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Optimising Human Performance

Next Generation Mindfulness; New Frontier

EPISODE 2: Next Generation Mindfulness: the New Frontier for Peak Performance

In this episode, Martin & Jonpaul are joined by social psychologist Dr Jutta Tobias Mortlock to discuss the role that mindfulness training can play in high-performance settings.

Guest, Cast & Crew

Jutta Tobias Mortlock is a reader in organisational psychology at City University and is the co-director of its Centre for Excellence in Mindfulness Research.

Hosted by Martin Jones & Jonpaul Nevin https://www.ophp.co.uk

Edited by Bess Manley

Produced by Wavell Room https://wavellroom.com/

Resources

If you’re enjoying this content, please like and subscribe so we can keep improving. And remember to visit Wavell Room. for their latest articles, podcasts and newsletters.

Chapters

00:41 Mindfulness in High Performance

02:29 The Essence and Evolution of Mindfulness

05:44 Mindfulness as a Tool for Engagement and Decision-Making

06:32 Challenging Traditional Mindfulness Programs in High-Performance Settings

10:24 Practical Applications of Mindfulness in High-Stress Environments

17:34 The Limitations of Commercial Mindfulness Programs

23:04 The Story of the Honey Badgers

26:02 Exploring Team Mindfulness Training

28:37 NextGen Mindfulness

35:51 Challenges and Strategies in Mindful Organizing

39:54 The Journey Towards Mindful Organizations

48:58 Closing Thoughts and Future Directions

Up Next

Look out for our next episode, with Tim Jacques, former Deputy Assistant Commissioner at the UK’s Counterterrorism Policing headquarters. It’s a fascinating discussion about health and well-being in high-stress positions and the role of senior leaders in optimising well-being and performance.

 

Transcript

Hello and welcome to the Optimizing Human Performance podcast. I’m Martin Jones, a Human Performance Specialist, Researcher and Educator. And I’m John Paul Nevin, a former Royal Armoury Physical Training Corps Instructor turned academic. Each week, we talk to world leading experts about how to unlock the full potential of those who operate in high stress, high stakes environments.

We discuss the latest science, innovative strategies, practical wisdom, and inspirational stories in the rapidly evolving world of human performance optimization. The Optimizing Human Performance podcast is produced in partnership with The Wavel Room and the Tactical Athlete Performance Center. at Buckinghamshire New University.

In this episode we’re joined by social psychologist Dr Jutta Tobias Mortlock to talk about the role that mindfulness training can play in high performance settings. Jutta is a reader in organizational psychology at City University of London and is the co-director of its Centre for Excellence in Mindfulness Research.

We uncover different perspectives by considering the benefits of team based mindfulness training and promoting a personalised approach to becoming more mindful. Let’s get started. 

[00:01:10] Martin: Hi, Jutta. Welcome to the optimizing human performance podcast. It’s great to have you with us today.

[00:01:15] Jutta: Thank you so much, Martin. And JP, too. Really, really chuffed to be with you.

[00:01:19] Martin: Great stuff. Let’s dive straight in. Rather than me butchering your bio, can you tell us about yourself? Who are you? Where are you? And how have you got to where you are today?

[00:01:31] Jutta: Martin, I’m going to tell you when I grow up who I am. I think the thing that’s relevant for, for this podcast is, I had a real job, was in business processes for a decade, then had the crazy idea to go back to school and get a PhD in psychology because I really wanted to understand. People, not just business and technology. That’s a really bad idea, by the way, if anybody wants to go back to school and get a degree in psychology, because nobody wants to talk to you in social settings anymore, because they think you’re analyzing them, not true. But, I now I’m a, behavior analyst and, I work in organizational psychology, supporting decision making and performance, of people at work.

And the spoiler of anybody interested in organizational psychology is that wellbeing and performance all go hand in hand together. So the focus of my work is on ensuring, assuring, and safeguarding the wellbeing of people, and ensuring, assuring, and safeguarding the performance. And they are intimately linked.

[00:02:29] JP: so Jutta, obviously a lot of your work as is being published around the concept of mindfulness is something which is discussed quite a lot within society is so much in the zeitgeist and remember 20 years ago like mindfulness. To me, the only time I ever heard of that is when people were assuming something was of a hippie orientation.

I don’t mean that in a disparaging way, but it would be probably really useful for our listeners to understand what is mindfulness. What is it? Where does it come from? And what does it mean? Why is it important?

[00:02:59] Jutta: Thank you for asking. That’s a really, it’s actually a really difficult question. but the concept of mindfulness is fundamental to Eastern contemplative practices. And so it’s actually a psychology. It’s not a religion. It’s not a philosophy either, really, but Buddhist, philosophy or psychology, uh, this is what many scientists now who research and understand the mechanisms of Buddhism call it.

The psychology of Buddhism focuses around mindfulness as the core idea in generating the aim of these contemplative practices, in Buddhism. And so the topic of mindfulness is, it’s effectively a mental discipline focused on two things. understanding, deeply understanding, and overcoming difficulty.

