Leadership / 03.25.20
Finding Calm: How Mindfulness Can Help You Lead, Learn and Live Better
Practicing mindfulness in the workplace is growing in popularity and has been shown to have many benefits. As the number of COVID-19 cases continues to increase around the world, anxiety and stress are rising, too, so the time to focus on the mind couldn’t be better — especially with so many ticketing and entertainment industry employees now working from home.
Kay Burnham, Vice President of Guest Services at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts and our current INTIX Board Past Chair, provided an overview of meditation and mindfulness practices at INTIX 2020.
Burnham was no doubt calmer than most people would be as she took to the stage, having practiced mindfulness herself for many years. During her presentation, she demonstrated simple personal practices that can help reduce stress and find calm anywhere at any time. She began by explaining what mindfulness is and isn’t.
Although mindfulness does have its roots in a Buddhist philosophy, Burnham was quick to point out that what she is talking about is not a religious experience, but a secular approach that is backed up by years of scientific research.
“Mindfulness is an experience based on awareness,” she said. “It is being aware and fully present in the moment, nonreactively and with no judgment. By practicing mindfulness, we can learn to pause between the time that we have a thought, take a breath and make a conscious choice to react or not.”
Burnham acknowledged that we still do have thoughts while being mindful; it is not about trying to make one’s mind go blank. “Our minds are going to focus on something,” she said. “That’s OK. It’s what it is designed to do. So, what mindfulness really is, is the separation of thought and reaction.”
According to Burnham, learning mindfulness is not something you “achieve.” “You don’t go to school for four years, get a certificate and then you’re mindful,” she said. “You don’t train for a marathon and then never have to run again. You don’t pick up a violin and practice for years, and then never have to practice again. Mindfulness is a lifelong practice. It is also not a silver bullet. You can’t learn mindfulness and that’s it, you’re done. It is just one tool among many.”
Another tool that Burnham recommended is meditation, especially now that numerous apps are available to help achieve just the right ambience. “I meditate every morning and every night,” she said. “It gives my day a good tone and quiets my mind at night so I can get more restful sleep. It literally saved my sanity after my husband passed away. I absolutely credit my mindfulness practice with keeping me going and functioning for my children, my family, my work and for my INTIX tribe.”
While you can spend 15 minutes or even longer using guided meditation apps, Burnham stressed that you don’t have to spend more than 60 seconds on mindfulness practice if you simply relax and count your breathing cycle. She demonstrated the simple technique and had her audience practice their own “mindful minute.”
At every opportunity, Burnham brought the notion of mindfulness back to the workplace. For example, she showed how to not let preconceived ideas about situations influence your decisions by switching your focus.
“We all have these lenses that we see life through. Some of them literal in our eyes, lenses, and we see through them. But it’s through the accumulation of all the experiences in our life that we see what’s going on in front of us. Sometimes we just need to clean that away. We need to recognize that we see things one way, and our friend may see them another. And that’s all it is. I see it one way, you see it another. It doesn’t mean either one of us is right or either one of us is wrong. It’s just the way it is. But learning and reminding ourselves to take the blinders off, to clean our lenses, can help us approach the situations that we’re working with from a new space.”
Burnham called this “taking perspective.” “The more we hold onto our beliefs and the experiences we have in life,” she said, “the tighter the grip becomes. So, it’s really important in our work that we see and understand the different perspectives of our team members.”
As an example, she noted that when there’s a new thing coming up and some people are all excited about it, we also need to remember that there’s probably a lot of fear or, at least, discomfort, awkwardness and uncertainty. “As a leader,” she said, “you need to be mindful of those perspectives and address each of them.”
Like many in the audience, Burnham said she fell into ticketing and loves it. However, there are times when, as we all know, our work can be quite stressful, especially when dealing with difficult customers. The solution again may be as simple as closing your eyes and breathing, paying attention to each breath and noticing the pause between when you breathe in and out. Burnham noted that, “There’s the briefest moment where you are not breathing in or breathing out. You are just there. That brief pause, that little step, can calm you down. It helps us separate our own personal response from our customers’ experience.”
Another tool Burnham recommended is thinking compassionately about others, even those you do not necessarily get along with. While relaxing and focusing on your breathing, she said, “Think about yourself and repeat silently, ‘May I be happy. May I be healthy. May I be safe. May I be at ease.’ Then do the same while thinking of those you love, ‘May you be happy. May you be healthy. May you be safe. May you be at ease,’ then move onto someone you have neutral feelings about, and then, finally, someone with whom you have disagreements and arguments.”
Burnham noted that it doesn’t matter which phrases you use, just so long as they engender compassion. “The more we can practice compassion toward difficult people in our lives, the more we will just naturally become compassionate and start acting that way with difficult patrons. We start to see them as human, because no matter how difficult someone is, doesn’t every person deserve to be happy, healthy, safe and at ease?”
Another advantage of mindfulness, according to Burnham, is improved listening skills. “Can you think of a time when you’ve gone to your boss and you had a problem; you needed their help with it, and you could just tell they weren’t hearing you? They were listening to the words you were saying, and they immediately responded with something you could do or what they would do, but they didn’t actually hear you. And, unfortunately, I can think of times I was like that with my staff. Where I was in such a rush that I wasn’t actually hearing what they were saying. And my practice of mindfulness, that practice of pause, and this practice that I’m going to take you through of wholehearted listening, will help you in really hearing what someone has to say.”
Burnham demonstrated “wholehearted listening” to her audience by having them speak and/or listen to the colleague next to them as they told a story; perhaps something about an interaction they have had with a patron. “Before the speaker starts talking,” she told them, “close your eyes and take a couple of focused breaths to help clear your mind. Then really listen to what the other person is saying, not just the words, but the emotion they are conveying.”
Feedback from the audience suggests the technique works; they actually began to feel what the other person was saying. They were not just hearing the words. “In a sense, it’s hearing what they are not saying,” Burnham explained.
As she wrapped up her presentation, Burnham spoke about gratitude, which she says is also a big part of mindfulness. “It’s all about finding the silver lining,” she said. “Gratitude is one of those things that buoys us as well as others. So, I encourage you to start every day with gratitude.”
And, on that mindful note, she told the audience how much she appreciated the fact that they even showed up for her presentation, which brought an appreciative round of laughter and ended the session on the same high note as it began.
This story is from a presentation at INTIX 2020, the 41st Annual Conference & Exhibition, which took place in New York City from Jan. 20-23, 2020.
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Tags: Leadership , INTIX 2020 , COVID-19 , Coronavirus