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Expert Series: Reaching the balance-boundary harmony in 2020 with Johanna Dahlman

Originally published on Jan 9, 2020 for Antler Amsterdam


Johanna Dahlman has been passionate about bringing the best performance out

of people by empowering them with the knowledge of mindfulness. Johanna is

the founder of CORE Events, a creative initiative connecting entrepreneurs,

businesses and companies with hands-on mindfulness, corporate wellness and

stress management techniques. In light of the new decade just around the

corner, Yingzhao Zhu caught up with her to get the latest tips on how she is

helping startups and entrepreneurs thrive through mindfulness.


As a startup founder, the golden rules of being positive are hard to maintain. As

an entrepreneur, every aspect of the business demands large amounts of

attention, and sometimes it’s just hard to keep your spirits up consistently.

Sustaining the high performance of founders will be strengthened when

attention is equally spread out in all areas of business, and that’s where

mindfulness comes in. Mindfulness is not all about “paying attention” - it’s about

being present while keeping the clear picture of the future in mind. Judgment

free, shame free, peace of mind. Period.


Q1: Can you tell us a bit more about why you got

interested in mindfulness, and especially the angle of “Enterprise Wellness”?


I used to work for Fortune 500 and 100 companies such as Apple, and startups

myself- the work is demanding yet exhilarating, allowing you to keep working at

all times and days without noticing years have gone by. I have high standards

for myself and kept pushing to do more. I came with high level of commitment,

strong work ethics, and was always saying “Yes” to all of the projects that came

my way, taking on much more than my job title. In the middle of several life and

work transitions, I was diagnosed with alopecia, an autoimmune disease, and

lost 50% of my hair. Many attribute chronic stress as one of the culprits. Diet &

lifestyle, however, are key to having a strong foundation of health. If I were to

look back at my childhood and my career, I see many are in the same boat bound

for the destination of obtaining a health scare or illness. This is primarily

why I am very vocal about health, because it’s the one resource you cannot get

back. You can get better and regenerate but other times you cannot and your

body isn’t so resilient. Let’s work on health so our one precious resource is good

for today, tomorrow and beyond.

There’s always a lot of factors when illness strikes. I used mine as a loud

sounding alarm, as I never had been sick, never called in sick and never missed

school or work. I slowed down and stepped out of corporate at that time, set up

my own company, and seriously revisited my to-do list and life goals. With

alopecia, I started to value life and realized health can be infinite. I revisited my

objectives and goals, and started to focus on the long-term impacts. Corporate

health and related aspects will create an impact that lasts for a long time. People

really need to understand the power of corporate wellness and health in

general. People can take on excessive stress for a short amount of time, but

when the stress continues to add up, people will start to experience negative impacts, such as low engagement, stronger desire to switch jobs, and low

stamina to commit to one company.

In the end, I wanted to commit more of my time into corporate wellness not

only because of my own situation but also, all around me, I saw people’s

engagement and ultimately their unhappiness and health decrease, and I

wanted to do something about it. Health determines our quality of life; it’s the

only thing that matters in the end, as it allows us to fully function in our roles,

wholly and at full power; it also has a domino effect into other areas of our lives

that hinge on this balance.


Q2: How could mindfulness impact people’s attitudes and health?

The impact is a chain reaction: mindfulness will first impact one’s behavior, and

when the behavior becomes more consistent and daily, it starts to build into a

routine which will impact your health immediately and long-term results will

nourish. Almost everyone has once started a diet or tried to commit to a health regime at

the beginning of the year. Statistically, these types of resolutions never last -

95% drop off by the end of the month. Consistency and discipline is key to

everything. Mindfulness practice, is really an everyday, every moment practice.

Good habits & behaviors are foundational. Parts that build up a healthy and

balanced life. This needs to be learned and practiced repetitively. For example,

what’s the first thing kids learn when they enter kindergarten? The very basic

and little things that shape their behavior: politeness. “Raise hands when you

have something to say, take turns to eat and go to the toilet, etc.” Behavior

training is installed from a young age, however, no one is teaching us

meditation, self-awareness, emotional intelligence, nutrition, diet and lifestyle, these

are left to our own devices and are crucial in this busy world where

everyone wants to go faster, harder, stronger. Therefore this message is

increasingly important as we start to see everyone from school children to

adults battle the pressure of school, work and life which results in depression,

anxiety and other health concerns.

