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Author: Bernadette Marie Wilson

Easily Increase Motivation

Posted in: June 13, 2024 By: Bernadette Marie Wilson
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Are your feeling unmotivated and stuck?

Don’t worry; rebooting our drive system and increasing motivation is a natural ongoing process in healthy brains. Our brain’s innate drive system is “hardwired” to help us survive, conquer, and experience pleasure, and we can learn how to reboot and easily increase our motivation when we feel stuck. Learning how to tap into our internal drive is essential for happiness and success. Thanks to our internal reward system, we can reignite our brains to help us work towards achieving both simple and complex goals.

Why do we sometimes feel stuck and struggle to take action to succeed?

In today’s complex world, our desire to achieve our goals can be derailed by internal conflicting desires and outside forces. If we spend too much time worrying, our system can throw us into a fight or flight state, hindering clear thoughts and actions or causing inaction altogether.

Most of us have experienced the pleasure and rewards of the brain’s reward system, which drives and increases motivation. For instance, receiving praise for a job well done or experiencing the emotional satisfaction of completing a project. So, what puts us at risk of losing our drive? What stops us when we give up before reaching our goal?

In my role as an executive coach and trainer, I have witnessed these three scenarios, which prevent the ability to increase motivation and hinders top performance.

3 Top Motivation Killers

  • Negative Stress: Not all stress is bad (it can help increase motivation), but once we reach the tipping point of too much stress and burnout, it is difficult to increase motivate. Burnout can also cause us to spiral downward emotionally. The bottom line is that negative stress can significantly diminish clarity, productivity, and emotional upset.
  • Poor Physical Health: What we eat, whether we exercise, and our sleeping patterns directly impact brain health and cognition. Poor choices and neglecting our physical health can dramatically affect our performance.
  • Negative Communication: The words we use matter. Our internal thoughts and the language we use with others have associated meanings that impact us consciously and unconsciously. Each word triggers different emotions within us based on past experiences and learned associations. For example, consider the word “No” versus the word “Yes.” Whether you say or hear these two small words, the emotions generated impact your actions. Take a moment to test this concept: Say “No” out loud, followed by “Yes.” Observe your initial emotional response to each word. Note what emotions rise to the surface. When thoughts and words with negative associations outweigh those positive, our performance can be impacted.

Activate and Increase Motivation with Ease 

By understanding the basics of how our brain functions, we can learn to reignite a stalled passion or stay on track to complete a difficult task. A mindful pause, for example, is a powerful tool to refocus and spark motivation.

When entering a state of relaxation, we send fewer signals to our prefrontal cortex (key brain structure of our executive brain) and give our mind space to connect with our intuition and self-awareness. During this pause, we become aware of tension in our body, unhealthy ruminating thoughts, and self-defeating patterns.

As we become aware of mental and emotional roadblocks, we can make conscious decisions to shift harmful behaviors into actions that align with our desires and goals. Thus, creating feelings of success and activating motivation in the reward center of our brain!

By taking a few mindful moments throughout the day to “check-in,” we amplify motivation, improve cognitive performance, side steps “motivation kills, to have more success, fulfillment, and joy in different areas of our lives.

Increase Motivation Through Cognitive Performance

Cognitive Performance methodologies are designed to empower you and your teams with tools to stay motivated and live with more ease and satisfaction ­– while performing at the highest level. Founded in evidence-based neuroscience and neuropsychology principles, the CARE© framework leverages our executive brain functions to break harmful patterns, enhance motivation, and effect neuroplasticity change.

Download the Become Extraordinary! eBook to learn 7 additional techniques to get unstuck and rekindle your motivation! 

A Roadblock to Success – Chronic Pain

Posted in: June 12, 2024 By: Bernadette Marie Wilson
Success at work

When you suffer from chronic pain, you may be unaware of how it can negatively impact your success, including your communication with others and your work performance. Chronic pain can affect every aspect of your life, including your work. It’s possible to learn methods to reduce chronic pain symptoms that may be holding you back at work. When you are dealing with chronic pain, you might not realize how it can negatively affect your success, including your interactions with others and your job performance.  You can learn how to alleviate chronic pain symptoms that limit your success at work.

You may have tried to reduce chronic aches by buying an ergonomic chair or desk, taking aspirin, or following a prescribed medical routine. It’s likely that you unconsciously block the aches and pains from your awareness throughout the day. The problem is that through daily repetition, you are strengthening neurological connections that can impact the perception of pain. The downfall is that by doing so, through daily repetition, you are building stronger neuro-connections that can influence the perception of pain. 

One way to understand this phenomenon is to recognize that nerve cells send messages to the brain when we have an injury. The brain’s innate response to our survival and protection triggers mental stress and tension, helping us to be alert and muscles to contract and prepare for escape (the flight or fight response). This stress and tension syndrome (causing muscle contractions, stiffness, emotional responses, etc.) is directly related to chronic pain. In contrast, acute pain from an injury is a natural biological threat to the body’s systems for survival.

A 2017 study in collaboration with Duke University Medical Center effectively summarizes this concept:

Whereas acute pain can bring attention to the body of possible injuries and is normally a protective sensation, chronic pain does not convey useful information and has no biological benefits. It only gives people a feeling of discomfort but does not play an active role in wound healing. Chronic pain can persist for months to years, even after the primary injury or inflammation has healed.[i]

So, how can you lessen chronic pain symptoms to improve work performance?

Perhaps you suffer from ongoing back pain, headaches, tingling legs, carpal tunnel, or one or another type of chronic pain diagnosis.  You have faithfully followed the advice of your physician or other medical professional and have seen some results. Still, due to chronic pain’s disruptive symptoms, you find yourself stuck in a cycle of low performance during the workday. This frustrating scenario makes it challenging to get through your day, let alone perform at your peak level.  

