful at work can increase productivity and improve performance.
Mindfulness in the Workplace to Improve Performance
Featuring:
Shalini Lulla, MBA, MA
Shalini Lulla is a licensed psychotherapist in private practice who works with adults to address a wide range of issues, including anxiety and stress, relationship conflict, trauma, workplace/career challenges, parenting challenges, and life transitions. Prior to becoming a therapist, she enjoyed a successful career in the corporate world for 18 years, serving in marketing leadership roles at Procter & Gamble, Kraft, and PepsiCo, and as an independent marketing strategy consultant. One of Shalini’s specialties is helping clients with work-related challenges, such as finding purpose and meaning in their work, navigating team dynamics, stress management, and effective communication. She incorporates mindfulness practices into her work and finds this to be an effective way to help clients manage their stress and feel greater fulfillment in their lives.

Shalini has a BA in Mathematics and Economics from Knox College in Galesburg, IL, an MBA in Marketing and Finance from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, and an MA in Counseling from Northwestern University.
Transcription:

Bill Klaproth (Host):  On this edition of the SHSMD podcast, we visit with Shalini Lulla. She is a mindfulness expert and we’re going to talk about leveraging mindfulness in the workplace. Listen, if you want to be more mindful and present at work, and in your personal life; listen to this episode as we dig into mindfulness and we explain it to you and break it down in easy terms so you can put it to work for you. Plus Shalini is going to take us, yes, you and me, we’re in this together, take us through a guided meditation session at the end. In fact, you’re going to feel more relaxed after our guided meditation and when you see me at SHSMD 2020, I’ll be the guy at the podcast recording booth; I want you to tell me how this has improved your life. Because that’s what we’re trying to do here. We’re trying to help you improve. We’re trying to help you succeed. That’s what the SHSMD podcast is all about. So, let’s get this episode started right now.

This is the SHSMD podcast Rapid Insights for healthcare strategy professionals in planning, business development, marketing, communications and public relations. I’m your host, Bill Klaproth. And in this episode, we talk mindfulness. Get ready for it. We’re going to talk about leveraging mindfulness in the workplace and we’re going to go through a guided meditation at the end. With me is Shalini Lulla, a licensed psychotherapist in private practice who works with adults to address a wide range of issues. One of Shalini’s specialties is helping clients with work related challenges such as finding purpose and meaning in their work, navigating team dynamics, stress management and effective communication. We all want that. Don’t we all want that? Well let’s go to the board and see if it’s up there. Being more mindful, survey says… Of course it’s up there and we’re all going to be winners with mindfulness.

Now Shalini incorporates mindfulness practices into her work and finds this to be an effective way to help clients manage through their stress and feel greater fulfillment in their lives. Love it. Shalini, welcome to the SHSMD podcast.

Shalini Lulla, MBD, MA, LCPC (Guest):  Thank you Bill. Thanks for having me. Appreciate it.

Host:  Well it’s great to have you with us. And we start every episode of the SHSMD podcast with Rapid Insights, one quick tip someone can use to make their marketing communications better today. So, Shalini, are you ready? Give us your Rapid Insight.

Shalini:  So, my Rapid Insight is that being more mindful at work can make you a better marketer because when you are more present in what you are doing, you can be more effective and more productive.

Host:  And there’s your Rapid Insight. Great job Shalini. So, I love how you talk about being more present at work and being more present at work can make you more efficient and being better at your job. Being a better marketer. So, let’s talk about mindfulness and to give us a foundation to work off of, can you explain exactly what is mindfulness?

Shalini:  So, mindfulness is the act of being aware and attentive to what’s happening right now. You are noticing your thoughts and you can be aware of your feelings and physical sensations, but the idea is to not get caught up in them and not attach to them. And really just focus on what you’re doing right in the moment and one way to think about it is to think about the opposite which is mindlessness. How many times have we eaten a whole bag of cookies or chips, so we don’t even remember eating it or sitting on our phones and all of the sudden you look up and an hour has gone by. That’s mindlessness. Mindfulness is the opposite. So, you’re paying attention. You’re noticing, you are being present and when and if your mind does wander which it will, you’re not judging yourself. The idea of mindfulness seems simple but it’s much harder than it sounds.

Hard researchers actually did a study back in 2010 that showed that our mind wanders almost 50% of our waking hours. So, this is something that we all have to work on. It’s not something that comes naturally to us a humans.

Host:  Yeah, because I think we normally just kind of get distracted in our own thoughts. We’re thinking about this and then there’s oh there’s an email, oh I’m getting a phone call and oh God I got to pay that bill and oh I’ve got this thing tonight, right. So, our minds are constantly going and then oh gosh my foot itches and then. It’s crazy. It’s nutty. So, it sounds easy to go be more present. Just be right in the now and concentrate on what you’re doing but gosh it is harder than how it sounds. So, then when we are more present, when we are able to do that on a consistent basis, when we are more mindful; how is that important in the workplace and then for leadership?

