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Overworked? Overwhelmed? Stop more!

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Overworked? Overwhelmed? Stop more!

Monday, July 10th, 2017

Some time ago a frantic businessman went to study for a few days with a mindfulness  master. When he was preparing to leave he asked the master how long he needed to practice mindfulness for in his daily life.

‘An hour a day’ the master replied

‘I am far too busy to do that’ He cried aghast.

‘In that case you need to do 2 hours a day!’.

In our ‘always on’ culture, it seems counter intuitive, but taking time to ‘stop’ can help us to deal with increasing workloads. Think of it like this. Stopping mindfully can actually turbo charge our focus and action! We can rush along in 3rd gear most of the day occasionally pushing up into 4th or 5th with some effort OR we can spend most of our day in 5th gear by making sure we stop mindfully from time to time during the day.

When we say ‘stop’ we don’t just mean downing tools and having a chat/beer/cuppa. We mean stopping with awareness and mindfulness, to calm and relax body and mind. This mindful stopping will increase our focus noticeably so that our work is more effective. For example, a US experiment found that just four days of mindfulness training for only 20 minutes per day could help on many cognitive tests especially tasks with time constraints.[1]

Consider this example. Sarah has a work life full of reports, meetings, dead-lines. On the first day, a report had to be written and she sat down to do it with her mind cluttered with her other responsibilities. An hour and a half later she had a passable report – about 7/10. The next day Sarah had a similar report to write, but before starting she stopped and practiced a calming meditation for 10 minutes. Then 45 minutes later she had a great report – definitely 10/10. Why would we work any other way?

Mindful stopping not only helps to turbo charge action it reduces stress significantly. For example, structured mindfulness training and regular practice has been show to be able to half stress levels[2]. So with mindful stopping, not only do we work smarter but we enjoy it more too.

‘So how long do I need to stop for?’ You ask.

The good news is that recent research suggests that unlike the businessman in the story you don’t need to meditate for 2 hours a day to gain the benefits! The findings indicate that stopping regularly for 10 minutes a day to calm body and mind provides many of the benefits especially if done in conjunction with some structured mindfulness training.[3]

Try one or all of these three things to gain the benefits

  1. Start stopping now! Try our ten minute guided meditation for stopping and calming here and repeat daily
  2. Join us on our weekend Inner Edge mindfulness course for detailed support and inspiration
  3. Engage us to provide corporate mindfulness programmes contact us on



[1] 2 Zeidan, F., Johnson, S. K., Diamond, B. J., David, Z., & Goolkasian, P. (2010). Mindfulness meditation improves cognition: Evidence of brief mental training. Consciousness and Cognition

[2] Oxford University November 2013 found that a structured mindfulness course reduced stress, anxiety and depression by 50% on average

[3] Ashridge Executive Education and Hult Research, The Mindful Leader November 2016

3 Top Tips to Build Resilience

Monday, July 10th, 2017

By Dene Donalds.

In 2016 a Health and Safety Executive (HSE) study identified that 47% of absence at work is due to stress and related anxiety and depression. Previously in November 2013 Oxford University found that a structured mindfulness course reduced stress, anxiety and depression by 50% on average.

So it’s understandable that the use of mindfulness to help build resilience has begun to take on more importance for individuals and teams within organisations today.

The fast paced lives we live can prevent us from stopping, calming, and allowing our neurological thinking patterns to operate at their optimum.

Resilience is a human quality that allows us to be knocked down by life and bounce back even stronger. The great news about resilience is that it’s not a personality trait. It’s something anyone can learn.

My three top tips are below and the studies and background follow:

Tip 1.

Regularly ask yourself ‘are my perceptions true’ write this phrase down on a card and place it on the wall of your workspace.

Tip 2.

Develop nurturing and nourishing relationships. Develop a range of positive, supportive trustworthy connections, within and outside your family where you are listened to without judgment. Join a local interest group, evening class, stay in contact with people that you trust and consider joining a local mindfulness group.

Tip 3.

Use mindfulness exercises to respond rather than react. Pause and look closely at your perceptions and ask if they are true and informed. Spend time in environments that encourage self-reflection. When faced with adversity, rather than resorting to old patterns of behaviour which in the past have made the situation worse, pause and take a few conscious breaths. Use mindfulness and nurturing supportive relationships to shift your attention from negative reactive rumination to more positive functional thoughts and actions to address the challenging situation.


