Cole Baker- Bagwell: “Yoga is great but mindfulness will change your life”

I am wherever I am and nowhere else. Straddling between worlds can cause us to feel really stressed. When I’m working, I’m working. When I’m with my family, I’m with my family. When I am on vacation, I’m on vacation. Life is simpler and more fulfilling that way. I’m able to experience the moments of […]

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I am wherever I am and nowhere else. Straddling between worlds can cause us to feel really stressed. When I’m working, I’m working. When I’m with my family, I’m with my family. When I am on vacation, I’m on vacation. Life is simpler and more fulfilling that way. I’m able to experience the moments of my life one at a time and give my best to each one.

As a part of my series about “How to Slow Down To Do More” I had the pleasure to interview Cole Baker- Bagwell.

Cole spent two decades working in Silicon Valley and on Wall Street, solving complex sales and strategy puzzles for some of the world’s largest companies. Her success during that period came from merging smart business strategy with her own long-standing mindfulness practices. Her approach to work created higher levels of trust, connection, engagement, focus and understanding and changed the experience her teams and clients had as they worked together. She built Cool Audrey™ so she could enable other people to do the same.

As Founder and Kindness Director of Cool Audrey™, Cole understands that everything good and lasting in business begins with people. She partners with companies to make EQ actionable by cultivating kindness-first cultures and seeding practices that elevate mindfulness to a strategic, must-have business imperative. She’s unconventional in her language, in her approach to business and in the way she sees the world.

Thank you so much for doing this interview with us! Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to this specific career path?

I love this topic and I’m super happy to do this interview with you.

My backstory is a crazy series of twists and turns. The short story is this. I began practicing yoga 26 years ago. On my first visit, my teacher told me, “Yoga is great but mindfulness will change your life.” I practiced what I learned on and off the mat during the years I worked in Corporate America, in sales and strategy roles. I began to realize that a lot of things in the business world were over complicated and seriously broken- people were really suffering. I knew I could make things better by drawing from my experiences, so I got brave and I left my well paying career to go and do something about it.

In my life before Cool Audrey, I was working with big companies and big banks. Their business was different but their common denominators were pretty much the same. They were laser focused on things like revenue, product innovation and market share. Leaders were spending hours and hours in mind numbing meetings, pouring through spreadsheets and discussing how to make more, sell more, earn more. But they were rarely focusing on the people creating those outcomes. I realized that created a big disconnect in business.

I also realized people were moving way too fast. They were exhausted, reactive, stressed out, burned out and disconnected. They were undervalued because they had become commodities. People were physically present but that was about it. Their minds were in other places. Business was transactional. It was riddled with games, ego, agenda and false perceptions. People were bypassing the most important part of business- the human beings doing business. They weren’t investing time in building authentic relationships. They weren’t engaging in ways that created trust and they weren’t asking the questions that could help get them there. I noticed that wherever I went, people doing business were focused on the wrong things.

I had my first “ah-ha” moment during a technology meeting with a big client in Silicon Valley. That meeting led to an amazing working relationship. I showed up mindfully and they did too: no agenda, no games. I intentionally slowed things down so we could move intentionally, together. I asked one question that turned our collective focus to the people who were working and taking their products to market. In that meeting, I realized business could be super different and actually fun if people could make a few mindful shifts and show up differently. More importantly, I realized if the stage was set for people to slow down and be seen, they said yes. That was my launch pad.

According to a 2006 Pew Research Report report, 26% of women and 21% of men feel that they are “always rushed”. Has it always been this way? Can you give a few reasons regarding what you think causes this prevalent feeling of being rushed?

Things haven’t always been this way. I’ve noticed the things we value as a society and the pace of work and life in the US are very different from other countries. If we wind the clock back forty or fifty years, people had more balance and down time in their lives. Back then, the work day was defined. People went to work, did their job and they went home. They spent time with their friends and family. Kids climbed trees, hung out in the neighborhood and played sports at school. There wasn’t such a need to rush off and juggle between their scheduled activities after work. Technology was simple. There were no computers. Phones were tethered to the wall which gave us the luxury of just talking. They rang busy so we weren’t interrupted. TV broadcasting wrapped up at 11PM. People relaxed and rested more than they do now.

