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Welcome to the "WPA Community Blog". This blog features multiple topics, issues and news of interest to psychologists. All blog posts are written by WPA members.


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Top tags: business  mindfulness  relationships  transition 

The Mindful Workplace - First Steps

Posted By John Weaver, PsyD, Wednesday, March 11, 2015


I have been teaching an eight week mindfulness class since 1997 that is based on the work of Jon Kabat-Zinn, PhD, and the work of Zindel Segal, PhD. I do this most frequently in my office at my clinical practice, but I have also taught the class in business and other organizational settings.

An exercise that is used for teaching a beginning mindfulness group is to have participants eat a raisin. This is a single raisin and the process takes about 10 minutes. In the discussion that follows, those who are first learning mindfulness talk about this raisin experience as quite different than the way they usually eat raisins. Using all of the senses to engage with the experience, they notice shape, texture, smells, sounds (yes raisins actually make sounds), and tastes that enrich and enhance eating of the raisin. There is more going on in the eating than is usually noticed, because usually we are not fully present to the moment as it unfolds. That is the point of this exercise. It helps those who are curious about mindfulness to discover that there is much more that is happening in each moment than is commonly noticed.

This is true in the workplace as well as in this classroom setting. There are many moments during the day that have the capacity to be much richer than is recognized. The day to day tasks can be managed, measured, and recorded. But the opportunities for a deeper connection with a customer, or a better process for the workflow, or a recognition of something that is well done might be discovered if the workplace is a mindful place. A colleague of mine, Al Bellg, PhD, coined a phrase for this - mindful tasking. Rather than being distracted by trying to do more than one thing, as occurs in multi-tasking, mindful tasking involves bringing full attention to what we are doing right now. In a more mindful state, there are many opportunities to make choices that will influence how the day unfolds.

This is not a simple process. It is certainly not as simple as eating a single raisin in a guided exercise.  Yet developing a mindful workplace holds great potential for making the workplace psychologically more healthy and more effective. Developing a mindful workplace supports higher levels of employee engagement. The personal growth and development that comes from becoming more mindful enhances professional development in the workforce. Continuous quality improvement is more reliably achieved when there is a commitment to be present in the moment and able to see what is actually happening as the work is being done.

The first step in developing a mindful workplace is to become more aware of what is possible. Most employees spend much of the day on “automatic pilot.” The day to day responsibilities can become so familiar, so routine that they can be done without conscious attention. This works, but it is not an ideal state of mind for you or your workforce to be in when you are trying to get work done. It leads to careless errors, accidents at work, or even to conflict with customers who feel (sometimes rightfully) that they are being treated as an object rather than as a real human being.

Developing a mindful approach to work means that attention is being paid to what is happening in the moment (mindful tasking). The mind isn't wandering off to something else that is irrelevant or counterproductive. it is awake and fully present to this moment.

This type of training of the mind does not occur simply by reading about mindfulness or even by understanding what it is about. It requires utilizing a systematic process that is practiced on a repeated basis. Neuroscience research shows that regularly practicing mindfulness results in a series of changes in the brain that, like exercise strengthens muscles, strengthens key brain areas so that they are able to function more effectively. One of the challenges of creating a mindful workplace is to make space for consistent and systematic practice, essential for developing this type of mind strength.

In the next blog post, I will discuss what we have discovered in research about how this works in sustainable ways and what is necessary to make it effective in the workplace.


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Mindfulness & Business -- A New Frontier?

Posted By John Weaver, PsyD, Tuesday, November 4, 2014


What do the World Economic Forum, the Super Bowl Champion Seattle Seahawks and the cover of Time Magazine have in common? All of them are investigating mindfulness as a way to grow and develop new human capacity.

Mindfulness has been around for 3,000 years and has been practiced within many of the world’s great spiritual traditions. More recently, it has attracted the attention of world economic leaders and high performing athletes. There is a growing awareness of the connection between mindful practices and improved performance.