Optimism is a choice. Avoid seeing crises as insurmountable. You can’t change the fact that change and very stressful events happen. However you can change your response to those situations.  Mindful meditation can help teach us to respond to adverse situations rather than reacting to them.


Try our free-guided mindful meditations and deep relaxation exercises to help build resilience:  

Background and Studies

Studies suggest that people can be trained to modulate their own brain activity. Feder et al (2009) and Jackson et al (2007) explored resilience as a strategy for responding to workplace adversity. They concluded that the workforce can develop and strengthen resilience by participating in mentoring programs, maintaining balance in their lives and developing emotional insight.

In a study of nurses working in a residential facility, Cameron & Brownie (2010) found that nurses reported that their resilience was enhanced by colleagues or mentors who provided physical or psychological support; by offering the chance to self-reflect, debrief, or validate. Those who provided relief through humour and camaraderie were also mentioned as resilience enhancing.

Humans have been programmed to scan for danger. In response to real or perceived threat our bodies release cortisol from the Hypothalamic Pituitary Adrenal (HPA) axis. The sympathetic nervous system stimulates the adrenal medulla to release adrenaline and prime for a fight or flight response.

The release of these hormones causes our hearts to beat faster and oxygen to circulate to the periphery of our body; so we can move and allow our brain to enable thought. When our nervous system detects safety, oxytocin is released in the body and stress responses from the HPA axis are suppressed. Our natural body rhythms cause a fluctuation between sympathetic and parasympathetic responses.

A high stress environment disrupts the bodies’ normal biorhythms, and can result in a state of chronic stress. High levels of cortisol in the blood stream are associated with lowered immunity and wound healing, higher blood pressure, impaired cognitive performance and a number of other health problems. Therefore it makes sense for us to build our resilience and develop greater equanimity.

Enhancing Resilience

It is interesting that “greater use of reappraisal in everyday life had been linked to greater Pre Frontal Cortex PFC activity and lower amygdala activity in response to negative stimuli suggesting a way to promote successful coping Feder et al.( 2009).

Zen teacher and peace activist Thich Nhat Hanh encouragers us to ask the question ‘Is it so?’ which can reduce a lot of our suffering due to our misperceptions about a person or situation.

In the book ‘Your True Home’ Thich Nhat Hanh ( 2011 ) reminds us that we are only human and we have wrong perceptions everyday. Our work colleagues ,family and friends are also subject to wrong perceptions, so we must help each other to see more clearly. We should not trust our initial perceptions too much. “Are you sure of your perceptions?” he asks us. And encourages us to write this phrase down on a card and place it on the wall or our workspace.

When I facilitate mindful meditation retreats or programmes, when a safe environment has been built with participants. I will break participants into small groups and give them the opportunity to share personal stories and experiences.

During the exercise each of us speaks openly and honestly while the rest of the group listens without judgment and in silence. This experience can offer us all a humbling reminder that the assumptions we make about people and situations, sometimes couldn’t be further from the truth.

Mindfulness for Leaders at Activate Learning

Monday, July 3rd, 2017

Activate Learning is a training and education group with more than 500 teachers focused on training and education for 16,000 students and 1,200 business clients. Its Learning Philosophy underpins development of all students and staff, including leadership development. Activate Learning trains its staff in a wide variety of disciplines to help them help the students and to ensure that everyone in the organisation shares the same vision of what the organisation wishes to achieve and how they want to achieve it.  Included in this training is ‘mindfulness’.  As part of the organisation’s Leadership Development Programme for its top 40 staff, Pablo Lloyd, a Group Executive Director, decided to give a ‘taste’ of mindfulness to the management. So that they would understand what their front-line teachers were doing and also be able to use mindfulness to support themselves during changing times.

Verve Consulting Ltd (Verve) was referred by a well-respected business acquaintance, as a company that could provide such training in a professional environment. The whole process was tailored to Activate Learning’s need. Vari McLuskie, Director at Verve, met with the top management to discuss options and approaches before the session was scheduled.  The objectives of the ½ day workshop were clearly defined:

  • Help top management to understand more about mindfulness and what the organisation is offering to learners
  • Instil an appetite to use mindfulness to support the changes in the organisation

The session itself involved around 40 individuals and began with an explanation of what is actually meant by ‘mindfulness’ and the science supporting this. Then, Vari began by ‘learning through doing’ and led the participants through 3 different, mindfulness exercises with time for a review and debrief on the experience.