If this situation rings true for you or a co-worker, you are not alone. Nearly 30% of the world’s population – and over a hundred million Americans – have chronic pain.[ii] Research has found chronic pain was significantly associated with reduced performance at work (but not with missed work hours). The average reported reduction in work productivity ranged from 2.4 hours (±5.6) per week for adults with joint chronic pain to 9.8 hours (±11.1) per week for adults with multisite chronic pain.[iii]  (See Cleveland Clinic Journal of Medicine for an in-depth perspective of Chronic Pain) 

The data reveals that suffering from chronic pain can significantly impair your ability to achieve peak performance. Chronic pain can lead to losing more than a day of high performance. Mental fatigue, which is also linked to chronic pain, can further restrict peak performance. Low energy and depression are overall barriers to success.

Learn how to reduce chronic pain work

The good news is that It is possible to lower pain symptoms at work within a few moments. A recent study reported in the Pain Journal found that pain acceptance was associated with lower pain intensity, less anxiety, depression, and pain avoidance. Simple, easy-to-learn techniques you can do almost anywhere and anytime can get you back on track to perform more quickly and successfully. 

Try Pain Releasing Mindful Exercises to Relieve Chronic Pain Symptoms at Work

The quick, easy-to-use techniques I present here are based on my teaching of Cognitive Performance mindfulness in the workplace. Mindfulness is the nonjudgmental awareness of any thought, feeling, memory, or sensory experience happening in the present moment. Another plus is that most mindful techniques can be added to most prescribed treatments, which help alleviate chronic pain symptoms.

Mindfulness-based meditation is effective in reducing pain in randomized studies of chronic pain patients and models of experimentally induced pain in healthy participants. A Cleveland Clinic study found that brain images of participants who received mindfulness as a treatment showed less activation in the parts of their brains that manage pain messages. [iv]

Moreover, in a relaxed state, if you move in small, super-slow ways, gently exploring the non-painful sensations – and notice any painful perception that arises without judgment– your brain appears to have a more remarkable ability to send a relaxation signal to those areas where you are experiencing tension or aches. In doing so, you are beginning to alleviate chronic pain symptoms. The more you stay physically and mentally relaxed as you move, the faster your sensory-motor cortex and cerebellum can retrain your body to move more efficiently and painlessly. Similar effects often occur when doing yoga, tai chi, qigong, and other “mindful movement” exercises.  Staying relaxed and aware is essential, and if you have moderate to strong pain sensations, stop and breathe – reframe from forceful movements and actions – gentle, slow, mindful motion is key.  

Chronic Pain and the Brain [v]

Physical pain resulting from an injury will be perceived by deep structures in your brain, like the thalamus, that relay the information to many other areas, especially the somatosensory cortex (near the top of your skull) and the amygdala (threat perception). A few seconds after your brain has reacted to pain, the information is sent to your prefrontal lobes (above your eyes), where you become consciously aware of the pain. But if you then worry about that pain or worry that you might experience more pain if you move (also a prefrontal/imagination process), that information is sent to the amygdala via the anterior cingulate and insula, the same circuit that is involved with empathy (perceiving the pain in someone else) and which can be regulated and stimulated by meditation and the practice of mindfulness. Your worry triggers both the memory of the real pain, and you’ll probably tense up, stimulating real pain.

Keep in mind the following: The actual physical pain experienced by your brain and body is completely different from the pain you consciously feel or expect to happen again. The pain you consciously feel is a recreation in the imagination centers of your prefrontal lobes. By consciously relaxing, moving very slowly, and increasing nonjudgmental awareness, you can reduce or even eliminate pain symptoms. Experiencing less conscious pain and learning to move in ways that are free from pain may significantly reduce pain caused by injury, inflammation, or conditions like fibromyalgia, and with heightened nonjudgmental awareness, pain symptoms can be reduced or even eliminated. Less conscious pain and the newly learned ability to move in pain-free ways may be enough to dramatically reduce pain caused by injury, inflammation, or diseases like fibromyalgia.

3-Minute Mindful Exercise to Alleviate Chronic Pain Symptoms: 

Begin gently moving a tight, tense, or achy body part. Start by making one slow revolution of your head while counting from 1 to 60. You will notice that the slower you move, the more aches and pains you may feel. Alternatively, slowly twist your torso, taking 15 seconds to turn to your left, 15 seconds to return to the center, 15 seconds to turn to your right, and 15 seconds to return to the center. After moving any part of your body, take another 60 seconds to become aware of your body. If you are walking in pain, try slowing down and finding a way to move without pain. Rest and mindfully observe your body, then move again. 

This easy-to-use mindful technique can be incorporated throughout your workday. Notice how you experience less body pain, begin to relax, and see improvement in your cognitive performance and interactions with others.


[i] Neuroinflammation, Bone Marrow Stem Cells, and Chronic Pain.




[v] Ref: Mark Waldman, NeuroWisdom, 2022

Prioritizing the Mental Health of Healthcare Professionals

Posted in: November 7, 2021 By: Bernadette Marie Wilson

Healthcare workers are under extreme stress daily, and it is crucial to prioritize the mental health of healthcare professionals for both their personal well-being and the well-being of their patients. Healthcare workers face constant cultural pressure to provide efficient patient care, and this pressure can lead to mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, and even suicide. To ensure that healthcare systems operate efficiently and improve patient outcomes, we must prioritize the mental health of healthcare professionals (HCP).

