How to use Mindfulness to Focus and Change w/Michael Chaskalson
Nexum bi-weekly podcast featuring the leading thinkers in change management.
Hosted by Morten Kamp Andersen
Nexum bi-weekly podcast featuring the leading thinkers in change management.
Hosted by Morten Kamp Andersen
Life is hectic. Everywhere you look, there is a battle for your attention; from your partner, kids, work, smartphone and so on. We tend not to think much about it - we just go along. Nevertheless, mindfulness is about stopping to notice where your attention wanders off to and choosing where you actually want it to go. Over and over again.
Michael Chaskalson has a master's degree in the clinical applications of mindfulness. He has more than 40 years of experience with the discipline and has authored several books on the subject. Listen along, as we dive into mindfulness, and how you can use mindfulness to calm your life and focus on the present.
Mindfulness can be very helpful when we want to make a change. Here are my three key takeaways from my conversation with Michael Chaskalson:
#1 Use mindfulness to make a change in your life. When we practice mindfulness, we purposefully pay attention to the present moment in a non-judgemental way. We actively train the ability to direct our attention to what matters in the moment; the conversation with our friend or child, the beautiful scenery around us, the energy in our body or whatever it might be, so that we during the day can be present and mindful.
#2 Mindfulness is an evidence-based discipline. Psychology does not have a long history of evidence-based practice. Quite the opposite in fact. By example, mindfulness in the form of MBSR or MBCT has proven to be a powerful means to reducing re-lapsing depression. In peer reviewed articles the benefits are here for all to see. 10-15 minutes of mindfulness every day. Like going to the gym; the practice must be daily but then it is real.
#3 How do you know if it works? Look for kindness towards yourself and others. Mindfulness is about being present in a non-judgemental way. Hence, in a way, that is kinder and more forgiving to yourself. So, how do you know if it works? If it affects the kindness you show for yourself or others, it works.
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Mon, 2/1 8:55AM • 47:40
mindfulness, people, attention, thoughts, work, minutes, thinking, kindness, learning, speak, mindfulness based stress, sati, present, enjoying, find, suffering, mind, amygdala, present moment, ruminations
Morten Andersen, Michael Chaskalson
Morten Andersen 00:05
Hello, and welcome to What Monkeys Do. My name is Morten Kamp Andersen. And this is a podcast about what it takes to make a change and make it stick.
Morten Andersen 00:21
Some topics creep up everywhere, they become so popular that most people hear about them, and it becomes mainstream. Mindfulness is one of those things. People tell me that mindfulness create a change in itself. But also that if you want to make a change in your life, mindfulness can actually help you make that happen. But what is mindfulness? What can it do? How does it work? Well, let's find out in this episode of What Monkeys Do. Four years ago, I attended a program for executives at London Business School, the program was called professional service program, it was essentially about how could you become a better consultant. And we were a class of professionals from all over the world. And I expected to learn both hard and soft skills. But I did not expect that most challenging assignment that I would get would involve a race. And I think it was on the third day that my guest today entered the room. He said that high performance and excellent decision making is not about adding pressure to a work day. Instead, it is about paying attention to the here and now, he said, just paying attention to your breath, and nothing else is really hard. And I remember thinking, How hard can that be? And then he said, let's do an exercise. And he gave us all a raison And for the next 10 minutes, we spent looking, smelling, feeling touching, biting a single raison. And it sounds easy. And it's not. I asked him afterwards, after the exercise, which app I should use if I wanted to try it at home, and he gave me the name of one particular Good one. And I went home and I tried it. And now I've actually been practicing mindfulness ever since. So I take my daily 15 minutes mindfulness, and I love it. My guest today has taught mindfulness to 10s of 1000s of people across the world. He has a master's degree in the clinical applications of mindfulness. And he has more than 40 years of personal practice of mindfulness. He is based in Cambridge, UK, where he is the founding director of the consultancy company, Mindfulness Works. He is a professor at Hult Ashridge executive education, and an associate at the Miller Institute, Churchill college at the University of Cambridge. He is the author of the Mindful Workplace, and my favorite, and also the best selling Mindful in 8 Weeks. And in addition, he has co authored Mindfulness for Coaches. Welcome to you, Michael Chaskalson
Michael Chaskalson 03:01
Hello, Morten. It's great to be here. Thank you very much for inviting me. I'm really looking forward to this.
Morten Andersen 03:07
Yeah, yeah. So am I. This is an episode about mindfulness. Let's just start there. What is mindfulness?
