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For the first time at a SAP TechEd EMEA, SAP Mentors offered a daily 15 minutes of mindfulness meditation in Barcelona. Svea Becker from SAP, who works within the SAP Mentor Program Management team, is also a gym course instructor for many years and practices also mindfulness sessions – on her own and with her students. She explains the offering:

“When our team lead Jason Cao, who is a SAP coach and a soft skill instructor, had the idea of offering mindfulness sessions at TechEd Barcelona and asked me to lead one of the sessions I thought: ‘Well, this is actually a great idea. I am excited what people will do or think’. But when we did the first meditation with Tobias I really felt that this is the right way with dealing with the stress which comes along with organizing activities at a huge event like SAP TechEd. It calmed me down and prepared me for the day. Attending an event like SAP TechEd is often a time where you do not have much time even for breathing but starting with a meditation it gives you the opportunity to think back at any point of the day and take a deep breath and allowing your mind to calm down. I enjoyed hosting the attendees on the second day and loved this experience to guide them through a standing meditation in the middle of a big area where other attendees were starting rushing around. A lot of them watched us with an interest and I think more people would love to join but some still not take the time for it. But for future SAP TechEds I really would like to be part of these kinds of offerings again.”

I was asked to guide the meditation two times. For me it was a challenge since I have some experience and blogged about it on SCN but never guided a meditation before.

At each day at SAP TechEd Barcelona we met at 8 am in the morning in the room near the entrance hall. It was a perfect place for standing meditation. I started the meditation with a technique called short body scan and then focused on the breath. During the meditation, I gave some hints what to do when the mind starts wander and when one feels distraction.

So I think meditation is perfect way to start a stressful conference day and I am glad that people took the chance to try it out. And I would like to thank Christian Braukmüller for taking this picture after the meditation.

How Mindfulness relates to Creativity

The reason why I find meditation even at a conference day very helpful is not so widely known. Mindfulness meditation is not only about calming the mind, I find it also helpful to find more creative responses to daily life challenges: meditation can open the mind to new options. The reason is that mindfulness meditation trains you to observe your mind, thoughts and emotions. If you apply in your daily life, it can help to avoid stereotypic behavior.

In MBSR we call stereotypic behavior “autopilot”. Let me give some examples for: we don’t eat mindfully and especially in stressful situations we tend to eat too fast. Another example is that we use food or beverage to “reward” ourselves: people eat chocolate during work or drink a glass of wine at the hotel bar and hope to sleep better in a poorly soundproofed or noisy even environment. IMHO there is nothing wrong with it unless it becomes an unhealthy trait. Here mindfulness can help since one learns to distinguish whether you are enjoying something or you are just consuming something in a careless way.

I learned that this “autopilot behavior” is present in many situations: in interpersonal relationships, when measuring facts and so on. Often, we don’t take the time to listen to people, we are judging too fast or we put too much weight on guesses, assumptions and suspicions. Again, there is nothing wrong with it because we often have to make decisions under uncertainty and have to trust impressions and our intuition. But there is a danger: it is possible that we make constant errors since everyone experiences conformation bias. This is well known from psychology: people tend to react to ambiguity so that they search for explanations that confirm their belief system. Especially in emotionally charged situations then people like to feel consistency with one’s believes. This kind of behavior seems to be deep rooted in our minds. This can be dangerous: if other people understand how we react when we are acting under ambiguity they have a better chance to manipulate us.

From my experience, mindfulness can help to increase of awareness of above described behavior because constant self-observation will lead to self-reflection. I want to give a short example how it works. Often people who start to meditate for the first time are realizing that they have great possibilities to calm the mind since they experience an ongoing self-dialogue in the mind. Thoughts, emotions, daydreams… everything is coming and going and we want to respond to this monologue. Sometimes people who start meditation get frustrated because they seem to make no progress. But in the moment, you realize this mindfulness has just started to work: you are realizing that you are distracted and how your minds works. This is an important insight.

When you get more meditation practice this will get better but again – you will still experience thoughts and emotions. But you will also learn how to keep the focus: you will be still daydreaming but realize it sooner and you can get back to your meditation. Again, there is nothing wrong with daydreaming, but I don’t recommend it during meditation – it is much more comfortable while lying in bed or relaxing on a beach.

