Mindskills at work

Philip McTaggart talks to Owen McQuade about mindfulness in the work place and how mindskills training techniques can be introduced to improve both well-being and productivity.

 

A number of years ago Philip McTaggart was working in the area of mental health and suicide prevention not that long after the loss of his son Pip, who had taken his own life some years before. He was going through a particularly stressful period in his life and felt his mind was “over worked and was being worn out”. At this time, he was introduced to mindfulness meditation. Although initially sceptical, he found the techniques he learned exceptionally useful. “For many of us the world is now so fast and furious that we can’t see what is around us and we need to learn ways of calming ourselves down and to learn how to relax,” says McTaggart. He likens the state of many people’s minds in the workplace to a lap top with “too many windows open which makes the lap top move much slower, occasionally freezing and then crashing.”

“Mindfulness allowed me to close those windows down in my own head and allowed me to focus on the things that were important,” says McTaggart. Several years after starting to use mindfulness techniques he has gone on to train as an instructor and now runs his own mindskills training company delivering courses to businesses, community groups and colleges and schools. A typical day will see him deliver an in-company training course to Marks and Spencer staff and then deliver a course to a community group in the evening. “No matter what you do in business we all get caught up in a lot of things and miss what is really important and don’t see things for what they really are – looking about and taking in the colours, people’s feelings, the noises. We miss the things that are happening day to day and life is passing us by,” he observes.

“Mindfulness allows us to look around and appreciate where we are and to see that everything at that moment is OK. It also helps you do your job better and to focus on making things better by giving yourself, and your mind, the space to do that,” he adds.

In addition to mindfulness meditation, visualisation can also be incorporated to relieve stress. “Although the mind is such a complex thing that cannot be replicated, we can trick it into believing that we are somewhere else. For example, if you are sitting at home and use both techniques you can take yourself anywhere you want to. If our mind takes us to a place we have been really happy, like lying on a beach, then the brain will release the same endorphins to make us feel good. It is a great exercise for managers and their teams to become more relaxed and happier and more productive.”

McTaggart teaches practical techniques in his training workshops, including a short 10 to 15 minute mindfulness meditation. He also includes the ‘body scan’ meditation where you lie on the floor and relax and are conscious of the feelings and different energies within your body. “Mindfulness is very much about concentrating on your breathing. We have so many thoughts in one day that our brain tries to wander off to another place and you start thinking about something completely different. The whole technique is to come back to your breathing and focus on the here and now. It is not as easy as it sounds.” McTaggart says that just 30 minutes of meditation each day does pay off. If you are at work and feel under pressure, by taking yourself somewhere quiet and doing some mindfulness meditation you will feel “energised and ready to get going again”.

There are also benefits to mindskills training outside the workplace. McTaggart paints a picture of modern family life with the family members sitting around the television but with several members also using laptops or tablet devices and some also using their mobile phone. A question he often poses to delegates in the workshop is how many of them have texted someone in the next room that their dinner is ready or have sent an email across the office? “We are losing the art of face to face communication,” contends McTaggart. “Mindfulness is about looking up and putting the gadgets down and focusing on one thing.”

Stress

For many stress is the feeling of being under too much mental or emotional pressure, and is now widely recognised as a problem not just in the workplace but also for children and young people, particularly around exam time. If stress is not addressed it can lead to a range of problems including poor mental health, premature ageing and physical illness. Stress also affects the decision-making process in the workplace. Studies have found that mindfulness courses, where participants are taught simple meditations techniques can also help to reduce stress and improve mood. When depression sets in most people do not realise they are suffering from it. McTaggart highlights the fact that if you are feeling sad for more than two weeks you are probably entering into depression. Most people do not get their depression diagnosed for between 6 and 12 months and it may take someone to tell the person. Depression is a very disabling illness but it can be cured and early diagnosis is important.

In his workshops McTaggart covers how to recognise the signs of depression and how to address it. If untreated having someone in a household with depression can lead to two members of that household becoming depressed. McTaggart knows first hand of the problems when depression sets in. Some years ago, as a business owner he had become overwhelmed, not being able to open emails or make decisions clearly. But because of his own experience he is optimistic in that depression can be cured and practising mindfulness meditation helps keep the stress causing it under control.

Mindskills training shows how you can recognise the warning signs of depression and gives trainees sources of help to overcome the stress. McTaggart says that not everyone suffering from stress or depression needs to talk to a counsellor and often a work colleague or family member will suffice. It is important to learn the skill of how to listen and connect with people which he covers in his workshops. He also tackles the difficult issues of suicide: “a word that will catch most people’s attention, however, it is the actions which lead up to it that go unnoticed.” He shows you how to recognise the signs and how to ask the hardest question, are you thinking of suicide? The vast majority of people who have taken their lives have told someone in the year beforehand. Picking up on these signs can save a life.

McTaggart believes that with the advent of social media and ever busier lives we are in danger of losing the ‘human touch’. “Asking a colleague, how are you keeping? How are you? Is often all that is required,” he says. The objective of mindskills training is to learn ways of looking after your own mental health. He goes into organisations and together with them works out their training objectives and a training plan. “Every organisation is different and has different needs,” he observes.

He has worked with a wide range of organisations in the public, private and voluntary sectors. He has trained all the staff in the Social Security Agency’s Employment and Pension and Unemployment branches in Belfast in how to answer the phone and how to ask questions. And to listen to clients and how to look after their own well-being. He is currently training all of the staff of global insurance company Allstate in Belfast, Derry and Strabane. The focus of this training is around improving well-being and productivity. He has also trained all staff and managers at FG Wilson to cope with stress just before a major redundancy scheme was launched and all Marks & Spencer frontline staff on positive thinking and getting the best out of the person on the shop floor. He particularly enjoys the training he delivers in schools, often as part of a company’s corporate social responsibility programme. A short workshop for teachers and pupils on suicide prevention and positive mental health which helps young people believe in themselves and how to set goals and to work towards them.

Looking after business

Most companies acknowledge that training is essential but McTaggart contends that it is usually focused on ‘the business’ or business processes “and we forget about the individuals themselves – building up self-esteem, confidence and resilience in the workforce.”

“With mental health issues affecting more and more people as never before and more and more people suffering from stress and depression it is important that companies look at the mental well being the individuals in the workforce and find ways to help them. If you look after your people they will look after your business,” he concludes.

 

For more information contact

Philip McTaggart on

Mobile: 07732 350 325

Email: philip.mct@mind-skills.net

Web: www.mind-skills.net

 

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