Michael Chaskalson 03:14
well, we could speak about it. Classically, we speak about it as a way of paying attention on purpose in the present moment, and non judgmental, it's a quality of a wellness or quality of awareness that comes when you do these things, pay attention on purpose in the present moment, and non judgmental. And when I say that, it sounds kind of simple, and in a way, is simple. The thing is, it's not easy. And the reason it's not easy is because we've spent all of us 20, 30, 40, 50 years doing something different. So learning to pay attention on purpose. And in the present moment. You know, much of the time our attention wanders, even as people listening to this podcast right now, attention is wandering, there may be people listening to this podcast while also doing email, while playing games on a phone while scrolling through social media, walking. But then our attention is also so massively contested. Everybody wants a piece of our attention. All the time, our attention is being called on drawn here drawn there. You're trying to listen to this podcast and at the same time, kids may be calling for your attention, you may be having a sense in the back of your mind that there are clients and customers and the farm or the company you work for needs your attention, your partner needs your attention. And at the same time, there are really powerful social media companies using AI driven apps whose sole purpose is to get hold of your attention so that other people can monetize it. So all the time our attention is this hugely contested area. It's probably the most valuable piece of Real Estate that we have; our attention, when you think about it, everything we do, every act we engage in, is preceded by an act of attention. Your attention goes here, you behave like this, your attention is pulled there, you start to incline in that direction, your attention goes there, and your behavior switches and you start to move off in that direction, everything we do is preceded by an act of attention, which is why it's so valuable for social media companies, for example, to get hold of our attention, because when they get hold of our attention, they can begin to shape our behavior in ways that suit their own ads, just for example. So our attention is hugely contested. And yet, when we get some choice around where our attention goes, then we can get a little moment of freedom from this battle. The kids wants your attention, the dog wants your attention. Social media wants your attention. Advertisers want your attention, your boss wants your attention, the people who report to you, once you everybody wants your attention, you're struggling to choose. Mainly, we don't choose mainly you just go. But when we learn to pay attention on purpose, we place our attention where we want it to be.
Morten Andersen 06:14
So mindfulness is to take control over our attention, so to speak. So everybody else who's trying to get our attention. So we control it. Many times, it's about focusing on breathing instead, why breathing,
Michael Chaskalson 06:28
I tend not to talk about trying to control our attention, I'd prefer to talk about choosing where your attention goes. If we think about controlling it's it can be kind of willful, it can be kind of tight, it can kind of give a sense that we're just, you know, forcing our attention. And we're not doing that here, we're just choosing. So one of the methods we use, one of the methods we use to do this is mindfulness meditation. It used to build this capacity to choose mindfulness meditation. Now, a classic mindfulness meditation. And there are many different approaches to mindfulness meditation, but classic is you simply pay attention to the breath, you create a quiet space, 5-10 minutes, and you allow your attention to rest with your breath. And what people discover very quickly, when they start to do this, is your attention bounces off with the breath, or one breath for two breaths, and then a thought wanders into your mind, you get interested in the thought, you start to think, and in no time at all, you're off thinking, thinking thinking one thought leads to another thought, that leads to another thought that leads to some feelings that leads to some impulses, and you're all over the place and you're lost. You're lost. You're not just doing this automatically. choicelessly just doing it, just doing it, just doing it habitually thinking, thinking, thinking, feeling, feeling, feeling. And then you notice, oh, wow, I'm thinking, I'm not meant to be thinking I meant to be meditating, I wanted to be paying attention to my breath. So in that moment of waking up, you get the opportunity to choose, oh, yeah, I'm doing that. I didn't mean to be doing that. I meant to be doing this. So you choose, you bring your attention back to the breath. And you're with the breath for one breath, two breaths for three breaths, another thought pops into your mind, that leads to another thought that leads to another thought. And again, you get lost in trains of thoughts. Then again, somehow you notice. And the moment you notice, you see what you're up to, you can bring your attention back to the breath. So this is what's going on here. We're having these moments of noticing what we're doing with our minds. And then choice following. And then we see what we're up to. And choice follows. And we see what we're up to a choice follows. And what's happening here is we're building our capacity to notice where our attention is going and where it's gone. And to choose where to place it. That's the exercise, noticing and choosing, noticing and choosing over and over.
