In Work-Life Balance, Mindfulness is the Bridge

When people talk about work-life balance, they often focus on scheduling, how to balance the actual time between work and the other important things in life. Statistics suggest the work habits of Americans haven’t changed in years, and these data are also measured by the hours worked each day.


But work-life balance, the concept of prioritizing between “work” (career and ambition) and “lifestyle” (health, pleasure, leisure, family and friends, intellectual and spiritual pursuits), is about more than the hours spent working versus doing other things. After all, can work and life truly be separated? Isn’t your health and happiness an integral part of who you are both at home and at work? Is it possible to never think about family and friends while at work? And outside the office, do you never think of work? Trying to divide the two with a firm line is impossible.

Ideally, we’re essentially the same person wherever we go. And if the aim is to be happy everywhere, tallying the hours spent here or there is a dubious route. That’s not to say that 12-hour days at the office are going to improve relationships outside of work. […]

Memory Problems? Try Idling Your Brain

Thanks to the convenience of mobile devices, most of us spend a fair amount of time online these days. In fact, GlobalWebindex—which has tracked the time people spend on various forms of media since 2012—reports that digital consumers are online for an average of six hours per day. To be online for more than one-third of our waking hours affects us as individuals and a society in everything from productivity to the way we communicate.

Because of our online proclivities, exposure to digital images has hit unprecedented numbers. Researchers blame “image overload” for heightened anxiety and memory impairment. And in order to feed social media, people are going to extremes to gather photos. A sad sign of the photo-addicted times can be found in the ever-growing entry on Wikipedia titled “List of Selfie-Related Injuries and Deaths.” Started in 2014, the list has generated almost 60 entries to date—all to spawn likes for social media.

photo memories
What’s our fascination with photos? Throughout history, photos have captured moments and recorded memories. With the advent of social media, we’ve used these images to share stories and communicate—something humans loved to do […]

Put Down the Phone and Tap Into Mindfulness

Want a little motivation to take a break from your phone and do some good at the same time? UNICEF may have an answer.

The other evening as I was passing through the kitchen, my husband said, “You can’t touch Elizabeth’s phone.” (Elizabeth is our 15-year-old daughter.) I peered at the phone lying on the table. The screen was blue with pictures of bubbles rising up the surface. “There’s an organization that will give money to provide clean drinking water to people. The longer she doesn’t touch her phone, the more they donate.”

She left it on the table all night, instead of taking it into her bedroom with her. When she looked at in the morning, I asked, “How much?”

“Clean water for one person for 131 days,” she said.

Unicef Tap Project
The organization is UNICEF. I decide to check it out myself by going to tap.unicefusa.org. First a message: “Millions of children lack clean water. How long can you go without something less vital…like your phone?” Then the screen changes, and there are the blue bubbles and the challenge: “Go without your phone to help give clean water to children in need.” To […]

Commuting with Kindness

How’s your commute? Do live near work and enjoy a quiet walk to the office? Or do deal with crowds on public transportation or jammed roads with rushed drivers? When you get to work, do you feel relaxed from the experience or glad to have survived it?

Angry Woman Driver Shouts
For those with tough commutes, we pose a challenge: to commute with kindness. The premise is simple. Instead of bristling when someone knocks into you on the bus or cuts you off in traffic, wish them well. Smile and send every frenzied commuter on their way with a message of kindness, such as “I hope you reach your destination safely and on time” or “May your day go smoothly and be productive.”

While the premise is simple enough, execution can be tough—at least at first. With a familiar devilish voice on one shoulder (who prompts a host of familiar trigger reactions) and a quieter angel on the other, it’s common to unleash sarcasm and well wishes that aren’t heartfelt. Keep practicing, and observe how many commutes it takes before wishing your fellow commuters good things feels sincere. And, along the way, observe if you […]

The (Literal) Steps to Mindfulness

One reason to practice mindfulness is to simplify: Modern life is dynamic and often provides so much sensory input and distraction that it can be helpful to find some quiet and focus. Seated meditation is one obvious way to do this: Find a place to sit, close your eyes and focus on something basic and body-centered, such as the breath. At some point, though, we need to get up. How do you maintain presence in the more demanding environment of social interactions, work deadlines and the sometimes craziness of family life?

Walking Mindfully
Of all the practices we teach during the Search Inside Yourself program, mindful walking is one that seems to stick the most. Many people who take the course tell me they’ve enjoyed making mindful walking a regular part of their lives. I like to think of mindful walking as a bridge practice that balances between meditation and our day-to-day lives.

