Monthly Archives: April 2018

A mini-mindfulness technique you can count on

When I attended a Workplace Wellness seminar down in Santa Clara this past Friday, mindfulness was definitely front and centre.

Although I sheepishly admit that mindfulness has never truly been my thing, I know it’s a practice that works really well for many, so it perhaps wasn’t surprising to hear several speakers advocating its use in the workplace.

Despite my lack of personal application of mindfulness, I’m happy to pass on one small but great tip that’s easy to adopt. I’ve been using it this week.

One speaker asked the audience to close their eyes, concentrating solely on their breathing. In, and out. In, and out. He explained that he would time us for thirty seconds.

So far, so usual. It’s a common way to introduce people to mindfulness.

But then we were asked to repeat the exercise, this time counting the cycles of our breathing, with one inhalation and its accompanying exhalation making up one breath. He’d time us again.

Finally, the idea was to make a note of this number. Some in the audience reached five. I was apparently more chilled out, making just two-and-a-half breaths in thirty seconds.

The number itself doesn’t matter. What’s important is establishing your own number.

You can easily do this yourself, setting a gold standard for your breathing rate by timing yourself with your phone, computer, or watch. Do it once, then you’ll be able to repeat the exercise whenever you wish, without requiring a timer.


What seems most valuable about the technique is that it enables you to fit in thirty seconds of this kind of “mini-mindfulness” whenever you wish, without needing to time yourself, simply counting breaths instead.

It could be while you’re on a bus, waiting at traffic lights, watching TV, or immediately after a phone call.

Counting your breaths, of course, also helps you to f-o-c-u-s on them, rather than on anything else.

It’s simple, and simply applied. And I can thoroughly recommend it.

How about giving it a try?

What can you do today, for Future You?

I love learning about other people’s happiness-nudging ideas, so I’m delighted to pass along this one from my good friend Josh, who’s hit on a smart self-care strategy. Over to you, Josh…

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I wanted to share a thought experiment I’ve been trying that I think you’ll enjoy.

It started with my morning coffee.

Sometimes I clean and prepare all my coffee making paraphernalia the night before, rinsing out old grinds, filling the kettle, washing my mug, and placing the scoop in the bin of beans.

Other times I do not.

One day I realized that when I had prepared everything in advance, I was subconsciously saying things to myself like “Damn, you really set Future Josh up today,” or “Past Josh must have been a pretty good guy to think of me!”

But when I had not, I would gently chastise myself for not doing it.

Then the thought occurred to me —I wonder if I can use this to motivate myself to do things I won’t enjoy doing now, but will later appreciate having already been done?

For the past week I’ve been testing out this idea.

For example, I’ll sometimes stop what I’m doing, scan the house for a task that will make Future Josh happy, then do it, taking pleasure in the fact that I’ve set myself up for tomorrow.

The interesting thing is, I’ll often refer to “Future Josh” out loud, then get excited because I know he’ll be happy not having to do the thing I’m doing now.

And since Future Josh will be a little happier for not having to think about or do this, both current and Future Josh are happier.

It truly is a win-win.

Do you ever do anything like this?

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My thanks to Josh.

PS—When I wrote about emotional contagion last week, I began by boasting that I hadn’t had a cold all winter, then suggested I was probably tempting fate by doing so. This week? Yup, first cold for months now coming on fast and furious. Honestly, you can’t win, can you?

Emotions: can they be contagious?

I wonder if you managed to avoid catching a cold (or colds) this winter?

With the chilly times behind many of us in the northern hemisphere, I count myself among the fortunate few who made it through winter without getting a dose of the sniffles.

(I do realise, of course, that saying this is seriously tempting fate. I’ll probably be cold-ridden by this time next week.)

Be that as it may, we readily accept that physical illnesses can be contagious.

Sickness is often transmitted from one person to another.

But what about our emotions and moods? Can we affect others through the way we think, behave and feel?

And are we in turn affected by the thoughts, behaviour, and feelings of others?

The answer, of course, is yes.

In fact, psychologists refer to this process as “emotional contagion,” and over the years a number of fascinating studies have focused on it.

Looking back at my own advertising career, it was certainly the case that one of my goals was to change the way people felt about my client’s products or services – just as a sales representative does, too.

If you’ve ever been moved by a film, TV show, or piece of music, you’ve experienced emotional contagion yourself.

As you have when you feel a strong response to either good or sad news related to you by a friend.

There’s nothing odd or (mostly) manipulative about this. These types of reactions are a big part of what makes us human, after all.

A number of more structured experiments have built on these mainly anecdotal experiences to demonstrate the phenomenon of emotional contagion.

In a 1985 study, college students were randomly assigned roommates who were either depressed or non-depressed.

Over a three-month period, students who shared a room with someone who was depressed became increasingly depressed themselves.

Of course, it’s highly unlikely that an experiment like this would ever get the green light these days but its results were certainly eye-opening.

Further work was carried out on college roommates (they get all the luck) in 2003 by researchers at Northwestern University and UC Berkeley, showing that those sharing rooms over time became more emotionally similar. This research study also revealed that the same was true of young couples who were dating. The more time they spent together, the more they, too, became emotionally similar.

In 2009, Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler published their important book “Connected: The Surprising Power Of Our Social Networks And How They Shape Our Lives,” part of which examined the records of thousands of people in Framingham, Massachusetts, whose physical and mental health had been extensively tracked over a period of 20 years.

These records also contained information about how those in the study were connected to others in the same research project.

Christakis and Fowler were able to produce maps of these connections, also showing each individual’s state of happiness.

The maps clearly demonstrated that unhappy people clustered with other unhappy people in the network, while happy people clustered with other happy people.

So, given the knowledge that we can be susceptible to the moods and emotions of those around us, what can you and I do to avoid “catching” unwanted feelings?

One helpful action is to remind yourself that someone else’s mood is not your mood.

By all means listen properly if others unload themselves on you, but try hard to observe this, rather than getting drowned in someone else’s gloom.

Another handy tactic is to remember that by lifting the spirits of others, you automatically create a happier space for yourself.

Simple steps like these can help keep you inoculated against others’ low spirits.

An emotional shot in the arm, so to speak.