Mindfulness is defined as simply present in your head. It is a basic human ability drilled in cognition that one needs to be fully present and aware on where one is at. It may be a basic ability but maintaining in moment – by – moment is something else specifically on the workplace. With mindfulness present at work, your focus will improved.
On this episode of WORKLiberated, host Margaret Graziano sits down with Sean Fargo, the founder of Mindfulness Exercises. They will talk about mindfulness at work and how it improves focus to be able to work effectively in the office from how to be mindful at work, how to work effectively with others, and how to connect with yourself.
To check more of our content, check out the links below
Listen to the podcast here
Mindfulness At Work With Sean Fargo
We have Sean Fargo with us. Our conversation is about mindfulness at work. As a reminder, this show is for people that are interested in having a new relationship with work, how they work, why they work, when they work, and how they work with others. Welcome, Sean. Could you tell me a little about what you do for the world and what your contribution is to your work?
I'm the Founder of Mindfulness Exercises, an online platform that shares thousands of free mindfulness trainings for people at work and home to reduce stress, anxiety, depression, addiction and insomnia and to live more happy, stress-free lives.
Everything everyone needs right now. Sean and I met in a program called Hoffman. I'm a connoisseur of transformational programs. I got to know him a little bit. We worked heavily as a group in our internal reflection and retrospection. We're going to have one of the teachers from Hoffman with us at our next episode. That'll be exciting. For you, when you do training, as a teacher who does trainings similar to myself, I'm a teacher who does trainings, what is your attitude about growing, learning, and you yourself being a student?
For me, as a student and also as a teacher, the things that I try to emphasize are a combination of courage and sincerity. Courage to open up to what may be unpleasant, what's uncertain. We all have different fears, judgments, and what we might encounter that's unpleasant. It takes a lot of courage to bring mindfulness to our emotions and to others. We don't often know what we're going to get. Courage is a big factor and then also sincerity. With mindfulness, there's a level of sincerity that we need to be able to open and allow the experience to unfold. It's not about fixing anything, achieving anything, or getting to the outcome as quickly as possible. It's about opening to what's here.
That takes a level of sincerity to open and allow because oftentimes, as teachers and trainers, we try to force the outcome and what's going to happen. We try to make certain experiences unfold, try to force it. With mindfulness, we need this opening, allowing this beginner's mind of looking at things with fresh eyes and tending to what's here. This level of courage and sincerity are both important.
The Hoffman Process that you mentioned was at times a little scary, a little unorthodox, to say the least. I'm glad I didn't know what it was before I went because I don't know if I would've gone. I don't even know how to describe it to people sometimes because there are unorthodox, intense things that happen. It took a lot of courage to open up to what they asked us to do and a level of surrender and sincerity to meet it as it arose and let it happen.
In the realm of learning, I read that for the brain to learn, it needs to have an element of shock or surprise. When we do the same thing over and over again, we become robotic and in our comfort zone and our neuropathways are taking the same path they've taken the day before, the day before, and the day before. Almost every training that I've been in, people have said, “I can't tell you what happens because we want the element of surprise.” How real is that the brain needs something new that I wasn't planning on having to happen for me to learn? Is that just what people say or is there evidence?
That's real. Several years ago, that science came out when we're learning about neuroplasticity and what are the factors of creating those new neuropathways that are incorporated with learning and real habit change. This element of novelty, awe, you could call it to surprise or shock, is real. That's a huge part of mindfulness, in the sense that we do want to look at things with a sense of freshness. When we practice mindfulness intensively, if we go on a mindfulness retreat, for example, or practice all day every day, there's this level of sensitization where each moment becomes more and more fresh and new.
It's not just a perception thing. It's real. Reality is new at this moment. Things are always changing, internally and externally. It's always a fresh new moment. With trainings, we try to bake that in. The Hoffman Process does it. With mindfulness trainings, it's important to emphasize the sense of novelty that this moment, breath, and experience are new. It's never happened before. Even if it's similar to other experiences or to what we expect, it's still brand new. Can we relate to it with that sense of novelty is important.