Shalini:  So, there are a few different ways. Leaders are definitely more effective when you are more fully engaged, and you have great relationships with your teams. And what research suggests is that there’s a number of different ways that if you are more mindful, it can help you in your work. Three ways really stand out and I’ll talk about each of these. One is reducing stress. The second is improving your relationships with other people at work and with your team and then three being more present and engaged which helps you improve your performance and your satisfaction.

So, I’ll start with reducing stress. So much of the stress in the workplace that we feel is related to feelings of just being overwhelmed. There’s too much to do. And you’re focusing – you’re sitting in one meeting and you’re thinking about the next thing that you have to do. And when you are able to be present, and focused on the here and now, you can not worry about what else you have to do in the next meeting or what went wrong at the last one; you are really focusing on what you can control right now. And that helps to manage your stress. The other way that mindfulness can help you manage your stress is that rather than automatically accepting your thoughts and thinking oh, this person is judging me, they don’t like my presentation et cetera; we can become more aware of the thoughts. We are not so attached or meshed with our thoughts and we can actually challenge them. You can ask yourself, okay is this a helpful thought right now or is this not helpful. And if it’s not helpful, you let the thought float away and you redirect your attention back to what you are doing in the moment. Whether it’s giving a presentation or whatever it is.

And so, one of the main areas that mindfulness can help is in reducing stress. Then the second area that mindfulness can help in the workplace is improving your interpersonal relationships at work within your teams. If you are aware of your feelings and your thoughts, you are able to slow down, you are not caught up in them. You are not fused with your thoughts. You are able to notice and decide what kind of response do I want to give when I’m triggered by something. So, rather than reacting, you are actually responding.

The other way that mindfulness can help with relationships is that when you are really engaged and attentive, people feel more heard and so they feel like you are paying attention, they feel important, they feel more part of the team. And that really improves team dynamics. The third way that being mindful can help you at work is that when you are more present and more engaged; you can actually have better work performance because you are not getting distracted and you are not on autopilot going from meeting to meeting or to project to project. And if you are more present, you’re probably more open to more ideas and discussions of what’s going on in the meeting itself and what’s happening right in the moment. So, you are much more engaged, and you are much more open and that hopefully, can improve your job satisfaction as well.

So, a number of different ways that mindfulness can help you in the workplace.

Host:  So, three easy ways to remember. So, one is reducing stress and you do that by thinking okay what can I focus on and do right now and then challenging negative thoughts. Right? And you are saying you can challenge negative thoughts. So, if I’m feeling overwhelmed right now, or thinking to myself gosh, do I have what it takes to succeed or I’m going to fail at this job or I’m a fake or some kind of bad negative thought by recognizing they are only thoughts that your mind is cooking up allows you to separate yourself from the negative thoughts, right, you are not those negative thoughts. Those thoughts are not your reality. Is that how you challenge them?

Shalini:  Yes and the reason you can challenge them is that you are not just automatically accepting those thoughts. The fact that you are kind of separating yourself from the thought, allows you to challenge it. The fact that you are actually aware that you are even having the thought, allows you to challenge it.

Host:  Okay so I like that. You are not accepting the thought as you said so you’re taking control of your own mind. You’re in control of your thoughts. So instead of the thoughts stressing you out, raising your anxiety level, increasing your worry, all bad things for the body; by being more mindful, you shut down and challenge those thoughts, allowing you to be more present and engaged in the moment. Right?

Shalini:  Absolutely. Yes.

Host:  Okay. I think I might be getting this. This could be a breakthrough in itself. And then you said better interpersonal relationships. So, when you are more present, when you are more engaged; you are able to slow down and think of how you want to respond instead of just reacting.

Shalini:  Exactly.

Host:  So, you come out with more of a thoughtful response instead of just blah. You are like okay let’s think about this, here’s my thought on how we can resolve this situation. Or here’s a solution to the problem.

Shalini:  Absolutely.

Host:  So, you’re being more thoughtful and then you said, you can be more engaged at work so when you are more engaged, you have better performance, you are not distracted.

Shalini:  Exactly.

Host:  So, to recap, because that’s what I do. It’s my job. Being more mindful can help you in three important areas. One, it can help you reduce stress. Don’t you want to be less stressed out? Don’t you enjoy yourself more when you are not stressed out? For that reason alone, practicing mindfulness is a good thing. Number two, it can help you with your relationships. When you have better relationships, you enjoy your job more, you enjoy the people around you, and it can help you be more engaged. When you are more engaged, you have better performance at work. So, as far as I’m concerned, all three of those check in the win column. And there is a science behind this, right?

