Frequently Asked Questions

Does the Awake at Work course focus solely on work, or will we touch upon aspects in my personal life?

The awareness, skills, and capacities you will learn and develop in the Awake at Work program are applicable to all aspects of your life and work. Most people report that the program creates significant and positive benefits in their personal health, well-being, and relationships—as well as in their work, creativity, and mental clarity. Mindfulness practice increases your awareness and thus impacts the causal source in all aspects of your life. The saying "everywhere you go, there you are" seems to be true—when we begin to change the quality of our attention, awareness, and presence, all aspects of our work and life begin to change. What is inside becomes reflected outside.

What if I'm feeling resistant to a mindfulness program? What would you suggest? Do you think I'll still experience results?

Resistance to anything new and outside of our comfort zone is natural and to be expected—even embraced. In fact, it is a sign that you are up to something good. Your awareness of the resistance is an expression of mindfulness. Welcome the resistance with kind acceptance. Inquire into the fears and concerns that may be behind it. Be curious but don't indulge it or give it too much power. The most fruitful way to engage in the program is with an open, curious mind—what we might call "beginner's mind" or "child's mind." Try things on, see what fits and what doesn't—you may be surprised.

How much time outside of the course is expected of me for homework or further reflection?

The time you invest in the program is your choice. It's recommended that you spend at least 10-15 minutes each day in mindfulness practice (sitting, walking, journaling, mindful eating, etc.). Mindful awareness can be practiced in every moment—what quality of intention, attention, and attitude do you bring to this moment, this task, this meeting, and this interaction? Simply put, a combination of setting aside a time for a dedicated meditation practice, and bringing awareness into each moment (what we call 'micro practices') is recommended.

How is this going to help me in my job?

There are many ways mindfulness can help you with your job, but it depends upon your commitment and engagement with the skills and practices. As you build your capacity for being in the present moment with awareness, you will find that you are able to focus your attention on the task or project at hand and make decisions to minimize or cut out distractions. From this place of focused presence, you are able to be more effective and productive as well as be available to receive new ideas and insights. A cluttered, distracted, and unfocused mind has little to no room for creativity and innovation. A clear, open, and receptive mind creates conditions in which insight, intuition, inspiration, and innovation can flourish. Mindfulness practice also builds the muscle of moving from compulsion to choice, from reactivity to response. You will become more aware of your impulses, emotional triggers, and tendencies to react, and you'll find an increased capacity to slow things down and become more thoughtful, reflective, and mindful in how you respond to everyday events as well as significant challenges, upsets, and difficult relationships.

These are just a few examples of the kind of results you can create through your engaged participation in the program and in the practice of mindfulness. Overall, you will find that you are less stressed, overwhelmed, and distracted, and more present, focused, and engaged.

Do I have to believe in God or be spiritual to do this?

No, not at all. The Awake at Work program is not affiliated with any spiritual or religious tradition. The program draws upon decades of scientific research in the realms of psychology, medicine, and neuroscience, as well as well-regarded and accepted theories of emotional, relational, and collective intelligence. It is true that the vast majority of clinical mindfulness research has been engaged in the study of the effects in what were originally Buddhist practices, but the research has since been adapted for a secular environment by scientists at places like the University of Massachusetts Medical School, the University of Wisconsin's Laboratory for Affective Neuroscience, and Stanford University's Center for Compassion and Altruism Research (CCARE). If you have an affiliation with a particular religious tradition or spiritual practice, this program may support you in deepening and strengthening that connection. The Awake at Work program invites you to explore these skills and practices and see for yourself how they can benefit you in every aspect of your life. We hope to facilitate a process of discovering for yourself what is most valuable, supportive, and meaningful for your quality of life, well-being, creativity, and effectiveness, at work and beyond.

Does it require concentration and effort? I'm so busy already.

As is the case with learning any new skill or building a new muscle, your cultivation of mindful awareness does ask for your commitment, intention, and attention. The clarity of mind that is created and the streamlined actions that are a direct result of the principles of Awake at Work will more than make up for your investment of time and concentration. People who often gain the most from the weekly sessions and practices are those who feel "crazy busy" and "overwhelmed with to-do's." They begin to see that a calm and focused state of mind helps to minimize the stress associated with a busy corporate work life. There is a teaching story that says the busier you are, the more important your tasks—the more you meditate! It may be counterintuitive but many people discover this is the case.

Is this going to make me soft and vulnerable so that others in the office can take advantage and manipulate me?

