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Improving Your Wellbeing 5 Minutes At A Time: A Q&A With Healthy Mind Innovations’ Peggy Panosh
  • There is science-backed proof that anybody can retrain their mind in just 5-7 minutes per day.
  • By doing this, some people have seen a 25% reduction in burnout and 33% improvement in wellbeing.
  • Allwork.Space speaks to the person behind these findings, CEO Peggy Panosh, to learn why companies should get behind these initiatives to improve the health of their people, and their business.

The workplace wellness market is expected to reach $66.20 billion by 2027. 

It’s a booming industry and for good reason. Research has shown that our wellbeing impacts our performance at work, so it’s in everyone’s best interest—companies and employees—for us to achieve an optimal level of wellbeing. 

There are various ways to go about this, and one science-backed method argues it only takes 5-7 minutes a day to improve our wellbeing.  

Healthy Minds Innovations (HMI) is a nonprofit affiliated with the Center for Healthy Minds at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Their goal is to translate science into actionable tools and steps that can help people cultivate and measure wellbeing.  

HMI believes that wellbeing is a skill that can be learned in as little as 5 to 7 minutes a day. Allwork.Space spoke with Peggy Panosh, CEO at Healthy Minds Innovations to learn more about HMI and their research on how meditation tasks can help train our minds to be more resilient and improve our wellbeing.  

Answers have been edited for length and clarity.  

Allwork.Space: Healthy Minds Innovation claims that wellbeing is a skill that can be cultivated and strengthened. What’s the science behind this claim? 

Peggy Panosh: What we believe is that wellbeing is not a static thing. Rather, it is a set of things that can be learned and cultivated. So just as you can cultivate the skill to play a music instrument, draw, paint, or ride a bike, you can cultivate wellbeing.  

It all comes down to neuroplasticity; we are not our circumstances. Neuroplasticity is the brain’s ability to reorganize itself to form new neuro connections. As a result, we can fundamentally change the way we react to situations, therefore becoming more resilient.  

“It all comes down to neuroplasticity; we are not our circumstances… We can fundamentally change the way we react to situations, therefore becoming more resilient.”

Peggy Panosh, HMI

The paper we published ‘The Plasticity of Well-being: A Training-based Framework for the Cultivation of Human Flourishing’ in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) journal introduced a new framework that focuses on specific skills that can be learned to train our minds.  

Allwork.Space: I understand the proposed framework is based on 4 pillars. Can you share more about the framework and the pillars it is based on?  

We like to think of our framework as a guided path to wellbeing. The 4 pillars proposed have been around for years, what we have done is marry the science behind these pillars with the practice.  

The first pillar is awareness. What we mean with awareness is for you to be present, to have a heightened sense of your environment, your internal cues (such as bodily sensations), your thoughts, and your feelings. More importantly, it’s about noticing these sensations, thoughts, and feelings as they arise. The goal is to fight our tendency to go into “autopilot” when we do daily tasks like cleaning or driving so that these daily tasks can be more meditative and mindful.  

The second pillar is connection; promoting and supporting relationships and interactions. Connection is about acknowledging people’s differences and different points of view. True connection comes when you understand the unique perspective of those around you and acknowledging and sharing why we appreciate people, even if they are different from us.  

The third pillar is insight. Insight is self-knowledge on how our emotions, thoughts, and feelings present themselves. For example, if you have an anxious thought, you want to be able to identify where that anxiousness is coming from. Is it coming from fear, expectations, or criticism?  

The fourth pillar is purpose. Purpose is being clear about our core values and deeper motivations and knowing how to apply them to daily life. Take for example the task of doing dishes; how can you link this mundane activity with motivation? When you have purpose, you are able to frame doing dishes as an act of generosity for the people you live with.  

Allwork.Space: How can people use this framework and put it in practice?  

One of the amazing things about HMI’s framework is the notion that you can train your mind while you do anything. You don’t really need to carve out time to sit in a quiet room by yourself in order to practice meditation and mindfulness.  

