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Jonathan's Blog

Mindful Leadership and Technology (Mostly Software)


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Mindfulness Leadership

Tools, Brains, Obsolesence

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I just finished watching 2001: A Space Odyssey with my kids and it's a good reminder that technology and tools may not always be what we expect.

Not every tool looks like a cell phone or an AI algorithm. Sometimes a club is a tool also. Hopefully, as business leaders, our use of clubs (both literal and figurative) is rare.

It is useful to consider the club in the following way: A club is different from a spaceship, but they are both tools. Perhaps, as the movie suggests, both rudimentary tools in some sense. If not today, then tomorrow.

People will always make more tools and they can use them in new ways. So people are the real asset in the long run. Humanity.

Humans are tool makers and the mind, while itself a tool, is capable of not only altering the world around it, but of altering itself for the better.

Today's spaceship is tomorrow's club.

This is our challenge as humans and business leaders - people evolve. Customers get more sophisticated. Spaceships become clubs. Humans persist.

How will you use this to motivate and unlock discretionary effort in your organization? Hint: not like the picture.

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HRV Heart Rate Variability Leadership Mindfulness

Heart Rate Variability (HRV) and You

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Looking at HRV is not like looking at basic bio-data data like steps, calories, or resting heart rate.

As a measure of variability over time it is both more powerful and a bit harder to understand.

I'm currently using two different app/hardware combos to look at information related to HRV.

The fist app is called Biostrap. It provides hardware and software for looking at sophistcated biometric data including HRV. I'm currently only using the wristband, and only looking at HRV.

I'm also using Complete Coherence's Android App with a Polar H10 heart rate monitor. The Complete Coherence app doesn't provide you with direct information on HRV, but offers you insight on how well you are using their breathing exercises which are designed to improve HRV.

As a result, the Complete Coherence application is a little bit more intuitive, though not as clean or modern looking as Biostrap. Because you are measuring coherence (their term) and not HRV directly they're a bit freer to make it easier to consume. It's a simple 1 - 100 scale with color coding from bad (red) to good (green).

Here some example graphs that it produces after (not during) a session:

The one challenge is that it is sometimes hard to tell why I'm getting the scores that I'm getting. I'm doing the breathing exercises and mostly that makes the score go up, though sometimes it doesn't. If it doesn't, there isn't a strong indication of what I could do better. With a bit of trial and error I discovered that playing with the breath-timing settings allowed me to get more consistent results. Presumably this means that there was a breathing pattern that better suited me and changing it (changed from 6 breaths-per-minute to 5 breaths-per-minute) produced improved HRV.

But I can't actually see that directly in the app.

In contrast, Biostrap is designed to provide you directly with HRV readings. This is considerably more involved process than just strapping on a writband and having it count steps or give you your resting heartrate.

The Biostrap hardware uses a clinical-grade photoplethysmogram (PPG) to gather much more precise heartbeat data than other PPG-based fitness bands.

Because the hardware is more purpose-built for heartrate it looks a bit more utilitarian (no displays or buttons) and it requires a little more handholding. You have to explicitly tell it to do a biometric session and when you are going to sleep.

The data that comes back is much more detailed and the analysis gives you a much clearer picture of the HRV measurements the app is taking. It isn't transmuted into a user friendly number or code.

As a result I can see what my HRV measurements are: I can see averages, I can see individual data points, and I can see trend information over time. The app has a clean, modern look which you can see here:

Yes, but what does it all mean you ask? What's good? What's bad? What's average?
The first answer I found was, 'It depends' and then, 'You're better off comparing against your self over time.'

And then I found this article that at least provides some guidance.

After all is said and done, my average is a tiny bit above the average for my age and gender, so that's good, I guess. Now I have a goal to work toward which is to improve on that.

Of course, Biostrap doesn't provide me with guidance on how to improve.

For that, I'm going to continue to use the Complete Coherence system for improving HRV, along with regular exercise and meditation. Hopefully I will see long term improvement in my averages. I like the Complete Coherence program (which extends well beyond HRV into other mindfulness-related areas). I am sharing it with some colleagues who are interested in improving health and new ways to manage stress and improve energy.

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Leadership Mindfulness

Personal Energy and Leadership - How Are You Feeling Today?