Two and a half thousand years ago when it started, the hot topic was suffering. Nowadays, um, especially in a work, high performance context, we don’t really talk much about suffering, but we talk about stress, we talk about challenge, we talk about difficulty. And so the most popular definition of mindfulness currently out there is it’s, paying attention in the present moment, non-judgmentally and on purpose. But that’s in fact just one of, I think it’s 33 scientific definitions of mindfulness that have been published. And so, whilst people disagree over the definition of what mindfulness is there for, perhaps the most useful way of defining or understanding mindfulness is it’s a mental discipline in order to understand and overcome difficulty and challenge. And perhaps most importantly, it’s understanding and overcoming difficulty, not just for myself, but also for others. 

[00:04:48] JP: Expanding upon that then from a psychological and physiological perspective, what sort of responses or adaptations do we see or have you seen from the literature in regards to people utilizing this, this discipline, this technique?

[00:05:04] Jutta: so, in a bizarre way, the last 30 or 40 years of, cinical mental health focused mindfulness research has almost eclipsed, at least three really important scientific frameworks that are really helpful to be practical to help people understand and overcome difficulty.

And this is the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction, MBSR, or Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy, MBCT Landscape. It’s a phenomenally successful 8 week course that helps people with clinical or mental health problems relax and reduce their stress levels. But that basically almost paradoxically ignores that mindfulness is not just there to help you relax, but mindfulness is actually a sense of engagement.

And what I’m focusing on in my research and teaching is mindfulness as engagement with what’s going on in order to make good decisions.

[00:06:04] Martin: That’s, that’s really interesting for me because I’ve got some experience of, MBCT, those eight week programs that you mentioned, in various high performance environments, mostly sport. and I, I, was always very open minded about the possibility of them, but I never really quite bought into it personally because the people in didn’t have. recurring depression. They didn’t have a diagnosable mental health condition or disorder. They were looking for performance enhancement. And it felt to me that those models, while I’m sure are very good for people with mood disorders and so on and so forth, they didn’t feel performance relevant. Is that the same in your experience as well?

[00:06:45] Jutta: That’s a really good point, Martin, because, it is a little bit paradoxical, but basically the Dalai Lama also talks about mindfulness as an early warning system. And so the word mindfulness actually means remembering. And I found that really difficult to understand for a long time, but mindfulness practice either, outside of my normal day to day or in the moment of while I’m talking with you, right? I could be focused and tuning in to be really mindful of you and of what’s going on, or I could choose to just be in my head. But this idea of mindfulness as remembering is remembering to pay attention with the purpose of either, I could either increase the well being of myself and of you, By focusing on what’s important for me and you, right, or I could choose to lower the well being and increasing suffering.

So in every moment I have the choice to either improve the status quo or actually increase suffering for myself or for others. And so it’s a decision making framework, not a relaxation tool. But because of the phenomenal success of clinical eight week mindfulness programs, they’ve been flexed and they’ve been adapted. And perhaps too much so. And so my core argument in my research is that we need to go back to the drawing board as opposed to keeping on adapting the eight week course, which many people say is the gold standard and flex it and bend it more to make it work for high performance settings that you talk about Martin, because the evidence base on eight-week mindfulness for any outcomes beyond  wellbeing focus outcomes is actually very thin. Whereas the evidence base of other schools of mindfulness, in particular collective, or the Langerian – Ellen Langer at Harvard University’s – mindfulness school, is mindfulness as engagement in the moment, engagement to make good decisions, they have very good evidence base to actually help people with performance problems. And so my, my hobby horse, my focus is to generate a next generation of training programs that are not using the clinical mental health model of mindfulness as relaxation and stress reduction as basis.

[00:09:03] Martin: Yeah. Can we pick that apart a little bit? You mentioned the, the Langerian approach of this, this idea of cognitive flexibility as the outcome. Can we, can you just talk about that a little bit more? What, what is that?

[00:09:16] Jutta: I had hoped you would ask me that because that’s, that’s really core to also how management scholars in organizations now understand the use of mindfulness for workplaces, especially for high stress, high dedication, high self sacrifice workplaces. So the idea of. nonjudgmental present moment awareness in workplaces is actually only helpful at the periphery of operations or organizational life.

And this is not my idea. This is brilliant, mindfulness scholar Ravi Kudesia’s idea. He says mindfulness in workplaces needs to be meta cognitive capability. And so this cognitive flexibility or cognitive adaptability is really core. And we need to judge. We need to make decisions in workplaces. We need to make quick decisions.

 So we don’t want to be, non judgmental, but we want to delay judgment. And that delay could just be one or two breaths. But that delay. Allows me to regroup, check in with myself or check in with you and say what’s the right decision to be made. That’s what I mean.

[00:10:22] JP: It’s really interesting. You thought you’re talking about there because I’m just relating back to experience I had when I worked at the Defence Medical Rehab Centre, Headley Court. So I was there when we had what we called at the time, the surge. So we had a massive surge in casualties as a result of predominantly operations in Afghanistan.

And our approach within the UK rehabilitation is exercise rehab based, and that involves both large group classes and individual type sessions as well as your typical clinical treatments. And what we used to do was these large circuits, we’d dial the circuits up because the guys and girls wanted a bit of challenge, they wanted a bit of something they could relate to previously.

So, and if you weren’t used to that environment that you walked into, sometimes it was a bit of an eye opener to how we deliver these sessions. But essentially we would deliver obviously a training intervention and we’d dial them up, but then it was about how do we dial them back down? And the traditional approach at that point from a physical standpoint was to conduct a cool down.