That's a good tip for me because in many of my programs as we walk people through a meditation, I always wonder if there's someone like me in the audience saying, “I've done this before. I've been here before.” I always want to say, “You've never been in this room with these people. Now I'm going to say that.” Another thing when it comes to mindfulness and bringing that to work, I read a statistic from the National Health Institute that the average human being has between 12,000 and 60,000 thoughts a day and that 85% of those thoughts are negative and repetitive. If that's even remotely true, how can somebody shut down their thinking long enough to even be mindful? I know that's probably a big loaded question, but it's a good place to start.
Mindfulness is not about fixing anything. It's not about achieving anything. It's not about getting to the outcome as quickly as possible. It's about really opening to what's here.
A lot of us are caught in these thought loops, rumination, worry about the future, or ruminating about the past. A way to mitigate that or to maybe reduce the number of thoughts or self-critical thoughts would be to build these little moments throughout the day, these pockets of pauses, where we check in with our body for a moment. This could be 10 seconds, 10 minutes, or anywhere in between, where we pause what we're doing, feel our body on the ground or the seat, connect with the belly as it rises and falls, being curious, “What can I feel right now? What can I notice in my internal experience from an objective standpoint?”
There might be a heaviness in the belly. I can feel my feet on the ground. I can notice the rise and fall of my belly. Maybe I'll soften the shoulders a little bit. Tuning into different parts of the body and inviting a sense of softness and noticing what's here. Not trying to feel a certain way, not trying to fix anything or get anywhere to bring this level of noticing what's here. Inviting a sense of ease or softness if we can, but checking in. This will help slow the momentum of the thoughts. This will help us remember our bodies as we did in The Hoffman Process. Checking in with the body, maybe noticing what emotions are present, the quality of spirit that we may be carrying, whatever that means to us.
We're checking in, slowing down, stopping the momentum of thinking. After that 10 seconds or 10 minutes, we'll find that we have some level of refreshness of the mind, a little bit of balanced mind and a little bit more, not slowness, but choiceful thinking because we have that new perspective and you're like, “Things weren't quite as bad as I thought. Now I'm coming at this with a refreshed body and mind so that I can tend to live with a little bit more ease.
For many of the people I work with, they're on the executive team. The coaching that I give them is, “You've got to have white space in your calendar. You've got to have time to think,” but I don't think I've ever said, “Take 10 seconds or 30 seconds to connect with yourself before you go in a meeting or before you have that tough conversation that you need to have.” That's what I'm hearing you say, even just pockets of time.
At work, we can build these in a number of ways that are practical and that don't seem too woo-woo or out there. They can be incognito. Some people practice mindful walking on their way to and from the restroom. Sensing the bottoms of our feet, touching the ground as we walk. Maybe walking a little slower than normal, but sensing heel, arch, toes. Inside the restroom, we can find these little pockets of pauses. More people are starting meetings with one minute of mindful breathing and a little mini-meditation. As they're waiting for people to come to the meeting, some people will pause and notice the rhythm of their breath or the sensations of the belly as it rises and falls.
At lunchtime, you can build the last ten minutes of lunch as a little mindfulness meditation. Some people will do this whenever they walk through a doorway, whether it's the front office or a lobby. Any doorway at work, they will enter the room and wish love and kindness to everyone in that room. They wish them well and maybe notice each person, tune into their energy, empathize to whatever extent they can, and wish them well.
Not that we're trying to get anything out of them per se, but we're wishing them well as humans. There are these little opportunities that we can do. Anytime a phone rings or anytime we get a text, we can take maybe even five seconds before we look at it, notice what energy we're carrying, and then answer the phone and look at the text, even five seconds before we tend to our phone.
