Debbie Goodman-Bhyat is an Entrepreneurs' Organization (EO) member in Cape Town, South Africa, and founder and CEO of Jack Hammer, one of Africa's top executive search firms. Debbie recently wrote a book about the transformative impact mindfulness has had on her, both personally and professionally. She shared her journey from feeling overwhelmed to living mindfully and accomplishing more with an audience of global women entrepreneurs at the 2018 MyEO Women of EO Summit in Napa, California. The following is modified from Debbie's speech transcript with permission.
Life Was But a Dream
In 2012, to the outside world, my life probably looked like a dream: I was running a growing company, had a wonderful family, beautiful home, great holidays, and was happy, healthy and fit. The perfect life, right?
Yes, I was achieving lots of things, but I was missing out--on my life. Something had to change. I wanted to be more present for the people and events that were meaningful, to enjoy the amazing moments of my life.
With help from my husband in the form of a book he gave me, I found the answer: Mindfulness. As defined by the movement's pioneer, Jon Kabat-Zinn, mindfulness is "The awareness which arises when you pay attention, on purpose, non-judgmentally, to the experience of the present moment."
In other words, it's a form of training to become aware, to get off autopilot, to start noticing, to become present--both "formally" through mindfulness meditation practice, and informally by paying deliberate attention to the "here and now" of daily life.
Evidence of Change
So, I learned to be more mindful. And everything changed. In the following year, I went on a life-changing trip to Nepal, surfed in the Maldives, danced professionally for the first time in 15 years, and achieved 20 percent growth in my company, which we've repeated year on year ever since.
The most amazing part? None of it felt like extra effort.
But--how could that be? Before I started practicing mindfulness, adding one more thing to my over-scheduled life would have caused a tidal wave of stress. What changed?
First, I started a 10- to 20-minute daily meditation practice. As that formal mindfulness practice started showing results, I wanted more. So, I designed my own informal mindfulness-based ritual.
My mindfulness-based system consists of prompts to help me notice the small, ordinary, meaningful moments that occur every day.
I call it IntheFlow (ITF). I've been practicing it for nearly six years and have introduced it to companies in Southeast Asia, China, Kenya, Europe and the US.
Here are three of the prompts we use:
1. Yesterday's Best Thing (YBT). By identifying the best moments of yesterday, I have the opportunity to recall and connect with the ordinary--yet meaningful--moments that might otherwise pass by unnoticed. With practice, I've started to notice special moments as they happen. It's no longer reflective; I acknowledge them in the moment.
2. Grateful For. There is plentiful data on the correlation between feelings of gratitude and appreciation and the positive impact on emotional and physical health. For ITF, we focus on small, ordinary specifics that don't often get a lot of airtime.
3. Compliment Sincerely. Years ago, while traveling during an unexpected cold snap, I went to buy a jacket. As I tried one on, a woman tapped me on the shoulder, saying, "That jacket looks great on you." I felt flattered, but my instinct was: She must be a salesperson. But as I was paying, I realized that she was another customer offering a sincere compliment. I wondered, "How often do I think a complimentary thought without expressing it?" Such thoughts pass by because I'm distracted or unwilling to engage. This prompt has helped change that habit.
Using IntheFlow at Work
When I started ITF, I used handwritten prompts on a laminated card, stuck to my computer monitor. It worked so well that I introduced it to my team in 2013.
We've practiced ITF daily ever since, which means that the team finds real value in it. Otherwise, it would have petered out.
I started noticing significant changes--a fundamental transformation of team culture. Individually, people became more self-aware and self-reflective. They started showing greater empathy, respect, understanding and trust, which impacted engagement and productivity. I documented these changes and ultimately wrote a book about it.
Here's what ITF at work looks like:
Our office administrator emails a daily reminder. We each reply, noting our "Yesterday's Best Thing" plus one other element chosen as our weekly focus.
The replies are compiled into a report and sent out by mid-morning. In this way, the entire team knows what's going on in one another's lives. We only share a couple of lines, but they're authentic and filled with meaning. Over time, this has cultivated understanding, compassion, trust and love.
Imagine an environment, where your entire team does this, every day. Sharing small, bite-sized stories can shift and transform a team culture, sustainably.
Imagine the impact it could have on a team that works remotely and never occupies the same physical work environment. They would have a way to connect, build meaningful relationships, cultivate compassion and build trust.
Is ITF mindfulness?
I wondered whether ITF is still mindfulness or something else altogether? Here's how I got my answer.
A new colleague who was a very private person shared a YBT story after a terrible day: challenges at work, monster traffic, a fight with her mother--we all have them, right? When prompted to share Yesterday's Best Thing, she almost wrote, "Going to bed early after a horrible day." Then she remembered something wonderful that had happened: Her daughter, age 3, had rushed to her as she got home, and for the first time ever had said, "Mommy, I love you."
What was so incredible is that this moment had almost gone unnoticed. But thanks to mindfulness and ITF, it didn't.
She looked at me and said, "Thank you. Without mindfulness, I might've missed that."