Now, the literature around conducting a cool down is arguable at best. So we started taking a slightly different approach and it wasn’t decision that, oh, we’re going to apply mindfulness techniques. It wasn’t. It was far different. It was, let’s see if we can dial the guys and girls back down by changing the environment.

 So what we would do, we would set the environment, we would change the music. So the music would go from your high tempo dance, to stuff like Sigur Rós. So Sigur Rós would come in the background, you see all the guys and go what’s this? But then we would get them to lie down, and we’d take them through just box breathing 4 out, 4 hold And we would just get them to just modulate themselves, sort of to, You To dial down that sympathetic nervous system activity, so to speak.

And initially, there were a few of them. Well, we’re not in for this. But what we found is after a couple of sessions, they all bought into it. And I think the reason they all bought into it was they were all half asleep come the end of it, but it was just, it was fascinating at that point because we didn’t call it mindfulness.

We didn’t go in there with that sort of intent far from it. What we were trying to do was to just wind the guys and girls back down, but then sort of thinking about it. now retrospective wave. So we were, we’re creating an environment, but we were developing their awareness, their ability to modulate themselves in terms of just controlling the breath, which is something they’d never done.

And obviously a lot of work’s been done. This is like 2010, 2011, we were trying this, but would that be classified as a mindfulness type technique or a variation of.

[00:12:32] Jutta: Yeah, absolutely. And so some people even say mindfulness is an umbrella term that the aspiration is it solves all problems. And that’s not true, but it’s a way of showing up. So it’s not really a skill or competency or something that you have a talent for, but it’s almost like the way you approach situations.

And so it’s a little bit to do with behavioral standard. How is my standard of behavior in line with how I want to have behaved? And so it goes back to what Martin was saying about almost the decision making, or, you know, how do I make good decisions in a high performance context? 

The word meditation is also a bit of a red herring. There is actually no real word for meditation in the original language in which Buddhism was designed, the closest to this idea of meditation is mental exercise, mental practice, mental discipline. So what you’ve just talked about, JP, is getting people to concentrate their attention and to focus either on what they can hear or what they can see in their body. And that’s the door opener to calming their nervous system down a little bit. So first, concentration. Second, calming. And the third one is then when your nervous system is calm, you have a fighting chance to be a bit clearer about the decisions that you might want to take.

So the relaxation mindfulness is only ever the first step, but many mindfulness training programs or many quick mindfulness practices stop at that first step to concentrate and to calm yourself down But remember mindfulness is a highly practical thing. It’s pragmatic. It’s designed to help you make better decisions And in order to not have made the wrong decision, not have done something that harms yourself or that harms somebody else.

So it’s absolutely a mindfulness practice. And it it might even be called a meditation practice, but it’s not really woo woo, it’s not really religious. But if we say mindfulness and meditation, practices that are mental discipline, then we’ve got it. And meditation, operationally you can define meditation as, self regulating attention.But even that is something that’s fundamental to what gets us to actually even be here in the here and now.

[00:14:53] JP: No, that’s really interesting. Really interesting. Thank you.

[00:14:56] Martin: it makes me think of Viktor Frankl, so, ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’. If people have never heard of that book, it’s worth searching for. It’s a very, very good book. And there’s always, there’s a bit of an Instagram friendly quote, but I’m going to butcher it. But he sort of talks about this idea of, there’s this, there’s the last of human freedoms.

There’s a space between stimulus and response, a choice, a time where you can, choose. You can choose your response. Is this, mindfulness then? Is this what we’re talking about? That gap between stimulus and response to be present and aware that there’s a space there and you can do something around it.

Are we talking about the same thing using different words?

[00:15:31] Jutta: Yeah, we are. And I often use Viktor Frankl’s quote to start explaining what mindfulness looks and feels like, because whatever you call it, the thing that’s really useful to do the right thing, um, is mindfulness. is to almost notice this gap between stimulus and response. And Viktor Frankl, I think I remember the quote a little bit.

He says, ‘between any stimulus and your response, there is a gap. And it is in your capacity to notice that gap, that your growth and your freedom lies’. And I think the growth and the freedom bit. That’s the bit that is really important with mindfulness. And I think, can we talk about how that impacts other people as well?

Because mindfulness is not just there for you to learn something about yourself. It’s there you to reduce suffering for yourself, but also reduce suffering for others. And the clincher here is, that this being mindful and noticing that there’s a gap, or noticing that you might have a choice, is really hard to do individually.

There’s three of us on this call here. You notice what I might need to do next better than I, because I’m in the flow. But so if I am responsible for helping you notice. And if you become responsible for helping me notice my choices, that’s when mindfulness becomes really powerful and that’s what it becomes transformative.

And that’s what it’s designed to do.

[00:16:52] JP: It’s interesting because it has so much carry over to so many various philosophies of thought. So you mentioned that, space there, don’t you’ve ever heard of the Japanese philosophy of Ma? Just that, that time, that gap, that quiet period. And then you think about like stoicism again, something a bit more contemporary people have their own opinions in stoicism, but when you, you will read into that philosophical chain of thoughts.

Again, it’s very much about those quiet times, those, those times to develop, to think, to comprehend. it’s just fascinating how things have been so repackaged so much in today’s society, but then let’s get rid of all that fluff and get back to it.

These are things which we are aware of as human beings. We just sometimes forget it. So on that sort of feed in my next question. So obviously mindfulness, everyone talks about it nowadays, driven by social media. no doubt there are many commercial drivers for many of these conversations, not all far from it.