Morten Andersen 09:02
I have tried it now for three years. I have this app 15 minutes every day. It's actually really good. And I think every time that it is about the breath, that's actually the hardest one. So remember the exercise you tried on us where you gave us a raison and we had to spend like 10 minutes just looking at it and feeling it and tasting it. That was a little bit easier. Because there was an object, the breath is a harder object to place your attention to. Yeah,
Michael Chaskalson 09:29
it's definitely not easy. But look, you know what this is like, I go to a gym I did before we were in lockdown. I go to a gym regularly. And I was working with a personal trainer. And one of the things he was encouraging me to do was to move weights so I you know, lift a certain number of kilograms. Now if I was to say to him, I prefer a much lighter weight, please, it would be easier. What would be the point? You know, it's not about just making it frictionless. In a way it's kind of the friction. It's where it bites that matters. It's not noticing that actually no, my attention is wandering, that's the point. So it's not about just learning to easily keep your attention with a raison. It's about learning to see where the attention goes, when it gets captured by thinking, hmm. So the moments of being captured by thinking, open up the possibility that we can actually come to a greater understanding of the mind that we actually have, and greater possibility of exercising choice with the mind that we actually have. So this fact of being captured by thinking isn't a mistake. It's not wrong. It's the opportunity, the crucial learning opportunity to see what you're up to.
Morten Andersen 10:54
And one of the things you say is that it has to be about the present moment, the present seem to be a key element of mindfulness as well. Why could it not been a happy memory from my childhood or something? Why in the present?
Michael Chaskalson 11:07
Now, look, there's two ways of attending to a happy memory from your childhood was simply being lost in it, and wanting to recur to it over and over and kind of bathing in it in a way. And you know, that's not a bad thing, it's got some real benefit. Another way of paying attention to that is to know that you're enjoying a memory while you're enjoying a memory. Now, that would be the mindful way of doing it. Okay. So the mindful aspect always has this metacognitive dimension. We know what we're up to when we're doing it. Oh, yeah, that was a lovely memory. And I'm enjoying that. And I can feel that, I'm enjoying that. And I know that it's a memory. And I'm able to let go of it and move my attention somewhere else if I choose to. Hmm, that's lovely. But being as it were hooked on that memory, and needing to go back to it for reassurance and for comfort, that's a different way of being with it. Yes, for example, right now, we're in the midst of this pandemic. Now, you could be thinking about the pandemic over and over and over again, when will it and how long is this going to go on? Will we be okay? Will my job continue? Will the family be okay? Will we be safe? Will the politicians sort this out? When will the politician so blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. You can be thinking that stuff over and over and over and over again. And there are people right now doing that. I mean, and it's very sad people getting lost in these ruminations about the pandemic and driving anxiety and fear. So unhappiness. Another thing to do is to go, Oh, yeah, I've been ruminating. That's what that was. That was rumination. These are just thoughts. I don't need to be with them. I can move my attention somewhere else. So it's this capacity to be with something differently to see it for what it actually is that makes the difference. When I see that ruminations are just ruminations that just thoughts, and that I don't have to be with them. It's that lack of compulsion around the thinking around the memory, that choicefulness. Again, I can notice what I'm doing, and I could choose to go somewhere else.
Morten Andersen 13:29
I think mindfulness, as I said, in the beginning, is really become such a popular thing. It is in many magazines, it's in many books, and so on. I think it's probably too simplistic to say that the mindfulness revolution started in the 70s, with Jon Kabat Zinn and his Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction, but it did do something. It created a formula, it created a method and it created some evidence, can you maybe just explain a little bit about what the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction Program is and how that sort of kicked this whole thing off?
Michael Chaskalson 14:02
I mean, one of the great contributions of Kabat Zinn's Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction Program was that it really brought mindfulness into secular life and into researchable Medical contexts. So john was a microbiologist working at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center in the 70s. And he was really concerned about what happens to all the patients who leave here with their suffering unchanged. You know, there's so many people he saw coming into the hospital because they were suffering, he was concerned for their suffering. But he saw that many of them were leaving, still suffering. People were living with chronic pain, for example, people were leaving with continuous anxiety and stress, for example, that what they were learning what they were getting, by way of treatment wasn't addressing that. And he spoke to clinicians and clinicians were agreeing with him. Yes, there's only a certain small percentage of people who leave here, no longer suffering, because only a limited amount we can do here. He was a meditator, so he thought hang on what's going on here as a mental matter, part of it is a mental matter. Yes, there are physical aspects, especially around chronic pain, there's a course of pain. But there's the way you are with that pain, or the way you are with your disease, or the way you are with the thoughts that you have, that's a matter that we can address with meditation. So he set up and what eventually came to be known as the eight week Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction Program, MBSR, it was an eight week program, people came to the clinic for two and a half hours at a time, more or less, they learned a number of processes, meditation processes and other processes, which enabled them to turn the lens of their attention through 180 degrees, they learned to look at their minds rather than just through their minds, to learn to see how the minds that they have were shaping the experience they were having. And they'd learned to get some choice around that. So through doing a number of different meditation practices, people love to do what's sometimes