While doing meditation practice you should use the chance to develop a skill called “concentration”. It is easy since it comes by itself from training, so don’t try to enforce it. This “concentration” will it make it more and more easy to apply mindfulness outside meditation in daily situations. Let me give an example: you are in a supermarket and want to pay and you are in a hurry. Someone before is just paying but can’t find his money. It is likely that you feel helpless, perhaps you are worried that you can’t make it in time, this can turn to frustration and then into anger. Anger is a strong emotion and can give you strength but it can also lead to unwise decisions. So mindfulness practice makes you more aware of your thoughts and emotions since you observe your mind and body like feeling of anger at an early stage. You learn to recognize your body: you feel it perhaps in your chest, tension in your muscles, the breath gets faster, emotions start a cascade of thoughts and so on. Mindfulness meditation trains you to observe feelings and emotions and you learn to see them arising at an early stage. This gives you the opportunity to react in a different way. Perhaps you see more choices and perhaps you will start to find a more creative solution in specific situation.

Maybe I can summarize it this way: Mindfulness training is proven to be effective when dealing with stress and pain. This has a side effect: meditation is about observing yourself, switching from thinking to perceiving and letting thoughts go. This can help you to get aware of your traits and perhaps break out from stereotypic behaviors. Therefore, I recommend to meditate on a regular base. Then meditation will become a kind of “bootcamp” for daily situations. So my understanding of mindfulness is go beyond calming the mind and reducing stress – it is about realizing stereotypic reactions and open the mind to find creative solutions. This is one of my motivation for meditation practice but I guess everyone has a different motivation. I am glad that even at a place like SAP TechEd we have the chance to practice.

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4 Comments

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  1. Susan Keohan

    Wow, thank you Tobias!  Just reading this blog, I thought how much mindfulness could help me.  I have used what is called ‘self hypnosis’ – so maybe that is a similar thing – I listen to tapes where I am told not to worry about the thoughts or feelings, but just to observe them and let them go.  And of course I practice breathing.  But I am going to look at mindfulness a little more deeply and see how to apply it myself without the use of the tapes.

     

     

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  2. Jason Cao

    Hi Tobias, first of all thank you for continuing to share more insights on the power of Mindfulness. I appreciate your and Svea Becker ‘s willingness and commitment to lead these early-morning sessions on the conference floor. In addition to discovering your interest and practice of mindfulness, I have also learned that many other TechEd attendees in Barcelona also practice mindfulness techniques. For example Melissa Berg-Baker whom I’ve known for about 10 years is a mindfulness instructor. 🙂 From our mentoring perspective, these hidden talents are lost opportunities for us to strengthen our community.

    I agree that mindfulness is especially beneficial for TechEd attendees who rush from one session to the next in order to collect as much technical knowledge as possible in these few days (it’s even difficult to squeeze in a BM into our busy schedules – sorry for the visual). My wish and dream is that we have more of these soft-skills activities at TechEd – not to be diversions or distractions to our technical education, but as supplements or enhancements to our learning experience. I believe we need to move from a do-think-do to a think-do-think practice where we can slow down, take time to plan, reflect and be less reactive to our emotions and events around us. Rather than jump on to the next technology, project, idea or challenge you receive, I recommend taking a moment to breathe, clear your thoughts, take stock of emotions and then decide how we want to approach things. Most of our decisions will allow us this time.

    You also touched on several interesting topics for me, including self-awareness (which is essential to managing our behaviour and relationships), as well as bias and blindspots. In our SAP Mentors Town Halls, the Mentors community talk about these soft-skills that are essential to our effectiveness as mentors and leaders in the communities we belong to. I hope others in this community will take your example to share their insights, questions or ideas about soft skills such as Mindfulness, and how these skills can be learned to help them with their work.

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  3. Kumud Singh

    Hi Tobias,

    Jason had shared the information of this session happening at bcn at Bangalore TechEd and I really liked it. “Mindfulness” is such an appropriate thing to do before such day long events wherein we can lose ourselves so easily. Probably, such events will cascade to other such mindful activities which would benefit the attendees even further. Thanks for sharing.

     

    Regards,

    Kumud

     

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  4. Marssel Vilaça

    Tobias, it was great to meet you in person. Nothing like a relaxation session and the practice of self-knowledge to start the day full of thing to do. I’m still practicing.

    Best wishes

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