The Super Bowl Champion Seattle Seahawks started the season with regular meditation sessions for all of the players. ( They are not the first athletes to be introduced to this approach to enhancing their performance. One of the most successful coaches in NBA history, Phil Jackson, taught similar techniques to the Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers World Championship teams that he led. The coaches of these teams believe that there is a connection between enhanced awareness, emotional control, and clear minds and excellence in athletic performance.

In the recent World Economic Forum, held in Davos, Switzerland, mindfulness was not only a topic of discussion but one of the topics that drew the largest number of participants. ( The participants included CEOs of some of the world’s most successful companies. The CEOs are looking for a way to deepen the ability of their companies to function in a complex business environment that is sustainable in the long run. Developing a more mindful business in a way that some are attempting to address these issues.

Perhaps this is just the latest fad in a never-ending quest to find the secret to success and it will take its place with encounter groups and other once popular trends.

But there is also a possibility that the development of deeper levels of awareness in a systematic format that has been shown to enhance brain function is something that business needs to notice, particularly if the goal is to have a workplace that can perform at high levels.

The goal of the psychologically heathy workplace program has been to assist organizations in learning about what are the critical components to a workplace that enhances the well-being of its employees and benefits in organizational effectiveness. It has been demonstrated that these are not mutually exclusive goals but rather that, when business becomes more psychologically healthy, these goals enhance and support each other.

One way to begin the process of creating a more psychologically healthy and high performing workplace may be to begin to systematically develop a more mindful workplace, from the leadership all the way through the entire workplace.

Over the next in this series of blog posts, I will detail the process of becoming more mindful and enumerate the potential benefits that may await those who are willing to embark on this effort.

Tags:  business  mindfulness 

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Decision-Making as a Stressed Couple

Posted By Donald Ferguson, PhD, Wednesday, July 16, 2014
How does your brain work when you experience stress? At certain levels of stress, you may actually feel more creative and artful in your approach to problems but there is a point at which you may feel confused, lethargic, overwhelmed and perhaps resentful when you feel like too much is being expected of you. 

A stressed out or overwhelmed individual will become more simplistic or black-and-white in his or her thinking. This has been demonstrated in numerous studies and is perhaps most clearly seen in corporate decision-making where very smart, insightful people become less creative and ignore critical information when overwhelmed. Black-or-white thinking means that people will see only two options in most situations and can then become very wedded to one or the other option. People are often confused when in this impaired state, they see only these two possible answers to a given problem, and cannot fathom why their partner cannot see the obvious "right" solution. The partners cannot agree, but also cannot break the problem down into smaller categories and explore possible "grey-area" options. As the tension rises they are likely to dig in their heels with each other and feel less and less like they are working as a team. This feels like a betrayal. The pain of perceived betrayal in turn increases the tension and the rigidity in thinking. 

Under stressful conditions, we tend to ignore data that does not correspond with our initial reaction. The simplistic brain tends to gather data which supports its initial assumptions. We certainly see this in politics. Simplistic mottos and rants take the place of dialogue and discussion. Loud criticisms of those in the opposing party, patriotic sounding diatribes, appeals to religious beliefs, attacks on the evil of taxes, the supposed damage done when trying to provide health care to the population, all may hold currency with an anxious and stressed population. However, these have proven to offer no opportunity for negotiation and accomplishment. Instead, they have gridlocked and threatened the stability of the nation. A very similar process occurs between stressed out spouses. 

In situations where there is a feared loss, people tend to override all other considerations, including positive opportunities as they focus on that feared event. A person who is anxious about losing their job will, for example, not be comforted by the idea or even believe that there are other better jobs available. They will tend to only be annoyed by such suggestions and may fail to take advantage of a great opportunity until they have somehow managed the anxiety. Similarly in couples where there is some feared loss or injury, an individual may not even be able to hear reassurance or hopeful comments from the partner. 