called decentering. Stepping ervices, slightly apart from your experience, so that you can observe it in a different kind of way. Sometimes, people speak if this is a state of intimate detachment, you're intimate with the experience really close to it. And at the same time, able to get this tiny, tiny, tiny distance, so you can detach and observe that this is just thoughts, or these are just sensations they past, they come, they go, thoughts, sensations, they come they go, it's okay. It's okay. I can allow them to be there. So people found that this was really quite profound for them, many of them. And because john had been a PhD researcher, he was inclined to research. So he researched outcomes of the program, they found the outcomes really impressive, they started to share them with clinical colleagues. And more and more people started to recommend and refer people to the clinic, the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction clinic, got quite a good reputation that was spread to other hospitals throughout the states. And so it went,
Morten Andersen 17:15
hmm. So he's sort of socialized mindfulness in a sense. And I like what you're saying is that mindfulness is not about thinking it is about being mindful of our thoughts, so to speak. So it's a meta cognitive view of our thoughts, so to speak. But it's interesting because mindfulness is coming from Sati. And that is an important element of the Buddhist tradition. And I think it certainly is something that has deep roots in the Buddhist tradition. I also know that Headspace, which is one of the popular apps out there, and also they've just made a series on on Netflix, which are they actually recommend their founder, Andy, he has also been a Buddhist monk, and many that has is working within mindfulness has a Buddhist tradition, how closely is it linked to Buddhism? And how circular has it become? Can you tell us a little bit about that?
Michael Chaskalson 18:10
It certainly emerges from the Buddhist tradition. Sati, as you say, it's a Pali word its Pali is an ancient Indian language, it's died out. The word Sati comes from Pali. It's the language of the Buddhist scriptures, or at least one set of Buddhist scriptures. We believe that the Buddha was the first person in history to discuss this idea of mindfulness of Sati. But this isn't about being a Buddhist, it's about learning to work with the mind directly. This is about universal truths of the mind. It's not about beliefs. It's about empirically understanding the mind itself, the mind at work, first person observation of the mind at work. That's what it's all about. So it doesn't matter what tradition, religious tradition, you come from any tradition, no tradition, it doesn't matter. The mindfulness approach that we use in the West today, is rooted in the Buddhist tradition. But increasingly, we're hearing people talking about the stoical intersection with the Greek stoics have some kind of intersection with mindfulness and I, I've not yet taken the time to investigate this fully myself. But more and more people right now are talking about that. And I think that's really, really interesting. I mean, obviously, you know, all we're talking about here is an understanding of the mind and the way it works and minds a universal all humans have a mind the human mind has certain characteristics. And it's about really learning to understand the characteristics of the human mind from a first person perspective and to learn to make choices with them.
Morten Andersen 19:59
It's interesting because When I studied psychology, mindfulness was not on the agenda. It wasn't in any subjects, we couldn't choose it. But now I just looked on the subjects that was taught at University at the same Institute and mindfulness played actually a big part. So it has come into the universities is not something that people choose and can specialize in. And consequently, it's also been researched a lot. I just wonder if you could maybe shed a little bit of information about how much research what do we know how much do we know what what's been researched so far, and what has been found?
Michael Chaskalson 20:34
Well, there's been a huge amount of research in I've spoken about Kabat Zinn and his research, but really, the big body of research was kicked off by a couple of large scale randomized control trials that were conducted In the UK and Canada in the states with people who are subject to relapsing depression. depressions epidemic in our culture, one in 10 of us, is likely to have a significant episode of depression at some point in our lives, two or more episodes of depression, it's likely to become relapsing. And so relapsing depression is a major public health issue. So a group of psychologists are asked to find a group based intervention to help relapse in depression to help people who are subject to relapse in depression. They looked around for different things. And one of them John Teasdale, came upon some talks that he'd heard from a Buddhist teacher which talks about meditation, providing this opportunity to stand back and observe your thoughts as thoughts. That's exactly what he was looking for. So he did some more. Looking around. He came upon Jon Kabat Zinn's eight week mindfulness programs really excited because he was the secularized tested program, they made a tweak to the program, which enabled them to build something called Mindfulness Based cognitive therapy, an eight week program, they rolled that out to a number of people in large scale randomized controlled trials, and found that people who learnt mindfulness based cognitive therapy over time over eight weeks or so it's half the rate of relapse into depression for those who are subject to relapse in depression. And at that time back in, I think, 2003, that was more or less equivalent to the other treatment as usual, which was maintenance doses of antidepressants. So of course, in mindfulness was at least as effective as maintenance doses of antidepressants, and that with fewer side effects, lower costs, um, you know, some people don't want to take drugs. So it created a lot of excitement in the psychological community. Yeah. And particularly the cognitive science community, cognitive behavioral therapists, started to get very, very interested because they began to see the overlaps between the cognitive behavioral approach, standing back from your thoughts, seeing them as though and mindfulness. What is the difference, I think is the cognitive approach tends to focus or at least in its earlier phases, tended to focus on thought. Whereas I'd say that mindfulness pays attention not only to thought, but also to feelings, to body sensations, and to impulses. I tend to speak about meta awareness rather than metacognition mainly because I want to draw attention to this fact that it's not just thinking, but all parts of experience.
