Yearly Archives: 2015

Measuring Impact

By Jae Ellard, Simple Intentions Founder

measure impactOne of our guiding principles at Simple Intentions is: Impact is measurable. For our clients, that means collecting feedback from participants about their experience – what did they learn, are they applying what they learned, and what can we do to improve our programs and services? For the Simple Intentions team, it means having clear goals and understanding what “success” means in all we choose to do.

It’s a habit for most people this time of year, both professionally and personally, to look forward into the coming year to dream and manifest what’s next and possible. As a company, we have some amazing things in store that you’ll being hearing about, including a new monthly podcast as well as an Intentional Leadership program.

But before we look ahead, we want to be in this moment, to acknowledge and celebrate our growth and impact this year. Here is Simple Intentions 2015 by the numbers:

  • 6,000+ people reached
  • 176 engagements
  • 30 countries
  • 5 multinational corporations
  • 90% of survey feedback positive on experience and content
  • 85% of clients continuing the work we started
  • 2 national columns (Mindful Magazine and Huffington Post)
  • 1 book launch: The 5 Truths About Work-Life Balance
  • 1 Manager Immersion 6-month program pilot
  • 2 certified Mindful Life consultants
  • 5 board advisors
  • 1 managing editor
  • 1 business manager
  • 1 accountant
  • 3 part-time vendors
  • New HQ in Kirkland, Washington
  • New satellite office in the United Kingdom (kick-off January 2016)

The support and encouragement from our clients and participants around the world has been incredible. We are moved and touched each day by your thank yous, encouragement and stories of how you’ve applied your new awareness skills. Please keep them coming and share with us on Facebook, Twitter or email.

The more we share stories of people living with awareness each day and how they do it, the more we can empower others who don’t know where to begin. We intend to keep the conversations going with you in 2016 and beyond.

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How to Improve Public Health? Be Your Word

By Jae Ellard, Simple Intentions Founder

[Note: This post originally appeared on Huffington Post.]

Be Your Word

In 2008, I founded Simple Intentions with the intention of helping people have conversations about topics that are difficult to talk about at work. Topics like balance, values and the choices we make that support or sabotage our desired outcomes.

That intention has evolved as a result of our team’s commitment to stop and reflect on what we learn from our customers and from our own journeys practicing what we teach. It was during one of these reflections that we developed a theory about how to improve public health around the world. That theory is: Be your word.

Our team belief is that if people are willing to say what they mean, then the collective impact could transform workplaces, communities, families, and the health of individuals everywhere.  We believe that a lot of modern-day stress stems from a lack of communication. Too often, we are not having conversations about our values and the boundaries we set (or don’t set) around how we live, honor or uphold our values. Sometimes these conversations are with friends, family and colleagues. Sometimes we avoid having these conversation with ourselves.

Or we might have the conversation, but it’s only half the conversation we need to have. Each day we encounter situations when we half-way express our needs and desires. We complain that we don’t feel heard. But how can others hear us if we’re not saying what we really mean?

In many cases, we half-way share because we fear being judged for what we think, feel or believe. We edit our expressions because we feel guilt or shame about a topic. Sometimes it’s just easier to not say what we really mean because then we don’t have to deal with the fall-out of disappointing or displeasing another person. So we half-way share.

The impact is many of us are experiencing a half-way existence with our colleagues at work, our friends and family at home. This way of living has become so common that full expression now feels radical and dramatic.

And what happens to the half of the conversation we withhold? It has to go somewhere, but where? We can’t help but believe it lives on in our bodies, contributing to stress, anxiety and depression.

The great news is that every single conversation you have with others offers you a choice to be your word, to say what you mean and embrace full expression. Even better is you have the same choice with the conversations in your head. What would it look like to have a full conversation with yourself?

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Habits Need Your Belief To Stick

By Kim Lowe, Simple Intentions Managing Editor

meditationWe’ve been talking a lot about habits lately at Simple Intentions. And not just because a new year is upon us and with it impending resolutions. Habits are also top of mind because our colleague, Sameer Bhangar, has been preparing to lead a Stop & See client workshop, and creating intentional habits is a core concept participants learn in that workshop.

During a practice run, Sameer challenged me to address a habit I’ve been struggling to keep for years: daily meditation. I’ve long understood the many benefits of meditation, and certainly experienced them during previous attempts at daily meditation. But for some reason, I can’t seem to sustain the habit. Intellectually, I know it’s good for me. But somewhere between my intellect and my actual behavior, breakdown occurs.

In practicing Stop & See with Sameer, I was reminded of the Habit Loop, popularized in The Power of Habit, which consists of a cue, a routine and a reward. In fact, I’ve considered this loop in the past, with attempts to attach meditation to existing routines such as immediately upon waking or after working out. Alas, I like to sleep, and I like to exercise, and my preference for sleeping a little longer or running another mile gradually squeezed out time for meditating.

This time, I realized I’d missed an essential element of habit forming. In focusing so much on the common pieces of the Habit Loop – cue, routine, reward – I overlooked an adjacent and critical element: Believing it’s possible for me to meditate every day.