But what’s your sort of opinions on on the limitations of some of these commercially driven so called mindfulness programs and apps and like

[00:17:53] Jutta: I think that it’s designed to be positive and it’s designed to help you almost, bring your behavior, attitudes and your behavior in line with your behavioral standard, with how you want to have been remembered. So there’s a bit of an almost a, a temporal element to it. It’s kind of difficult to get your head around, but it’s this, metacognitive capacity or this cognitive flexibility of saying, how do I want to have behaved?

In the moment, so that I’m, proud of myself or so that I have done the right thing. so it’s not designed to have negative consequences, but, we do know that mindfulness practice as a relaxation practice, as a slowing down, to get people to almost, deal with stress differently, is not without its perils, especially when people have latent trauma, when people have high stress, high dedication, high self sacrifice context, and where they might not even be aware of previous trauma. I might not be aware of trauma, even though I’m, look at me, I’m an academic What kind of trauma could there be in my life? Yes, there could be trauma in my life and so the problem with commercial products, kind of simplified versions of this mindfulness practice, is that they might get people to sit in silence for prolonged period of time You and sitting in silence for a prolonged period of time might stimulate the freeze response in the nervous system.

And if you’ve got a history of trauma, the freeze response is deeply, problematic. It’s also difficult to get out of, again. And that’s another reason why, both in my work and in the work of, um, people studying collectively mindful systems, the safeguard of people being mindful of each other seems to be really practical and seems to be more helpful, especially in a high stress, high performance context.

And that’s basically where I’m learning to be mindful of you. And you, almost as an act of reciprocity, are learning to be mindful of me, and you’re responsible to watch out for me, like a flock of birds, because a flock of birds of starlings that are, flying in the sky, they constantly look, and they constantly adjust their flight path to be actually in line with what the needs of the group are. And that’s a highly effective way of managing, especially unexpected problems in a VUCA world that I’m sure you’ve talked about before the volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous world where we don’t know where the next problem is going to come from.

[00:20:22] Martin: I, I received some feedback once from someone using a, commercially available app. And, and they, had what at the time felt like a very strange response. It makes sense now that I’m talking, to you about it, one of their symptoms of high stress was breathlessness. Their breathing rate increases. That’s what they recognize as a stress response. And this particular program that they’re in, one of the first exercises was noticing breath and it, it panicked them, it set them off. So the result of doing the program actually increased the stress because it was now focusing in on that specific. stress response that they, that they were aware of. 

[00:21:01] Jutta: In the general public, there’s good evidence, scientific, verified, replicated evidence that’s, in the scientific literature, we now believe that one in five people who practice mindfulness meditation in what’s now called traditional, even though it’s actually only 40 years old, mindfulness based stress reduction, one in five has an adverse reaction.

But that’s the general public, Martin. That’s not people that might have actually experienced trauma, that are actually already exposed to trauma, like people in defense, for example. And so that’s why we need to be extra careful, to not get people to be triggered. And, can I just mention that this idea of the breath and stress, it’s actually quite a simple thing.

So, mind and the body are connected. And so, the brain basically sends adrenaline and cortisol to our extremities whenever it senses that we’re stressed. But it doesn’t have any psychic connection. It just checks how shallow and how fast am I breathing. And that’s how the brain realizes if I’m breathing fast and shallow, it goes, she must be stressed.

So it sends me adrenaline and cortisol in order for me to actually really get out of the situation faster. But when I force myself, when I hack my breath to be longer and calmer, when I have a longer out breath than an in breath, I’m basically almost trying to manipulate the stress radar in my brain to down regulate my stress level. But if I have a traumatic experience, that communication between brain and body doesn’t really work that cleanly anymore. And so a breath exercise to calm me down works in a fitness context. But if I’ve got an experience where I’ve had freeze, that hack doesn’t really work. And so that hack becomes dangerous. And so then it makes sense for people to not focus on their breath. And focus on something else. And this is what we know people are in high stress situations, not focusing on their body is the right thing to do. Because the body is hurting, or the body might actually get you to do something that is right for your body, but not right for the mission.

[00:22:59] Martin: Yeah. That makes, that makes perfect sense. Am I right in thinking then? My interpretation is that we’ve got to personalize this, right? These off the shelf applications, it sounds like four out of five people in the population might get some benefit, but in these high stress, extreme environments, workplaces of high stress, high pressure that we might want to think about looking at the individual before we just wheel out a generic mindful training program.

[00:23:27] Jutta: we might want to look at the individual, Martin, but we might also want to look at the social system. The story that maybe illustrates this really well is the story of the Honey Badgers the Royal Marine Training. So, I came across this story when I started to work with, the Marines a few years ago.

And so the question at the time was, how does a recruit signing up for Royal Marine training make it through successfully? And lots of, theories about, you know, they have to be strong, they have to be really, have lots of persistence and have to be really sinewy. But, one troop that went through training, made it through without any people being back phased, without people actually dropping out and everybody wanted to go into that troop and they called themselves the Honey Badgers. 

[00:24:09] Martin: That’s really rare for that to happen. 

[00:24:11] JP: Very rare.

[00:24:12] Martin: Yeah. 

[00:24:12] Jutta: It’s extremely rare, right? But so there’s this one troop, the legendary troop of the honey badgers. And they all made it through.