That wasn't the case with long-time practitioner of meditation and former Apple CEO Steve Jobs! Nor has it been for other practitioners such as Jon Kabat-Zinn, founder of MBSR, and Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos, and Arianna Huffington, publisher of the Huffington Post. And, the US Army's MFIT program was developed to train soldiers in mindfulness. With that said, mindfulness practice tends to uncover our natural human capacity and hardwiring for kindness and compassion for others, for curiosity and openness, as well as increasing our awareness and understanding of our shared human condition—our vulnerabilities, insecurities, disappointments, and limitations. This awareness of our innate humanness and the connection to others only prepares us to have kinder and more effective relationships. It also allows us to set clear boundaries, live in alignment with our deeply held values, and advocate for our needs and preferences in a clear and direct way that engages rather than alienates others. The bottom line is: Mindfulness doesn't make you more of anything. It can put you in touch with your vulnerability just as it can put you in touch with your inner strength and resilience—both of which are essential for an empowered and fulfilling life at work.

I have never meditated before. Am I eligible to take this course? What can I do to prepare? Do you have any recommendations to help me get started before the class?

There are no pre-requisites for taking the Awake at Work course. Participants in the course range from people that have had little to no experience with mindfulness meditation to those who have had a life-long practice—and all report significant benefits from their engagement with the program. One way to begin is to experiment or 'play' with it a little bit—right here, right now, notice the possibility of what you are experiencing, and don't try to feel differently; let your experience just "be." Most people think that to meditate, "I should feel a particular special something, and if I don't, then I must be doing something wrong." That is a common but incorrect view of meditation. Mindfulness is not about getting anywhere else—it's about being where you are and knowing it. We are talking about awareness itself: a whole repertoire of ways to know that virtually all of life comes through the senses. One working definition of mindfulness from Jon Kabat-Zinn is "the awareness that arises through paying attention on purpose in the present moment—non-judgmentally." And the non-judgmental part is the kicker, because we've all got ideas and opinions about everything. Our consciousness is almost always colored by our likes and dislikes, aversions and preferences.

What does sitting still with my eyes closed have to do with my job, or my life in general?

Formal sitting meditation is similar in some ways to practicing your golf putt with a cup on the floor, playing piano scales, or shooting hoops. Sitting with your eyes closed while paying attention to the breath or to the sounds around you is "training"; it's not "the game." Like other activities that we practice with repetition, it strengthens our ability to focus and cultivate present-moment awareness in our whole life. Developing focus is one of the four fundamentals of excellence; without it, we perpetually skim the surface of our awareness and experience, never resting long enough to understand what is before us and what response is called for now.

What will I most likely feel and experience when I start?

The most prevalent experience people have is a growing awareness of how mindless and absent they are in their lives; how many impulses they have to veer off course, and distractions to entertain their mind; how urgent thoughts crowd in, determined to fix or change what is happening so that they don't have to meet this moment the way that it actually is. The mindfulness tenets of acceptance and compassion are essential through our mindfulness practice whether one is a beginner or an experienced practitioner of meditation.

How long should I meditate on my own each week?

Begin with 10–15 minutes 3–5 times each week-long enough to get bored and antsy so you can learn how to stay present and make room for unpleasant sensations, feelings, thoughts, and moments.

What is my company's view in mindfulness? Some of this seems counter to the culture that I experience at work. Is this supported by my management?

Each company's view and approach to bringing mindfulness to their organization and integrating these principles into their culture is unique. The practice of mindful awareness does initiate a change from a more fearful, shame-based, scarcity-oriented, and disconnected mode of operating to a clearer, kinder, calmer, focused, and intentional mode. As with any change, there is a learning and adaptation process. The more people model a new way of being, working, relating, and collaborating, the more others will be invited into the change. Here is one example from a Fortune 100 company: A senior manager of a key division enrolled in the course. During the pre-coaching session with the facilitator, the manager was asked why he was interested in attending. His response was: "I've got to up my game! Every one of my staff members has taken the course and now when I walk into my staff meetings, it's like walking into a force field of presence. The difference is palpable. I need to be able to meet my reports where they are now."

Culture change happens one person, one team, one moment, one new choice at a time. There are no insignificant shifts in awareness and choice when they lead to a more present, aware, connected, engaged, creative, and inspired workforce. The Awake at Work program puts you back in touch with your personal power and capacity to create new experiences for yourself and others at work and in your life.

Sometimes my thoughts are racing and I can't sit still. Help!

First, let's do a wellness inquiry: Do you consume and notice a difference with sugar or caffeine? Have you tried yoga or a brisk walk before you do your mindfulness meditation? Take an inventory of how you feed and move your body and see if you can't detect a difference by making different choices before you being this work. However, in any case, this is natural and nothing to be overly concerned about, especially if you are new to meditation. Understand that even long-time practitioners of meditation experience racing thoughts and the churning nature of the mind. The more agitated the mind, the more agitated the body and the emotions. Oftentimes when we feel antsy and agitated, we immediately begin to judge our experience and want it to stop, or we think that we aren't doing it right. This makes matters worse because now we've just thrown fuel on the fire. When you become aware of this experience, deepen or expand your breathing and notice your physical body sensations. You may even say to yourself, "There is my mind planning, grasping, obsessing, and worrying." And with the next breath practice, be unconditionally kind to yourself with total acceptance. Don't try to deny, resist, judge, or run away from this moment. Soften and relax into the moment surrounding your mind with loving awareness. If this experience persists, in addition to adjusting your caffeine or sugar intake and walking or yoga, you may also want to consider an active meditation such as qi gong, tai chi, movement meditation, or dance.