I'm hearing a lot of self-awareness. In order to even have the sense to say, “I need to be mindful,” we have to be aware of ourself even. “I walked through the door. I'm walking through the door. I'm waiting for a meeting to start.” I might feel an agitation. I got off the phone with the SEO guy and he says our whole website is terrible. I got to ground myself before the next call. Otherwise, I'm going to bring that level of nervous energy, which some people might call drive, but I call it nervous energy, into the next conversation. It seems like self-awareness is a big piece of it.
It’s remembering to check-in and take these pauses. The more we practice this, the stronger we build this muscle of remembering. A lot of teachers and mindfulness experts will talk about remembering more and more often, checking in with the sensations of the body and the emotions. The more we practice, the more it becomes second nature and the more we automatically start remembering these things, whenever a certain level of intensity arises. When we get that nervous energy, it might clue us in like, “I haven't paused for a while. Let me take a moment to remember to check-in,” even through that process.
Even step up and move my body, get out of the chair.
Drink some water, take a break and step outside.
We've had three weeks of extreme violence in our country, specifically with people with guns, kids, and public places. Not just that, we had the great resignation where people were quitting their jobs in high volume. Now we're having something called the great termination, which is a mass amount of layoffs. We’ve got crime, politics, job security, stock market. When we talk about emotional health and mental health, what role does mindfulness play in a regular everyday person, no diagnosis, mental health?
It's highly important and my favorite form of healing because it is healing. A lot of people are struggling with addiction, depression, anxiety, and insomnia. It's extremely sad about what's happening in the world. We're going to have grief around it, anger and a lot of anxiety. These emotions are natural. If we didn't feel these things, be worried. Unfortunately, a lot of us are feeling it a little too much right now. With mindfulness, it's important to remember that it's okay to feel what we feel.
It's also important to feel what we feel. The role of mindfulness is to allow these feelings to come up without judgment. We're not judging these feelings to be good or bad, right or wrong. We're allowing ourselves to be with them in their raw forms, allowing these energies to process and move through us. Allowing the anger to be expressed in healthy ways. Allowing ourselves to feel some anxiety, like what is this telling us? Allowing ourselves to grieve. Most of us have a lot to grieve. Mindfulness allows us to feel these things without suppressing them, fighting them, or judging them. The more that we open to these feelings, the greater the healing. This is an important part of mindfulness, to be able to feel what we feel.
It's interesting because, as you know and the guests know, this show’s vision is to forever liberate the human spirit at work. Liberate, to be free. I remember the first time someone introduced me, my coach, Ann Betz, who's also been a guest. Her and her partner developed these seven energy levels of organizational effectiveness. The lowest ones are hopelessness, fear, and frustration, and then we move above the energy ladder from courage to engagement, to innovation, to synchronicity.
I remember her saying, “When you're in fear, your fear is there to tell you something.” What most people do is if they're afraid or they're anxious, they push it down. They want it to go away. If they're angry, they've been trained, “You can't be angry. You can't be upset.” They suppress it. What you're talking about is noticing it and then expressing it in a healthy way. How do I, at work, express anxiety in a healthy way?
The next question is, how do I express anger at work in a healthy way? We get brought in because people are not expressing these things in a healthy way. They are covert operators or they're sabotaging their selves or others, or they're screaming and yelling, or they're stonewalling. It's gotten to be an entangled situation. How does the average person who wants freedom express anxiety in a healthy way?
In terms of that seven levels, acknowledging what's here is important. There's this level of empathy for ourselves, like, “What's going on?” There's this level of self-compassion that naturally takes place, like, “There is a lot of fear here. What is this fear like in the body? Can I open up the fear?” We're bringing mindfulness to the core fears. We're opening to the fears, allowing the fears to intensify even within our window of tolerance. The more we're able to open to our fears without judgment, which is a key part, without judging the fears to be good or bad, right or wrong.