People wanted to go into that troop. So initially what we thought was they were just stronger than the others. And they were just the individuals, Martin, that’s the point, the individuals had more self discipline. The individuals were smarter, were more mindful or something like that.

But it’s not true. The honey badgers had a culture in the troop that said, whatever we’re going to achieve, we’re making sure nobody’s left behind. So whichever challenge, whichever serial they had to do, they made sure that the slowest person was being pulled in. So it was not a competitive individualistic culture.

It was a culture where nobody was left behind. And that’s why everybody ended up being successful. That is in line with the Collective Mindfulness literature, which we don’t really have a blueprint eight week training course for, and that’s what my research is focused on. it’s not true that all mindfulness training should be eight weeks of mindfulness based stress reduction for individuals, it’s just the popularity of the recent years that has made this, made people think this. But collectively mindful teams are highly reliable teams. Collectively mindful teams are more reliable in terms of their operational capability.

And it’s because they anticipate problems as a team and they respond to challenge. For example, somebody falling behind, right? That’s a challenge. As a unit. So they see stress as a collective responsibility and training. That is what we’ve been trialing for the last five years. Effective in getting not only individuals, but also the whole units or teams to be more successful overall.

[00:26:01] Martin: Awesome. Can we jump ahead then into that team mindfulness training? That work that you’re doing currently,

 What is team mindfulness training?

[00:26:09] Jutta: Yeah. we’ve only been trialing this like a handful of times and several different defense contexts. And we’ve got good evidence, but we don’t have a standardized curriculum yet. But in simple terms, we’re basically saying we need individual mindful discipline, right?

Mental practice know, uh, practices to get people to be mindful as individuals, better concentration, be a bit more calm, be a bit more clear in terms of individual behavior capacity. But we’re bolting onto this team mindfulness principles and team mindfulness principles are all about, me learning, To see the benefit that working in an interdependent with other people is more beneficial than working in competition and in isolation of others, building relationships with other people rapidly, as opposed to, seeing myself as a monolith in isolation of other people.

And that’s almost a bit about retraining social skills, because as generations now are coming into the workforce that are younger than. Myself, dare I say, they haven’t naturally been socialized to rapidly build relationships with others. they’re quite insular in terms of their own world view and in terms of how they see the world and how they entertain themselves.

So rapidly building relationships with others, seeing the benefit of interdependence over independence and delaying judgments of others. So this is the, this idea of how a quick or a pre-judgment becomes a prejudice and becomes discrimination. And that means we then end up being biased and we then have ingroups and outgroups even in as subgroups in teams.

And so systematically training people to be a highly, functioning team with a focus of, anticipating and responding to stress is the core of team mindfulness training. Does that make

[00:27:57] JP: Yeah, it does. And it’s really interesting because it sort of mirrors a sort of common theme which we’ve had over this series thus far. And we’ve mentioned a number of times the importance of team cohesion and how team cohesion is such an important determinant of operational effectiveness in the military context.

But then if we look at sport, Look at the best teams in the world. So the All Blacks are the ones that spring to mind, or Ireland at the current moment in time, they have a unique team cohesion. And you see that in the fact that you don’t know individual players, you know the team and they just all seem to be singing off the same song sheet and they are only as strong as their weakest link, arguably, and they recognize that and they pull each other together as a collective.

And it’s just fascinating as you were describing this concept of, do you class it third generation mindfulness or next generation mindfulness 

[00:28:44] Jutta: I call it NextGen because in the scientific literature, the eight week mindfulness based stress reduction course and its derivatives is called First Generation Mindfulness Training because it’s the first generation of secular, non Buddhist, non religious mindfulness trainings. And they said the second generation at the time, this is 10 years ago, would be Be to put more Buddhist, more spiritual practices into it.

And I don’t think that’s helpful for high performance context. I now say the next generation of mindfulness training needs to bring in. The collective and team mindfulness ideas from management science. And they have not been reflected in the first generation.

And so interestingly, JP, to your comment, this idea of team mindfulness operationally. So I’m a scientist. So I talk about operational stuff and that just means in the real world, what does team mindfulness look like? So operationally team mindfulness actually looks and feels like psychological safety.

And so the idea of team mindfulness, it’s almost a concept that sits between individual and like a collective idea. So team is interpersonal. So it’s like a meso concept. And that basically is almost the door opener into me feeling psychological safe to contribute to this conversation freely without being, you know, afraid that me being honest will get you to bite my head off, but it’s not really niceness.

So team mindfulness and psychological safety is not really just be kind. Let’s be nice to each other. It’s actually moving towards discussing conflicts of interest. and I think my team mindfulness training also has a big focus on not shying away from having difficult conversations Because I think that the all blacks jp that you mentioned Absolutely, right.

They have cohesion, but they have cohesion because they are unafraid of having tough conversations and so tough conversations about You know, I think we’re doing this wrong. That’s what being mindful is about. Because being mindful is in the interest of minimizing or avoiding suffering, stress, difficulty, and improving well being for everybody.

And that means we have to go where things are difficult. Does that make sense? We don’t want to avoid difficulty. We want to go there because we want to deal with it and we want to, nip it in the bud. That’s what collectively mindful teams are.