When asked about the success of the day, Pablo Lloyd responded “I am very glad we did the day. It met all its objectives. It was interesting to see that – while most people enjoyed the process and the entire top team bought into the idea – there were a few who really struggled. Having said that, this workshop is part of a longer process of creating a relevant business culture and there may be those individuals who find this change difficult.  I would definitely recommend Vari McLuskie and Verve Consulting to anyone who wants to explore the application of mindfulness to their business or organisation.  I thoroughly enjoyed the process.”

Verve leads complex change at Bone Marrow Donors Worldwide

Tuesday, March 21st, 2017

Bone Marrow Donors Worldwide (BMDW) provide a life saving global database of stem cell donors. Around the world matches can be found for blood cancer patients, offering them the gift of life. Based in Leiden in the Netherlands, BMDW is funded by the major national stem cell registers to provide this global service.

The approach to matching patients to donors has evolved quickly over the last few years, as result of more detailed stem cell typing and increasing knowledge of what constitutes a good match. By 2014 it was clear to BMDW that they needed to upgrade their search and matching service to meet the changed needs of the global community.

‘We knew that this was a complex project. Not only did we have to develop a complex IT system but we also had to gain consensus from the international community about the approach and requirements’ explains Henny Braund, BMDW Board member. To ensure the success of this project, BMDW approached Verve Consulting to provide a Project Lead to work with their Board and executive team to scope, launch and drive this complex project through to completion.

Verve Consulting assigned Roger Wilson. Roger worked with the international team over two years to ensure a successful launch of the new search and match service in November 2016.  Henny continues ‘Roger was an essential ingredient in this project. We could not have done it without him. Roger brought understanding of the business and of cultural differences along with an ability to network. He combines strategic and lateral thinking, persuasiveness, focus and drive, which were all key to the success of the project.’

Breathing new life into change at Anthony Nolan

Sunday, November 20th, 2016

Anthony Nolan is a charity set up to assist with the matching of stem cells with transplant recipients.  As part of its work, Anthony Nolan collects, analyses (types), stores and ‘matches’ potential donors to needy recipients.  Over the last few years, the laboratories have been taking part in a major programme to introduce new tissue typing technology and thereby, enable more accurate matching of donors to recipients.  This programme required a major change in all the lab processes while, at the same time, carrying on with all the day to day laboratory testing.  Th ] situation was high pressure and stressful and, after two years, the participants were flagging and showing signs of mental exhaustion.

Vari McLuskie, the programme director from Verve Consulting, noted the ‘project fatigue’ and suggested a solution.  Vari had been a practitioner of Mindfulness and Meditative practices for more than 25 years and felt certain the some of these techniques could help.  Therefore, she suggested to the laboratory director, Katy Latham, that she carry out a 10 week programme which focused on Mindfulness, integrated with some time management skills.  Her suggestion was accepted and then, every Tuesday lunchtime, a group of key, senior lab managers, joined Vari who carried out the Mindfulness training.

“Up until that point,” explained Katy Latham, “Everyone was slowing down. They were fatigued and the whole programme felt like it was losing momentum.  Everybody was stressed, so Vari suggested a ‘Learning and Development opportunity.” Katy admitted that, while everyone had heard of Mindfulness, doing it in a work situation felt strange. Katy then elaborated,  “Many people were sceptical too – we made certain that the window on the door was covered so that no one could see what we were doing.”   Vari quickly covered the fundamentals of mindfulness, integrating the explanation with practical, group activities and time management techniques.

“I found it very enjoyable.  Everyone went into the sessions very stressed and came out far more relaxed, focused and effective.  It seemed to help us breathe new life into our project at a very difficult time. I don’t have exact numbers, but around 50% of those who attended have carried on with the practice and it has certainly helped the team bond and work together more effectively’.

Employee survey results boost for UK children’s charity

Thursday, December 13th, 2012

Following an operational review by Verve Consulting, Plan UK’s Director of Human Resources, Angela Beerman is delighted that the latest employee survey is already showing great improvements in satisfaction scores for the management practices that were in the scope of the Verve project.

Commenting on the results, Angela said:”It is great news that we have the improved employee survey results as evidence of the successful outcome of the work Verve has done.”

Plan UK is part of a global children’s charity that has worked for over 75 years with children in the world’s poorest countries to help them build a better future.

The work by Verve produced a top line decision making map, a decision tool covering accountabilities, responsibilities and communication, and an implementation plan.