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As I've mentioned in the last couple posts I'm reading Dr. Alan Watkins' Coherence: The Secret Science of Brilliant Leadership. It explores the connections between body and mind in detail as it relates to business leadership and management.

This is a subject matter that I've written about extensively on this blog.

The book has a lot of insights based on Dr. Watkins extensive medical and consulting work with business leaders, as well as brining together a lot of other science related to behavior and personal growth.

It's a powerful book and worth reading, even if you aren't interested in mindfulness or meditation. If you're interested in being a more effective leader, this book is for you, though it will almost certainly challenge your preconceived notions of what leadership consists of; how one approaches making improvements as a leader, and what a leadership book consists of.

You have never read anything like it.

One of the primary, liberating insights of this book is that time management is unimportant comapred with energy management. Our ability to be our best selves, project constructive energy, and unlock the discretionary efforts of ourselves and others is what matters as a leader in business. Managing a calendar pales in comparison to this.

How do you do this? And what are the revelatory insights presented?

You probably need to read the book to really understand them, but I will give you a brief glimpse.

Before you even begin to look at behavior or think about business results, you must consider the physiology and emotional components of our human bodies. Our higher brain functions and behavior rest on top of these foundations. If you ignore them then you are ignoring key pieces of the puzzle that affect our behavior and the behavior of others.

The book provides positive, concrete steps and exercises that can help you understand these things and use them to your advantage.

Give it a read, it is worth the time.

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Mindfulness Leadership Negativity Bias Know Thyself

Happiness and Survival - Conflict in the Body in Mind

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Happiness is very different from survival. The human machine - our bodies and minds - evolved to increase the chances of our survival and the continuation of our genes and our species.

The mechanisms that helped us to survive don't promote happiness. In fact many mechanisms that helped us survive do just the opposite - they make us unhappy. They also promote illness and a loop of perpetual stress. Here are some examples:

  1. Negativity Bias - this is the tendency to see or seek out possible dangers in any given situation. The mind evolved this capability in order to protect us from danger - real or imagined. Better to imagine a danger that isn't there than to miss a danger that is. By being ever vigilant to danger, we prevent ourselves from being eaten by bears. We also increase our own tendency to see the negative side of our client's request for changes and that new corporate policy.
  2. Fight or Flight Hormones - These are hormones that are put into the body when you are under stress. They help you handle short term bursts of danger, but they cause long term break down of the body's systems. They were designed to be introduced when very significant immediate stressors were placed on an individual to power survival, they did not evolve to meet the demands of day-to-day stress of the modern work place where fighting or fleeing is not terribly useful.
  3. Chaotic Heart and Breathing Rhythms - this was also part of the fight or flight response and it evolved to AVOID the use of higher brain functions in times of immediate physical danger. When heart and breathing become chaotic they suppress higher brain function, this is why we may feel like our brain is not helping us out when we are 'on the spot' or 'on stage'. This is because the stress is causing erratic heart and breathing rhythms which impair our higher brain function.

The good news is that we understand all of these things now. We know that it is happening and we can do something about it.

The trouble is there isn't a traditional class you can take or procedure to address these things. They're emotional and physical and you must practice self-awareness in order to be aware that they are happening to you and do something about it.

The last two points come from Coherence by Dr. Alan Watkins, which I am currently reading. It is an excellent book and I recommend picking up a copy if you are interested in the human condition, physiology, business leadership, and the overlap of all those things.

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Mindfulness Leadership Business

Now Reading - Coherence by Dr. Alan Watkins

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If you've read almost any blog post on this site in the last year then you know that I'm interested in the overlap between mindfulness practice, leadership, and business sucess.

Most recently here a couple of weeks ago.

What a treat and a revelation to find this book: Coherence by Dr. Alan Watkins. Dr. Watkins (a cardiologist) has thought a lot about the connection between body and mind. He takes a deep look at how to improve your business results and energy management.

I don't know if Dr. Watkins himself would consider his book to be about mindfulness, necessarily. However the techniques recommneded in the first section are similar to mindful breathing techniques.

For the veteran of meditation, what will be interesting here is a focus on the physiological and some of Dr. Watkins' reasons 'why' it is importnat to engage in these practices. He is interested in your happiness, but the physiological mechanisms at play are something wholly different than you may have encountered.

I am only about 100 pages into it, but I am really enjoying it. More when I finish the book.

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Leadership

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.