Things changed when microcomputers hit the market in the 70’s. The 80’s unleashed the mindset of “more” and with that mindset, came a set of behaviors that still fuel the corporate machine. People worked to earn bigger titles, more things and more money. Cell phones and pagers went mainstream and when they did, we became accessible, 24×7. That accessibility created expectations and the lines began to blur between home life and work life. The expectations created habits that led people to overpromising and overscheduling their lives in all respects.

People are exhausted from “always on”. They have forgotten that they need balance and downtime. Our kids are overscheduled and exhausted too. Technology, accessibility, habits we have adopted and the blurred lines between work and life have led to our frenzied, constantly multitasking society with a major lack of focus. We’ve become conditioned to the madness, the misplaced values and to this unhealthy pace. We have to want a better life for ourselves. The truth is, we will have whatever we tolerate and that’s what got us here in the first place.

Based on your experience or research can you explain why being rushed can harm our productivity, health, and happiness?

In short, we need to maintain a certain amount of equilibrium to stay healthy, happy and productive. We need what I call “free space” or time to simply be. Our minds and bodies are tightly coupled. Both need time to rest and recharge to create equilibrium. The mindset of “always on” robs us of the time we need to unwind and recalibrate. This mindset leaves people feeling confused, even disoriented and that takes a big toll on productivity.

Constant racing and rushing keeps us in an elevated state that triggers the sympathetic nervous system. The body’s stress response kicks in, releasing chemicals that are harmful over extended periods of time. Maintaining high levels of stress compromises our immune system and leads to health issues like anxiety, hypertension, diabetes, depression and exhaustion. When we are mentally and physically unwell, our moods and behavior follow suit and begin to negatively impact our lives and our relationships. Stress can be a real downward spiral.

On the flip side, can you give examples of how we can do more, and how our lives would improve if we could slow down?

I draw from my favorite poet, Mary Oliver. In one of her pieces, she said, “walk slowly and bow often.” There is so much value in moving slowly and finding gratitude in every moment. A slower pace and sense of now, allows us to actually enjoy life as it’s unfolding. That leads to understanding and happiness that help us make more positive choices. The challenge is unwinding where we are now. American culture has caused us to believe that if our calendars aren’t full and we’re not constantly busy, we’re not valuable or we’re doing something wrong. If we want to be healthier, happier and more productive, we have to change our mindset. That one variable changes the choices we make that drive our habits, behaviors and experiences.

Part of my work is to teach people how to practically apply mindfulness in their everyday lives to increase balance, productivity, connection and overall happiness. One of the first principles I share with my clients is this: slowing down does not mean doing less. It means doing everything better. We have to embrace that principle and understand why it’s true before we can break the cycle we’ve created.

We have to understand that slowing down doesn’t mean being lazy. It means being mindful and applying intention and attention to our lives. When we learn how to practice and cultivate this type of mindset, we are able to adopt new behaviors, create new experiences and navigate our world differently. We are able to realize more contentment and joy. As we experience joy, our stress levels decrease and our state of overall health and well being improves.

Rushing leads to a cycle of mindless reaction. By contrast, mindfulness creates equilibrium. It enables us to think, prioritize and respond in more positive ways, even in the most challenging situations. Mindfulness helps us achieve the clarity we need to understand who and what needs our attention, why that’s the case and then approach everything with a sound plan. It drowns out the noise and increases focus leading to fewer mistakes made by multitasking. Focusing on one thing at a time, enables us to engage our brains in the way they work best. It enables us to see things through, start to finish, which leads to greater levels of understanding and productivity. When we move slowly and give attention to one thing at a time, we are able to be fully present and that’s a pretty amazing state of being.