Shalini:  Well there’s actually lots of science behind it, to date actually about over 4000 studies have been published on mindfulness and it’s impact. Very active field of study right now. And more and more studies are actually being done specifically in the workplace context and in terms of what they found so far; neuroscientists have used brain scans to find that mindfulness can actually impact the brain. So, for example, consistent mindfulness practice helps activate those parts of the brain such as the prefrontal cortex which is involved in regulating attention and it also reduces activity in the amygdala which is the part of the brain that responds to perceived threats in our environment. And so the idea is that research shows that mindfulness training can improve attention as well as focus. It can help with problem solving. It could actually expand working memory and make us more open to new ideas. That’s more on the attention front. It also shows there’s impact on the emotional front. Which means it reduces our emotional reactivity so in other words, if something triggers us, we are slower to react, we are more able to respond, and some studies have shown that we actually can improve our ability to bounce back from stressful situations.

So, lots and lots of great research and more and more being done of course.

Host:  So, what you’re basically saying is, with practice of being more mindful; we can improve brain function in general?

Shalini:  Absolutely.

Host:  And the more we work at being mindful, the easier it will become?

Shalini:  Yes. And that’s through the magic of neuroplasticity. For hundreds of years, people thought that brains were pretty much you develop them and once it’s developed, its done, that’s it. and really in the last 25 years or so, so much more research about the fact that our brains are constantly changing. And when we practice new ways of being, we’re developing new neural circuits that change our brains. And so absolutely yes through increased mindfulness practice, you could actually change the way that you are and manifest yourself in the world.

Host:  This is so cool. A fun fact, neuroplasticity. That was the name of the first band I was in. See, it’s the brain. Thoughts are wandering and in pots with a joke. All right enough of that. See I need mindfulness. So, let me ask you this. How can someone start being more mindful? Help us with that.

Shalini:  So, there are a couple of different ways to get started. The most simple way really, is whether you’re at home or at work or wherever you are; just start by tuning into what you are experiencing right now. And when you feel distracted, which you will; just observe what you’re feeling or thinking or what the physical sensation is, observe it. Name it to yourself. And then gently guide your attention back to the present. And when you do this over and over and over; you’re building your ability to be mindful and attentive.

And you can do this in the middle of a meeting, let’s say you are listening to the speaker and your mind is starting to wander; just name it, okay mind wandering, I’m hungry. Now I’m going to redirect my attention back to the speaker. And you can really do this anywhere. You can do this at home with your kids when they’re talking to you, you can do this while you’re washing dishes. Really it can be done anywhere. So, that’s the first way to get started is just to start noticing and bringing your attention back to the present.

Another approach that you can do, it’s still fairly simple, is starting to build a mindfulness meditation practice. And all meditation refers to is just seated meditation. Just the practice of sitting still and noticing and focusing on your breath. Basically, what you can do is set your timer, set a timer on your phone for five or ten minutes. Get seated in a comfortable position. Close your eyes. And just start focusing on your breath. The way it comes in and out. Notice and name any thoughts and feelings and physical sensations that might arise. And then gently direct your attention back to your breath. That’s what’s known just as a breath focused mediation.

Some people, like me, find it easier to use meditation app for guided meditations and two I really like are Calm and 10% Happier. But there are tons of different mindfulness apps out there. Depending on whose voice you like that kind of thing, you kind of have to do a little bit of experimentation. But it’s the same idea. Pick one that last about ten minutes and just really try to do it consistently. Aim for every day. It doesn’t matter what time of day or night or time of day, whenever it’s most convenient for you, really.

More and more companies are implementing mindfulness training in the workplace. I think it’s really great. And there’s lots of resources available online if someone really wants to get into much more in-depth training. There are experts in the field like Tara Brock and Jack Cornfield that put out videos. There’s lots of information online. So, it really just depends on how deep you want to go into it.

Host:  Absolutely. And this is like exercise, if you want to get something out of it, you’ve got to put something into it, and you said you have to be consistent. So, you have to commit to this, right?

Shalini:  Absolutely. And the other thing to just be careful of is to not judge yourself. So many of my clients will say yeah, I tried that meditation thing and I just got too distracted. It’s not working. And what I tell them is actually it’s absolutely working because every time you get distracted and guide yourself back to the present; you’re working on meditation. And you’re working on your mindfulness. So, there’s no such thing as a bad meditation session. Every meditation session is a good one. No need to judge yourself.

Host:  So, I think this is so important. I really hope everyone listening to this right now seriously considers this and takes the steps to commit to this. So, I just want to ask you about a couple of things you just said. You said a couple of ways we can start being more mindful is tune in to what you are thinking and feeling right now. I think that’s what you said. And then name it. So, as you have these distracting thoughts, you go oh, there’s a thought, name it, right? And then ten seconds later you have another thought, oh God I got to take the garbage out. Name it. And then you are back to work and then oh my God did I email that person back, name it, right? So, that’s what you are saying?