[00:31:08] JP: I think there was a point you made there, it’s not just niceness and that sort of really resonated because too many people think oh to be mindful you must be nice and then that sort of drives that people’s perceptions of it being somewhat far out or hippie, for want of a better word, and it’s, just to be obviously have that awareness, but then to have open and frank and honest discussions with those in your team is so vital because, yeah, if we were to adopt the nice approach and just be nice all the time, well, we wouldn’t be getting very much done, I think, from the applied perspective, and that’s an important differential.

[00:31:39] Jutta: Yeah. 

So the idea of performance in organizations is not really about, wellbeing of people at work. Organizations exist not to make their employees happy, but they exist because they have to achieve the tasks that they set for themselves, but perhaps.

By dealing with difficulty sooner and by learning to have difficult conversations and by not shying away from conversations where you might have a different interest and why, where you normally don’t see eye to eye with me. That’s actually what generates not only well being, but also performance.

And so, in the training that we’ve trialed, We’ve basically helped people understand that by having difficult conversation, by not shying away from complex issues and from discussing them head on, we’re actually indirectly paving the way towards more reliable performance. And this is again, back in line with the literature of Collective mindfulness and the five hallmarks of collective mindfulness predicts, high reliability organizing, which means organizations capable of addressing any kind of, uncertain or, unexpected trouble as a unit, not by leaving individuals to suffer and to deal with their own, stresses in silence.

I have a PhD student, commander in the Navy right now, who is also unpacking, how do you open the door to collective mindfulness? And so we’re trialing, practices, and this is not necessarily training. This is, this is also to do with organizational processes. This is to do with almost, the way we do things, the way we reward behavior.

And so if you want a group to be collectively mindful, you might also need to change the reward and the performance management system, because you want to reward people for being pro social and you want to reward people for not losing their head when things get difficult. And so that’s how you can shape behavior in groups as well.

And that’s how you can shape a mindful organization.

[00:33:44] JP: It just made me think back to, again, refer to my own career that when I first joined the military, a collective punishment was a very effective tool. So if someone in the troop made a mistake or an error instead of that individual receiving a beasting, for want of a better word, the troop got it. But what it did do is obviously it was unfortunate for the individual because they were chastised somewhat, but as a collective, we buttoned up our ideas, shall we say, somewhat and we learned it was very effective, but that was something that’s been passed down through generations, just anecdotal experience and knowledge, and it’s just interesting to see that maybe it has a place at points. Maybe it It’s the right tool at the right time for the right job.

[00:34:22] Jutta: It’s so quick to see that collective intelligence goes up when we collectively pool our resources, but also when we get rewarded, not just to be the number one in the team, because all the challenges, In defense and in, in other organizations are collective in nature.

So why are we rewarding individual performance? If the challenges are actually achieved through teamwork, there’s virtually no job that’s based not on teamwork. And as an academic, I’m one of the least teamwork oriented people because academic output rewards individual performance, but even that is, am I allowed to say the word BS?

[00:35:00] Martin: sure thing. 

[00:35:01] Jutta: Even that is BS! So why don’t we focus on the space between people? That’s the kind of thing that I want people listening to this also to take away. Don’t just focus on yourself. Focus on what energy, what data is there in the space between you and other people and what data could you act on that makes your decisions? It’s better, more strategic, more beneficial,

[00:35:28] Martin: I can’t agree more. Having, having sat in a similar role to you as an academic, being in those silos of just being in my office on my own, it was miserable. Like, more than anything, it’s just working with other people is just so much nicer than locking the door and trying to write papers or run statistics. So yeah, I couldn’t agree more. and it makes us smarter. It yeah. yeah. 100%. Coming, coming on to one of your papers and you said that I was really interested reading about these, high reliability organizations you’ve mentioned in one of your papers. It’s not a term I’ve come across before, but resonates with me because they’re the kind of people that I tend to work with a lot at the moment.

These people who, or these groups of people who perform in often extreme situations, high stress, but they do it. very reliably. There’s very few errors because there’s catastrophic failure. Things go wrong, and you’ve mentioned a concept of mindful organizing that that underpins how these teams work.

These these high reliability organizations. Can you do a little description and dive into this idea of mindful organizing?

Jutta:  Yeah. Love it. mindful organizing is basically, it’s a synonym to collective mindfulness, but it is a good term because it kind of implies that from moment to moment, we could organize mindfully or we could organize. By being in our own heads in virtual reality, as opposed to in, in reality of being with each other.

 And so we there’s choices that underlie whether we organize mindfully or not. And there’s five hallmarks of mindful organizing. And if you have all five, you kind of have the Holy grail of managing any unexpected pressure in a VUCA world that will come at you. And so these hallmarks of mindful organizing are subdivided into two categories.

One is anticipating as a team. unexpected problems. And the other category is responding to unexpected pressure as a team, as opposed to individually. And so this is actually a philosophical change from saying stress is my individual responsibility. And, you know, Jutta is good at stress management or Jutta is kind of bad at stress management to shifting the focus on The team needs to learn to be good at anticipating and responding stress.

And so, in no particular order, the first of these anticipatory actions as a team that we could do as a group is called sensitivity operations. That means we check whether the plans that we’ve set for ourselves are actually in line with what people actually do from day to day.

Are people actually working around the strategy or are they making decisions? their tasks work different from how we thought we are going to organize. And so many people in, in strategy circles. Set a strategy and then leave people on the shop floor to execute the strategy. And that’s already a first problem.

