I am pleased to welcome Karen Janes as a gust author for the blog today. I have had the privilege of working with Karen over the years and and pleased she has chosen to share her thinking on the importance of mindfulness for those of us who lead volunteer engagement.
So, without further ado, over to Karen.
I’ve been a volunteer for many years and for many different organisations. For the most part of my career I worked in volunteering – I’ve been a Volunteer Coordinator, a Volunteer Manager and a Head Of Volunteering. The common theme for me, is that whichever part you play in it, the role of the volunteering team is very complex and demanding. How are we supposed to cope?
Unlike other teams, the volunteering team has to balance and meet the needs not just of the volunteers, but also the needs of the organisation, its employees and often its beneficiaries too. They need a wide understanding of how diverse departments across the organisation work, in order to understand how volunteers can fit in and contribute. And they have to influence paid teams both upwards, downwards and across the organisation
It’s not uncommon for the volunteering team to have to provide the full range of HR type services to their volunteers – marketing, recruitment, coordination, training, management, advice, motivation, communication, problem solving – as well as being responsible for strategies, policies, risk management and reporting. In my experience, there’s often whole teams and departments of people focussing on each of these things for the paid employee teams.
Rarely is this the case for volunteering.
The volunteering team has to juggle all of these needs and activities, often with limited people and limited time; whilst often working with very large teams of volunteers. In one organisation I worked for, a part-time Volunteer Coordinator working twenty-one hours a week could expect to have to coordinate a team of maybe 180 volunteers – giving their time across the whole working week, as well as during evenings and weekends. I’m exhausted just thinking about it!
Whilst this is all going on, the role of the volunteering team is often misunderstood, undervalued or an unappreciated. They may not have the seniority, visibility, credibility, budget or support to do what they’d really like to do and achieve the transformative magic we all know is possible when you get a team of motivated and engaged volunteers, in the right roles, with the right training and support, behind a cause they are passionate about.
It’s unsurprising then that Volunteer Coordinators and Managers are always striving to meet everybody else’s needs without a moment to think about their own – overworked, working long and irregular hours, having to positively support everyone, resolving conflict and relationship difficulties between employees and volunteers, dealing with mountains of processes and admin. As well the simple task of engaging and inspiring people to give up their free time to join them!
At the end of my twenty years in the sector I was stressed, overwhelmed, burnt out, exhausted and, quite frankly, I‘d just ran out of steam with it all. Unfortunately, I know my story isn’t unique. Many experienced volunteer managers are moving on to different roles, different sectors or, like me, different ways of making a living entirely. And many others are exhausted, on the brink of burning out or feeling overwhelmed, disengaged and losing their passion for the role. It’s such an important distinctive, inspiring, fun, engaging and rewarding role that we can’t let this continue to happen.
This is just one of the many reasons I launched my business, The KJ Way. I teach brain-based mindfulness tools and practices that Volunteer Coordinators and Managers, and other charity managers, can use when they really need them to help manage stress, avoid burnout and overwhelm; and build their own resilience, effectiveness and wellbeing.
Mindfulness, like volunteering, is something I am very passionate about, and that’s because, like volunteering, I’ve seen and felt its impact. Mindfulness has transformed my life: it’s helped me to overcome stress, anxiety and depression. It’s helped me to be more resilient, effective, and focussed and to remain calm and composed during a crisis. It’s taught me to respond intentionally rather than reacting emotionally to situations (for the most part!) and it’s helped me to experience more balance, equanimity and joy in my life.
So, what is mindfulness?
I like this definition from Jon Kabat Zinn, the founder of the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction programme. Mindfulness is “the awareness that arises from paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgmentally”.
For me, mindfulness is about paying attention to the moment you’re living while you’re living it, bringing all of your mental energy and focus into the moment – not being distracted by ruminating on the past or worrying about the future. It’s also about being curious and open to what people and experiences and situations are really like, rather than judging them through the lens of your pre-conceived expectations. It’s the practice of paying attention to the moment you’re living, whilst you’re living it and a willingness to accept and be with what is. It’s a way of being, that allows you to experience much more of life’s wonders in every moment.
Why is it so good?