Shalini:  I am saying exactly to name it and then redirect yourself back to the present.

Host:  Back to the present. Okay and then you said also start doing a mindful meditation practice if you will, where you said to get quiet in a room, right, and start focusing on your thoughts and do the same thing when the thoughts enter into your mind. And then you said, potentially try a meditation app and there are some really good ones out there and you said Calm or 10% Happier. Which are really good.

Shalini:  Yup, those are the ones I personally like but like I said, there’s tons out there to choose from.

Host:  Right. And as we wrap up Shalini, thank you so much. This has been great; can you take us myself and my listeners. Hello listeners, thank you for listening. Can you take us through a guided meditation practice so we can understand what this is like. So, maybe take us through a minute or so, so we really have a better understanding of this. Can you do that for us?

Shalini:  Of course. So, Bill I want you to get into a comfortable seated position. And again, this is no particular posture, just make sure it’s comfortable, your back is supported, and you are feeling alert. Let your hands rest on your legs. And when you are in that position, and you are ready, go ahead and gently close your eyes. And I want you to start by just focusing on your breath. Notice how you breathe in. notice your exhale. Notice how the rise and fall of your chest as you’re breathing. Notice the inflow, notice the outflow. You might feel a coolness as you breathe in. You might feel a warmth as you breathe out. I want you to take some time just to slowly notice the rhythm of your breath. And as thoughts pop into your mind, just gently name them to yourself and then redirect your attention to your breath. And you might have a physical sensation. Again, just notice it and redirect your attention. You might have a feeling that comes up. Again, notice it, name it, and redirect. Continue to focus on your breath. That’s going to serve as your anchor. You are going to breath in and you are going to breath out. Let it gently flow. You can continue to do this for a couple more seconds. And when you are ready, you can open your eyes.

Host:  I’m already feeling more relaxed. Do we have to stop?

Shalini:  That was basically a mindfulness practice.

Host:  Yeah, I got to tell you so even though that was short, in those moments, where you were thought popped in, I was thinking hopefully my machine is still recording here and notice your feelings. It’s like oh my shoulder kind of hurts a little bit. Okay redirect to the breath again. You can feel how you do kind of slow down how you start to feel a little more calm if you will because you are just sitting quietly doing it. your eyes are closed and just kind of scanning for anything, oh, there’s something. That’s okay, back to the breath. So, as you said, the breath is the anchor. And what do you suggest, like five minutes or ten minutes of just trying to starting out doing it that way?

Shalini:  Absolutely. I actually recommend just the smallest time so five minutes, just to get some practice in. Because anybody that says oh you have to start with 20 minutes, it just becomes too much for someone that’s a newcomer to this to commit to. So, I say start with as little as five. I even tell people start with three. Start with something.

Host:  That’s good. That’s a good goal. We can all commit three minutes to this. and then I think the important point is the mind wanders which it will. It’s like okay there’s a thought, and before you know it, you might be trapped in a minute of thoughts, right?

Shalini:  Exactly.

Host:  The main thing is catch yourself and go oh, man my mind I just thought of four things and I’m doing it again. Okay, return back to the breath. That’s the key. Right?

Shalini:  That is absolutely the key. Because your mind will wander and what you don’t want to do is get caught up and start following that thought away from your breath. Because that can easily happen. It’s to name it and then just gently redirect back and not judge yourself for it either.

Host:  I was just going to say that and then don’t get down on yourself. God this isn’t working. I can’t do this. No, it is working. Remember, it is working. Okay back to the breath. Okay. Concentrate on the breath. Okay and just keep doing that and like you say, in time, it does get easier to stay focused longer.

Shalini:  Yes, absolutely.

Host:  Wow. Shalini, this is fantastic. Can I have you on every day? At this very same time? That would be great.

Shalini:  I’m going to lead you in a mindfulness meditation every day.

Host:  Every day. Well Shalini, I love it. It’s our new podcast. Fantastic. Shalini this has really been informative and helpful and thank you so much for giving us your time today. This has really been great. Thank you again.

Shalini:  Thank you so much. I really enjoyed our time together here.

Host:  That’s Shalini Lulla, a licensed Psychotherapist in private practice and our personal mindfulness coach. Yes, yours and mine. Isn’t that right? Well let’s check the board. Survey says of course she is. She is terrific. And please join us for SHSMD Connections 2020 where you can learn more about healthcare strategies specific to marketing, digital engagement, communications, public relations, strategic planning, business development as well as career and leadership development this year September 13th to the 16th 2020 in gorgeous Chicago, Illinois. And to learn more about SHSMD visit www.shsmd.org and please subscribe to this podcast and check out upcoming SHSMD education events by heading to www.shsmd.org/education. And if you found this podcast helpful, please share it on your social channels. This has been a production of Dr. Podcasting. I’m Bill Klaproth. See ya.