The question came from Sameer: “Do you believe you can meditate every day?” Without skipping a beat, I heard my heart say no. No, I can’t meditate every day. The reality is, at this point in my life, I have a million things going on, and there’s no possible way I can sustain the effort of sitting down and meditating every day.

That’s not to say I’m giving up. I know meditation is too powerful to entirely surrender. With Sameer’s coaching, I came to a habit I do believe is possible for me: I can sit down and mediate once a week, every Monday morning before heading to work. Just the idea of starting small – one day rather than every day – brought on a relief that opened wide the possibility – and belief – that I could maintain a meditation practice.

And what better reward is there, post-meditation, than having a clear head and peaceful attitude for my Monday-morning commute to work.

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Change Starts with Ourselves

By Sameer Bhangar, Simple Intentions Consultant

mobile deviceAs a parent, I try to limit how much time my 6- and a 3-year-old kids spend in front of a screen. I read articles by folks like Sheryl Turkle, who speaks passionately on the topic of lost conversation in a digital age. My wife and I discuss strategies like setting specific “iPad time” each day. I mask my frustration by turning a blind eye, pretending it’s not an issue, that I’m not really bothered by my kids staring blankly at a screen.

And then it struck me: the gap between my desires and actions. I’ve become painfully aware of the amount of time I spend on my own mobile device. At work, certainly, but especially at home around the kids. While walking to grab a glass of water I’ll peek to see if any new emails have come in; in between playtime I’ll check if I have any new Facebook notifications, and on and on.

We’ve all heard and likely repeated the relevant clichés: “Change starts with oneself.” “Be the change you want to see.” “Lead by example.” We know it’s hard to change a habit, especially when it provides a real and immediate reward, like the mini dopamine rush we receive each time we see a Facebook Like or a retweet of an article we just posted.

We tend to look externally for strategies and solutions to changing habits. Yet, the clichés are true: We must first look internally and become aware of where our actions misalign with our desires. For me, it’s being aware each time I pick up my mobile phone while I’m playing with my kids.

We can extend this to the workplace, to a broader team context. As a manager and leader, what are some behavior shifts you seek for your team, and how are you going about shaping the changes? Do you start with creating strategies and communicating “the plan,” or do you start by trying to model the behavior change yourself? If you want your team to take more risks, what is the risk you took this week that felt a bit scary? If you want your team to collaborate better, what are you doing to reach out and cultivate stronger relationships yourself?

As you work on shifting your own behavior, are you sharing your stories and including the team in this conversation, thereby creating permission for them to learn from each other as well? I’m not likely to sit down with my toddler and have a conversation about my struggle with setting and enforcing electronic boundaries, but you have the choice to do that with your team. And it starts with an authentic conversation with yourself.

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Who Wants to Be Vulnerable at Work?

By Jae Ellard, Simple Intentions Founder

[Note: This post originally appeared on Huffington Post.]

vulnerable“Who wants to be vulnerable at work?”

It’s a question I often ask during workshops or speaking engagements. And surprise: Very few hands go up. I understand why. We are programed to act as if we know what we are doing at work, even in moments when we have no clue.

Who wants to risk being perceived as defenseless, weak or unsure in the eyes of our superiors, employees and colleagues? Not many of us. We act instead from a shared belief that being vulnerable at work is not acceptable, that it will result in perceptions of incompetence, lack of confidence and poor reviews.

But what if we upended that belief? What if being vulnerable at work was in fact the linchpin that meaningfully shifts the way we work? Open workspaces and flex-time options are great, but they’re not game changing when it comes to HOW we show up at work.

What if — like the invention of the pen, typewriter or computer — vulnerability could radically shift the workplace in the coming decade? What if today’s children could enter the workforce with the ability to fully and authentically show up, owning their strengths as well as their uncertainties and imperfections?

Vulnerability can mean both openness and defenselessness. Not many words encompass such paradox; no wonder it’s so difficult to express, especially in the workplace. Defenselessness is driven by fear. As humans we avoid this feeling at all costs given that it used to mean death when we were all running around as cave people.

Whereas, openness captures our human desire to been seen and acknowledged, and can only happen if we are willing to put down our defenses, to acknowledge and share our fears of being wrong, failing, embarrassing ourselves, or not being good enough. When we show people who we really are in all aspects of our life, we risk being rejected or ridiculed for what we value and believe. For some, this risk feels as primal as defending ourselves from a wild beast.

But when we choose defense over openness we rob ourselves the opportunity to contribute a foundational element of team success: trust. As any business expert will assert, trust is essential to building and maintaining successful teams and companies. Avoiding vulnerability at work is avoiding the parts of the journey that galvanize effective teams.

Meaningfully shifting how we show up at work begins with being vulnerable. Think about it: Where are you open and where are you defending at work right now? What would happen if you dropped your guard? How would openness impact the people with whom you work?

The choice is yours to defend or open. What are you going to choose?

