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Mindful Leadership and Technology (Mostly Software)


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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.

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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.