In the SIY course, we often teach a classic method of walking meditation, which involves choosing a clear space to walk 10 or 15 steps, then walking slowly with awareness, focusing on the sensation of feet contacting the ground (“contact, contact, contact…”). […]

How to Thrive Under Pressure

Ever wonder why some people thrive under pressure while others crumble? A lot it comes down to how we prepare mentally.

A study published in February 2016 in Nature examined why people tense up and stumble while performing complex tasks in front of observers. The researchers found that if the part of the brain that notices other people judging is triggered, another region that controls fine sensorimotor skills shuts down. This explains missed free throws, flunked driver’s tests, stumbling at job interviews, dropped chalk during presentations, etc.


During these high-pressure situations, it’s tempting to say to ourselves, “Don’t mess this up,” or “Don’t blow it.” This type of internal dialogue actually increases the chance of failure. Research shows that telling yourself not to do something raises the likelihood of making it happen. This phenomenon was demonstrated by Daniel Wegner’s research on “ironic mental process” theory. He asked participants to try not to think of a white bear and found that the harder they tried, the more they thought about a white bear. (Try it.)

Wegner’s work revealed that attempting not to think of a topic often backfires. Moreover, he found the effect even stronger […]

The Power of Letting Go

Meditation is often referred to as “the art of letting go” because, as you meditate, you aim to recognize any feelings and thoughts that arise and let them pass, rather than hold on to them. SIYLI’s founder Chade-Meng Tan views this skill as one of the essential foundations of any mindfulness practice; he writes in his book Search Inside Yourself: “The central importance of letting go leads to a very important question: Is it possible to let go and still appreciate and fully experience the ups and downs of life?”


Here at SIYLI, we argue that it is possible to experience life fully because mindfulness, by definition, requires acknowledging emotions in the present moment. Our emotional highs and lows are recognized and felt, but the key is to not judge these emotions, which can be achieved by letting go of two things: grasping and aversion. “Grasping” is when we allow our minds to cling to something and not let go (think of how we tend to ruminate), while “aversion” is when we won’t allow our mind to accept something (which is also sometimes called avoidance). The two are polar opposites that work […]

How Meditation Increases Productivity and Performance

How does your calendar look? Is it overbooked with meetings and deadlines? Do you feel like you have more work than you have time to complete it all? If so, perhaps you’re looking for a way to make better use of your time. With better focus, you could waste less time and improve the actual quality of your work.

Science shows that meditation can improve your attention span and deliver better cognitive performance. In 2012, Italian neuroscientist Giuseppe Pagnoni used an MRI machine to compare brain patterns in people with established meditation practices (five years or more) to people who didn’t meditate. He found that the meditators were better able to control their ventral posteromedial cortex, the part of the brain that tends to wander and ruminate.

brain

Pagnoni then tested the ability of both groups to process rapid visual information in the form of numbers flashed on a screen. Participants were asked to signal when they saw specific patterns within the numbers, which appeared at a rate of more than 100 per minute. The task required great focus, and the meditators outperformed the non-meditating group, spotting more number sequences and with fewer mistakes. His […]

Mindfulness: The Power of Small Acts

Once, when I first started teaching mindfulness, a participant in my class, an engineer from India whom I’ll call Sandip, told me about something he was doing that was changing his life. From the class, he had learned the power of becoming more aware of his thoughts and sensations and focusing his attention on his breath, and we had brainstormed about different ways to find time to practice. It seemed like a small thing, but what he tried was this: Every evening when he drove home, he parked his car outside his house and sat there, following his breath. “For how long?” I asked. “About 45 seconds,” he said. And then, when he went inside he had left behind his worries about work and could really be there for his kids, he said. And they knew it.

Forty-five seconds. I like to think about Sandip and how such a small change over time could have a very big impact on his relationship with his children.


It can work the other way, too. I hear from people who drive to work in the morning and sit for a few minutes before getting out of the […]

Trying to Build a Meditation Practice? Start with 15 Seconds.

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”
 —Aristotle

We often hear from people who are frustrated because they want to develop a mindfulness meditation practice but find it hard to transition from not meditating at all to meditating regularly. Or some people simply can’t find room in their schedules. Taking the time to sit down and be present for 20 to 60 minutes isn’t easy—nor is creating new habits. Our advice is to start small.


Really small. If you’re new to meditation, start with just 15 seconds a day for the first week. Find a time—whether it’s immediately after getting out of bed but before starting the day, during a midday break or before bedtime—that’s going to work for you consistently. It shouldn’t be too hard to carve out 15 seconds, but if your ultimate goal is to develop a deeper practice, then consider a schedule that will allow for protracted stretches down the road.

That first week, set the stopwatch on your smartphone for 15 seconds every day around the same time, and give all of those seconds 100 percent of your attention. (If you need […]