“Seek first to understand then to be understood.” With Beau Henderson & Ayana Onuora

Seek first to understand then to be understood. Secondly, treat everyone with kindness and dignity. The leader who knows a little something about everyone he/she works with acknowledges the contribution they are making and affirm them will almost certainly cultivate a work environment in which everyone works harmoniously to achieve common goals willingly and excitedly. […]

The Thrive Global Community welcomes voices from many spheres on our open platform. We publish pieces as written by outside contributors with a wide range of opinions, which don’t necessarily reflect our own. Community stories are not commissioned by our editorial team and must meet our guidelines prior to being published.

Seek first to understand then to be understood. Secondly, treat everyone with kindness and dignity. The leader who knows a little something about everyone he/she works with acknowledges the contribution they are making and affirm them will almost certainly cultivate a work environment in which everyone works harmoniously to achieve common goals willingly and excitedly.

As a part of my series about “How To Develop Mindfulness And Serenity During Stressful Or Uncertain Times”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Ayana Onuora.

Coach Ayana O is a highly transformative business and mindfulness coach, using traditional results-proven coaching methods and mindfulness techniques to help individuals clear mental fog and become focused, overcome feeling overwhelmed, move past procrastination to productivity, and take decisive action to enjoy more peace, satisfaction and happiness in life.

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?

What brought me to my specific career path is the convergence of several quests: the quest for success, peace, fulfillment, and truth all colliding. Once I realized each part makes the whole and there is no need to sacrifice in one area to succeed in another, I can have it all, I didn’t have to settle with getting 4 out of 5, I could have 5 out of 5, I landed where I am today.

The journey I would describe as a squiggly line, full of twists, turns, loopbacks, pauses, jumps & lateral moves. I started out trying to achieve the success that was defined by others. I had not decided or defined for myself what success was or should be until recently, then I didn’t even know I could have decided what that was for myself. As you can imagine, trying to fit into what was not meant to be for you is quite painful. I was trying to please everyone so whatever someone said I should be I tried to be that. Looking back growing up in 3 different households, each with one or more adult, each with their own ideas of who & what I should be didn’t help and confused the heck out of me.

For far too long I spent all my time and energy trying to be everything that everyone else wanted me to be, living up to different expectations, not knowing for myself caused a lot of anguish and was just downright exhausting too. My pain manifested into a deep dark depression that lead to suicidal ideations and attempts. Needless to say, I suffered terribly: largely through my own doing. Soon after landing an amazing job in offshore finance right out of Uni, I discovered that being an employee made me extremely unhappy for a plethora of reasons. This leads me to open my first brick and mortar business. I was excited full of hopes & dreams. As the saying goes, life happens and I unknowingly created my own fearful thoughts into reality. In less than 5 years I was closing the business I started, and in the space of less than a year of that happening my mom passed and I was served with divorce. Somewhere during that dark time, I made the decision to create who I wanted to be & decide for myself what I wanted out of life. As I started defining for myself what success was, how I would achieve it I identified my beliefs about what success was. I believed success was synonymous with being dishonest, uncaring, selfish, ruthless, and a host of other ugly things. I further examined these beliefs, the origins and subsequently created a new belief of it meant to be successful.

I made the decision to be a success as I now defined success and I wanted to help others avoid many of the mistakes I made when I started my own businesses. I believed at the time being a consultant would provide me the best opportunity to help others so I got an MBA with the intention of completing the MBA to go on to work for a prestigious firm, gain more experience before venturing out on my own again. I forgot how much being an employee did not resonate well with me so I transitioned from employee to entrepreneur and back a couple of times all the time seeking a deeper understanding of what things did work and what didn’t and why. Through reflection, constant questioning the status quo and I landed me where I am today.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