Reaching out for help

Traditionally, the healthcare culture has expected professionals to hide when struggling and not seek help. This has fostered the perfect storm for mental health disruption. Physicians are trained from the beginning to have zero tolerance for mediocre care and not to bother senior leaders, as asking for help is seen as a sign of weakness. They learn that they must be self-sufficient and not demonstrate any doubts or insecurities. When they feel ill, they are told not to complain and keep working because it will burden their team members if they miss work. This ethic is so pervasive in medicine that many physicians have never called in sick to work, which trickles over to their well-being. As such, most physicians and other HCPs are highly reluctant to ask for mental health support. Furthermore, physicians are universally concerned there will be a stigma attached to seeking help, signaling to others that they are inferior and cannot meet the rigors of the medical field. The concern doctors and trainees have for establishing a reputation as someone with the mental toughness needed to perform their job leads to reluctance to ask for help, even when it is available.

The healthcare environment can cause prolonged stress

The culture described above is deeply embedded in every aspect of the healthcare system. Multiple factors contribute to stress, such as the challenges of medical education and the financial pressures of obtaining medical training. Demanding work hours often cause physicians and healthcare practitioners to spend significant time away from their loved ones and experience chronic sleep deprivation. Additionally, some healthcare professionals experience bullying, hazing, and harassment during their training, which can lead to feelings of isolation, loneliness, and inadequacy. This combination of pressure, along with the strain it puts on personal relationships, results in healthcare professionals being more susceptible to mental health issues.some HCPs experience bullying, hazing, and harassment during training. These conditions can lead to feelings of isolation, loneliness, and inadequacy. This cauldron of pressure, along with the friction placed on personal relationships, results in a pattern of HCP susceptibility to mental health issues.   

Once training is complete, many practitioners are left with financial debt and experience the added stress of feeling they need to know everything to safely manage complex medical problems without the support of their professors and mentors. This is in the background as HCPs must be efficient and perform countless hours of remedial tasks, such as electronic medical records management, rather than direct patient care.

Addressing physician mental health to reduce patient medical harm

Medical errors are a critical issue noted as the third leading cause of death in the United States by the Patient Safety Movement Foundation (PSMF), whose goal is to reduce preventable medical harm to zero by 2030. When the mental health of HCPs suffers, it can increase the number of errors they make. Sleep deprivation and other stressors can decrease the cognitive clarity needed to identify errors or correct them before they reach and harm patients. While no one goes to work in the morning with the intent to harm a patient, mental stress can cause individuals who are otherwise very caring and careful to lose sight of the details related to patient care, such as selecting the wrong type or dose of a medication, putting patients at risk of irreversible medical harm or even death.

Compassionate culture

Implementing a compassionate culture can markedly help decrease the stress, fear, and anxiety experienced by healthcare workers. Numerous published studies have demonstrated higher compassion and empathy are associated with lower burnout and greater well-being. A piece published by The Journal of Positive Psychology showed that Emory University reported positive results from implementing a training program that developed compassion while decreasing the depression symptoms of the residents in training. Another pilot randomized clinical trial at the Mayo Clinic looked at the Stress Management and Resiliency Training (SMART) program. The  Journal of General Internal Medicine results found that the “SMART program led to enhanced resilience and decreased stress among physicians.”

Compassionate self-care programs for HCPs should be a priority for healthcare leadership. As HCPs learn to become aware of their mental state, they can deliver higher-quality care. These programs can include mindfulness, self-acceptance, and a sense of a common healthy bond with others. Programs can be simple to implement, such as offering a “Code Lavender” impromptu meeting. “Code Lavender” is a confidential debrief held shortly after an adverse event for the HCPs involved and supported by trained, compassionate-care peer volunteers. These allow HCPs to practice mindful speaking and acceptance, which can relieve stress and feelings of burdensome guilt and shame that would have otherwise dangerously accumulated. Indoctrinating compassionate self-care wellness programs into the culture must become the norm in the healthcare industry.

The pressure to provide safe care for patients in a complex environment coupled with environmental factors such as reimbursement reporting regulations and the repercussions of COVID-19 speak loudly to the critical need to implement a compassionate culture of safety, prioritizing providers’ mental health. Patients’ quality of care depends on the compassionate self-care of its providers. If embraced by healthcare institutions, evidence indicates that physicians, nurses, and hospital administration will be more encouraged to speak out about mental health issues and address the urgency required to make the cultural shift that includes self-compassionate care by HCPs.

Bernadette M. Wilson, MBA, CMC, CNC serves as an advisory board member at the Patient Safety Movement Foundation. She is also the CEO of Cognitive Performance and co-founder of the BrainFIT Institute.

Joy’s Impact on Better Brain Health

Posted in: October 26, 2021 By: Bernadette Marie Wilson
Did you know that JOY is essential for high Cognitive Performance? 

As we head into Fall’s busy season, we can become overburdened with new and unexpected responsibilities and tasks, increasing our stress levels and diminishing our feelings of joy. This subsequent lack of joyful feelings affects our satisfaction and interactions with others, dampens mental clarity, and affects our decision-making processes. When we cultivate more joyful feelings, we suffer less, feel more alive, and strengthen our ability to take on whatever comes our way
Neuroscience Theory Behind Joy
Why are the feelings of joy important to our brain health?
Without anticipation of joy, our “happy” hormone levels can decrease. This can naturally result in an absence of pleasure and, thus, increase the possibility of unpleasant feelings such as pain, anxiety, disgust, shame, and fear.