We all live in a world with many deadlines and incessant demands for our time and attention. That inevitably makes us feel rushed. Can you share with our readers 6 strategies that you use to “slow down to do more”? Can you please give a story or example for each?

  1. I make time to be still, with full awareness. I start and end my days this way. I marry this with my breathing practice and this tames my thoughts. This is my go to for grounding myself when life starts moving fast. I find a lot of peace in stillness, even if it’s only for a few minutes. I also find a lot of answers.
  2. I do things that feed my soul. It’s so easy to become one dimensional. It’s easy to go on autopilot or fill the hours of the day with all of the things we “have to do”. (I know because I’ve been there.) We have to feed our souls before we can show up and offer our best to the people around us. I’m super intentional about engaging in things that are just for me. Right now, I am studying French and learning how to play the ukulele. Between the “things I have to do”, I take short breaks to study and play.
  3. I focus on whatever I’m doing and that’s it. Multitasking is the gateway to a lot of suffering. It keeps us spinning with a load of half done things that still “have to be done” at the end of the day. Years ago, I made an agreement with myself that I would focus on one thing at a time. My days flowed more smoothly, my relationships deepened and my productivity went through the roof.
  4. I am wherever I am and nowhere else. Straddling between worlds can cause us to feel really stressed. When I’m working, I’m working. When I’m with my family, I’m with my family. When I am on vacation, I’m on vacation. Life is simpler and more fulfilling that way. I’m able to experience the moments of my life one at a time and give my best to each one.
  5. I wander in my garden. I’ve learned that the natural world is great at slowing us down. A few years ago, I was working in NYC. I was in a pretty intense meeting that had been going for a couple of hours. I paused everyone and asked them to follow me outside to Bryant Park. I got a few curious stares but they came along. We sat with our toes in the grass and the whole vibe of the conversation changed. Wandering in my garden at home gives me a chance to pause, stretch, disconnect and think. I literally stop and smell the roses. I’ve also discovered weed pulling is very therapeutic.
  6. I choose my day. I once read “If you don’t choose how you spend your day, someone else will choose for you.” Those words are so true. A lot of my clients have created the habit of getting pulled along. Their world moves fast because they aren’t choosing how they spend their work days. I teach them how to pause, breathe and assess so they can get the clarity they need to make active choices. I remind them it’s okay to say no.

How do you define “mindfulness”? Can you give an example or story?

I love this question because mindfulness is a 2500 year old practice that is largely very misunderstood. Depending on which publication you read, you could understand it to be a destination to be reached, a religion or something that falls somewhere on the spectrum of monks sitting atop hillsides in silence for years to women free bleeding in chant circles.

I keep things simple. I define mindfulness as total awareness in every moment. In that awareness, we can move slowly and intentionally with full understanding and engagement. There are ways to activate that response and a whole bunch of really fascinating things that happen from a neurological standpoint. Very simply, mindfulness is moment to moment awareness.

I’ll share a very personal experience with you about the power of mindfulness. When 911 happened, my son was not quite two years old. Our nation changed within minutes. Every day that I picked up the paper, turned on the TV or radio, I was inundated with the tragic stories, sites and sounds of those fatal few minutes, the devastation and sadness. I remember feeling a deep rooted fear as I looked at my little boy. I thought about the terrorists and their next target. I worried about the future and wondered what kind of world my son would experience. By the third day, I was locking up and overwhelmed with grief. My brain was spinning. I couldn’t concentrate. I felt physically ill and I was having nightmares. Those first three days were one big blur. My equilibrium had been rocked and I felt like I was falling apart.

On that third night, I went to my yoga class. As we began to breathe, the noise, worry and fear that had invaded my mind began to dissipate. After a few more breaths, my mind became clearer. I connected with the very moment I was in and I felt a wave of calm. Toward the end of class, we took a balancing shape. As I breathed, focused and asked my body to balance on one leg with my eyes closed, I stood steady. I was moving slowly and focusing on only that moment as it was happening. That night, I realized that I was okay. That was powerful. The nightmares stopped, I regained my balance and I recommitted myself to practicing mindfulness in every moment, every day.