Since starting my career quite a few interesting things have happened to me, all of equal importance and interest. For this interview, I’ll share with you how I came to the realization that in order to progress, achieve the things I desired to achieve than my response and the way I was showing up in life would have to change. One day it was like a light switched was flicked to the on position and I finally realized that nothing would change until I changed. I was having the same experiences, although they showed up differently at the core they were the same. As I was driving cross-country from the west coast to the east coast, I kept asking myself why was I in this very familiar situation that I did not want to be in & that I vowed I would never be in again. I sat with that question for hours, days as I drove then the answer came to me! I could continue having the same experiences (and outcomes) until I changed my response. Since then a whole new world has opened up to me. To give you a bit of perspective, in stressful situations or when could see things would not turn out as I anticipated, I would experience overwhelming anxiety, be stressed and depressed to varying degrees. Since that light switch was flipped on, my response to things not going “my way” or as I would have liked no longer causes me stress, anxiety or depression. I have a completely different relationship with myself and how I experience the world.

What advice would you give to other leaders about how to create a fantastic work culture?

Seek first to understand then to be understood. Secondly, treat everyone with kindness and dignity. The leader who knows a little something about everyone he/she works with acknowledges the contribution they are making and affirm them will almost certainly cultivate a work environment in which everyone works harmoniously to achieve common goals willingly and excitedly.

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?

I don’t know how or why I came in possession of it but ‘A New Earth’ by Eckhart Tolle had a significant impact on me. I remember I found the first few pages interesting but then quickly it became a hard read, it was a chore to read even one page, back then I would never start & not finish a book no matter how much I lost interest in it, thankfully that discipline served me. I believe it was around page 129–130 after reading that I could not put the book down I stayed up all night to finish reading it, by the last page for me I was truly seeing a new earth, a new way of being that resonated with me so deeply. Change was not swift and immediate in a lot of ways but it triggered and stirred something within that has certainly impacted and influenced me and the way I’ve lived my life since.

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?

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?

Being mindful is acknowledging and accepting your feelings, thoughts and physical sensations throughout your body; it is being fully present. You are aware of your surroundings but not distracted by them, you are aware of your thoughts but not consumed by them. You react by choice not by a reflex/habitual response. It is feeling your entire body, acknowledging but not distracted by different sensations simultaneously happening in different parts of the body. Being in a mindful state you are able to express your emotions, communicate and hold them in balance with reason & intuition.

Mental Benefit: focus, clarity, vision, concentration, creativity, increased reasoning

Emotional benefit: peace, appreciation, joy, happiness, decreased stress, anxiety & overwhelm. Duration of experiencing negative emotions shorten

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.

5 Steps to develop mindfulness and serenity during uncertain times.

  1. Journaling or any form of writing (poems, songs, doodling) is helpful and useful. I remember last year I engaged in a business partnership in a tough and competitive industry. I soon realized my business partner did not have a work ethic that was complementary to mine and not long I found myself reliving conversations I had with the person creating different outcomes and creating stories of how our next interactions would be in my head. I was spending time in the past & future, away from the present. After a few days of this, the physical manifestation of anxiety, anger, worry & sadness started to show up. That’s when I got out my journal and started to write. I wrote everything that came to mind. Journaling allowed me to release the negative thoughts and feelings I had towards the situation and the person and helped me identify a solution.
  2. Coordinated Movement (yoga, exercise, dance) — The very essence of mindfulness is being present in the moment and any form of coordinated movement calls for that. Science has shown the benefits of exercise/movement on emotional health, which I can attest to. I have been clinically diagnosed with depression and entertained suicidal ideations for many years, even attempted a few times. Thanks to self-awareness, which is part of living mindfully I am aware of what I am feeling in the moment, I am able to choose and take action to change direction. Whether that’s going for a run until the tears stop, or taking a heated yoga class that allows for a physical and mental shift or busting a move for a few minutes, movement, coordinated movement helps to develop mindfulness and serenity.
  3. Finding moments of stillness — There are a few things that happen physiologically when we start to feel stressed, worried, anxious, get upset. It can be increased sweating, tightening of the chest, onset of a headache, clenching of the jaws, stomach in knots, racing thoughts. Once you start to feel any of these or just feeling uneasy, you know what that feels like for you then simply just stop and be still for a few moments. You don’t even have to wait for uneasiness to start, it’s good to develop the habit of finding moments of stillness throughout your day. For me it can me in the middle of taking a shower I just stop to acknowledge where I am, feel my breathe, or in the middle of cooking I pause or just after finishing a task I take of few moments to breathe & just be.
  4. Drink tea- Tea has many health benefits including helping to develop mindfulness and serenity by focusing your attention on the experience and the soothing sensations of drinking; sipping the tea, feeling the warm liquid travelling from your mouth and make its way to your stomach and feeling your core temperature rise ever so slight with every intake increases mindfulness and makes you serene.
  5. Gratitude — I first started “practicing” gratitude after reading The Secret almost a decade ago. What I have found to be true is this; the more you give gratitude the more you get to be grateful for. Practicing gratitude, whether you write out a list every day, silently say it in your head or during prayer, it doesn’t matter which way you do it, it brings mindfulness and serenity. Mindfulness is all about acknowledging your thoughts, feelings and sensations throughout your body so as you give gratitude there is acknowledgment. Giving thanks evokes certain feelings and sensations and acknowledging them is developing mindfulness. In stressful and uncertain times being grateful is calming, soothing & gets you through. That was my experience when I was laid off by 2 different companies in the space of 5 months and found myself sleeping in my car. My gratitude practice kept me calm, at peace, the ability to think clearly to find a solution to my housing situation. In fact, I firmly believe it’s because of my continuous practice of gratitude that resolved my housing situation in less than 3 days then and why I can have such peace during tumultuous and uncertain times.