Consider Bill and Cindy. Cindy complains that Bill is gone more than he is home and that he places work far above her and the children in terms of priorities. She describes him as having a "high old time" with his business associates and golf buddies, while she has to manage the home. He describes being on the road with long meetings, hotel rooms and constant pressure and nothing to look forward to at home but more nagging. They then argue over who works harder and has the greater pressure. They are fighting over which of them is a good partner. This, however, prevents them from really hearing of each other's sense of feeling overwhelmed and lonely. If they could talk about the need to have valuable time together at the end of business trips and if Bill could hear Cindy's needs without merely hearing her as criticizing him personally, they might have a chance at a real discussion. In turn, if Cindy felt like Bill was hearing her she could lower her voice and perhaps be less strident. When they move away from the black-or-white positions of her being a nag and him being uncaring, they have a greater chance of a positive, partner discussion. Such discussions make improved intimacy more likely as well. 

Partners must first recognize that these anxious reactions, these simplistic or highly personalized views of problems, are normal in stressful times. They are linked to impaired thinking, not to any lack of caring or appreciation for the partner. When you are feeling most aroused, defensive and needing to win, you should realize that you are not able to think at your best. In calming yourself and rejoining your partner, there is no guarantee that you will come up with the perfect solution. However, if your primary goal is a supportive partnership with increased opportunities for affection and closeness, you have a much better chance of that with expanded options and cooperative teamwork. For your sake, I hope that this is indeed your primary goal. the added benefit is that, with this more cooperative, positive and smarter stance, the odds are much greater that you will arrive at a positive solution that works for both of you. 

Tags:  relationships 

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Successfully Managing Transitions

Posted By Donald Ferguson, PhD, Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Normal Group Responses to Change

In my work with relationships I often present to groups or organizations going through major changes. What is often surprising to leaders and team members alike when going through a transition is that every change, good or bad, means something different to each participant and presents a threat to some or all members of the team. I have seen teams, moving into beautiful new quarters where everything seemed to be going well, fall into tension and conflict. 

Individuals and groups respond to tension in some fairly predictable ways. You may hear rather random or illogical complaining. You may see tension displayed by the last person of whom you would expect it and emotional outbursts or shutdowns that seem disconnected to the immediate reality. Change evokes a grief process, even when it is good change. When challenged, groups may band more tightly together or sub-divide. They might scapegoat a team member or manager. There are other ways in which the group might display its response to the stress of change but you get the idea. 

Managers who are surprised by these responses are in danger of taking them too personally or reacting angrily. They may feel like they have done everything right for their group, won the good fight and now are getting kicked in the teeth for their efforts. The team's reaction feels like a betrayal and the manager's response might actually intensify the group's dysfunction. 

Here's the thing. Change always represents possible danger. Regarding a move to a new building employees might say, "I may be allergic to the dust in the old building, fearful of the rats and catching colds due to the broken windows but at least I know where the pictures of my kids go and I am used to the pathway, on the stained carpet, past my friends to the coffee pot. What is it going to be like when we are in this new monstrosity and my friends are even on a different floor?" Okay, maybe I exaggerated the old building a little. But the point is, we respond to change, moves, policy changes, comings and goings of staff, or other transitions, at varying levels of arousal. Some aspect of the transition which would not affect you at all might make me extremely anxious. This doesn't make you uncaring or me mentally ill. Our reactions are different for a host of reasons. It does mean that savvy managers and team members will be aware of this transitional trauma and provide some room for people to get used to things in their own ways. 

Managers and team members are best served by preparing for both the mechanics of the move but also the emotional fall-out. When managers recognize that this is a normal human response and not a personal attack, they will be better prepared to facilitate and manage challenging emotionally charged reactions and keep the group on task. If you begin to take it personally, you will be less effective and lose more sleep during the transition. As noted in the movie, The Godfather, "it's just business." The perhaps peculiar appearing responses of your staff and colleagues are mostly just normal and human. They can be predictable and even helpful in understanding your team. Relax, observe and provide some room for individual responses, while maintaining the mission focus, and don't hesitate to ask for help or mentorship. If an employee's response becomes too disruptive or disturbing it will even be more critical that you seek help from your Human Resources department, if you have one, or from other mentors or advisors. This will feel less personal and dangerous if you have someone with whom you can talk about it but change will always happen in organizations and humans will always struggle to varying degrees with change. You can help make the struggle less problematic by first recognizing how normal all this really is. 

Tags:  transition 

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