Brain Chemistry Plays a Part
Serotonin is an important hormone that helps us increase pleasant feelings. It has been shown to stimulate brain areas that trigger increased sensations of joy. Serotonin also plays a vital role in sleep. Good sleep is essential for lowering stress levels and better health.    
The neuroscience of joy teaches us that we can develop more positive perceptions of the world around us through positive cognition behavior methods. Including joyful cognitive performance techniques to boost the serotonin levels in your brain is essential, especially when you are in stress state.
Try These EASY Research-Based Serotonin Mood Boosters 
Daytime Pleasure Booster
Stand up straight right now, take three breaths, and stretch. Then, calmly walk to an area where you can place yourself in the sunlight. Embrace any pleasurable feelings triggered by the warmth and light of the sun’s rays. Smile and savor how good you feel in this moment and breathe. When you are ready, take the joy of this moment with you as you move forward throughout the day.
Nighttime Pleasure Booster
Take three deep breaths and gently stretch. Notice any good feelings that arise as you do so. If you are in bed, note the pleasure of our blanket. Or, if you are sitting in a comfortable chair, take a moment to notice how secure you feel sitting in this familiar place. Embrace how calm you may feel and take a few moments to allow yourself to feel joyful.

It is important to remember that bringing joy into your life is not frivolous; it does not negate hard work or accomplishments. Even the most revolutionary, hardworking people recognize that play is essential to life.

As a Cognitive Performance coach, I can teach you simple, yet vital brain-based strategies. You don’t have to make major changes to experience more joy at work and in your personal life. These strategies will give you greater clarity, allowing you to dramatically improve your life and work environment.

Brain Drain Protection: 3-minute exercise to defend against burnout

Posted in: October 2, 2021 By: Bernadette Marie Wilson

Burnout Protection: Try this evidence-based, 3-minute exercise to bring back your vitality quickly —

Overcome Burnout

Certainly! Here is the revised text:

Brain drain and work-related burnout are significant global issues, particularly among healthcare professionals and business leaders. Many professionals are seeking the fastest and most effective methods to implement a brain drain protection strategy, which pertains to a compromised state affecting the cognitive and emotional processes in the brain. Drawing from sound scientific theory, here’s an evidence-based exercise to counter burnout and improve personal and professional well-being.

Take a Break!

Extensive research has demonstrated the consciousness-and-decision-making processes of the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC), and we know from many supportive studies that the longer you stay focused on achieving goals without taking relaxation and pleasure breaks, the more your work quality and performance will decline. Other studies show that excessive stress and burnout correlate with decreased activity in the empathy/intuition/social-brain circuit, especially in the parietal and anterior cingulate regions. However, our brain-scan studies of meditators, coupled with the extensive research on stress reduction, strongly suggest how specific relaxation and mindfulness studies can alter stress-related activity throughout the brain.

So here is a strategy to protect yourself from burnout and to heal yourself from work-related stress, based on the study above and other peer-reviewed brain-scan experiments:

  1. The fastest way is to take a relaxation break and fully immerse yourself in any pleasurable activity for 1-3 minutes.

Burnout is caused by too much focus on achieving goals for extended periods. You need to turn down activity in the concentration center of your brain (the DLPC) several times an hour to allow your glial cells to dispose of the stress-related byproducts generated by the neurons in this area.  The most effective way to give your DLPF a rest is to enter a trance-like daydreaming state. Research shows that repeating the word “OM” may be the fastest way to do this (other sounds don’t appear to work!) [i].

  1. Are you feeling burnt out?

One of the symptoms is a lack of empathy or interest in social interactions [i]. Research shows that doing compassion meditations (sending yourself love, nurturing kind thoughts for others, immersing yourself in feelings of gratitude, etc.) will increase activity in the parietal/anterior cingulate circuits that regulate empathy, compassion, and self-love.

  1. Are you feeling highly irritable?

This, too, is a symptom of burnout, and it is correlated with excessive activity and volume in the amygdala and a thinning of the neocortex[i]. Research with Zen meditators (where the “OM” meditation is often used) shows decreased activity/volume in the amygdala and a thickening of the neocortex that controls the majority of our cognitive functions.

Let’s put all these pieces together.

Thanks to the neurological power of your imagination to recreate negative memories from the past, you can now experience the benefits of this “Burnout Protection” exercise. Close your eyes and recall one of the most stressful times you’ve experienced in the last few weeks. Allow yourself to feel the tiredness, the frustration, and the emotional exhaustion. Now begin to slowly – VERY SLOWLY – stroke the palms of your hand and your arms in the most pleasurable way possible (you want to cover one inch in 2-4 seconds…that’s what’s required to stimulate the pleasure nerves in this part of your body).

Now, take a very slow, deep breath through your mouth, and as you slowly exhale, make the sound of “ohm,” drawing it out as long as you comfortably can. The “oh” sound will come out first, and as you slowly close your mouth, the “mmm” sound will vibrate your lips. Take another slow, deep breath through your mouth when the sound fades away. As you repeat this OM meditation, pay close attention to every nuance of the experience: the resonant sound, the sensations in your chest, throat, and face, and the tonal qualities as you say “ohm” sounds in different ways. See if you can lose yourself in the sounds and sensations of OM. Go as long as you like, and when your intuition tells you to stop, sit quietly for a few more minutes, observing your feelings and thoughts.

Finally, repeat this compassion meditation phrase: “May I be happy, may I be well, may I be filled with love and peace.” Feel free to alter this phrase in any way that you’d like. Immerse yourself in the experience for as long as you want, and then sit quietly, noticing how calm and relaxed you feel. When you return to concentrating on a specific goal or task, you’ll feel less stress, and your productivity and performance will increase. And if we put you into an fMRI scanner as you do this, we are 90% certain that you’ll see the types of neurological changes described in this blog!


[*]Mark R. Waldman, Author of NeuroWisdom, The New Brain Science of Money, Happiness, and Success

[i] Neurohemodynamic correlate of ‘OM’ chanting: A pilot functional magnetic resonance imaging study. Kalyani BG, Venkatasubramanian G, Arasappa R, Rao NP, Kalmady SV, Behere RV, Rao H, Vasudev MK, Gangadhar BN. Int J Yoga. 2011 Jan;4(1):3-6.

