“Paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmental” – Jon Kabat-Zinn

On purpose: it’s more than just being aware. You can be aware of the fact that you’re eating but that doesn’t mean you’re eating mindfully. It is about having the purpose of staying with the experience. And this experience can be anything: breathing, eating, doing the dishes, an emotion, …

In the present moment: the mind tends to wander. We get lost in our thoughts and very often these thoughts are about the past or the future. In mindfulness we try to notice what’s going on in the present, right now. And it’s possible that you’ll notice you’re in the past…

Non-judgmental: it’s about accepting whatever arises and observing it mindfully. When you notice ‘anger’, notice there is anger instead of ‘pushing it away’ because it’s not the ‘appropriate’ feeling to have right now… If you observe pain, stay with the pain… If you notice certain thought patterns: look at them mindfully…

After experiencing a lot of positive effects from his Buddhist practice, Jon Kabat-Zinn came up with an 8-week-programmes in 1979: MBSR (=Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction). Originally it was created to help people suffering from pain, but it was quickly opened up to people suffering from stress in general.

Afterwards MBCT (=Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy) was developed, specializing in helping people suffering from depression.

In both programmes you meet once a week, for 2,5 – 3 hours and you are given mediations and exercises to enable you to access your own resources for responding more effectively to stress, pain and illness.

Formal practice vs. non-formal practice:
Formal practiceMeditations like the bodyscan, focus on the breathing…

Informal practice:

  • When waking up: while still in bed, before getting up: notice your breathing
  • Shower: feel the water on your skin, notice the temperature, smell the soap,…
  • Meal: take your time, smell and ‘explore’ your food: taste, texture, …
  • While standing in front of a red light: be aware of your bodily sensations, relax your shoulders
  • A couple of times a day: take a ‘3-minute break’
  • Monotasking..


  • Wherever you go, there you are: mindfulness meditation in everyday life – Jon Kabat-Zinn (=introduction to the concept, short texts of 1 to 1,5 page(s))
  • Full catastrophe living. How to cope with stress, pain and illness using mindfulness meditation – Jon Kabat-Zinn (=very complete and into depth)

Free recordings of formal meditations:

Articles on Mindfulness at work:
Financial times: here

If you want to find it all in one place: theory, practice, meditations – I’ve created this product, especially for you!

The Truth about Mindfulness  – Find out more here!



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Tips and tricks for better fish!

Writing fish small


Two weeks ago I already told you about my favourite technique to give positive feedback. If you need a little reminder, you can read that blog here.

I don’t know how much you’ve practiced so far but you might have encountered some of the issues below so… I figured that I’d address them one by one …

You’re still feeling some resistance
Well, I totally get it. Every year I tell this story in my trainings to hundreds of people. Most of them are a bit sceptical (to say the least!). Sighs, rolling eyes, I see it all! Until they read the fish that they received from their fellow-participants… That’s the moment many of them change their mind…

Practice makes perfect
Some of my courses take longer: several modules over several months. Usually I explain the technique during module 1 and then they get to try it out. During module 2, there is a second round. Often I notice that it gets easier for most people. It’s something you can learn. You get better in observing and stating certain behaviour. It becomes more natural.

You’re making it harder than it is
You want to say something ‘deep’, you find it difficult and therefore… you don’t say anything… When it comes to fish, you really want to keep it simple. You want to be as specific as possible. Somebody said something, did something and… for one reason or another, you liked it! And you want to share that.

You’re too general
This one is a bit linked to the previous one. You say something like: “I’ve noticed you are very friendly”. That is too general. What is it exactly that this person does that makes you say he/she is friendly? Did he smile at you? Did he ask if you were feeling ok? Be precise!

You can’t find anything positive to say about this person
He or she has probably been getting on your nerves for a while. And that’s why you can now only see the negative. As a first step, you might want to accept that there are some things that are bothering you (no point in denying that…) AND , at the same time, actively look for something positive. The smallest thing will do. Your other colleagues seem to like him… What do they see in him? It’s worth a try and in the end you’ll win too: as long as he gets on your nerves, you experience stress… Focussing on positive things = less stress!

You are worried that, if you give too many fish, the person will stop doing his best
Maybe he’ll get arrogant? In my experience, this is not the case. People like to be appreciated for what they do. The (working)relationship will improve and … giving fish does mean that you are no longer allowed to give (constructive!) negative feedback … In my view, there is room for both!

