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
Tip List for Setting Boundaries from Johanna:
Designate areas for boundary setting (relationships, work, family, activities,
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
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.