Everyone needs to learn their limits and what creates a healthy boundary and

know when they are at capacity. Having been diagnosed with an autoimmune

disease, then being able to reverse it, I knew diet and lifestyle were are the core

of the problem. If we could teach this to children and adults, we will have a more balanced and healthy population without the need to have everyone go through

similar experiences of illness or burnout or other chronic diseases.


Q3: What’s your philosophy on applying mindfulness to the intense entrepreneurship scenario?

Mindfulness is a part of culture, and it needs to be part of the startup culture,

part of every entrepreneur’s DNA.

Implementing mindfulness into a company has to start from the top, and give

space and room for mindfulness to grow. Also, getting inclusion, “buy in” from

all employees is important. In order to do that, startups have to have the right

tools and mindset. It is important to acknowledge the external force at the

beginning. Have some compulsory sessions, get feedback and other up time and

space for mindfulness practices, learnings and lessons. Consistent practice and

self-care will help people become more mindful. In that way, leaders can get

participation and commitment from their employees.

Additionally, if we work with adults, hopefully, they can also pass down the

learning to their friends, family and children. Developing the young is important

so they don’t have to go through a health scare or panic attack due to not

handling stress or life pressures appropriately.


Q4: How would you say mindfulness would benefit founders at Antler?

We have to realize that mindfulness is extremely critical for productivity. To be

present, to achieve these goals, to measure your progress… all these habits

people will shape their ways of life, so they can be less distracted, less stressed,

encounter less depression and increase workflow, productivity and prosperity.

At the end of it, they will experience increased positivity, engagement,

dedication and the team or company will thrive as a unit.

One instant example is to eat lunch and enjoy it away from their desk. To

commune with fellow coworkers and get to know someone new each day.

Taking a break and walk outside to get some fresh air and sunshine. We cannot

force ourselves to continuously work without taking into consideration our

surroundings, health and mental wellbeing. Being mindful of what we eat is the

most basic and fundamental starting point to live mindfully and healthfully.


Q5: Moving into 2020, we’d love to hear some daily practical advice on how our founders can implement mindfulness into their teams.

Start from the top - mindfulness should create inclusion, participation,

commitment, and have some sort of space and room for growth - where people

can suggest how we do things better. It’s also key to lead by example. Just like

how children learn from parents, leaders need to set themselves as models,

which the teams will more likely follow and emulate.

Lead by example and increase the space of it. This also works if you have

remote teams. Sometimes you can do a team retreat, strategy sessions, or team

building, which will help the employees to get mindful during this time. Different

teams need to connect outside of once settings and gather inspiration from

nature. Gatherings encourage cohesiveness - creating bonds but also brings

everyone on the same page. You of course also need time in the once, yet it’s

best to use both settings to balance and nurture growth and stimuli.


Q6: Why is setting your boundaries and balance for 2020 so important?

Boundaries lead to balance. If we don’t have boundaries, we never have

balance. Both roads meet, and they will merge into one. Boundaries with

families, friends, social engagements, peers, colleagues, friends can help you

divide and distinguish areas in which you might need more boundaries. Start

with the ones you have contact with every day to the ones that are toxic,

negative, and leave you feeling bad. Continue with work, and your

entrepreneurship family - if we can enhance each area you will see more results

rapidly which leads to balance. By building up your own boundaries with

different groups of people, you can have the freedom to say “yes” to the things

that you really want to say yes to, and gain the courage to say “no” to the things

that won’t satisfy you or take you further towards your goals.

Some seemingly “abstract” techniques, such as stress management, breathing

techniques, guided meditations, etc, will assist in helping you create your

boundaries and balance. When you are mindful you create the habits of

breathing… all these things add up, and soon we start to realize how they impact

our lives. What’s the reason for saying yes to everything when you don’t have

the resources and your happiness/health is impacted? You get short with

people, and what you do and how you behave is not reflecting the true you or

the best version of you. Mindfulness is a chain reaction of events, if we start with

positive methods then that transpires into all areas of life for a truly positive and

uplifting experience.


Tip List for Setting Boundaries from Johanna:

Designate areas for boundary setting (relationships, work, family, activities,

obligations)

Consider values, add in feelings, moral compass

Create and consider non negotiables (ie, I meditate daily for 20 min/ I walk

outside for 45 min)

Schedule more of what makes you happy (hobbies, sports, travel, family

time, volunteering)

Adjust schedule to fit in things that make you happy with a balanced work

and life schedule

See improvement, balance of life increase when you say No to things that

don’t fit in with your values, morals or feelings you want to have.

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