Initially, I wanted to dedicate this newsletter to the complex and ever-changing topic of managing a project team: How to empower people, how to meet project demands, and how to maintain motivation and engagement in your team. As I was mulling this topic over, I started to take note of the emotions it was bringing up within me. I became aware that I was feeling tension and hesitation and encountering a lot of questions for which I am still seeking answers. I will definitely come back to the topic of human-centred project management one day, but for now I would like to share instead my experience of mindfulness as a tool for dealing with stress and tension, which are both emotions that can sap your sense of empowerment and motivation.
I discovered mindfulness thanks to M-Powered trainer Diarmuid Lavelle and it would not be an exaggeration to say it has been an important milestone in the path to my own personal development. Believe it or not, before getting to know mindfulness, I was a strong opponent of the practice, believing it to be just another trend and incompatible with my personality. I was wrong. I am still learning and exploring different mindfulness tools and methods. Some of them work for me, some don’t. Below I present the fruits of my mindfulness experimentation. The following techniques have become an inherent part of my daily routine:
When I need to distance myself from a stressful situation, or clear my mind to rest, or reconnect with my inner voice and body consciousness, I do a body scan meditation. Below are some brief instructions to do this meditation, but you can also find lots more information about meditation online, including guided video meditations with relaxing music in the background.
- Sit on the chair or lie down. It is important that you feel comfortable. I prefer a lying position, but it is up to you. I always turn on nice, relaxing meditation music.
- Allow your arms to relax by your sides and rest your hands on your stomach. Loosen your arm, hand and facial muscles.
- Focus on the abdominal movements under your hands. Do you feel how lightly your stomach rises when inhaling and falls when exhaling? Think about it. Think about how the purifying air works as you let it in, and then release it from your body.
- Allow the muscles in your buttocks to relax too and release all tension so that you can completely sink into the surface beneath you.
- Focus on your lower, middle and upper back, one-by-one. Notice how your spine and back muscles relax under the influence of deep breathing.
- Now, focus your attention on your shoulders. Fully realise what you feel in your upper arms, elbows, forearms, and hands. Breathe in and visualise the air entering your body, all the way to the ends of your fingers.
- Move your attention to your throat and then each side of your neck, and then to your face. Check if you feel tension in the muscles you are scanning now. Under the influence of this consciousness, the tension slowly disappears, the lips, tongue, cheeks, and eyes loosen up.
- Now focus your attention on the lower body. Let the legs completely surrender to the force of gravity. Feel your thighs, knees, calves and feet. Can you determine what you feel in your toes?
- And now embrace your whole body with your consciousness: Legs, torso, arms, neck, and head. Feel the breath in your entire body, notice how it floats slightly with an inhale and falls with exhalation. Stay in this awareness for a few breaths.
- Now slowly finish this exercise. Open your eyes, return with consciousness to the place and time in which you are. Think kindly about yourself and your breath. Relaxed, return to the surrounding world. I hope this helps you to find the distance you need from your stressful state!
When I need to calm down immediately, for example, after receiving stressful information, after or even during a difficult meeting, or before speaking publicly, etc. I do a quick 3-minute relaxation exercise.
- Focus your attention on the feelings in your body. A feeling of warmth or cold, tension or relaxation, comfort or discomfort. Accept these feelings as they are.
- Now focus your attention on the emotions you are feeling at this moment. Where are they located in your body? In the heart or in the stomach? Follow your body along a line that stretches from the navel to the throat. What size and shape do these feelings have?
- Concentrate now on your thoughts. Observe them, but do not disturb them, do not try to change them. Realize that you are both an observer and the perpetrator of these thoughts.
- Breathe calmly. Look at your breath with the curiosity of a small child. Appreciate how precious this breath is to your body, as every breath brings you energy.
- Imagine that your whole body is filled with breath. Expand your awareness and let it settle, accept yourself as a whole, perfect and complete in the here and now.
This one is personal and may seem strange to some, but before I fall asleep, I do affirmations. It is quite like praying in many ways and involves formulating a short monologue of no more than a few sentences that encapsulates what is important to you in that moment, what you wish to focus on, and how you can live in line with your own values. You repeat this affirmation regularly in the hope of integrating healthy, positive thinking into your everyday life and encouraging yourself to focus on what is important. My affirmations are always related to changes or progress that I am eager to see. For example, lately I have been focused on my relationship with my teenaged kid and use an affirmation that centres on spending more time on our relationship and on having important conversations. In doing this, I believe I am programming my mind to achieve this, and I soon fall deep into my dreams afterwards!
I hope these tools might also help you to achieve relaxation. These techniques certainly have been useful to me and have really changed my relationship to stress. What I like most about mindfulness is its high level of accessibility. Absolutely anyone can practise it, and there is so much free information about it online, including lots of free apps that can provide guided meditations and help you to make mindfulness a daily habit. I also love the diversity of techniques. The list above provides just three examples but there are dozens of different tools and approaches, meaning that there is almost certainly something to suit everyone. Find one that works for you and good luck on your path to inner peace!