You are only giving fish when you need something
In that case I’m afraid you didn’t really get it… At that moment you are using it to ‘manipulate’… And don’t worry: people will pick up on it. Fish are supposed to be honest, if not they start to look like piranhas or jelly fish…

So… just get into the habit of giving more fish. At first you might have to plan for it (eg. ‘I will give one fish a day’ or ‘Today I really want to give on to x’). And you’ll see: after a while it becomes easier, fish come spontaneously and … both you and the receiver will have a lot of fun!

If you have any other tips to make this practice easier, please share below!

Good luck!

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Everybody likes a fish


10 years ago I attended a ‘train –the –trainer’ programme. On day 1, the trainer told us the ‘Parable of the Porpoise’. This story turned the 3 weeks into an unforgettable experience. Having lived that experience, turned me into a ‘believer’. And since then, I just have to share it with everybody I meet.

The ‘Parable of the Porpoise’ is originally from Gregory Bateson. Please find the short version below, in my own words.

The parable of the porpoise explains how dolphins learn. (By the way: a porpoise is a type of dolphin).
Everybody has probably seen a dolphin show, live or on television. Often, there are two ‘pools’: the ‘show’ pool and the ‘living’ pool, where the dolphins go after the show is over.
Whenever a dolphin goes to the ‘show’ pool for the first time, the trainer doesn’t tell it what to do. He just observes. Whenever the dolphin does something that could be seen as a trick (eg: it does something with its tail), the trainer does 2 things: he blows his whistle and gives the dolphin a fish. The dolphin is happy but doesn’t really understand why it got the fish. However, when he does the ‘tail thing’ again, the trainer does the same thing: he blows his whistle and gives the dolphin a fish. Now the dolphin gets it. For the rest of that session it will be rewarded whenever it does the ‘tail thing’.
When the next session starts, the dolphin enthusiastically does the ‘tail thing’ but… nothing happens. ‘Maybe the trainer didn’t see it’, the dolphin thinks and it tries again, this time right in front of the trainer. Nothing… The dolphin gives up and swims away… A little bit later, the dolphin happens to do something else: it jumps. The trainer blows his whistle and gives a fish. And the dolphin understands it’s being rewarded for the new behaviour.
To cut a long story short, this happens 14 times. Each time the dolphin comes back to the ‘show’ pool, it will do the trick from last time and it will be disappointed when it is not being rewarded. Every once in a while the trainer will give a fish (without the whistle) to keep the dolphin happy. The 15th time, however, something happens: it’s as if the dolphin ‘got’ it. When it comes into the ‘show’ pool, it does 8 things it has never done before, 4 of which were never done by a dolphin! And this is where the ‘parable’ ends.

After telling us the story, our trainer said that this was a metaphor for positive feedback. And… that during our programme, the only type of feedback we would give and get would be … positive. After every exercise, we were supposed to give each other a ‘fish’. A ‘fish’ was a little piece of paper with 2 names and 2 (half) sentences.

Dear X (name of the person the fish was meant for)
I’ve noticed that ___________________________ (specific behaviour of X)
I like(d) it because ________________________ (effect of behaviour on Y)
Name Y (=observer) (No anonymous fish!)

Further instructions were: you should always be able to find a fish and… you had to be honest!

I can assure you there was quite some resistance in the room. ‘What? Only positive feedback? How will I know what I do wrong?’
I have to admit I wasn’t completely convinced myself. I was totally in favour of positive feedback but… in combination with negative feedback. Unfortunately, only fish were allowed…

Let me give you an example:
Imagine: 4 people are doing an excercise together and 3 of them have to write a fish for the 4th one: John.

Fish 1:
Dear John,
I’ve noticed you have good eye contact.
I like it because I felt spoken to personally.
Person 1 

Fish 2:
Dear John,
I’ve noticed you have good eye-contact.
I like it because it helped me to stay focussed.
Person 2 

Fish 3:
Dear John,
I’ve noticed you gave good examples.
I liked it because it helped me to understand the theory better.
Person 3.

As you can see, it’s possible for 2 people to observe the same behaviour, which can have a different effect on them.

You’ll be curious to find out what happened during our course. Well, we only received positive feedback and still improved! How? Let’s go back to the example given above: suppose I am not so good at keeping eye contact. But… now that I’ve experienced the effect of it, I’m more likely to pay attention to it in the future! I will also pay attention to using good examples, etc…

So we were both getting better AND enjoying the lovely compliments… What more can you wish for?

Convinced? Give it a try. Next time I’ll come back with some practical tips on how you can use the fish in your daily life, both at home as in the office!

You can find the original version here: ‘The Parable of the Porpoise’

Good luck!

(Credits to Table19 Stock for the photo)

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