Mindfulness isn’t hard to do, and it doesn’t take long to do either. But it is a practice, it does require some commitment to using the techniques and bringing a more mindful approach into your day to day life. The benefits are impressive, I’ve felt them, I’ve seen them in others, and neuroscientists and researchers have proved them too (Mindful.org have a fab summary of some of this research). Over time, mindfulness has been proven to change the neural pathways and networks in our brains and improve our resilience, attention and focus, compassion and empathy and our awareness of our sense of self.
Mindfulness is becoming more and more popular and widespread with organisations around the world turning to it to support their people with a wide range of organisational, HR and Wellbeing challenges and priorities.
I’m committed to sharing these benefits of mindfulness in workplaces to help people to bring their true selves to work, with more energy and resilience, and to continue to feel passionate about what they’re doing with their working lives.
If any of this resonates with you, and you’d like to:
- manage your stress and avoid burnout
- learn how to respond rather than react to situations
- maintain your focus in face of constant distractions
- learn how to be aware of and manage your emotions and thoughts
- improve your focus and effectiveness
- have more energy at work
- embrace change more easily and help others to adapt to change too
- deal with difficult relationship issues
Mindfulness might be just what you need too!
How to do it
There are many ways to practise mindfulness and bring a more mindful approach to your life. There’s lots of formal foundational meditation practises like the awareness of breath, the body scan, and meditations for attention, and for cultivating compassion. These can take as little as five minutes to complete, but most people do something between 10-20 minutes several times a week.
With our busy workloads and stressful lives, it’s not always easy to fit in a full meditation, so for workplaces, I really love to share a range of micro practices. These literally just take a few moments to do and you can reach for them in any moments of need, pressure, stress and challenge throughout your day.
Why not give it a go!
“STOP” is one of my favourite micro practices that you can try on your own.
STOP is an acronym standing for Stop, Take, Observe and Proceed. You can use this simple and fast practice any time you need a moment of mindfulness. For example, when you are triggered by something stressful, you’re struggling with a change or difficult situation, or when someone has said something, and you think you’re about to respond in a way you might later regret!
STOP allows you to pause in the face of a stimulating event. It creates a space for observing your feelings and thoughts and allows you to access deeper resources within you before you respond from a place of wisdom, strength and presence. STOP helps you to learn how to respond rather than react to situations.
Each step just takes a few moments to complete, and the more you practise STOP when life is calm, the more accessible it is to you, and the more you can rely on it, when you really need it in those moments of challenge, change or stress. Once you know the practice, it can take just take a minute or so to go through it all.
So, let’s go through the steps:
Stop – literally stop or pause what you’re doing, give yourself a moment to come to rest and collect yourself.
Take – take a few slow, long, deep breaths. Try to notice the sensations of the breath in the body – you may feel a rise of your belly or chest with every inhale, and a fall back of your belly and chest on the exhale. Or maybe you feel the breath at the tip of your nostrils – cool air coming in, warm air going out.
Observe – observe your experience right now in this moment. Become aware of the position of your body, feeling the support of the floor under your feet, noticing any sensations that are here – is there tightness, stiffness, aches? Sensing any emotions that are here in this moment – is there anger, irritation, boredom or perhaps restlessness or joy? Noticing thoughts too – is your mind focused on this moment, or is it distracted by the past or the future? Is it calm or busy, cloudy or clear? Not judging what you find as good or bad, or right or wrong, just being aware of what’s here and letting it all be.
Proceed – as you start to calm down, break out of autopilot mode, and start to feel a sense of being grounded in the present moment – try to be open to the choices you have right in front of you. Ask yourself, what’s the best way to move forward from here? What’s most important to you right now? How would you like to show up in the next moment? Then proceed taking the next steps in your day from this place of greater wisdom, strength, presence and choice.
Come along to a free group session!
The STOP practice is just one of many practices that can help you to achieve more balance, calm and control in your day. If you’d like to try out some more, why not come along to one of my weekly group mindfulness sessions?
We meet over Zoom, on Friday lunchtimes at 12.30p.m. for half an hour. We explore one practice together and have chance to chat about it too. I’m opening these sessions up to guests, for free, every Friday in September 2022. Don’t worry if you can’t make every week – just come along when you can. Click here to register and receive the Zoom details.
If you’d like to find out more about how Mindfulness can help you and your colleagues, please do get in touch for an informal chat (email me or call me on 07919 561446) or check out my website. You can also register to receive regular tips, practices and invites straight into your inbox or find me on LinkedIn or Facebook.