I have previously written about stress and I have also shared my own story about how I managed to free myself from stress. I know from the feedback I have received, and the work I do with project managers, that feeling confident and at ease is an on-going challenge. We work in hectic environments and are at times just getting by – trying to keep the client happy, staying on top of our inbox and avoiding conflict. Wellbeing is not the word that springs to mind when we think of project management. Wellbeing is something we may focus on in our spare time to recover and get back to balance.
But what would it take if we really wanted to feel better whilst working on our projects? Scientists claim that wellbeing is a skill we can all learn and that the effects can be observed in the mind. All it takes is practice. The more we practice the more we will strengthen those circuits in the brain that promote higher levels of wellbeing.
Let’s examine the four ingredients that lead to wellbeing.
The first ingredient, resilience, is the ability to bounce back and recover from stress and adversity. In other words, it’s the speed at which we recover from unexpected changes and difficult situations. Some people recover slowly and other people recover more quickly. It turns out that scientists can measure the time it takes for our brain to bounce back and that this time span is critical for understanding resilience. Individuals who show a more rapid recovery have higher levels of wellbeing. They are in many ways protected from stress and the many unexpected events that happen on a project.
To strengthen your resilience, train yourself to see the opportunities in every situation. Projects are dynamic with risks and issues popping up on a daily basis. The more you resist and fight against them the more prolonged your stress response will be. Instead, accept that changes and problems are inevitable, even with the best risk management approach. When a problem occurs, do what you can to resolve it without getting caught up in a negative emotional spiral. Reframe the situation and see the positive angles. There are always opportunities to grow and learn from adversity, we just need to train ourselves to see it. Some of my biggest personal transformations came from the biggest challenges on my project.
To bounce back and recover from an unpleasant piece of news, first become aware of the physical impact on your body. Your heart rate will increase and your palms may get sweaty. At this moment, don’t panic or start to give orders. Instead, pause and take a deep breath. In fact, take three deep breaths and let go of the negativity and the urge to react. From that place not only will you feel better, you will also be in a better position to make rational and intelligent choices about how to resolve the situation.
The second ingredient that leads to higher levels of wellbeing is to have a positive outlook. In this context a positive outlook is the ability to see the positive in other people. It’s the ability to acknowledge team members as human beings and to recognise that they have qualities of innate basic goodness. People who suffer from depression show very little activity in this part of the brain. The good news is that with just two weeks of loving-kindness meditation this part of the brain will get stronger. All it takes is 30 minutes of daily practice where you meditate on feeling love and compassion towards others.
To get started, download a meditation app that can guide you through a loving-kindness meditation. This type of meditation is one where you send kind feelings towards people around you. Initially spend just 5 or 10 minutes focusing on feeling love and kindness towards family members and friends who you hold dear. As the days pass expand the mediation to 20 or 30 minutes and begin to incorporate people within your project environment. Focus on your team members, clients and stakeholders. Take them into your heart and send them loving kindness too. This is a very powerful exercise, which not only will bring you more wellbeing but also help transform your interpersonal relationship and the atmosphere on your project.
The third element, attention, is about being mindful of the work you are doing and to not let your mind wander. A wondering mind is an unhappy mind. Scientists claim that on average 47% of an adult’s waking time is spent not paying attention to what they are doing. In a project environment you can work with this element by being present and by simply showing up. If you’re in a meeting, be present and pay attention to what other people are saying. Don’t check your phone or drift off. If you’re on a conference call, be fully present and decide not to check your emails whilst you’re on the phone. When a team member speaks to you, give them your full attention and deeply listen to what they are saying. When you eat lunch or walk through the building be mindful of your surrounding and the food you’re eating.
To get started, examine your diary and your upcoming week. Make a note of the meetings you need to attend and the most important tasks you need to complete. Block out time in your diary for these important tasks so that you can dedicate your full attention to them. On a busy project you need to be available to support your team and won’t be able to block out the entire day. Your best bet is to set 90 minutes aside in the beginning of the day where you can work single-mindedly on your most important and difficult tasks. Tell your colleagues that you would like to not get interrupted during this time or find a quiet meeting room. If your mind wanders, bring it back and remind yourself that the more attention you give to this present moment the higher your level of wellbeing.
The fourth ingredient that leads to higher levels of wellbeing is generosity. The more you engage in generous and altruistic behaviour the more you will activate circuits in the brain that are key to wellbeing. Luckily there are many things you can do on your project to be generous: Lend a helping hand to a colleague who is struggling with a challenging task, treat a team member to a coffee, mentor or coach a younger member of staff, give well-deserved compliments to your colleagues, volunteer to organise the next team event, or give back to the project management community by sharing your knowledge. Make a decision to nurture your working relationships by carrying out just one random act of kindness every day. Just imagine the positive effect you would have on your project.
In summary, wellbeing is a skill that can be learnt and that we should all take responsibility for. Make an effort to be more present and mindful on your project. Cultivate a positive outlook by seeing opportunities in every situation. Be more generous and send loving kindness to your team members and stakeholders.