As I become more mindful, I realize my communication is not working very well. Do you have recommendations?

Bringing mindfulness to our relationships and communication can be a bit more challenging than paying attention to the sensations of the breath. This is where purposeful pauses can help us: When we establish the habit of using common occurrences in our day to remind us to bring our attention to the present, we increase our ability to weave mindfulness into more complex activities, such as speaking, listening, and relating. It's also helpful to recognize that the attention and focus we bring to these complex activities is much lighter and broader than the concentrated attention we may place on the sensations of breathing when we are sitting still with closed eyes. As you continue with your mindfulness practice and become more attuned to your inner environment of sensations, feelings, thoughts, and impulses, you will simultaneously become more attuned to the inner experience of others. As your awareness and attunement to others increases, you can create more effective and compassionate communications with them.

You may also want to explore the resources listed in Session 5: Applying Relational Intelligence. Nonviolent Communication and the 5 A's of Mindful Relating offer valuable insights and practices for mindful communications and relationships.

I'm becoming calmer, but it's still hard when my boss makes unreasonable demands. How can I get him/her in here?

One of the most stress-creating experiences we have is when we want others to change. It is a wide-spread, common desire that holds a positive intention—we want those with whom we work and live to learn these practices and skills so that we can have healthier, happier, and more effective relationships with them. Often times we have the thought, "If only my manager was more aware and less distracted, then I wouldn't be so stressed out." The problem with that line of thinking is that we have given a significant amount of power over to other people's choices and behaviors. We cannot control others and the more we try, the more resistant they will be and the more frustrated we become. We can influence them with our calm and clear presence. We can make requests for new behaviors. We can set boundaries and find new ways of saying "No, I won't be able to finish that for you today, but I will be able to give my full focus to it tomorrow and have it for you by the end of the week. Will that be workable for you?" With mindfulness practice we become more aware of our choices and can be present with the discomfort that often accompanies making our requests, preferences, and needs known to others. Oftentimes artificial deadlines that are clearly impossible to meet are imposed upon our work. When we take a moment to engage and explore what is necessary, we often find that there are many more options available than we initially thought. If you find yourself having judgments about your manager or co-workers, practice becoming aware of your thoughts and notice how you feel when you think those thoughts—when you think someone should be different than they are. What happens inside of you? Is it true that the other person needs to change? Can you know for certain that is true? What would happen if you dropped that thought? What if you made a change in how you perceive the other person and brought a more nonjudgmental and accepting attitude to your interaction with them? What might they be experiencing that has them behaving in a certain way?

Is there any change that you can make in how you relate to them and communicate with them? Do you have requests or needs that you'd like to make? How can you create a conversation that is respectful of your needs and preferences, one that is also curious about theirs?

What do you mean by "genius"?

Genius is that which is innate within us—our native creativity, intelligence, and wisdom. It is often overlooked because our ego had nothing to do with its creation or acquisition—it didn't work hard for it, it didn't go to school for it, it didn't sacrifice for it. Genius is the vital spark within each of us. It is each person's precious and purposeful design. If genius is hidden, as it often is, it is hidden because we have either narrowed or amended the definition of genius to suit our conceits.

We wrongly think that the ascription of genius gains value because it is an achievement and is given to a very few special people. For us to say that everyone has genius might lead us to think its specialness is lost. Not so. Each one's genius is of a deep and lasting value because his/her genius is unique, not like any other. It is a rare treasure that must be discovered because no one has a genius designed quite like another. We all have genius, just not the same genius.

"Everyone is born a genius, but the process of living de-geniuses them."
—Buckminster Fuller

"Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid."
—Albert Einstein

"If I could reveal anything that is hidden from us, at least in modern cultures, it would be to reveal something that we've forgotten, that we used to know as well as we knew our own names. And that is that we live in a competent universe, that we are part of a brilliant planet, and that we are surrounded by genius."
—Janine Benyus

"We arrive in this world with birthright gifts then we spend the first half of our lives abandoning them. Then—if we are awake, aware, and able to admit our loss—we spend the second half trying to recover and reclaim the gift we once possessed."
—Parker Palmer

"The day science begins to study non-physical phenomena, it will make more progress in one decade than in all the previous centuries of its existence."
—Nikola Tesla

"Our minds are not just along for the ride in an impersonal universe. Instead we define the fabric of reality at a fundamental level with the choices we make, the things we choose to see or not see, and most importantly, our intentions in each moment."
—Fred Alan Wolf, quantum physicist

Mindfulness is the prerequisite for genius. When you can objectively view your thoughts, feelings, passions, and desires—your own subjectivity—only then can you create from them. This is how genius emerges into the world—it is witnessed. This is also why many geniuses are uninterested in recognition—they know that they did not create their genius. It only happens when you are not fused with your identity. Genius is a state of consciousness. True mindfulness occurs when you become aware that something else is beginning to look through your eyes, think through your mind, and live through your actions. This something else—whether we call it genius, awareness, or consciousness—is the larger reality of intelligence expressing itself through us.

