Jonathan's Blog

Jonathan's Blog

Mindful Leadership and Technology (Mostly Software)


Internet of Things IoT Mindfulness

My Top 3 Favorite Internet of Things Devices from 2017

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Here are my 3 favorite internet of things devices from 2017:

  1. Amazon IoT Button: I got a couple of these in the summer and used one for a family communication project and one for a client presentation, both were very successful. An awesome tool to build quick, button-based interactions to do almost anything.
  2. Smith LowDown Focus: These are sunglasses that use EEG sensors to track your brainwaves. They allow you to understand how your brain is functioning, improve focus, and enhance your mindfulness or focused-attention program. It's like a fitbit for your brain.
  3. FitBit:There are a lot of activity trackers out there, but I still love my FitBit. It does just the right amount of things, and theapp is great and helpful. It's helped me lose weight, keep it off, and stick to a regular exercise regimen. That's what an atctivity tracker is for, right?


Brain is Body, Leader is Team - How are you connected to the group that you lead? Part 2

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Link to Part 1.

It's important as a leader to be the brain - and to be the full brain. It isn't just an intellectual pursuit, the brain is also where the emotions are and emotions are a big part of who we are.

If you are new to a leadership role you need to think about what you need to change in order to be effective in your new role.

If you have always been the heart, that is an important role - it has a big impact. But you probably want to be thinking about how you can become the brain of your organization.

If you are the foot - feet are still important - you have more changes to make and further to travel.

I probably am running out of mileage on this analogy. No more installments.


Mindfulness Biofeedback

Biofeedback and Mindfulness - When the 'Staring out the Window Test' Just Isn't Enough

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I know what I said about needing an EEG to know if I was distracted. I said that I used the 'staring out the window test' i.e. if I find myself staring out a window for 45 minutes I'm probably distracted.

So, I said that here.

And then I went and bought these anyway:

Smith Optics LowDown Focus

Why? Well because they are a gadget, which is fun. AND they are a gadget that combines mindfulness and IoT, so how could I resist?

These sunglasses use EEG sensors (provided by Muse)to understand how your brain is behaving and provide you feedback on how focused you are during training and mindfulness sessions.

I am about a week into using them and here's what I've learned so far:

  1. It takes me longer than I like to admit to get into a place where I am really centered and focused. It takes about 20 minutes. Anything less than that and my mind has not settled down.
  2. I eventually do settle into a relaxed place and able to stay calm and avoid chasing thoughts. I know instictively when this happens, but having the biofeedback is nice because it really reinforces when this is happening and when it isn't.
  3. I think that in reality I fail the window staring test during 90% of my life.
  4. I don't think that 3 has always been true.

How do I know they work? Well, I ran some tests, by which I mean that I intentionally tried to not focus, stress myself out, and flex muscles and those readings showed up as way 'off the charts' in the 'unfocused' zone. So that tends to support the idea that it is reading the right things.

When you really get into a focused place you can feel it.

Another thing that made sense is that I went for many sessions without getting any birds. Birds are a fun little badge you get when you have relativley long period (a few seconds) of good focus. I was about ready to give birds the bird.

Finally after sitting and meditating for 25 minutes and starting a second session where I felt really 'in the zone' I finally got some birds. It felt right, though clearly it indicates I am not there most of the time, and what passes for relaxation and presenence for me is often only scraping the surface.

It also means that focus and really training your attention take time to achieve, but then we all knew that didn't we. A few pictures:



More thoughts and reflections as I go along.


Leadership 7 Habits Negativity Bias Positivity Bias Mindfulness

Mindfulness, Leadership, and Business - 7 Lessons from the First Year of Using My Brain Differently

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I've been meditating and using focused attention training techniques for all of 2017 and a little more than 1 year in total. So, I decided to reflect back on how that year has gone, what I've got out of the practice, and what I've learned so far.

I describe my journey in the steps below. I hope it will be valuable to others who might be considering meditation. While I'm focused on business leadership in particular, I hope my list will be useful to anyone in terms of what you can get out of meditation. In particular I'm talking about the question: How can meditation help you? It's a personal activity, but here, described in detail, is how it helped it me.

Why does that matter? Well it matters because I often see 'improved focus' or 'stress reduction' as benefits. So, then how - exactly how - does that work? My answers are below.

As a leader I feel it's important for me to frame this in one more way. As a leader you deal with stressful situations at work. Most of us can handle these types of situations, if you couldn't handle them you wouldn't be a leader or manager very long. But after 10 years in management in several different organizations, I was unhappy with my stress management techniques and wanted something better.

So I decided to try mindfulness and it has had a big impact on me in one year. I recommend it.