[ii] Can we predict burnout severity from empathy-related brain activity? Tei S, Becker C, Kawada R, Fujino J, Jankowski KF, Sugihara G, Murai T, Takahashi H. Transl Psychiatry. 2014 Jun 3;4:e393.

[iii] Structural changes of the brain in relation to occupational stress. Savic I. Cereb Cortex. 2015 Jun;25(6):1554-64.

Mindfulness Benefit at Work and in Life

Posted in: September 27, 2021 By: Bernadette Marie Wilson
Mindfulness at Work and in Life

Mindfulness practice, in business and in life, is the application of mindfulness in how we approach our job, colleagues, customers, employer, and family over the course of our day. When we bring mindfulness to whatever we are doing, we begin to learn how to integrate a positive behavioral mindset into our daily life. We act in a mindful state and engage in “compassionate communication.”

Neuroscience-enabled, contemplative mindfulness practice over time leads to dispositional mindfulness – which is a way to be constantly mindful, at least to some extent.
Mindfulness in practice
Neuroscience has discovered that—as with physical exercise—very short bouts of mindfulness practices, repeated throughout the day, provide the same (or even greater) benefits as long sessions. There truly is no mandate that you must meditate for more than 20 minutes at a time. You can achieve comparable results by purposefully bringing mindfulness to activities throughout your workday.
To put this into practice, I recommend integrating “seconds of mindfulness” throughout the day. Even ten seconds of mindful awareness will make a difference. Taking a mindful moment at any time of day lets us take a breather, come out of our worrying mind, and reconnect with what’s real within and around us.
How can we create the tenacity to adopt a mindful mind and instill new behavior?

The simplest way to apply mindfulness is to deliver full moment-to-moment attention to a task with a nonjudgmental mind, and every time our attention wanders away, gently bring it back. It is similar to the sitting meditation, with one change: the focus of our energy is on the task at hand rather than the breath or a mantra.

3 Easy Mindfulness Techniques

1. Have a mindfulness collaborator

Exercising alone is hard enough. Choose an accountability partner and have at least one conversation weekly to check in. Mindfully review the following questions:When do I practice mindfulness most effectively during my day?How have I integrated mindfulness into my daily work life?What effect do I have on others whilst practicing mindfulness?

2. Do less than you can

If 5 minutes of mindfulness feels like a burden, then only do it for 3 or 4 minutes. If every twenty minutes is too much, then do it every sixty or ninety minutes. The aim is to find a practice that feels pleasurable.

3. Take one mindful breath every hour

Commit to conscious breathing at least once an hour; everything else is a bonus. Preserve the momentum of your practice. When you feel you are ready for implement this breathing methodology you can do so with more ease each time you practice. The practice encourages you to generate an intention to do be centered and opens up our mind to simple acts of self-care.
Implement these 3 mindful and compassionate leadership principles to throughout your day to enhance your performance and find greater fulfillment at work – and at home.

Praise and the Brain:

Posted in: July 11, 2021 By: Bernadette Marie Wilson

Improve Employee Performance with Praise

The more that we learn about the human brain, the more that we are astounded by its complexity. One of the brain’s interesting factors is how social interaction affects physical functions and overall attitudes. Research has shown that the power of praise creates a positive response that extends to enhanced feelings of competence, improved motor skill performance, and increases motivation. These reactions transcends all age groups and genders. Research results demonstrate that when you add praise to employees in a work environment, there is a defined improvement in general attitude, which translates to better customer service.

Science Shows Humans Love Praise

A recent study measured the brain scans of participants who received compliments. The results showed that the praise activated the same areas of the brain that create positive feelings when someone receives a physical reward such as the gift of money. Examples of this often happen when individuals do “good deeds” for others and receive compliments and praise while refusing any monetary reward.  

Praise Helps to Improves Skills

Compliments in the workplace can go farther than most might think. Enhanced learning and improved performance can occur when encouragement and praise is given to co-workers. Something as simple as a compliment can bring a positive outlook that the brain not only wants, but remembers. For example, a 2012 study showed that those who received praise when trying out a new skill allowed the brain to remember the skill and accomplish it better. Since learning occurs during sleep, the compliments of “skill consolidation” during the striatum activation resulted in improvements in the activity. 

Happy Employees Can Mean Better Customer Service

Although we still have a lot more to find out about the mysteries of the human brain, positive reinforcement can raise the level of employee fulfillment carries great importance. Establishing a company environment that involves staff recognition by praise and compliments can spread to improved customer interaction. In today’s competitive world, customer service excellence has become a high-level priority. Organizations that demonstrate a positive approach to their clients are also achieving the most success.  A Gallup poll title of “Engage Your Employees to See High Performance and Innovation” validates the concept of praise and content employees. The results of the poll show a 147% earnings per share increase over competitors for companies that have happier staff. 

Customer Service Rules

A PWC survey indicated that 80% of customers stated that a company’s agents have the most significant impact on the customer experience. Those surveyed said that areas such as knowledgeable, fast help, and friendly representatives rated as some of the most critical factors. Another survey done by Salesforce showed that 91% of customers said good service would make them more likely to purchase from a company again. Yet another survey done by Gartner was so crutial that they entitled the report “Customer Experience is the New Battlefield.” This survey showed that 89% of business competition is now based on the level of service delivered to customers and not just on the services and products offered. 