Some of us will judge it to be wrong and some of us will judge it to be right. We're softening the judgment so the fear itself, opening into the fear with some level of allowance, care, openness and tenderness. That mindfulness and self-compassion will help diffuse the reactivity around the fear, which is responsible for those unhealthy ways of expression of anxiety and anger. The more that we're able to help diffuse the reactivity around it because we're tending to it with some level of soft, tender, care, gentle awareness, we're then able to access ways of expressing them with some vulnerability, which takes courage.
For example, I might say, “I'm feeling anxious because you're telling me I spent $10,000 on a website that doesn't work. I need to take a break.” That's what I said to the guy. I said, “I can't talk anymore. I need to go process this.” He wanted to give me more and more information, but I knew that had I taken any more information, I would go from anxious to angry at the other people who built the site. I was proud of myself that I said, “I can't take in any more. Right now, I need a break.” What if that was my boss and my boss was telling me that I wasn't performing and I say, “I can't take anything else? Give me a break.”
The role of mindfulness is to allow our feelings to come up without judgment. We're not judging these feelings to be good or bad right or wrong. We're just allowing ourselves to be with them in their raw forms, allowing these energies to process and to move through us.
It's good to set boundaries for yourself and to notice. “I might say something I might regret. Let's both take a break right now for me to process this and then return to this when I have more bandwidth.” That's a healthy way of relating to it. There are wonderful mindful communication trainings by Oren Jay Sofer that I highly recommend, a book called, Say What You Mean, and there's a book called Difficult Conversations by the guys at Harvard who wrote about how to bring mindful communication to work.
It's tricky. Bringing curiosity is usually a good default, like, “Tell me why you're saying that. Can I get more context? What can we do about that? What's the goal here?” Leading with questions is usually a good thing but in terms of sharing your own emotions and expressing them. I'm a big fan of journaling things out first, practicing talking about it beforehand.
Also, not saying anything around blame or harsh critique about them. As people in the work environment, try to state things as objectively as possible. State what we're feeling and why we're feeling them, and then try to get some context from them as to whether or not like, “Am I perceiving this accurately? Am I hearing this correctly? Is there more information that I should be knowing?”
Let me ask you this about anger. Somebody is angry. They're coming at you in an angry way, and I don't want it to match anger with anger. Although in coaching school, they will teach us the range because sometimes, if somebody is hot-headed, they need you to meet them where they are, but in an everyday diffusion, I know that that's not the way to do it. Someone's super abrasive, aggressive, pissed off. I don't want to get hooked by that poison. How do I respect that person and say, “No, I'm not doing this now?”
It depends on if this is a chronic situation, whether it's in a group setting and what the roles are. There are different nuances here, but in general, I will try to meet them with compassion. What that means is empathizing with where they're coming from, like listening, maybe asking a few questions, and wanting to acknowledge and meet them where they're at. “I see. There's some anger here.”
That's exactly what I was thinking of when you said, “You sound really angry.”
“It sounds like there's some intense anger right now. I'd like to learn more about where you're coming from and get your point of view here so that I can meet them with some level of care and curiosity.” Oftentimes, what people want is to be understood and acknowledged. Maybe even while they're angry and expressing their anger, maybe they already know that it's inappropriate. They’re off the handle and they wish they weren't feeling that way, but if we can meet them with that level of acknowledgment, ask a few more questions.
I'm a big fan of asking people, “What do you need right now? What would you like from me?” Oftentimes, it may be different from what we assume. Sometimes they don't even know what they want from you. They need to express something. By being asked what do I want, let me think about that. Let me engage my prefrontal cortex and slow down enough to be able to think through, like, “What is it that could be most useful for me right now?” Go from there.
The biggest issue people have at work is getting along with other people. If the company's paying them, and if they have a decent job, the next big conflict is these interwork relationships and the dynamics. It's like we all bring our familial self to work and then the family that I was raised in is different than the family that you're raised in. We're like, “We're not on the same page.” When you said journaling, I thought of Byron Katie. What's happening at this moment. Is it true? Do you know the third piece to it?
You flip it around. What's the opposite of my assumption? You do a little flipping. Journaling can be helpful for expressing yourself in a way that's nonviolent.
