Mindfulness At Work with Andy Gibson.
Like Minds Business Breakfasts are back. First up for the new season on July 30th was Andy Gibson, self-styled ‘Head Gardener’ at Mindapples, to talk about the importance of a healthy mind in the workplace and to promote his new book “A Mind For Business”.
The latest venue for the Like Minds breakfast events is the Kinnarps London HQ and showroom in Farringdon. Kinnarps (pronounced almost like chin-ups) is a Swedish furniture company that attempts to do for our bodies — and our places of work — what Andy Gibson is promoting for our minds. Their Farringdon HQ is a friendly and welcoming space and reflected the Kinnarps mantra for the workplace of collaboration, concentration, and contemplation.
After thirty minutes of productive mingling — and of tea, coffee, and full-sized pastries (not to be confused with the one-bite mini versions offered at inferior locations) — we settled in for Andy’s talk.
He started by explaining that the mission of Mindapples was to help people make the most of their minds. This is achieved by gaining a better understanding of how their minds work and how to make sure they’re doing the right things to look after their minds.
Mindapples itself is a non-profit that works with diverse groups, from festival-goers to execs at leading financial institutions. As he put it himself; everyone from drunken youths to bankers.
Meet Your Mind.
Andy’s new book — A Mind For Business — is out now. He calls it a Haynes Manual for your mind. I used to sell Haynes Manuals when I worked a Saturday job at Halfords many years ago and wasn’t grateful to Andy for the memory but it’s a powerful way to describe what is a guidebook to managing your mind.
We like to think that we make decisions based on a variety of “sensible” factors, taking into account all the relevant information. In other words, we like to think we’re smart and working things out logically. In fact, we usually make decisions because we don’t have all the information we need rather than based on that information.
Not only is it impractical to wait for a complete set of information but the truth of the matter is that we make our decisions as much based on emotion as on logic. This can be seen clearly in medical patients with brain lesions affecting their emotional centres. They find themselves unable to come to definitive decision on things, even though their logical functions remain undamaged.
This is also revealed in the fable of the Logical Donkey, a mythical completely rational beast that is positioned equidistant from two identical stacks of delicious and tempting food. The donkey fails to choose which pile to approach and hence starves to death.
Most of us would like to think we wouldn’t act like the donkey but you can get a taste (pun intended) of that mindset the next time you’re confronted by an extensive and tempting menu. Watch how your mind works out what to choose to eat.
Treat Your Mind Well.
Success — whether in business or on a more personal level — comes from taking care of the mind. Although the fine points may differ for everyone, there are some basic strategies that are essential to ensure it works at its best. Here are five things to consider.
- Conserve mental energy – a study of Israeli judges showed that they made less considered decisions as they grew tired or hungry
- Avoid stress – stress creates a fear response (help, a tiger!) and so narrows focus and blinds us to other possibilities and creative alternatives
- Habits matter – you can save energy by removing the need to make unimportant decisions (wear the same clothes every day, for instance, or always eat the same lunch); you can also repeat the skills you want/need to develop (think how good we are at checking email!)
- We’re in this together – influence is social so choose your environments carefully
- Make time for your mind – think about what works best for you
Your Five A Day.
In addition to the strategies for thinking about your mental health, Andy suggested five tactics for ensuring peak performance:
Drink plenty of water
Watch what you eat
Make sure you see plenty of natural light
Engage in some sort of physical activity
After speaking for about 25 minutes, Andy brought his presentation to a close by telling us he wanted to make looking after your mind as natural as brushing your teeth. There is a multi-billion market for dental health but no real equivalent for mental health.
In the subsequent Q&A there was a particularly interesting debate about the possibility of stress being useful when it takes the form of a deadline. As a writer with all the stereotypical faults of procrastination and last-minute production techniques, my take on this is that deadlines are more of a constraint than something which induces stress.
In fact, there is often more stress to be found in the wide open spaces of no deadlines. Deadlines remove the tendency to get hung up on perfectionism and ego. Then again, what is stress for one person may indeed be liberating for another. This is why Andy stressed throughout his talk that a major part of looking after the mind is understanding how our own works and what works to keep it in good condition.
Andy was an engaging and entertaining speaker who has mastered the art of offering slides that illuminate rather than duplicate or overwhelm the points he makes. You can watch a fine example of him in action during an RSA talk hosted by Euan Semple.
Andy signed copies of his book for a while and then we sat down for a short interview in which Andy summarised some of the key points from his talk.