Valuing Employees

Just as the job landscape has made some dramatic shifts over the last few years, so has the approach to maintaining customer service excellence. While it might sound like common sense that compliments would result in more content employees, managers have often overlooked this one simple way to “light up the brain.” In a business environment, words do matter, and with a small amount of praise, a company can witness improved motivation and attitudes. A Harvard studyshowed that managers that focused on employee strengths had over double the worker engagement as those businesses that paid more attention to employee weaknesses. When compliments are combined with requests for feedback (rather than criticism) staff feel that they are more valued. 

Psychotherapist and relationship expert Rachel Sussman indicates that compliments are a universal human need: “People just want to be recognized and appreciated for the good that they do. It makes them feel really good about that person who complimented and about themselves.” This philosophy carries over into all aspects of life and is especially important in the work environment. 

Cognitive Reframing: A tool to mitigate Workplace Stress

Posted in: July 9, 2021 By: Bernadette Marie Wilson

Stress in the workplace can emanate from a multitude of factors. The precise etiology of workplace stress can be difficult to pinpoint due to the complexity and diversity of modern organizations. However, when left unchecked, stress can affect employee performance, team interactions, and the overall success of an organization. Numerous reports have documented the physical and mental health hazards resulting from chronic stress.

Benefits of Cognitive Reframing

One of the most successful approaches to circumventing the highly toxic stress conditions that can manifest in the workplace is “cognitive reframing.”

This technique helps individuals cognitive performance by: 

1) recognizing the stress for what it is (an emotional response to real or imagined factors); 

2) better understanding the natural ways our brains can turn situations into destructive thinking processes or positive opportunities; 

3) teaching us systems to realign our interpretation of circumstances (Cognitive reframing), allowing us to take charge of events rather than merely responding emotionally, and hence; 

4) seeing the world and events as they are; and 

5) increasing the accuracy of our response and the likelihood of success. 

Examining the Stress Response

One of the foundational elements of cognitive reframing is first understanding why and how humans react the way we do.  The human body is designed to respond to any form of stress with emotional, physical, cognitive, behavioral, and psychological “fight or flight” reactions. These automatic responses have had evolutionary survival benefits when stressors were encountered in the wild; however, in the modern workplace these responses are less helpful.  Indeed, one might be surprised by the extensive list of harmful responses to stress that can occur in the workplace, essentially wreaking havoc with team dynamics, and creating a dysfunctional work environment.  

Stress Distortion as a Coping Mechanism

Recognizing that stress can be based on a perception of a condition, and is not necessarily based on logic or the actual details of the situation is a first step in being able to reframe a situation or event.  The human brain continues to astound in its abilities and functions; however, part of its most basic purpose is survival. The resulting outcome can take the form of cognitive distortions in a stressful situation. Some of the most common distortions may be recognizable when correlated in a work environment:

  • Filtering to focus on only one negative portion of a situation.
  • Thinking in a polarized manner so that it’s believed something is all bad or all good.
  • Overgeneralizing by using a single event or incident to create an overly broad conclusion.
  • A “jump to conclusion” attitude based on an individual situation or behavior.
  • Minimizing or magnifying a situation or condition.
  • Looking at a situation from a purely emotional standpoint.
  • Catastrophe assumption that there has been a disaster.
  • Blaming others for all aspects of outcomes. 

Work-Related Stress Has a Cost

Companies of all sizes have been known to downplay the importance of stress in the workplace. Management may take the philosophy that stress is just part of business today, refuse to accept that a condition is stressful, or worse yet, get rid of the staff members trying to bring attention to unhealthy problems even when they might have solutions. details some sobering facts about work-related stress:

  • 83% of US workers suffer from work-related stress
  • US businesses lose up to $300 billion yearly as a result of workplace stress.
  • Stress causes around one million workers to miss work every day.
  • Only 43% of US employees think their employers care about their work-life balance.
  • Depression costs $51 billion due to absenteeism and $26 billion in treatment costs annually.
  • Work-related stress causes 120,000 deaths and results in $190 billion in healthcare costs yearly.

Cognitive Reframing Helps to Rectify Distortions

Understanding the value of cognitive reframing begins by recognizing that our brains may use certain distorted methods of perception that may not be entirely healthy in the modern workplace. In addition, unconscious attitudes can turn a favorable situation into something perceived as negative simply by focusing on it too much. In essence, it’s “thinking gone wrong,” and when allowed to continue unfettered, destructive thoughts can spiral into highly stressful conditions. Distorted thinking can be irrational and unhelpful, and in the workplace, the behaviors and attitudes can negatively affect everyone’s success. 

Therapists implement cognitive reframing techniques to assist people in identifying the unhealthy mindsets that may come naturally and put them to better use with more positive attitudes. This approach is used with overly optimistic and overly pessimistic individuals, as both extremes can cause stress when expected results are not attained. 

Cognitive Reframing in the Workplace

Using cognitive reframing in the workplace allows one to develop and utilize a healthy life skill on the job, and in so doing will interpret situations with greater clarity and experience interactions with enhanced insight and nuance. Cognitive reframing empowers an individual to examine where the positive or negative thoughts exist so that they can control their response and act thoughtfully, rather than allowing old habits to persist. Mastering the art of cognitive reframing does take time and focus; however, using it as a tool can shift the thinking process so that there is more beneficial life impact and overall work-life satisfaction. 

Trust at Work Promotes Better Performance and Customer Service

Posted in: June 29, 2021 By: Bernadette Marie Wilson

Business leaders have come to understand that trust in the workplace is a critical key for overall success. Many organizations profess work cultures which value trust and inclusivity in their marketing jargon by using the nomenclature such as “transparency” and “open door policy” to entice new staff and encourage existing employees.

