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This is part of a series looking at microskills – changes that employees can make to help improve their health and life at work and at home, and employers can make to improve the workplace. The Globe and Mail and Morneau Shepell have created the Employee Recommended Workplace Award to honour companies that put the health and well-being of their employees first. Registration for 2017 has now closed. Winners will be announced in Spring 2017. Sign up to receive an e-mail about registration for 2018 at

On most days, are you worried or calm?

I often ask this question during one of my coping crisis workshops. To manage the demands of life and work, coping skills have become a topic of discussion to reduce employees' risk for mental illness, as well as to positively impact their engagement and productivity.

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The microskill of mindful visualization can increase the degree of calm you have in your life. Mastering it takes about 10 minutes of focused practice five to six times a week. There are no shortcuts to the benefits; it takes discipline, patience and intention.


The above question is aligned to a growing line of brain research called neuroplasticity that purports our brain is constantly being shaped by our experiences, thinking and emotions. We increase our success at accomplishing an outcome when we focus on it, whether good or bad for us. In the case of Sam, a chronic worrier, over time his brain adapted and reinforced his worrying. That resulted in increased levels of anxiety accompanied by symptoms such as fear, uneasiness, dry mouth, shortness of breath, difficulty sleeping, restlessness and muscle tension.

Through the power of focus and attention, each of us can influence and re-shape our brain's architecture. Neuroplasticity research indicates that it basically takes the same level of effort to become a worrier as it does to be calm.

In one year from now, would you like to see yourself as a calmer person with all the benefits? If so, and you're looking for a change, proceed to the next step.


It's your life, your choice and your brain. You need to understand that it's possible to create calm, regardless of how your life is today, if you truly want to. One proven way to improve your mental health is to adopt mindfulness, where you change your attention from worrying and experiencing a hectic life to focusing on being calm and focus on the now.

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Mindful visualization is a structured model designed to facilitate mindfulness that can influence how you view and interact with the world. Based on neuroplasticity, creating experiences that promote calm and happiness can shape the brain so it improves its ability to be calm and happy, benefiting your experiences both at work and at home.

Five steps for mindful visualization

1. Measure your current state.

On a scale of one (low) to five (high), how calm are you? Write this number in your daily calendar so you can track it.

2. Find now.

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Look around and notice five things that you can hear or see: the colour of your shoes, a clock or the sound of a fan. This is a transition step that gets your mind from where it was to now.

3. Take five.

Practice being in the moment without judgement for five minutes. Use a timer or go by feel. It's fine to go a bit longer, but not less. To prepare for this step, take a few gentle breaths in and out to relax and then set your eyes on a spot. Allow your mind to be empty and just focus on your breathing or the spot at which you're looking . If your mind wanders off task, that's fine, just bring it back to now and focus on the spot. This mindful step helps train your brain to slow down. It gets easier with practice.

4. Visualize benefits.

Some people, when they visualize, can run a mental video; others hear an audio story. It doesn't matter. As above, no judgement: when your mind wanders, catch yourself and come back to your visualization. Visualize yourself being calm in situations you find challenging or worry about. Picture yourself in different situations where you are able to stay calm. We all have seen others stay calm under pressure. Use this as a reference point to fill in the blanks for your visualization. Focus only on success and positives – no negatives. If a negative jumps into your mind, release it. Think about what you did. How did others react? The outcome is experiencing the benefits of being calm and thinking about how a calm person behaves, thinks and feels.

5. Anchor success.

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On the same one-to-five scale, re-measure how calm you are. Track your progress over the next six weeks.

Once you master this exercise, you can replace calm with any word you choose to add to your life, such as happiness.

Bill Howatt is the chief research and development officer of work force productivity with Morneau Shepell in Toronto. He is also the president of Howatt HR Consulting and founder of TalOp, in Kentville, N.S.

This series supports The Globe and Mail and Morneau Shepell's Employee Recommended Workplace Award.

This award recognizes employers who have the healthiest, most engaged and most productive employees. It promotes a two-way accountability model where an employer can support employees to have a positive workplace experience.

You can find all the stories in this series at this link:

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