In fact, there is scientific proof that it only takes 5 to 7 minutes a day to change your mind.  

This means that you can practice awareness while brushing your teeth; you can focus on the sound of the water or the smell of your favorite toothpaste. Our framework aims to help people increase their ability to tune into what they are doing.  

In a work setting, this could be practicing appreciation when you join a Zoom meeting. Can you look at each of the video boxes in the Zoom meeting and think of something that you appreciate about each of the participants?  

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    The same goes for insight and purpose.  

    Can you practice insight when you are feeling anxiety before a difficult work conversation or when you are going to receive feedback? All it takes if for you to stop for a moment and notice how you are feeling, and question if these feelings are true or simply a force of habit.  

    At HMI we believe that the best meditation is the one that you do. Whether it is 20 minutes in a quiet room or simply tuning in to yourself as you do the dishes, check your email, or go for a walk. The key is to anchor ourselves in our regular routines.  

    Allwork.Space: HMI offers a Healthy Minds @ Work program. Can you share more about this program and how it is helping companies tackle mental health and stress in the workplace? 

    Demand for workplace wellness has been growing during the pandemic. A lot of this is being driven by the fact that people are reporting higher levels of stress and burnout across every business vertical.  

    Our most popular offering right now is our 30-day challenge. It allows people to experience the teachings and practices in a way that is doable and supports people in building a sustainable wellbeing practice. It uses our app and provides very simple and timely science-based practices so that employees can actually see how their wellbeing improves during the 30-day challenge.  

    On average, we are seeing that participants are experiencing a 25% reduction on burnout while their wellbeing is improving by 33%.  

    What employers are sharing with us is that the challenge helps build culture of wellbeing by creating a shared language, a common vocabulary by which people can connect and move their practices forward.  

    Allwork.Space: I think it’s great the companies are doing more to support the wellbeing of their employees; however, there is research out there that claims that workplace wellness programs don’t work. HMI’s solutions are science-backed, so what gives? 

    I have to say, at HMI we love these articles because they bring up a good point about workplace wellness, and that point is that a wellness practice without an overarching holistic program will not succeed.  

    Wellness programs need to be an authentic part of the workplace culture; there needs to be leadership support, leadership actions, and companies need to address systemic issues within the organization.  

    Research that says that wellness programs don’t work help clarify what makes a good workplace wellbeing program. What we have seen is that one of the biggest issues raised by these articles is that wellness programs are typically instituted without any change in other areas of an organization. This sets wellness programs up to fail. No meditation program will help with employee burnout if you do not provide work-life balance.  

    Allwork.Space: So, let’s say an organization wants to implement HMI’s Healthy Minds @ Work program. What are some other things the organization needs to do to ensure the success of the program? 

    For any program to work, there needs to be an overarching commitment to a culture of mindfulness and wellbeing.  

    In the case of Healthy Minds @ Work, it’s not just an employee using the practices in our app that is going to make a difference. Organizations need to look at how they are going to help support their employees holistically.  

    So, for example, how are organizations going to grow awareness to influence employee adoption of wellness programs? What we find at HMI is that education employees and leadership on the scientific research behind our program influences adoption.  

    There are various ways to build awareness; lunch and learn, speaker series, and blogs about wellness practices are just a few examples. We believe that constant communication and regular reminders are key to growing awareness.  

    There also needs to be an element of motivation that comes from within an organization. This motivation can take the form of peer support or company calendar holds—basically, no meetings between specific times on specific days.  

    The other thing is focusing on incremental goals; you are not going to change overnight, neither is an organization. Incremental changes are key.  

    Allwork.Space: Thanks Peggy for taking the time to chat with us today. Any closing thoughts from you? 

    I think that this is the time for wellbeing; we are continuing to face unprecedented challenges that are transcending the challenges of anything we know.  

    This is underscoring the importance of what we do know, and what we do know is that there is empirical evidence that mindfulness practices work; but it must be done in parallel with leadership support.  

    It’s important to walk the talk; it speaks much louder than words.  

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