Without further ado, here are the ways in which I feel meditation has helped me this year. These go in roughly chronological order as they happened during the year:

  1. Almost immediately I began to be able to see an emotional reaction coming and to distance myself from it, if only slightly. This was imperfect (it didn't work all the time) but it was consistent enough to be noticable, and it has improved in consistency over time.
  2. By being aware of my reaction I began to see that I was making a situation more about me than was really necessary. Is this person upset? Well, yes, but they're really just looking for help and I know how to help them. By focusing my thinking in this way I could get even more distance and be more effective in high-stress situations by focusing clearly on the problem.
  3. Understanding the connection to The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. This book is an important tool and framework I've used in my career long before I started to practice meditation. The foundation of the Seven Habits is to be proactive. There's a lot more on this topic in this blog post, but suffice it to say, I see meditation as a useful tool to understand your responses to events and improve your ability to be proactive (and not reactive) in response. Meditation allows you an ability to practice this awareness in an offstage way. This is an extension of 1 and 2 to some extent, but for me it is a useful extension that places my practice in a broader context. It's also a useful way in talking about this topic with colleagues.
  4. In Andrew's class I learned about Negativity Bias - this helped me understand some of the why behind the reactions that I was having. It isn't that I'm a pessimist. My brain is built to identify negative (and potentially negative) situations. This is an evolutionary adaptation which served early man well, and kept them from being eaten by bears, but it needs to have some regulation to be useful to a modern person. It is very helpful to be aware of this fact and no when Negatiiy Bias is in play.
  5. I began to be able to predict some of the time when I was headed into a situation that might produce an emotional response. This allowed me a little bit of forethought on how I would handle this situation and the possible stress responses I might have.
  6. Working on Positivity Bias. By reading Hardwiring Happiness I was able to not only identify Negativity Bias but to actually work toward adding Positivity Bias. This is achieved by focusing on positive experiences and success and more fully integrating them into our conscious and subconscious minds.
  7. The Waste of Worry. I know that people trust a worrier - someone who is obviously aware of possible future implications is often considered more trustworthy than a person who seems unaware, even if their lack of awareness makes them confident. This is useful up to a point, but also puts a wasteful burden of stress on people worrying about things more than is necessary.

As it relates to number 7, I don't have a final resolution to perfect balance. I can counteract some of the stress from it and help others to do so, but it is useful sometimes. As I work on it I hope to integrate it both for myself and help my team. I want to balance the necessary concern and planning that is crucial to individual, business, and societal success with more tools to keep that in its proper place.

After a year of meditating, I feel that mindfulness practice has helped me to manage stress better than I could without it. But stress reduction has been achieved through the advancements listed above, not on it's own as a separate outcome.

Here's hoping that 2018 will be a great year with further refinement and improvement of the abilities listed above and new discoveries as well.

Photo above by Scott Webb on Unsplash.


Leadership Mindfulness

Brain is Body, Leader is Team - How are you connected to the group that you lead?

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The brain is part of the body, the leader is part of the team.

The brain is not more important than the stomach. Without a stomach the body will also die, it just takes longer. Same for lungs, heart, neck, mouth, intestines, liver, and other important organs.

A leader isn’t more important than the other parts of the team, but she can and should have a big impact – on morale, on direction, on career path for other team members.

Are you the brain? What impact are you making today?


Mindfulness Leadership

The Head and the Heart Working Together - Emotion is Information

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Emotions are information. Through emotion our body tells us things (often important things) and upon which our brain is trained to react.

This system developed as an evolutionary adaptation - fear of being eaten by a bear produces a fight/flight/freeze reaction.

Today this system gets invoked for reasons that often don't have anything to do with why we evolved the system in the first place, and it is therefore an imperfect system.

We can pay attention to this in ourselves. Understanding that we are having an angry reaction is meaningful - perhaps we should be angry. We also may be reacting to one thing (work) and taking it out some place else (home). This is less healthy.

Choosing these reactions and managing them are part of being an adult. It isn't easy. I've found Focused Attention Training and meditation to be effective ways to understand these streams of information and work on managing them in an offstage way.

This can help you later on when you have to manage them onstage.

You can also understand people by looking at their emotional reactions, though again, this is an imperfect system.

A person may display anger for a number of reasons:

  1. Frustration
  2. Pain (physical or emoational)
  3. Exhaustion

All of these are examples of the brain doing the best it can to handle a situation.

What is happening inside that person you can't tell without talking to them or knowing them very well.

What you do know is that anger is a strong emotional response driven by something that is bothering them. It's an indicator that this person may need help and you should approach it from that direction.

It's also possible that anger is being used to manipulate or negotiate. This is also information.

Here's another good blog post on this topic: post.