That’s where mindlessness is already starting to seep in. Second bit is people, being preoccupied with failure. That means almost being fascinated with difficulty. So proactively discussing mistakes, problems that we’re about to make. going where people normally shy away from uncomfortable discussions.

Number three. Is reluctance to simplify complex issues. In a complex world, simple solutions for a complex world. It’s just a bit of a nice pipe dreams. Just not possible. So can we stay, present to the complexity of our challenges?

And that might give us space and some more data to help deal with them. And then the fourth and the fifth are related to. Responding to unexpected challenges as a team. The first is to, have almost resource redundancy. That means I need to plan for the scenario that you might actually fall off, maybe get sick.

And so am I capable of doing your job? This is a bit about resourcing and shadowing and, and getting ready for us to take each other’s jobs. And most workplaces today don’t have that because I know what I know. Nobody else. Wants to learn because everybody is so busy doing their own thing. And the last thing is called deference to expertise.

That means we defer to who in the moment has the most expertise to make decisions. So when a building is burning or something is, actually a problem, is it the highest ranking person that should make decisions? Or is it the person who in the moment knows most about it? It could be the cleaning person who knows the building best that should make the decision on where to go.

Does that make sense?

[00:39:51] Jutta: Yeah, so those are the five factors. 

[00:39:53] Martin: Awesome. So we’ve someone’s listening to this right now, they maybe are a manager or they’re in a position of responsibility in one of these, extreme environment type teams, stressful environments, they’re thinking this sounds great. These are those outcomes, mindful organizing, we want that. So they’re going to give you a ring. They say, right, we want you in on Monday morning to help us do this. What does it look like actually in practice? How do we get to those end outcomes?

[00:40:19] Jutta: Really good question. And I don’t completely know, I don’t have a formula yet at all, but I’ve tried this a bunch of times now and I’ve worked with a bunch of senior government officials who are going through collective mindfulness training every year and so I’ve now trained like over 12, 000 individuals In collective mindfulness, most of whom have not really had an interest in mindfulness and have kind of told me after as they wanted to swipe left when they were told they have to go on a mindfulness course.

[00:40:45] Martin: that would probably have been me that if I’m honest, it probably would have been until I  did a bit more of a deep dive. Yeah. 

[00:40:51] Jutta: Yeah I have enough war wounds to deal with people like you Martin. So basically what, where do you start to move an operation to being more mindful and to kind of look, you know, difficulty in the eye and not shy away from anticipating and responding to unexpected pressure?

 You can start by having an armchair assessment of, To what extent to individual members of a team perceive their team is collectively mindful. And that already starts a conversation of the status quo.

And that often, reveals that organizations are good at responding to stress, you know, are motivated clean up the messes, and they’re quite good at mucking in. When things get difficult, but they’re really bad at spending time on preparing for unexpected difficulty.

And that’s because we’re also busy and we’re also, moving so fast. And then my job becomes the job of a saleswoman to motivate people to invest in relationships. In this day and age, right, get people to invest in, checking their judgments, checking whether their quick judgments are actually always justified, especially about other people who look and sound a bit different from them.

 So first bit is, do a bit of a status quo assessment. Second is do a bit of a sales job to motivate people, to really invest in team processes, to move towards this, and then currently we’ve got like a Lego set of practices, exercises, structured reflections, to put into organizational context and try them out.

[00:42:26] Jutta: And we’ve got some evidence that it moves these teams to actually become more, effectively their performance becomes more reliable. That’s the aim, right? Reliable performance is the aim here.

[00:42:37] Martin: If we go back to this idea of the traditional eight week program, do you find that, is that like a bit of a threshold concept? If someone’s bought into the idea of traditional mindfulness and they’ve done various apps, they’ve gone through those programs, does that help? Does that open the door to team or is it just, are they independent? You can, anyone can do these collective mindfulness type training.

[00:42:57] Jutta: I actually think in my experience with the decision makers that I work with, many of them are not necessarily have bought into individual mindfulness as meditation or as relaxation. And I think it is actually an open question as to what extent do we actually need it. Yeah. Individual mindfulness meditative practice to have a mindful team.

I personally benefit from mindfulness meditation and from, formally calming myself down. But I know a number of people who have their coping mechanism or their reflection mechanisms to deal with their self relationship already. and the concept of individual and collective mindfulness is it’s got the same aim, um, because stress management or improving dealing with stress is the same aim, but it looks and feels very different to train a group, to be collectively mindful, from training a group of, individuals who want to learn to manage their personal stress better.

[00:44:00] JP: Yes. Did you feel that obviously you mentioned individual mindfulness, but individualism. Is that an inherent threat towards delivering an effective next generation, mindfulness sort of intervention?

[00:44:14] Jutta: Yeah. And I think this is why I’m so passionate about reframing the debate on mindfulness, because I’ve read all sorts of mindfulness literatures, and the stress management literature is fabulously successful, but it’s focused on the individual and it almost hides the psychology and the, the philosophy of what underlies this is a philosophy of interdependence. And if you buy into interdependence as a philosophy, you see the benefits of interdependence and of pro social behavior. There’s a bit of a philosophy here. And in our Cartesian world, the world of Descartes, that our Western world, is based on, it’s a binary world, it’s a competitive world. It basically means, Right, wrong, black, white, you know, so it’s a struggle to fit this into an individualistic competitive world that we live in. but the practices of mindfulness are not designed to be done alone. in isolation of others. The right motivation to practice mindfulness, says the Dalai Lama, is the altruistic attitude.