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Portrait of a Perfectly Balanced Working Family

By Kim Lowe, Simple Intentions Managing Editor

balanceTo working parents across the country, the portrait that emerged from a Pew Research Center survey released earlier this month is no surprise. According to the survey, in nearly half of two-parent families today, both parents work full-time. And these families aren’t just busy; as Claire Cain Miller describes in a follow-up report, today’s modern family is stressed, tired and rushed.

According the survey, 56 percent of all working parents say balancing work and family is difficult. Nearly a third say parenting is stressful all or most of the time. And 40 percent of all moms who work full-time say they always feel rushed.

Given today’s highly-competitive, 24/7 work cultures, this data isn’t surprising. It fuels a long and active discussion on work-life balance, and looks to public policies and workplace structures for solutions.

But let’s view the data in a different way. Let’s see a portrait of those working parents among the survey’s 44 percent who say balancing work and family is “not too, or not at all difficult.” Building on our philosophy of personal choice and intention, our picture is one of working parents who:

  • Know and prioritize their values
  • Know and maintain their boundaries
  • Fearlessly share their values and boundaries with the important people in their lives

In reality, “balance” means something different to every working family. But at its core is a shared awareness and regard of personal values. “Balanced” working parents know their values and make intentional choices that support them. They value family, so purposefully prioritize time with their kids. They value work, but make choices around their work that don’t compromise their family time.

They also know that values change with life’s circumstances. While their kids are small, for example, they may set aside values around community or personal growth. And they’re OK with it because they know it’s not a forever choice. Creating balance around what we most value at the present moment gives space and acceptance to reserve other priorities for another day.

Closely linked to values is boundaries. Balanced families intentionally set and honor boundaries around their time and various roles. At work, they know when and where “office hours” begin and end, what meetings they can skip or delegate, how to say “no” to demands outside their scope. Increasingly, families are setting digital boundaries around their devices in an attempt to create more balance.

Finally, it’s not enough for working parents to know just for themselves their values and boundaries. Balance requires broader awareness among those with whom we work and live: the boss, clients, friends, and family. Communicating our values and boundaries appropriately sets others’ expectations and creates a layer of balance in the support we receive.

Of course there’s no such thing as a perfectly balanced working family. We are in and out of balance daily, weekly, yearly. But through our choices, we can gain an acceptable level of balance that minimizes the stress and exhaustion felt today by too many working families.

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Urgent Overload! (Is it Really Urgent?)

By Jae Ellard Simple Intentions Founder, and Kim Lowe Simple Intentions Managing Editor

[Note: This post originally appeared on Huffington Post.]

Just like the word “busyurgent,” the word “urgent” is being abused, misused and overused in the corporate world. The relentless drive and determination to be first to market and best in class are fierce and relentless. Add the element of social media – where customers can instantly broadcast even the slightest delay or misstep – and it becomes understandable the circumstances that have spawned a perpetual culture of urgency inside many office environments.

The question to ask ourselves is: Is this culture of urgent sustainable? Intuitively, we know it’s not. Stress, burnout, disengagement, and low quality of work are major consequences of urgent overload. It creates a team environment in which people are only reacting to what’s urgent, and rarely – if ever – responding to what’s important.

Dwight D. Eisenhower said, “What is urgent is seldom important, and what is important is seldom urgent.” This thinking spawned The Eisenhower Decision Matrix, which productivity pioneer Steven Covey popularized in his book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. It’s become a common and useful productivity tool to help define and differentiate urgent versus important.

Indeed, the matrix is a strong foundation to help us intellectualize the concept of urgent. But how do we make it real and actionable in our day-to-day corporate lives? How do we actually manage the volume of “urgent” requests most of us face at work?

First, let’s stop abusing the word urgent. Truly, it’s not urgent unless it involves birth, bleeding or obstruction of breath. (Unless you work in health care, it’s rare that something is truly urgent at work.) Rather, the real conversation is about priorities: getting clear on and responding to what’s highest-priority for our roles and businesses. This is where people struggle, because “urgent” often comes with layers of non-verbals that can confuse its rank against other priorities.

To help decode what is really urgent or highest-priority, consider what’s driving the urgency: Is it the person making the request? A deadline? Is it you, the person doing the task or service? Or is a particular energy or emotion driving the urgency?

When we think about urgent as highest-priority it becomes easier to decode. Is something “high-priority” simply because it’s coming from your manager or an executive? Is a date attached that may or may not be a real deadline? Are YOU making it urgent because you don’t have enough information to know whether it’s highest-priority for your team or the business?

Or does the request come across as urgent because of the energy of the person requesting? Does their excitement make it feel like it needs immediate attention, whether it does or not? Is the person angry or upset, and you want to please them? Are they stressed out, and you’re feeling their stress? Are YOU excited because the request maps to your values so you want all of your attention on it now?

As important to consider is: When does urgent end? When is something no longer highest-priority? The answer depends on the driver, but it’s important to acknowledge when a cycle of urgent concludes, to prevent lingering confusion over conflicting priorities that may cause unnecessary stress.

Let’s save “urgent” for what is truly life-affecting, and shift the conversation to what it’s really about: competing priorities. Let’s allow space for decoding high-priority tasks and requests, and support an environment of more responding, less reacting.

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