Can you give examples of how people can integrate mindfulness into their everyday lives?

The great news is that mindfulness can be practiced any time, anywhere by anyone. Everyone has an equal opportunity to experience the benefits as well. Living in a state of mindfulness requires commitment and practice. There is no easy button but there are some easy ways to get started. I recommend that people begin with three simple practices.

  1. Mindful breathing. Controlled breathing is one of the most powerful practices we can engage in- and it’s free! Science has proven the benefits it holds for mind and body. When I think about an everyday practice, this is the gateway to mindfulness and equilibrium. Once people experience that feeling, and understand how to activate it, connecting with that becomes as easy as flipping a light switch. I ask people to start by breathing a few times during the day (on purpose). Every morning before their feet hit the floor, before lunch, before leaving/wrapping up work and before going to sleep at night. Here’s how. Put your feet on the floor and rest your hands in your lap. Close your eyes. Inhaling and exhaling through the nose, count slowly to (4). Do this for (6–12) breaths. (You are breathing right now so this is not “extra” work.)
  2. Slow the pace with PBA. Becoming more mindful takes practice. This practice is an extension of mindful breathing. PBA stands for pause, breathe, assess. When you find yourself challenged, stressed, multitasking, pause– slow things down. Breathe slowly, 6 times. Assess what’s happening in that moment. What’s going on in your thoughts? Thoughts lead to words and action.
  3. Commit to a singular focus mentality. No one is good at multitasking. I’ve met people who think they are but when I ask them what they actually finished that day, the lightbulb moment happens. Developing a singular focus takes commitment. You have to want it for yourself. Practice is the key to success. Begin with simple steps like turning off your phone and putting it face down when you are in a conversation. Take a walk and see how many birds you can see or how many people in blue shirts. Once you master it, you won’t want to multitask ever again.

Do you have any mindfulness tools that you find most helpful at work?

Breathing is the most powerful tool I have. I think it’s the most important and powerful tool anyone could employ. I know people who have Apple watches that remind them to breathe. I think that’s super cool. My other favorite tool is music. I have playlists of my favorite songs that I listen to when I travel and before my onsite meetings. I pop in my airpods and crank them up. Those songs give me a big rush of focused, happy vibes. I have been seen dancing through more than one airport…

What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources that inspire you to use mindfulness tools or practices

I love poetry and I love anything by Mary Oliver. Her work is all about nature and the peace she discovered there. My very favorite is Thirst. My favorite mindfulness books are Coming to Our Senses and Wherever You Go, There You Are by Jon Kabat Zinn. Peace Is Every Step by Thich Nhat Hanh is one I have given time and time again to my family and friends. It’s all about perspective.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

There’s a quote by Kobi Yamada that has been my mantra for my entire adult life and guided my biggest life decisions. It goes like this: “Sometimes, you just have to take the leap and build your wings on the way down.” It’s been a constant reminder for me about the importance of living courageously, believing in myself, taking big chances and finding my way even when I don’t know exactly what the path looks like.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I’ve thought about this for years. On so many levels, our country is a mess. Change happens with passion, money and power. I’d like to meet with our government leaders and the Fortune 100 and Fortune 500 CEOs at the same time, in the same place, without technology. I’d like to teach them how to slow down and how to listen objectively to one another. I’d like to teach them how to share their ideas in ways that could be heard by others. I’d like to remind them about the importance of people and ask them to reconsider what they value. I’d like to teach them how to make decisions without ego or agenda. I’d like to help them understand that every decision they make should be made mindfully and with the simple agreement to do no harm.

In the meantime, I’m mindfully building a company to ease the suffering that exists in the corporate world. I’m leading a kindness revolution in business and I hope you and your readers will join me.

Thank you so much for these insights! This was so inspiring!

BIG thanks for having me!

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