So you practice mindfulness because you don’t just want to improve your own well being, you want to improve the well being of all. And I can’t prove this, but the argument is that if I’m only concerned about my own well being in an interconnected world, it doesn’t really work, especially not in the long run.

Me only caring about my own well being, in the long run, seems to not work according to what I’m seeing. 

[00:45:47] JP: Sort of goes against who we are as humans almost, isn’t it? That, that calling to be social and to have that interrelatedness with each other and it’s, it’s just fascinating. People think they’ve got the perception of what mindfulness is, but in reality, especially around your work the work of countless other generations and many different areas and those different schools of philosophical thought, as a species do well and we work collectively, we achieve, can achieve great things.

Putting a man on the moon is a very good example of that. And that was a collective endeavor. And yeah, it’s just individualism and how it’s been driven so much by social media. And I keep having to dig at social media on this podcast, but there’s a social form of social media, 

[00:46:27] Martin: it’s, because no one’s following you, JP, isn’t it? It’s because you’re not getting the likes and the follows.

[00:46:31] JP: Well, I don’t have a social media presence, I’m alright, but it’s just, it’s just so fascinating and it’s also, it’s, it’s concerning then, maybe obviously our generation, we’re of a generation before these technologies and obviously we can relate back, but if you’re present generation where you’re so immersed in it and you don’t know any different, that’s concerning, shall we say.

[00:46:50] Jutta: It’s really interesting. And I just want to circle back to this one idea of being mindful of yourself and being mindful of others. Mindfulness is a really natural thing. When we’re motivated to be mindful, it’s really natural to be heedful, to pay attention, to be careful, right?

So for example, when you’re driving down a road and you notice that the road is icy, you have no issue with being mindful, right? You have no issue with being in the moment because it’s dangerous and you’re careful. And by the same token, when you’re with people that you really care about, or when it really matters, when you make a first impression.

Dare I say, you know, when we, when we meet each other, we’re highly motivated to be there, to pay attention. We, we pay attention to others. And so it’s a really natural thing. To be mindful of other people because I see you I don’t really see myself normally. Right now I have my video camera in front of me, which is an unnatural situation, but normally I don’t see myself. But the people that i’m with they see me. They can pick up the cues so it’s really useful to train people to be more mindful of other people And it’s actually and this is what John Kabat Zinn the founder of MBSR mindfulness based stress reduction has said that mindfulness practice by yourself is actually an advanced practice.

It’s really hard to do because you need self awareness in the first place to practice self awareness. Does that make sense? So actually to open the door into mindfulness, me by myself, really hard. We have been trained to watch out and look out for each other and to look for social cues. forever. So you telling me what my status, you’re probably at least as accurate as I am right now. And you can help me be more mindful, make good decisions to improve the status quo for me and for you by nudging me on to say, what’s the next best thing to do, Jutta?

[00:48:41] JP: That’s a great. question. 

[00:48:45] Martin: I’ve loved this conversation and I’m sure we could go on for a long, long time. There’s lots of rabbit holes that we could do a deep dive into and maybe we can get you back again and we can start talking a bit more, about some of those rabbit holes. What we like to do at the end of these sessions is to, to hand it over to you and, give you the, the final word, just an opportunity for you to, reinforce something that you feel is really important or to maybe mention something that, that we haven’t talked about yet is say over to you.How would you like to, to wrap up this episode?

[00:49:12] Jutta: Oh, thank you. first of all, by saying thank you, you’re so delightful to be with and the work that you do is so important and useful and practical, just like mindfulness is designed to be practical. the thing I would like to, close with is, looking for partnerships. I’m looking for, people in organizations who are interested in trialing collective versions of mindfulness.

There are still, not that many organizations who are interested in this, who are willing to give it a go, because we don’t fully know. What it actually looks like, what the standardized versions of it are. So if people want to be part of this explorative journey, they should get in touch with me. I’d be delighted to talk to anybody who’s interested.

[00:49:53] Martin: Fantastic. And, and on that, how do people get in contact with you? Where, where do we find your work and, and, contact details for you?

[00:50:01] Jutta: uh, easily by Googling my name and my university website has my email address. And we’ve also got a, center for excellence in mindfulness research at my uni city, university of London. the website is mindfulness science. com. So people can find a list of all the good mindfulness scholarship of my university, including myself and my co founder of the center, so they can get in touch in that way as well.

[00:50:24] Martin: Great stuff. We’ll make sure all those links are in the show notes, so people can, just jump on there and find you. So me, a massive thank you. That’s been a, an awesome episode. I’ve really enjoyed it. 

[00:50:34] JP: Yeah, no, no, likewise great discussion

[00:50:36] Jutta: Great to talk with both of you. Thank you for having me.

[00:50:38] Martin: Thanks a lot. 

Thank you for joining us on the Optimizing Human Performance podcast, a Wavel Room production. If you’re enjoying this content, don’t forget to like and subscribe so that we can keep improving. And remember to visit wavelroom. com to find their latest articles, podcasts, and newsletters. If you know someone who could benefit from our discussions, please refer them to our show. Your recommendation is our highest compliment.

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