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?

5 steps we can take to effectively offer support to those around us feeling anxious

  1. Don’t tell them what to do unless they pointedly ask you what to do
  2. Simply listen; just like journaling is therapeutic being a sounding board is a great way to support those around us feeling anxious
  3. Practice non-judgment; this can be refraining from “I told you so”, telling them what to do without being invited to do so, not demonstrating non-verbal judgment in the form of facial expressions and body language
  4. Match your support to their preference of attachment style; give them what they ask for not what you feel they need or what you would want for yourself.
  5. Be an example; practice self-compassion and loving-kindness.

What are the best resources you would suggest for someone to learn how to be more mindful and serene in their everyday life?

Relaxing music, motivational speeches, moments of stillness, physical movement (yoga, running, dancing), journaling, mediation, create routines, read books, take classes, learn something just for fun, professional help (a coach, mentor, therapist).

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?

I can’t say I have one favorite; there are quite a few that resonate with me; two have been influencing my life of late. One is from Yogi Bhajan which says

If you are willing to look at another person’s behavior toward you as a reflection of the state of their relationship with themselves rather than a statement about your value as a person, then you will, over a period of time cease to react at all”. This one very powerful and has forced me to look at and question my own behaviors.

The second life lesson quote that is really resonating with me right now & helping me through the current pandemic is something I heard Bishop T. D. Jakes said and it is this, “your reward for overcoming your last challenge is your next challenge”. Feeling as though I’m being pushed to my limit, to breaking point I remind myself of this which makes me smile and puts me at ease, motivated to keep going.

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. 🙂

If I could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most people it would one that shifts mindsets and belief systems. It would allow for people to truly believe 2 things and be guided by the belief that you are enough and that there is truly no lack only abundance. Holding these things to be true and never losing sight of them as we go through life opens up a new dimension of living and being in this world.

What is the best way our readers can follow you online?

3 ways; Facebook and IG @coachayanao and twitter @ayanaonuora

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!

Share your comments below. Please read our commenting guidelines before posting. If you have a concern about a comment, report it here.

You might also like...


I’ve Got 21 & I’m Sticking!

by Paul Adam Mudd

“How Extremely Busy Executives Make Time To Be Great Parents”, with Dr. Ely Weinschneider & Ayana Champagne

by Dr. Ely Weinschneider, Psy.D.

Coach Ham Is Empowering the New Generation of Leaders Using Emotional Intelligence – Here’s How

by Michelle Whiting
We use cookies on our site to give you the best experience possible. By continuing to browse the site, you agree to this use. For more information on how we use cookies, see our Privacy Policy.