Experiments in Wellbeing – Presence, Honesty and Kindness

I was fortunate to be a part of the Workstock team at this year’s Workplace Trends conference. Workstock is a ‘pop up’ event within an event. It’s the brainchild of Neil Usher and this year – Workstock was a series of pecha kuchas (roller coaster presentations using a fixed format of 20 slides each on screen for 20 seconds), loosely based around wellbeing. Woven around each short presentation was an excellent story about Wilf and his wellbeing journey, told by Neil. My talk was on meditation. I shared with you some of the science I drew on a few days ago, now here is some of the art.

Don’t Panic!!

Don't Panic!!

I began by reassuring people this talk was not about tree hugging, kaftans and the like. It took me a long time to overcome my prejudices around meditation, and whilst peace and love are helpful – they’re not compulsory.

Time Stands Still

Time Stands Still

This talk is as much about presence, about nowness, as it is anything else. I used a lyric from Time Stand Still by Rush, one of my favourite bands to help set the scene. I like the juxtaposition of the band name and the song title.

Time stands still, I’m not looking back but I want to look around me now. Time stands still, see more of the people and the places that surround me now.

Weapons of Mass Distraction


We are so readily and easily distracted that it’s hard to be clear on what’s happening right now – yet that clarity is vital to us in our work.

The Science Bit

The Science Bit

I used this picture to tee up some of the physiological measurement I’ve been undertaking on myself, to show the differences of how I am at work, and in other scenarios. Click here to see the data which followed.



When trying something new it’s important to stick at it – often we bail out on a new idea or exploration too soon. When I gave this talk, I was at 275 consecutive days of meditation and counting…

Be Here Now

Be Here Now

As I continue to experiment with mediation I find it informs the way I wish to work, and it resonates with my Principles of Work, one of which is about being fully engaged in the process as it emerges.



There are times during meditation when I experience great calm. I expected this, and though I don’t find it that often, when I do it is hugely relaxing and enjoyable.



Something I did not expect to experience through meditation, is a strong sense of my own fragility. In the quiet of my own mind, I observe my own shortcomings more clearly. This experience is proving hugely valuable in helping me think about honesty and kindness.



In my work, I often see blame being apportioned, when taking responsibility and ownership for what happens next is actually far more important and useful. Through my meditation I am learning to observe my own performance much more clearly. This clarity is enabling me to acknowledge where I can improve and state this to my clients. My choice to expose what some might see as a vulnerability, seems to be working as an invitation for others to respond similarly too. This means we are moving from a backward looking sharing of blame, to a forward looking sense of owning and sharing responsibility, and taking action too. When I play these things out initially, people sometimes say to me ‘it sounds like you’re taking this personally’. I reply, ‘Yes, in so far as our conversation enables me to take my share of responsibility, I am both investing in this, and taking it personally.’ If what we do together doesn’t evoke a sense of curiosity and feeling, a sense of connection, then why are we doing it?



I used to think that kindness was basically doing good things for others. I still think that, and there’s more to kindness too. I try to be kind, and sometimes I bear grudges. Sometimes I don’t like other people, often I don’t like me. Jealousy and doubt seem to spin on opposite sides of the coin of reasoning here. I’m learning that I have a hard time being kind to myself, somehow I need to improve the gentle art of letting go.


Experiments in Wellbeing – Matters of the Heart

I’m giving a short talk on my current experiences of meditation at Workplace Trends this week. As part of this wellbeing experiment, I’ve been using an emwave device made by a company called HeartMath. The emwave measures certain physiological outputs to help determine how I respond to different scenarios when sitting at my desk.


The device measures my respiration, heart rate variability and blood pressure rhythm in order to determine how coherent I am, or am not. The definition of coherence as offered by the good people at HeartMath is a ‘state of optimal function’. The emwave is simple to use – I just clip it to my earlobe, plug the other end into my computer, fire up the software and off I go.

At Work

At work

This screenshot shows me at work, just doing regular work stuff at my desk. My heart rate variability is at the top of the screen and my accumulated coherence is shown in the blue graph (on this shot you can just see the ‘ideal zone’ represented by two lines disappearing off the top of the chart. In the bottom right hand corner is a reading of low, medium and high coherence.

When I’m at my desk, I ‘reward’ myself with frequent short breaks as a way of recharging my mental batteries. I often used to take five and play video games – something I’ve done since I was a kid.

Playing Video Games

Playing video game

The second chart shows me on one of those short breaks – playing video games. The differences between the two screenshots are marked. Note the scale on the blue graph; it peaked at just short of 30 while at work, and doesn’t get past 5 while playing games, in fact for the most part I don’t register a score at all (there’s a video game related reverse high score analogy hidden in there somewhere). What I thought was a useful distraction from regular work, was in fact just a good old fashioned distraction. When I return to work after this distraction it takes time for me to settle back into a more productive routine. I still play video games, I just don’t use them as a way of taking a break at work so often.



This third chart shows me at rest, you can call this meditating if you want. Taking time out, just being there, and nowness all work just as well for me. The point is that when I take time out like this, it clearly has a markedly different affect on me than regular work and/or taking a break in the way I used to. In this case you can see my heart rate variability is much smoother, and the scale on the blue graph is north of 300. You can see the ideal zone I pointed out in the first chart too – this time I’m right in the middle.

When I return to work from meditating, or taking time out, what I notice is I am able to carry this sense of coherence with me a while. I am more focused and I get stuff done. Sure – as I get more and more stuck into work and the general distractions around me – this condition deteriorates, and I can choose to go back and top it up from time to time if I want.

In my talk at Workplace Trends I’ll delve into the subject in more detail. I only have a few minutes to do so, which is partly why I thought it would be useful to share this information here and now – so you can look at it in your own time. This is one aspect of an emerging experiment – I’ve only been checking in with myself for the past 270 odd days, so everything still feels new and very uncertain at times. If you want to ask me anything about my experience so far – feel free to do so and I will do my best to respond usefully.

Intention Deficit Disorder

Yesterday I started an experiment to carry out a random act of kindness every day for 30 days. I was unsure how to kick the process off – and while at the post office, I bought a little something for Carole and Keira. When I headed into London later, I left the gift waiting for them at home, along with a hand made card.

My reason for travelling to London was to catch up with friends gathering to celebrate a new adventure for the very lovely Ollie Baxter. I’d previously made some art to reflect the idea of changes at work, which I packaged up and gave to Ollie, who took the envelope, thanked me and said he’d open it later. On the way to the party I offered my seat to someone on the train who smiled broadly and politely declined. On the way back from the party I offered round a bag of sweets to fellow train passengers, all of whom smiled, and politely declined.

I sat pondering my day. At that time I’d not received any acknowledgment for the gift I left at home for the girls. The gift I’d given at the party had remained unseen in its envelope. No one wanted my train seat, or a share in my sweets. I felt odd about all this until it struck me that my intention was in completely the wrong place. I’d been doing all this stuff with some expectation of satisfying myself, not those around me.

To the extent that altruism is defined as ‘disinterested and selfless concern for the well-being of others’, I am not sure it exists, by which I mean that the act of giving creates beneficial feedback for the giver as well as any positives which passes to the receiver. That said, I feel I’m off to a bad start and I need to put my own expectations into a different place. I’m going to leave the word ‘random’ out of the equation from now on – this is an intentional process after all.

Day two of the experiment beckons, and with it a chance to relax, let go, and just be kind.