If I become calm, will I lose my edge? I'm starting to feel less motivated in my job as I do this program. I'm worried about the changes that might happen to me. What should I do?

This is a common concern when people begin to calm their minds and nervous systems with mindfulness practice. Most of us have operated on the stress response of adrenaline for longer than we would want to acknowledge. As we begin to calm and center our minds and balance our nervous systems, we start to shift from running on adrenaline to running on endorphins. This will feel quite different, physically, mentally, and emotionally. You are changing the fuel in your system. Research shows that we are not at our optimum functioning when we are stressed, reactive, distracted, fixated, and striving. So even though your mind may generate thoughts like, "You are losing it . . . you are going to fall behind!" or "What's wrong with you… where is your drive?!"—the reality is you are making a foundational shift into a more clear, focused, and elegant way of operating, even though it may feel scary or strange at first. Any transformational change that includes rewiring your brain and nervous system for a new way of functioning, behaving, and relating may feel odd in the beginning. Stay with yourself and your experience. Practice acceptance and non-judgment. Have compassion for yourself and patience with the fearful, thought-generating mind! When you reverse a pattern of behavior, you will always meet some level of discomfort. This discomfort is a sign that a real change is underway. If you want or need support navigating your life and work with these changes, there are Awake at Work coaches who can offer you guidance and resources. To find out more about this service please contact: coaching@awakeatworkprogram.com.

How long will it take before I see some results?

There is variability in how this practice impacts people's lives and when they start to see those changes occur. However, it is fairly common for people to report changes (both subtle and significant) within a couple of weeks of dedicated practice. They may notice that they were able to meet a situation with a new sense of choice in how they responded. These are the early signs of developing a degree of awareness, regulation, and freedom from our automatic and habitual tendencies. Coworkers, family, and friends oftentimes notice these changes before we are clearly aware of them. The latest research has shown that a practice of 16 minutes each day for two weeks results in measureable change.

My team has had a lot of training before and nothing has really moved the needle on an improved work-life balance or sustainable improvement efforts at work. We're all kind of jaded now. How will this training actually make a real difference? If the organization's business expectations don't change, how will anything work?

It is natural to be disappointed and even become disgruntled or jaded when changes we have hoped to create or see within ourselves, others, and our organizations fall short of what we had expected. Mindfulness can provide a solid foundation that enables these changes and "learnings" to be implemented, integrated, and sustained over time. The Awake at Work program focuses on increasing your personal awareness, attention, and your capacity to be present, creative, and responsive in each moment and in each interaction. The cultivation of this present moment awareness and attention is created through your clear intention, your engagement with the teachings, and your mindfulness practice. What you put into it will be commensurate with the results you create and experience, it's that simple. Corporate training most often focuses on teaching a new skill or method without first helping people to become present in the moment of choice, one in which they risk or move outside their comfort zone or habitual pattern in an attempt to apply a newly learned skill or behavior. Mindfulness practice brings you into the present moment and puts you back in touch with your personal choice point. It also expands your capacity to be present with and move through the physical and emotional discomfort that arises when making a change or trying out something new. Thus, mindfulness itself is an essential aspect of creating and sustaining any personal or organizational change… and it has been a missing ingredient until now.

Lastly, this program has been created for you! It can support your individual well-being, happiness, creativity, and productivity, and that of your team. Enter into it from this place and commit yourself to the practice and see what begins to unfold.

I already struggle to get my job and other responsibilities done and have enough time left to be a good spouse and parent. I'm not sure I can follow through on the added time commitment. How can I make this work?

The clear commitment to prioritize your personal well-being and growth is the first step to engaging the transformational power of the Awake at Work program. It may seem counterintuitive that when you invest time to develop your awareness and presence, you become more able to show up for your work, your teammates, your organization, and, most importantly, for your life. Each time that you engage in mindfulness practice and mediation, it is like making a deposit in the bank account of your personal presence, awareness, and resiliency. The bottom line is: You are going to be much more effective and productive in work and your personal life if you invest time and attention in yourself first, and this includes calming, centering, and reflecting at your moment of choice and, most profoundly, in the moment when you feel your unique creativity and genius awaken.