Turn adversity to advantage. Winston Churchill said “never waste a good crisis,” which is great advice for the times we’re living in. I’d suggest starting a list of all of the positive changes you’d like to stick with when things get back to normal, like cooking at home and checking in more with friends and family.
As a part of my series about “How To Develop Mindfulness And Serenity During Stressful Or Uncertain Times”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Peggy Neu.
Peggy Neu is President of the Monday Campaigns, a public health initiative that promotes Monday as the day to commit ourselves to healthy behaviors that can help end chronic preventable diseases. Prior to joining the Monday Campaigns, she was an EVP at Grey Worldwide, working with clients such as Procter & Gamble, Sprint, Aetna and Kaiser Permanente. In her role with the Monday Campaigns, she also advises academic institutions, hospitals and nonprofits on ways to bring marketing best practices to the challenges of public health.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?
Ispent 20 years in account management at Grey Advertising, marketing everything from peanut butter to healthcare plans. While I loved the creativity and energy of working in ad agencies, I felt it was time to find a greater sense of mission in my life. Rather than dive into the next thing right away, I decided to take a year off and travel around the world, doing a combination of volunteer projects, meditation retreats and hiking in places like Bhutan and Tibet.
When I returned, I concluded that the best way to make a positive impact was to leverage my marketing and business skills to advance the causes I cared about. I was fortunate to find the perfect match leading the Monday Campaigns, a public health initiative founded by Sid Lerner, a successful advertising creative director who was looking to bring on a seasoned marketing person to take the campaign to the next level. I’m really proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish since I joined 12 years ago: Meatless Monday has grown into a global movement that has been one of the leading voices advocating for a reduction in meat consumption, and we’ve started new campaigns promoting other health behaviors like stress reduction and physical activity.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
There are a lot to choose from, but I’ll share a recent one that happened when I attended the Good Food Summit in Suzhou, China to talk about Meatless Monday, which I thought would be a new idea. I was shocked to learn that people had already heard it and some were even practicing it, from a high school student in Beijing who started it in their cafeteria to a chef in southern China who found out about it online and decided to open a vegan restaurant so he could offer meatless every day. And one young advocate in Shanghai started his own social media campaign “Please Go Meatless on Monday.” It’s just amazing how ideas can spread across borders and cultures.
What advice would you give to other leaders about how to create a fantastic work culture?
People join the Monday Campaigns because they want to promote health and sustainable food systems, but they often develop a specific interest within that broader mission. I think it’s important to create space for people to pursue their passions so they can contribute a depth of knowledge and unique perspective to the team. I’m also a big believer in the importance of unstructured brainstorming sessions and impromptu meetings to share ideas. Now that we’re all working from home, we’ve had to find new ways to make those connections through Zoom, Slack and a weekly virtual happy hour for some social time.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
This might be a bit esoteric, but one of the most influential books was The Seven Points of Mind Training which includes wonderful aphorisms known as the “Lojong Slogans” that sum up the compassion and wisdom teachings of the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. I was introduced to the text through a class I took with Dr. Joe Loizzo, a physician and Buddhist scholar, who founded the Nalanda Institute for Contemplative Science. It was right after 9/11, and like many of us living in New York, I was looking for ways to regain my footing amid the collective trauma. One of my favorites is “rely on a happy mind alone.” It doesn’t mean you’ll always be happy, but you can think of happiness as your default mode, with negative thoughts and emotions being temporary states that will pass.
Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. From your experience or research, how would you define and describe the state of being mindful?
I like to think of it as a quality of attention that observes sensations, thoughts, and emotions from a distance without judging or getting attached. When negative thoughts and emotions arise, as they often do, we can hold them with understanding and compassion, then try to gently let them go.
But being mindful of your experience is just the beginning. It’s important to shift towards a more positive way of being in the world with greater joy, compassion, and serenity. In our DeStress Monday campaign, we encourage people to do a “Monday Refresh” practice which entails settling the mind with the breath, being mindful of current sensations and experiences, then shifting to the positive by setting intentions for changes you want that can make you healthier and happier. Our research shows that if people start the week with a positive frame of mind, they’re more likely to stay positive throughout the week, so a Monday practice has a nice ripple effect.