That’s when you talked about the communications training. I thought you were going to say nonviolent communication.
Oren Sofer is a lead NVC teacher, Nonviolent Communication teacher. He combines nonviolent communication with somatic experiencing and mindfulness. He weaves them all together into his trainings around his book, Say What You Mean. He leads these trainings that Apple and Google, a lot of the top corporations, for this purpose of interpersonal harmony. That type of training is a huge part of Google's mindfulness at work program, Search Inside Yourself.
Also, the other key component of interpersonal dynamics is around empathy and compassion. I'm one of their trainers. One of the ways that we lead people through empathy and compassion for their colleagues is you need to be able to sense your own emotions with greater nuance. That then helps you to be able to tune into what other people may be experiencing.
There's this exercise called Just Like Me that I highly recommend. You can find it on my website. It’s a guided meditation practice in which you reflect on someone you're having some challenges with, say your boss, a subordinate, or a peer. You remember they experience happiness, grief, and anger like you. They have parents like you.
There's this long list of things that you share a lot of similarities around. They're not the other as an enemy anymore the more you practice this. They're more kindred and on the same team. This practice helps us to build this empathy and level of care for them. Oftentimes, when I work with companies, there are a lot of tears involved. Oftentimes, you're looking at someone eye to eye or you're imagining them, but it becomes real and human. That can help diffuse that othering and judging that so often takes place.
If somebody wanted you to do a training like that for them, they reach out to you through your website.
Yeah. MindfulnessExercises.com. We have a whole host of products and trainings to help people integrate mindfulness into the different parts of their lives.
If they wanted you to do the training, they could send you an email.
I probably am going to have you do that for us. We do a lot of trainings, but having trainings is also pretty cool. What you and I had talked about on our call before this, what is mindfulness? Is it meditation? Is it self-awareness?
Mindfulness is not belief based. It's just something that any of us can do any time. It's not just meant for people who were born from parents who are hermits in the mountains.
It's the energy of being awake and aware of the present moment. It's this sustained, nonjudgmental moment-to-moment awareness of whatever's happening. We're not trying to make certain things happen or fix anything. We're just noticing what's here either in our bodies, our emotions, or thoughts, and hanging out with it for a little bit, noticing how the experience is changing over time. It can include sights and sounds, smells and tastes and sensations as we walk, eat, and breathe. We're noticing what's here. We're being present in the moment.
It's not about thought control or believing anything. It’s religious or dogmatic. It's something we all already do anyway to different degrees. What I offer and a lot of mindfulness teachers offer are ways of increasing our mindfulness and integrating it into more parts of our lives. This can be within meditation. It can be in n our daily life, as we're doing the dishes, working, playing baseball or golf. We can integrate this sustained moment-to-moment awareness as we do anything, but meditation can be a wonderful training ground to cultivate it even more.
We also talked about what mindfulness isn't. What are some of the misnomers around mindfulness?
Sometimes when I say I'm a mindfulness teacher, some people say, “I’m Christian or Muslim. I don't like any of that Buddhist stuff.” It's not Buddhist and it's not Christian. It's not belief-based. It's something that any of us can do at any time. Noticing what's in our own experience. It can lead us to walk the walk of whatever our faith is, whether we're Christian or Buddhist or atheist. It's not about thought control. It's not about stopping our thoughts. It’s about noticing what's here.
It's not woo-woo. It’s evidence-based. Lots of neuroscientists have shown the efficacy and the validity of this practice. It helps our nervous system and our ability to be peak performers, our ability to connect with others in meaningful ways. It's also something anyone can do. It's not just meant for people who were born relaxed or born from parents who are hermits in the mountains. This can be for anybody. If you're a Type A or Type B, if you're driven or not.