Angela continues: “The work Verve has done is making a difference already at the senior levels in the organization and the decision making tool gives us clarity for our plans and business cases.”

You can read the full case study in Our Clients

YoungDementia UK Homes makes progress with a 5-star contribution from Verve Consulting

Friday, October 5th, 2012

Verve’s work with YoungDementia UK Homes has resulted in successful progress toward the delivery of a residential home offering long-term accommodation and support for people with young onset dementia.

Working closely with Chairman, Geoff Shepherd, and the Board of Trustees, Verve managed the strategy process, and the charity has made impressive progress since Verve’s involvement. Although Geoff recognizes that he and the Trustees still have much work to do, he is pleased with the results so far.

Geoff said, “Working with Verve was a very, very invigorating experience. They have a sound commercial approach and are results oriented, which was a winning combination for us. We would not have made the progress we did without Verve and overall I rate Verve’s involvement a 5-star contribution.”

You can read the full case study in Our Clients

Verve works with YoungDementia UK on ambitious new strategy

Tuesday, August 28th, 2012

Verve Consulting was recently appointed by YoungDementia UK to work with the charity on the development of its strategy.

Director, Tessa Gutteridge explains: “We decided to engage Verve because we wanted someone who was independent of the Board, but who had a proven track record of understanding strategy and the charity sector.”

Tessa continues: “Verve Consulting’s involvement meant that we were able to commit quality time to discussion about where we wanted to take the charity in the future. With Verve’s knowledge of the charity sector they were able to challenge our assumptions and help us get clarity into our thinking. And finally, Verve’s experience with strategy work ensured we focused on achievements, rather than the process, to give us a far better outcome.”

You can read the full case study in Our Clients

Verve completes global change programme for telecommunications group

Tuesday, January 17th, 2012

A leading telecommunications group needed a well-defined, global, change management programme to drive improved collaboration across international boundaries and business groups.

The client wanted to improve efficiency and effectiveness through greater collaboration between its subsidiaries around the world. A major internal change programme was essential in order to achieve these objectives and, after a slow start using internal resources, the Client brought in Verve Consulting to re-establish the implementation of this global change programme.

The complex nature of this strategic work demanded an equal measure of experience in large-scale technology projects and sensitivity in managing behavior change with culturally different groups and diverse working methods.

Verve’s leadership of the programme resulted in a successful outcome for this global telecommunications company. The launch of the tools and global roll out was delivered on time and to budget with the company benefitting from a more efficient way of working.

You can read the full case study in Our Clients


Procurement Strategy saves over £500,000 per annum for Anthony Nolan

Friday, December 2nd, 2011

With an external spend of over £6million, in a turnover of around £30million, Anthony Nolan, a very successful charity whose mission is saving lives, identified the procurement of services and supplies as a potential opportunity to make significant savings that could contribute to its mission.

Following proposals from Verve Consulting, and satisfied with Verve’s procurement credentials, Anthony Nolan appointed Verve for a first phase trial project. Alan How, Finance & Resources Director, explains: “We know Verve well, trust them and like their outcomes. We decided to engage Verve for a trial procurement project with the assurance that the cost of the project would be covered by savings made, or the charges for the project would be reduced.”

Having identified in the trial that savings were possible and achievable, and with the price of the first phase covered by quick-win cost savings, Anthony Nolan awarded Verve a six-month strategic consulting project to implement the procurement plan.

In the implementation phase Verve systematically applied procurement techniques to the areas where the greatest possible savings had been identified. Verve established relationships with all the key stakeholders responsible for buying the services and materials in the scope of the procurement plan, ran workshops with the in-house teams to pull together a coherent approach to the potential suppliers of each of the services or materials, allocated clear responsibilities for specific suppliers, set up tender processes, and negotiated with suppliers. The implementation of the plan has led to the successful delivery of annual savings of over £500,000.

Alan How continues, “Verve has delivered an extremely successful project for Anthony Nolan. The result is a large annual cost saving that allows us to expand our services and help Anthony Nolan to achieve our goal of doubling the number of lives to whom we give the chance of life.”

Summing up Verve Consulting’s overall contribution to the procurement strategy, Alan added, “Verve brings a maturity of approach and a high level of professionalism that has achieved successful outcomes within a contained cost, which is extremely important for a charity like Anthony Nolan.”

You can read the full case study in Our Clients