Morten Andersen 23:33
And I think, typically, one, many things about the cognitive revolution coming in three generations, the first one probably being the classic conditioning, the second one being Beck and his sort of traditional CBT, or cognitive behavioral therapy in the 80s. And up until now, and the third generation, many of them, including some kind of mindfulness practice, as well, that's probably how it is becoming a bit of mainstream. And obviously, it makes sense that it is part of the cognitive Institute's on psychology, so to speak, because it is all about your thinking. And the idea is that you're the root to your suffering is really based on your thinking and how you're thinking and what you're focusing on. And I guess that's a general criticism, I suppose also of the, of the cognitive approach is that it is too reliant on the thinking, What does mindfulness think in terms of, of the root of our suffering? Is it primarily in our head or is it down in our relations or is it body mind or what where does it think in terms of our sufferings Generally,
Michael Chaskalson 24:39
the suggestion is that most of our suffering comes from our unwillingness to allow what is the case to be the case, we don't want things to be like this. We want them to be other than this. Well, however, they, we don't want this. We always want other than this. So if only it wasn't like this, everything would be okay. If We weren't in a pandemic, everything would be okay. If only I had a bigger apartment, everything would be okay. If I had a different boss, everything would be okay. If I had a different team. If that person wasn't on my team, everything would be okay. If only I had whatever, everything would be okay if only if only if only, but it is what it is. We are where we are. So the mindfulness approach is to allow, what is the case to be the case? It's like this, okay? Now, when you can allow, what is the case to be the case, that choice opens up? It's like this. Now, what am I going to do about it? It's like this Now, what's next? What should I do? What would be best? What would be best for me? What would be best for others? What would be best for the context I'm in for the situation. If you can't allow what is the case to be the case, it's much harder to make that choice. You're kind of stuck with if only is if only if only, I don't want I don't want I want I don't want. But when you go, yeah, it's like this right now, what would be best, here a different position. So that's the suggestion. But really, there's something profoundly reality oriented around mindfulness.
Morten Andersen 26:20
I think what I find really reassuring. And what I like about mindfulness is that there is so much evidence that just points in one single direction, which is that this is actually good for you. I mean, there'll be things where it is much harder, if you're suffering from a personality disorder, that's probably not the first thing you would do. But in terms of specially anxiety, and especially in terms of depression, it has a measurable impact. It's also interesting that we know so much more from neuroscience now that we have a plastic brain that it isn't just hardwired, that you can actually create new networks in your brain. Can you tell us a little bit about what we know in terms of how mindfulness can impact our ability to create new networks,
Michael Chaskalson 27:03
there's some evidence there's quite quite a lot of emerging evidence. That's eight weeks of mindfulness training makes some real differences. One of the things that's emerged recently is the idea that eight weeks of mindfulness training seems to increase the activation and wiring patterns of activation of wiring between the prefrontal parts of the brain, the front part of the brain, and the amygdala, the brainstem, the more primitive parts of the brain where some of our more primitive emotional processing happens. It's as if the analogy is that the front part more executive, the more developed part of your brain can talk back to the less developed part of your brain, it's okay, it's not a threat, calm down, don't worry, as if that were happening, there's observable changes in the wiring and the patterns of activation after eight weeks of mindfulness training.
Morten Andersen 27:57
And that's actually really useful because in the last episode, we talked about neuroscience and we talked about the amygdala hijack, that the amygdala can hijack the rest of the brain if we're not careful, and what the outcome of that can be is that we become too emotional and we make rash decisions or, or rash behavior. And if we can use our prefrontal cortex to calm down the amygdala, so to speak, then we will avoid those situations.