This might be intuitive to you, but it will be instructive to spell this out. Can you share with our readers a few of the physical, mental, and emotional benefits of becoming mindful?
It’s well-documented that living with stress is linked to a variety of chronic diseases, including heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes; so having the tools to disarm our stress response to perceived threats, whether it’s a disagreement with a friend or someone cutting in line, can make us healthier and even live longer. In addition to improved physical health, practicing mindfulness and positivity can help us lead a happier and more meaningful life, which I think all people strive for.
Ok. Here is the main question of our discussion. The past 5 years have been filled with upheaval and political uncertainty. Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have only heightened a sense of uncertainty, anxiety, fear, and loneliness. From your experience or research what are five steps that each of us can take to develop mindfulness and serenity during such uncertain times? Can you please share a story or example for each.
- Take care of yourself. It’s more important than ever to be strong in mind and body. One of the challenges of COVID-19 is losing the structure of our daily lives, which includes our health regimens. We’re doing a special COVID-19 Healthy Monday Refresh newsletter, which includes practical tips for staying healthy
- Take care of others. One positive thing about this crisis is the depth of humanity and decency that people around the world are showing, whether it’s cheering our frontline workers, singing songs on balconies or finding ways to connect on a deeper level through technology. Research shows that being compassionate towards others can actually make us happier and healthier.
- Turn adversity to advantage. Winston Churchill said “never waste a good crisis,” which is great advice for the times we’re living in. I’d suggest starting a list of all of the positive changes you’d like to stick with when things get back to normal, like cooking at home and checking in more with friends and family.
- Stay positive. It’s easy to be overwhelmed by the onslaught of bad news. Try limiting the number of times you check the news and be sure to seek out stories that offer hope. We recently started a #GoodNewsMonday hashtag to encourage people to share good news, so they can get a jolt of positivity to start the week.
- Eat less meat and more plants, which is good for your health and the health of the planet. And if you do eat meat, know where it comes from. Scientists believe that the COVID-19 virus was related to consumption of animals, so this provides yet another reason for the world to shift towards a more plant-based diet.
- Breathe. One of the simplest practices for staying calm is to close your eyes and to take some slow, deep breaths, focusing on the sounds around you and the sensations of the breath. Deep breathing can stimulate the “relaxation response,” while adding mindfulness can help settle the mind.
From your experience or research what are five steps that each of us can take to effectively offer support to those around us who are feeling anxious? Can you explain?
- Connect. A lot. Many of us are on video calls all day for school and work, but it’s always nice to get a text or call from someone out of the blue, just letting you know they’re thinking of you. So simple, but so powerful.
- Listen. I’ve found that it takes patience to coax an honest answer from someone about how they’re really doing. Sometimes it takes people awhile to admit they could use some help. Being present and listening mindfully to someone’s problems is one of the best ways to support someone who is struggling.
- Nourish. Food is medicine, so share a recipe or picture of what you made for dinner. I’m getting a lot of inspiration from my friends on what to do with a can of beans.
- Laugh. Most of the things my friends are sending around are funny. Isn’t it wonderful that in the face of tragedy, we can still find a way to laugh?
- Contribute. There are so many ways to help, from contributing money to your local food pantry or funds for frontline healthcare workers, volunteering to sew masks or offering free online classes. The world needs everyone’s talents now.
What are the best resources you would suggest for someone to learn how to be more mindful and serene in their everyday life?
Check out our DeStress Monday website for graphic tips, videos, audio meditations and fun animated GIF’s as well as the Nalanda Institute for Contemplative Science for a deeper dive into mindfulness and compassion training.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?
“Choose to be optimistic, it feels better.” The Dalai Lama.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start 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’d love to see people around the world continue the ritual of raising their voices in a collective cheer for all the everyday heroes who put their lives on the line for the well-being of others. Maybe once the current crisis abates, we could shift to once a week — on Monday of course!
What is the best way our readers can follow you online?
LinkedIn and Twitter, Facebook and Instagram for #HealthyMonday, #MeatlessMonday and #DeStressMonday.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!