However, trust is a result of developed cognitive abilities that foster loyalty and high performance, yet, when lost, can cause catastrophic conditions within the business environment. Creating a framework of trust between teams through a mindful training program supports clarity in communication and offers other benefits in a cascading effect. When an employee gains cognitive tools to become more self-aware, their new behavior permeates multiple levels within a company. Their positive attitudes bring rewards in their interaction with co-workers and in customer service scenarios. The importance of developing a culture that supports methods to build trust at work requires business leaders to maintain an open mindset that fosters healthy interactions. Implementing behavioral tools to increase trust to support the many daily decisions and work requirements by employees should be considered by leaders.  

Trust Equates to Confidence

When employees see their workplace as one where leaders value integrity, honesty, and equity they view the company one where they can invest in. These ideologies are an intangible base of respect that has value in social development of teams and for the individual. Without trust, there is suspicion, doubt, and distrust that permeates a business’s ecosystem. When a company works to establish and maintain trust, employees feel confident in what management conveys to them, and they, in turn, pass that attitude to customers and clients. Creating a “trust culture” has become a top focus in the business world. Organizations with their fingers on the pulse of good internal morale know that trust is a motivator that can inspire excellence.

Trust is Personal and Customer Concentric

Customers often view trust as a personal and intimate experience. They want to feel as if they can believe the promises presented by a front-line employee are stated with honesty, and that a company will stand by them for the long term. Employees who go the “extra mile” by over-delivering and are cognitive of their impact on the customer relationship ensure a beneficial connection between the customer and company.  This bond is an emotional connection established by the employee’s wiliness to meet the customer’s needs, thus opening doors for satisfaction for both the customer and the company.  

Trust at Work Inspires Financial Gain

The concept of trust is in a company is an organizational, economic driver as well. Proof of this is in the Forbes “100 Best Companies to Work For” list, where “trust” is used for two-thirds of the criteria in judgment. Both customers and potential employees view the list as a gold standard, and it comes as no surprise that the businesses on the list are above “the average annualized returns of the S&P 500 by a factor of three.” The research that Forbes uses demonstrates that “trust between managers and employees is the primary defining characteristic of the very best workplaces.”

Trust Across America is an advocacy group whose research and work tracks the performance and actions of some of the most trustworthy public companies in the U.S. Their studies have shown that high-trust companies “are more than 2 ½ times more likely to be high performing revenue organizations” than what is referred to as the low-trust companies.

Reputation: Beyond the Bottom Line

The statement that employees are the most valuable asset of a company stands true, and it goes hand-in-hand with another adage that “trust is earned and not given.” Staff members are the face, voice, and attitude of a company, and when their confidence is at a high level, they can expand the reputation of an organization to new heights. Trust is a leading factor for everyone in a business, and for those working with clients, a trusting attitude can increase the bond and add to the company’s stature.

Employees in an organization that they trust will often take personal ownership of the company’s culture development. In an environment of trust, their interactions and work product positively affect their confidence and communication abilities. They hold a unique sense of pride and dignity in working in an environment known for internal trust, encouraging employment longevity, and attracting like-minded applicants. Staff members with a favorable view of the business they work for can have increased performance and extend a perspective of excellence in customer interaction.



Bringing Mindful Communication Skills to Work

Posted in: May 19, 2021 By: Bernadette Marie Wilson
Mindful Communication_Blog

A consistent mindfulness practice has been shown to improve relationships through greater empathy and compassion — suggesting mindfulness training has numerous benefits for the workplace environment, where clear communication, high cognitive performance, and compassionate leadership skills are in high demand.   

So, how does mindfulness help us recognize and understand communication cues and help to overcome challenging conversation barriers? How can mindful conversations provide us with an avenue for better self-awareness and become more compassionate and empathic leaders? 

To answer these critical questions, let’s first look at why communication is instinctual, then review introductory concepts of brain function which are integral to avoiding conflict and resolving it once encountered, followed by a more detailed explanation of how a mindful practice can significant improvement our communications at work.  

The Communication Connection is a Basic Human Need

How we interact and communicate in life and at work has meaning – we can’t escape this fact. We are social beings, and learning new and better ways to engage and communicate with others fosters our well-being and growth and that of our collective tribe and society as a whole.

The process of communication between humans is partly learned and partly instinctual. Our brain’s neuropathways formation that fosters communication predates prehistoric illustrations on cave walls to grunts and body language. It provides a connection with the world around us and internally, negative or positive. 

Our past learned social behaviors to control our anger and anxiety, and immediate environmental and emotional factors preceding and during communication, will impact our ability to articulate. Along with what body language we deploy and our tone (volume, pitch, and word choice/emphasis) will all affect our message’s quality (precision of succinctness). Similarly, these factors will affect the receiver’s ability to comprehend and understand our true meaning.

In addition to communicating for safety, security, coordination of mutual efforts (working together or avoiding conflict), communication also serves as a form of connectedness between humans. As we learn the art of communication through mindful practice, we gain a more profound sense of self-awareness, purpose and our relationship with others is enhanced.

Our Expressions Communicates More than Words

Recently, we have all felt the intense pressure of Covid-19’s direct impact on our daily lives. We’ve all made adjustments and strived to do our best to adapt to our changing world. Many employees have had to learn new ways to do their job effectively, such as remote work and continual video meetings, and gain skills to adapt quickly by learning new ways to foster communication with employees and customers.  Gaining the knowledge that we have an innate ability to understand other’s emotions through facial expressions and inflections in our voice will help us become better communicators. Studies suggest that 93% of our communication is visual and auditory; the art of reading facial expressions and the use of tone of voice has never been more vital to our success as communicators.

How Stress Dampens Clear Communication

Whether it’s work-related stress, family conflict, or constantly worrying about life, modern-day struggles and hardships activate the same fight or flight responses in the brain. We can tolerate stress for brief durations; in fact, some thrive on the increased sense of energy and drive resulting from the release of stress hormones (“Adrenaline Rush”).  

