During an 8-year long process to become a U.K. Chartered Clinical Psychologist (a psychologist specialising in all forms of significantly impairing psychological distress), I had the opportunity to develop academic, research and psychological therapy skills with diverse presentations ranging from anxiety, depression and panic (basic work for psychologists), and up to complex traumas, physical and health difficulties. The work of a clinical psychologist very much entails being an expert ‘engineer’ with complex understanding of how the mind works, sharing that understanding with sufferers and then tailoring appropriately thought-through psychological therapy packages for the individual or system, supposedly based on evidence base therapies such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapies, more traditional psychodynamic or analytic Therapies and the like.
Since qualifying in 2008, I had a further 9 years experience as I started working with complex long term pain and fatigue difficulties and had opportunities to join a number of expert panels, as well as working at corporate level and with high performance athletes. Having been fortunate enough to be offered a unique fast track career progression, to consultant psychologist, I worked incessantly to achieve my targets and managed to achieve my consultant level in 4.5 years (average time 8-10 years). I often remind myself and strongly believe that mindfulness helped me (in fact it saved me) both physically and mentally to achieve this, and to let go of my attachment to unhealthy self-drive and competition before it became too draining and too toxic (in a sense I was able to manage a bendy road better by releasing my accelerator somewhat). This is because, thankfully, mindfulness made me aware that being an engineer, didn’t make me a driver nor a driving instructor (if you use the car as a metaphor for a human beings) and my experience had thought me that both fellow professionals, patients and the general public are generally confused about psychological therapy (psychologists often only make sense to themselves). I also began to realise that my own engine was perhaps beginning to miss a beat so to speak: harder to focus, more irritable, less productive and with a decreasing amount of emotional reward from the job.
However, fortunately, having had my first experience of mindfulness in 2008 as I started my career as a qualified psychologist, I had developed greater awareness of what my engine was doing, when to release my thoughts and emotional accelerator and better self care. My mindfulness journey started when I attended a two-day introductory workshop and had my first experience of a mindfulness meditation called a ‘Body Scan’. This was the first time in my life I had taken the time to exit my head and mind preferentially for my body. I couldn’t quite conceptualise what had happened but all I know is that my body (and my mind) were no longer separate and that I knew both needed me doing more of it. During the following 12 months I practised most days 40-minute body scans, read a large amount of textbooks and scientific journals and amazed at the potential power of this practice, I decided to go on to train to teach via a U.K. pathway recognised as minimum good practice standards (http://mindfulnessteachersuk.org.uk/).
Mindfulness was different from everything else I had tried so far: was partly theoretical but very heavily practical by combining some knowledge about the mind, neuroscience and psychology, with practically everyday habit breakers and meditation practices. Also, mindfulness helped me understand that whilst I may have expertise and experience on how we operate as organisms, the individual and organisations are experts in their experience and how they feel. This meant I could make a very important shift that meant I changed from being an engineer to being a driver and driver instructor, leading with both knowledge and also embodied experience of this wonderful practice. The quality and experiential approach of what I had learnt led to developing numerous professional relationships, consult on mindfulness with various corporate and high performance athletes, and developing, implementing and measuring scientifically its impact for a number of healthcare, government and corporate stakeholders. It would be reductionist to think of mindfulness simply as related to the mind. Mindfulness as has various well being , performance and team benefits including improved immune system, changes in cortical (brain) structure, increased citizenship behaviour, reduced sunk cost bias and improvements in attention, work performance and self care, to name a few.
However, such rise in popularity has led to a McMindfulness phenomenon (as referred to by those fearing a ‘fast food’ approach to such a deep practice) particularly in individuals and organisations often believing that a one-hour taster session, reading a book or listening to an app is the answer to their senior leaders or employees’ or their own well-being or performance – but that just is NOT the case. Just like driving a car without a license or lessons, inappropriate use of mindfulness may lead to missing important signs, working too hard for little reward, or even worse, experiencing distress or frustration with the practice. As a clincial psychologist I have also experienced first hand organisations providing mindfulness as panacea for all employee’s wellbeing when, in clinical presentations (e.g. trauma, clinical depression or panic disorder), I have witnessed first hand the risk for inappropriate use of this practice when delegates/employees are not made aware of how to self care and make the most of it.
On 3 and 4 October, I’ll be presenting two separate seminars at the Dubai Work 2:0 conference @Work2_ME. On the first day will provide an overview of what modern western mindfulness is and ‘how to release your true potential with mindfulness’ in the workplace. On the second day, I’ll be focusing on how to successfully lead the implementation of mindfulness in the workplace. As I find myself saying increasingly often (this is often not pleasing for people), if you need a quick fix, then mindfulness is NOT for you, If it is sold as a quick fix, it most definitely is NOT mindfulness as, just like a driving license, it requires minimum knowledge competence, consistent practice and understanding (which usually takes in the region of 16-20 hours of training) – just to get started.
Our team at JsyIMC will be available to take questions at stand #104 in the exhibitors’ zone and our MD Dr Agostinis will be available to pre-arrange meetings ahead of the conference via the #Work2_ME networking platform