Let's talk about Type A's, because you said sports and athlete. I have also been doing some reading. I'm reading a book called Peak. You would think it's got all sorts of stuff about working hard, but it starts the whole thing off with a state of mind. I saw the two sisters, Serena and Venus, and the things the father said to them, and then further reading, the focus they had on the game, each of them individually. You hear stories about other athletes, and even the warriors, that there is not necessarily mindfulness, but there's something going on with these athletes about being present and aware.
I would say that all of it for me, when I hear you talk or when I participate, it's about giving myself access to this deep level of grounding in reality versus whatever story I'm making up about whatever's going on. The average person who wants more freedom at work, or even more power in performing, why does mindfulness work?
A lot of us are trying to fill our heads with so many concepts and overthink our way through things, trying to control all of the stimuli. A lot of us know that that can lead to burnout and frustration and resistance and working too hard on something. Whereas if we allow ourselves to go with the flow of what's happening, we're able to respond to real-life stimuli so much quicker because we're a little bit looser or flowing with the situation. There's some level of surrender. I would call it more like allowing ourselves to meet each moment as it's happening by continually opening up to what's happening. It's not about us trying to fit all these pegs into these holes.
It's about relying on our intuition, our own innate wisdom. It's about trusting the moment, trusting ourselves that we can meet this moment with presence and that we'll be able to know what to do when those moments arise. There's a level of trust, surrender, and allowance. That takes courage because it's like, “What if I can't?” Let's try.
That's where we started. We started with courage. We're wrapping up. We were going to do a mini mindfulness practice. Do we have time for that? Do we not? Can we do something in 2 to 5 minutes?
Yeah. Anywhere from 10 seconds to 5 minutes is fine. We can do a little mini-practice.
Let's maybe take a deep breath or two. We can gently close our eyes or look downward to limit visual distractions. You sense our feet on the ground, my body on the seat. Maybe softening the shoulder, softening the muscles of the face, allowing the belly to rise and fall with each breath, sensing into the belly, noticing what we can feel around the heart and chest. We’re not judging these sensations to be right or wrong, good or bad.
Noticing how it's feeling. Can we check in with the body from time to time to notice what we can feel? Maybe we bring the same quality, gentle awareness to our experience for the rest of the day. Maybe reconnecting with the bottoms of the feet on the ground, the body on the chair. You taking another deep breath or two and slowly opening the eyes whenever you're ready.
Thank you, Sean. I felt myself falling off my chair. I had to be like, “I must be tired.” That’s like two minutes. The ability to slow down without even trying to slow down allows me to see that things might not be as bad as I think they are or that there's a solution right around the corner. Thank you so much, Sean, for spending time with us. One more time, for people who want to learn how to do mindfulness, you have an online platform.
People can check out MindfulnessExercises.com anytime.
We'll be reaching out to you for the one around the communication when you're upset. Especially we're sometimes working with clients who are very upset. What I've been doing is I let them vent, but I haven't been saying, “I can hear your pain. I can tell you're upset about this. What do you need to say?” Sometimes if the person is on a tirade, I'll say, “Do we need to take a time out?” but I want to be able to meet that anger because there's a lot of it right now in the world with what's going on. Thank you so much for your time. We’ll make sure that you get a copy of this when it's ready.
Thank you so much for having me.
Sean Fargo is the founder of Mindfulness Exercises, an online platform which shares free and premium mindfulness resources for mindfulness practitioners and mindfulness meditation teachers alike to help people live with embodied presence, compassion and resilience.
Sean is also the host of the Mindfulness Exercises Podcast, a unique podcast designed to help you go deeper with your own mindfulness journey.
Over 7 million people have benefited from the free and premium resources on our platforms, including downloadable meditations, guided meditation scripts, mindfulness worksheets, courses, content and live online retreats. By 2023, we hope to have shared mindfulness with over 20 million people in the following ways:
By supporting individuals in their pursuit of a consistent and meaningful mindfulness practice.
By training and resourcing mindfulness and meditation teachers to skillfully and compassionately share mindfulness with others.
By bringing mindfulness to organizations to inspire more conscious business practices.