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.

This Little Thing Inside

Everyone’s afraid. Not everyone lets it stop them.

No Fear No Career Gaping Void

The best business people, artists, etc., live in that uncomfortable space of never feeling quite good enough.

They know that the biggest rewards lie in the things that terrify us.

Everyone’s afraid. Not everyone lets it stop them.

The above picture and words appear courtesy of the lovely people at gapingvoid. Thanks for the permission to reproduce them here.

One Day At A Conference…

I spent a day last week in some lovely company at Workplace Trends 2014. In the middle of the conference – the first ever Workstock popped up. Workstock 2014 was a series of pecha kucha stories – each only just over 6 minutes long, bound together by a series of even shorter tales, written by someone thousands of miles from the event, who had never met any of the speakers. Confused? I don’t blame you – so maybe hop over to Neil Usher’s blog or Richard Byatt’s and get a feel for what when on at the event. 

Creativity Constrained

I’m a fan of the pecha kucha format – 20 slides, each on the screen for 20 seconds – 6 minutes and 40 seconds to tell your story. Constrained by the timescale, your creativity is driven to the fore. The format doesn’t appreciate umming and aahing, you need to be on your game, and you have to be prepared. PK is just not a format that tolerates winging it. And it’s hell on your nerves.

Nearly my turn. I stood at the side of the stage, nervously waiting as my short story was read out loud. Words I’d not heard before now – but somehow strangely familiar. Truthfully I struggled to take them all in as my heart pumped, blood thumped, nerves jumped. It’s only natural to be a little scared. This little thing inside.

I was nervous for three reasons. One – the PK players that went before me were excellent. Despite the constraining format everyone had breathed their own life into their tale. Two – I could sense that everyone in this group of 11 storytellers was on edge, I think we were subconsciously fuelling each other. Three – I was planning to do something for the first time – a PK mix of slides, live music and live drawing. Why make life difficult when you can make it even harder?

Feel The Fear – And Do It Anyway

Time to go. I can’t quite recall what happened next – I just fell into the performance and blended a rehearsed sequence of thoughts with adrenaline, and a wonderful sense of support from the people in the room.

Pecha Kucha Clash City Rockers

photo c/o Rose Haslem

I rattled, buzzed and hummed, and I was done. My final words as I left the stage – ‘Thank f*ck that’s over’. This little thing inside – subsided again. As I sat down – a lovely lady handed me a piece of paper:

Workstock Appraisal

This sheet of A4 instantly and forever became the best appraisal I’ve ever had. Timely, encouraging and to the point. Thank you. I enjoyed as much of the rest of Workstock as my gratefully slowing heart would allow me, and the day went on. We were all filmed so I look forward to reliving the whole thing again soon in a slightly more relaxed state.

Since Workstock I have been bowled over by the reaction to it, both as a complete performance,

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and to my contribution.

Speak To My Soul

Currently I am struggling, at times I find it hard to process why my work, particularly the work I’ve done in recent months, has provoked such strong reactions in the people around me. I am both excited and scared by what is going on. This little thing inside.


A bit like how the hotel staff gently slide the express checkout envelope under your room door, its arrival barely detected, so I’ve gently snuck this little thing inside into a few recent conversations. And it turns out that most people I speak with about this feel similarly, to a lesser or greater extent.


Does this make you or me me feel any better? I’m not sure – I suppose a doubt shared is a doubt halved. It certainly won’t make the little thing inside go away, which on reflection is a good thing. As I am finding out – when we feel the fear, and do it anyway, we are making a difference.

The best business people, artists, etc., live in that uncomfortable space of never feeling quite good enough.

They know that the biggest rewards lie in the things that terrify us.

Everyone’s afraid. Not everyone lets it stop them.

Not good enough. Says who?

Come Over to the Dark Side

I’m giving a talk next week for Workplace Trends on the dark side of social media – what to do when it all goes horribly wrong, and I’d like your help please. I’m after some good social media screw up stories. As much as I like guitars I figured everyone’s pretty bored of United Airlines’ ability to break them, so what have you got? Hit me with your best shot.

photo credit