However, suppose we are exposed to stressful conditions (or situations) for prolonged periods. In that case, our body goes into a defense mode due to the release of other hormones, including cortisol, which can impair the immune system, cause sleep disturbances, and sub-optimal cognitive performance. Indeed, prolonged cortisol can lead to fogginess and impaired function of the executive brain (the part we need for complex problem solving and creative thought).

Cortisol can be viewed as nature’s built-in alarm system. During brief episodes of stress, the cortisol provides resilience by increasing blood sugar for anticipated increased metabolic needs and decreasing inflammation with vigorous exercise (fight or flight).

These favorable adaptions to overcome acute stressors are augmented by the other stress factors, epinephrine (adrenaline), and norepinephrine, increasing the strength of the heart and skeletal muscle contractions and the blood pressure needed for exercise (as would occur with fight or flight). In contrast, with chronic stress, the prolonged elevated cortisol levels begin to manifest the deleterious effects mentioned above (impaired sleep, immunity, and cognitive function), high blood pressure, weight gain, irritability, fatigue, and anxiety depression, along with other mental health concerns.

A Mindful Practice Offers Protection Against Stress

An essential practice for protecting ourselves from unnecessary stress is to approach as many of our daily interactions as possible mindfully. In this context, “mindful” relates to “being self-aware” and also prepared for the input of discordant factors, and working to stay fully engaged and aware of your feelings so you do not slip into react (fight or flight) mode.

For example, if during an interaction with a colleague you SEE with your eyes an angry facial gesture, such as snarl, and/or HEAR with your ears, words spoken in a loud angry tone by this individual, the unprepared (non-mindful) response would be to react in a fight or flight way. This fight or flight response is hardwired into our Central Nervous System (CNS), and plays a vital role in a genuine threat. Interestingly, brains process this information and return a response in fractions of a second, using neurochemical messengers for you to get out of danger or retaliate.

Routinely Practicing Mindfulness We Naturally Become Better Communicators

A mindful approach to this situation requires self-awareness (checking in on how we are feeling) and assessing the full situation, including what might be causing the individual to be expressing angry gestures and words. Staying present (self-aware) requires the use of the executive brain (frontal lobes), and dramatically increases the likelihood of avoiding strong emotions that can cloud our thinking. Using a mindful technique allows us to become far better communicators (better listeners and more articulate speakers). Our brains, in essence, can be controlled through a consistent mindful practice so that the reflexive (fight or flight) pathway is subdued and the executive function stays in control, allowing our exchanges to be poised, intelligent, and mindful.  

(Note, the brain can be triggered to go down the fight or flight pathway following a stressful memory and be perceived as just as profound of a threat as the real thing when patients suffer from PTSD.)  

Mindfulness Provides an Avenue for self-awareness

Here is where mindful skills can help in communication. Through practice, one develops a sense of clarity, concentration, equanimity, self-awareness, and self-knowledge. Through practice, you will begin to notice you have the choice to respond or not and respond with compassion rather than with tough emotional reactions such as anger or frustration. Through practice, the observance, and untangling of emotion, one can experience the interaction with equanimity fostering internal growth and awareness.

Mindful disciplines regard emotions as “impermanence.” Emotions by nature are quick and fleeting; they are not permanent. For example, when if you are fully engaged in watching a movie – you can be laughing and feeling joy in one instance, fearful in the next, and then irritated. Your emotions rise and resend without conscious effort or work.

When an emotion is continuous over the course of the day, it is considered a mood. If it is a negative habitual and acute, compounded negative emotions can lead to depression and severely affect our mental health.  

In our mindful practice, we allow ourselves to observe, release or focus on the emotions; as we do so, we let go of our control the emotion that arises, and note is emergence and passing. Through steady practice, we are training ourselves not to get stuck in emotional traps. We become the observer, more self-aware of our emotions rather than the reactor. Having the skill of noticing and observing emotions as they arise is essential and allows you to be more present.  

As we become more self-aware of how we are feeling and do not let strong emotions cloud our thinking, we become better communicators. And with practice, we can teach ourselves to avoid the traps of sticky conflict.

Mindfulness Can Help Us to Compassionately Resolve Conflict

To be effective in the workplace, learning how to communicate with clarity, and being skilled at conflict resolution, are required to make us better leaders and trusted by our peers. In times of conflict, a mindful practitioner can begin to see the positive results of their mediation practice. A student of mindfulness has done habitual practice independently and has mindfully sat with challenging emotions as they have come and gone, in states of quiet self-reflective mediation. They have sat through the uncomfortable feelings and learned to observe and accept them rather than lean towards flight or fight scenarios. They have trained your nervous system not to overreact to emotions that arise as of this effort.  

In practicing mindfulness, one learns to overcome and not react to conflict because of a sense of concentration, clarity, and equanimity. As one moves through the phases of mindful development, one learns to manage their thoughts and emotions. In effect, they are learning the skill of thought management that will result in one having a tendency to become calmer, more grounded, centered, and speak with more clarity. Even in tough conversations, the person who is trained in mindfulness can have mindfulness technique playing in the background of their mind to maintain their state of equanimity.  

Furthermore, suppose one is to follow the prescription of bringing a mindful practice to work. In that case, they may be surprised by their resiliency, the ability to an observer with non-judgmental acceptance. They may discover that they approach work with the open mindfulness to be present, listen to what is being said (and not said), and work through tough conversations with more tolerance and compassion.

When one commits to a mindful state of mind, they bring self-awareness to each conversation, allowing for clear, concise communication, which opens the door for more compassion, joy, and clarity, thus more personal empowerment and job satisfaction.

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