Michael Chaskalson 28:29
Absolutely. Fewer emotional hijacks fewer amygdala hijacks, for sure, that was something we would expect. Another thing we would expect as a quieter ego, the part of our mind that is constantly chattering to us telling ourselves the story of our lives. I'm having a great experience. This is a good experience. I think a really good experience. God this is good, good i would love experience. I wish my partner was here know, she'd really love this shoot. So enjoyed this experience and be so great if she was here. This is so good. This experience If only she was Yeah, I should take a photograph. I should put it up on Instagram. She really enjoyed that. I need to do that. Where's my phone? Where's my phone? That's okay. I left my phone in the car. That was a smart thing to do. Leave the phone in the car. Yeah, yeah. When the car keys, that's okay. I've got the car key. It's fine. Oh, yeah, this is a great experience great. And at the same time as doing all that this part of the brain is also talking about things that have to happen next week and things that happened last week and stuff going on in the family and stuff going on in the office, blah, blah, we could talk about that way of experiencing is the default mode network set of related brain systems that deliver this constant inner chatter, that experience. Another way of talking about it is the narrative network, the telling ourselves the story of who we are and what we're doing all the time, keeping us safe. Now opposed to that is a different network, which we speak of as the experiential network, a set of related brain systems that are just producing present moment experience. Oh, yeah, that's great. That view And you're just sitting there, enjoying the colors, enjoying the sounds, feeling your feet on the floor, feeling the breeze on your skin, hearing the sound of the goals hearing the waves crashing on the shore. And you're just there, just enjoying it, you're thinking about it as simply present, experiencing it. So you're fully alive, vital, present. Yeah. So that's the experiential network. Now, one interesting study tells us that after eight weeks of mindfulness training, people are better able to notice which of these networks is active in them at any one time. And they're better able to switch between, they're better able to move from the narrative network into the experiential network. And where that interests me in particular is I think the narrative network is connected with egocentricity, it's connected with our ego identity. It's connected with us telling ourselves the story of our lives. And where I get very interested in this is where I talk about quiet ego leadership, leaders are able to come away from the inner chatter, and from the self story, and from being so self preoccupied and self concerned, into their immediate present moment experiencing, noticing what's here, noticing what's around them, reading the signals, reading other people reading the environment, simply experiencing being present, rather than constantly me oriented. chatter, chatter, chatter, chatter, chatter.
Morten Andersen 31:37
So when I am practicing mindfulness each morning for 15 minutes, I'm really doing two things. I'm one having an experience of being in the present. But I'm also practicing, being able to do that when I'm watching a sunset, then I can activate that experience network.
Michael Chaskalson 31:57
Exactly that exactly that. And not only when you're having a nice sunset, but also when you're with your partner with your wife, you're able to stay there and be present with her, give her your full attention. appreciate her. If your kids, if you have them, you're able to really give them your full attention and be present with them and enjoy them. Whatever you're doing, you're able to fully do it. So you are where you are. Yeah, you're alive in the moment.
Morten Andersen 32:23
Yes. Okay. So that's actually a practice to be able to do it in real life. So the reason why 15 minutes is good is not so much for the 15 minutes, but actually for building up the capacity to do that when you want to or need to.
Michael Chaskalson 32:39
Exactly that exactly that. Here's the thing. I didn't go to the gym, because I love gyms, I go to the gym in order to be fit. Mindfulness Meditation stands to mindfulness in the same way that exercise stands to fit this,
Morten Andersen 32:54
huh, yeah, that's a good metaphor.
Michael Chaskalson 32:56
Yeah. And I don't try to do my fitness exercise when I'm out of breath. Because I've run up the stairs. I do my fitness so that when I run up the stairs, I don't get breathless.
Morten Andersen 33:08
What do we not know yet about mindfulness? What would you like see, researched or to get some more information about?
Michael Chaskalson 33:16
Well, you know, my real interest is in leadership. So I'm really interested in looking at this business of quiet ego leadership. I'm interested in seeing whether a course that includes things like mindfulness, compassion, an understanding of interconnectedness, and foundation and values. changes the way in which people are able to lead in conditions of uncertainty and complexity. that interests me a lot.
Morten Andersen 33:55
So What Monkeys Do is a podcast about how to make a change and make it stick. And one of the things we know, that are necessary to change something in your life is that you have some kind of mental energy, you have a surplus of energy that you can spend on this change that you want. So if you're too stressed at work, if you're too worried about the future, feeling shame about something or regret about something in your past, then you're unlikely to have the focus and the desire to stick to a new behavior. Can you maybe talk a little bit about how mindfulness can help free up that space and, and make it easier to make a change.
Michael Chaskalson 34:33
So particularly with experiences like anxiety, or or shame and so on, being able to see what it is that you are doing for yourself in the moment, to recognize, for example, that your feelings of shame, are universal. We all experience these to some extent or other. And it's not that we're necessarily a bad person, that we may have done some things in the past which we regret. But that's okay. And some of what our shame is is is not rational. But that we can treat ourselves with more kindness, and more forgiveness, the capacity to do that requires an ability to address your inner mechanisms, your mind itself, to observe your mind at work, to see shame, as shame, to see what it is and what it does in the moment to be able to go, it's okay, these are just feelings of shame. It's all right. And I can treat myself with more kindness with more compassion, with more forgiveness, that capacity in the first of all, to see what you're doing. And then to be able to make choices around that to go, I don't need to do it like that I can have a different relationship to this capacity is powerful. So it's the same with anxious thoughts, to see anxious thoughts simply as a habit of anxious thinking. And not realities are just thoughts, you've learned to see them and to move your attention elsewhere. So you find yourself driving a set of anxious thoughts, it's making you anxious, to move attention, perhaps to your breath, or to some other part of your body, or you think about something else, and you come away from those thoughts, you're not trying to suppress them, get rid of them, you're simply moving your attention somewhere else moving away from so it's this kind of agility or, or nimbleness with your own inner processes that emerges. When we spend a little bit of time each day training our minds with mindfulness practice, we gain that kind of flexibility, that meta awareness and that nimbleness as well as this ability to treat ourselves with kindness. Yes. You know, people often ask me when I love it, especially when I'm teaching on MBA programs, how would I know what I'm getting better at this? Look for kindness, if you find yourself treating yourself especially with a bit more kindness, if you find that spilling over into your relations with others, that you're treating them with a bit more kindness, then you're definitely on target. Now you're doing ninja level mindfulness, when you're actually kinder to yourself, and kinder to others. That's what it's about.
Morten Andersen 37:33
So if an MBA student is listening, that's a KPI for you, yes, you look for the level of kindness towards yourself. And exactly. So we laugh at this is actually a really good way of thinking about it that actually, a result of this is that you will treat yourself better and kinda. So one of the things that you can use mindfulness for is that if you do actually want to change feelings about yourself, or thoughts about yourself, that can actually be a way to do exactly that. So that will create a change over time. But a second way that we can use mindfulness is also to create the space and the kindness and the acceptance that would permit us to make other changes in life.
Michael Chaskalson 38:17
I think that's absolutely, absolutely right. It's beautifully put, it's a kind of meta skill in that way, we apply to every part of our lives, when we've got this capacity we can apply to every part of our lives. And look, here's the thing, with not a lot of athletes with just say 10 15 20 minutes, a day, more or less, for a couple of months doing mindfulness practice, you get to be able to build your capacity to do these things by say, 10%. Let's say you reduce your anxiety by 10%, or you increase your level of self compassion by say, 10%, or you increase the amount of presence you have by, say, 10%. This is massively life changing. Don't come away with the sense that you've got to master this, that you've got to perfect it, that it's even available. That's not the way to think about this. But if you can begin to just increase by just a few percent, your capacity in these various domains, that's life changing. It makes you happier, it makes you more effective. It makes you kinder, more generous, and it reduces your suffering and you pass on less suffering, which is all good.
Morten Andersen 39:35
If I am or a listener wants to try to do mindfulness, what is required is it that you take one time 15 or 20 minutes out each day and then sit for yourself and do this or can you do this while being in a car or while you're driving. How do I get started on this?
Michael Chaskalson 39:55
My recommendation is that you find a little bit of space that is quiet enough. And that could be while commuting, not while driving. But certainly if you're commuting in a train or a plane, or if you're being driven, or on a bus, that's fine. So it could be that, or it could be at home, or it could be at your workplace, just a little bit of space that's quiet enough, where you're not going to be interrupted, for say, 10 minutes, we did some research. One of the business schools where we found that people who came on our program who did the meditation practices, we set them for around about 10 minutes a day began to experience appreciable change. Over time, after after a couple of months, they started to experience really significant change. 10 minutes a day seems to be the sort of point at which the change occurred, those who did less than 10 minutes didn't get the same degree of change. So people who did 10 minutes or more, and build up to it, take your time. And find a place where you'll be less disturbed, find the time of day that works best for you people very, to pay for alcohol. Definitely. If you're going to do it last thing at night, you might find that you fall asleep, doesn't look bad in itself, but you don't get quite the same benefit. So find a time when you can be awake, where you can be alert, where you can be present, where you're not going to be disturbed. And just start to work towards, say 10 minutes, start with 10 minutes, get that and then just keep doing it every day for a few months and see what you get.
Morten Andersen 41:33
I personally find that if I do it in the morning, that's easier for me that if I do it midday, because midday, I have the whole to do list and everything that I need to do. But it's probably also a lot easier in the morning. So you know, if we, if we use the gym as an analogy, I'm probably not pulling my weight in the morning as much as I would do in the afternoon. But, but I definitely find the morning to be easier for me to do it. And that's why I do it there.
Michael Chaskalson 41:58
That's certainly what we hear from most people. Not everybody by any means. But I can't put a finger on it at the moment. But the majority of people seem to find first thing in the morning. But there is a decent spread of people who find other types of day work for them too. And
Morten Andersen 42:13
I guess it's also about finding a time when it's practically possible. So if you have small children and you need to attend them, then that's probably not the best time, I agree to find a time when you don't need to worry about if anyone is coming in the door. Or if you need to do something else that time you can actually set aside and you know, you can set that aside, that will create a calmness that otherwise you would not have. So I would definitely recommend to try to find that time. And that can be difficult, but even just, you know, saying to people in the office, I need to be by myself for just 10 minutes, you know, can sometimes work, you know, whatever works for for the individual, I think is is the most appropriate.
Michael Chaskalson 42:51
Exactly that exactly.
Morten Andersen 42:53
So it's it's something that you can practice. But I guess like with any muscle, if you don't go to the gym for like a month, then you will almost need to start all over again, because your muscles depleted. And I guess it is the same with this. So we're practicing, because we become better at putting our attention to what we need to put our attention to. So when we are in a situation where we are with a loved one, or we see something beautiful, then we can pay our attention solely on that. And that requires daily practice. And you say 10 minutes and and some of the programs, the cognitive programs or the stressful based programs are sort of 15 minutes, they say. But if you can spare 10 or 15 minutes, there seems to be the appropriate amount. Is that correct?
Michael Chaskalson 43:37
Exactly Any amount will do. But my tiny piece of research says the change begins 10 Do what you can build up to it and try over time to come away from audio guidance. Start with audio guidance, it's really, really helpful makes a big difference. The gradually start to do a few sessions a time without God and mix that in and gradually come away from audio guidance. Something that I hear a lot from people is I listen to Headspace. And I think it's not about listening to Headspace. I know. And he's a lovely charming guy. He's nice to hang out with. But it's not about listening to him. It's about working your attention yourself for yourself. So gradually gradually come away from the audio guy.
Morten Andersen 44:27
I will take that straightaway. Because I am definitely using Headspace as my preferred app. And so gravitating away from that, I also know that would be more difficult because it is almost easier to to be guided by somebody. So guiding yourself would be my next step. So I'll, I'll try to do this straightaway. Alright, so thanks a lot, Michael, for coming in and telling us about what mindfulness is the effect of mindfulness and also how we can use that as a tool if we want to make a change in our life. So I really appreciate you coming in. Thank you very Much
Michael Chaskalson 45:00
Thank you Morten. It's been great.
Morten Andersen 45:07
Mindfulness is not new. In fact, it comes from an ancient tradition, which goes back 1000s of years. But it's only recently that mindfulness has become secular mainstream, and that we understand it much better. I took three things away from my talk with Mike. One. Mindfulness is important if we want to make a change in our life. When we practice mindfulness, we pay attention on purpose in the present moment, in a non judgmental way for those specific 15 minutes. But that's not really the sole benefit. Those 15 minutes, what we're doing is that we're really practicing the ability to direct our attention to what matters in the moment, the conversation with our friend or child, the beautiful scenery around us, the energy in our body, or whatever it might be, so that we during the day can be present and mindful. It's a muscle that we practice so we can use it during the day, especially if we want to make a change to there is a wealth of research supporting the effect of mindfulness. Psychology does not have a long history of evidence based practice quite the opposite. In fact, mindfulness in the form of mbsr, or mbct, has proven that it can significantly reduce things such as relapsing depression, or anxiety. In peer reviewed articles, the benefits are here, for all of us to see 10-15 minutes of mindfulness every day, it's like going to the gym, the practice must be daily, but then the effect is real. And three, how do you know if it works? Well look for kindness towards yourself and others. We are obsessed with finding out if something works, what to measure what to look out. Mindfulness is a soft skill, and I even question if we should try to measure it ourselves. But one thing maybe to look for is if it affects the kindness you show to yourself and to others that will tell you if mindfulness is working for you. Michael has written an excellent book called Mindfulness in Eight Weeks, I actually will recommend the Kindle version because it has direct links to audio files, and that works really, really well. So try it out. I did, it works. So enjoy that. Until next time, take care.