44 ISE Magazine | www.iise.org/ISEmagazine
November 2019 | ISE Magazine 45
Like most engineers, I find that I behave in linear and systematic ways with not only work but also life.
My calendar is structured and scheduled out, my to-do list is ready to be checked off and my standard
work documents help me complete my recurring tasks. I am regularly planning for the next assignment
at work or the next personal trip.
However, I recently got a chance to participate in an eight-week Mindbody class through work, and
it has started to change my perspective on how taking time to focus inward can impact the outward
work. I want to describe my self-discovery journey, and hopefully youll be inspired to take one of your own.
First, you may wonder what an industrial and systems engineer was doing in a Mindbody class. Isnt that for a
psychologist or at least a human factors engineer? For the eight-week course, two newly trained instructors led
a group of six students through multiple sessions of introspection. Initially, I was very uncomfortable and came
up with strategies on how I could make my time in this session more efficient and effective for my personal
growth. Each session started with a few minutes of soft-belly breathing – deep breaths in and out with the eyes
closed or a soft gaze – followed by taking turns sharing what was happening in our lives that could be related to
a previous session or just how was life going in general.
For the first session, we shared what we wanted to get out of the class and what we wanted to accomplish
as we focused internally. As an engineer working with teams, I am often looked upon to provide solutions to
problems the team has encountered or help brainstorm solutions. This program was not structured to provide
answers or give us known strategies but required us to look introspectively as we traversed through the sessions
by utilizing our own inner wisdom.
Over the additional weeks, we were taught tools such as meditation, dialoguing, chair yoga, mindful eating,
drawing, imagery, shaking, dancing and daily gratitude. The instructors encouraged us to practice with them
and informed us that we were in control of what solutions we wanted to try. Similar to working with improve-
ment project teams, teams often wait for leaders to tell them the solutions and what to do when the solutions
really lie within the team to identify and implement.
Plan, do, study, act – meditate
At first, I asked myself how I was going to build these into my life. To start, I found that I needed to make time
to practice and decided to run a PDSA (plan, do, study, act) on meditation. My plan was to mediate twice a day
for at least five minutes. I scheduled time on my work calendar for first thing in the morning and mid-afternoon
to prompt me to meditate. This time was left as “free” time in Outlook to allow others to schedule time with
me if needed, and I could modify my meditation schedule to fit.
I started out doing meditation by spending five to 10 minutes following along with an app (I tested out the
free versions of Headspace and Calm). Then I found some YouTube sessions and sometimes set a timer and
worked on my breathing for those dedicated minutes. From the meditation teaching, one of my favorite applica-
tions was to recognize when your mind wanders, where it wanders to and then bring your attention back to the
breath. You take a pause to acknowledge the wandering thoughts before coming back to the breath. I found that
during these sessions my mind often opened and creative solutions appeared to problems I was having at work
or even in my personal life. While I wasnt looking for solutions, they bubbled up, and in many of the cases after
the session, I remembered them and was able to act on them.
Take an assessment of your mental state: How do you feel? Are you happy, sad, grumpy or excited? Next, set
a timer on your phone, computer or watch and spend the next three minutes breathing (in through nose and
out through mouth). If your mind starts to wander, dont get upset; instead acknowledge the thought and return
Engineering a
mind-body connection
Mental mapping techniques can apply to ISE problem-solving
By Ashley J. Benedict
46 ISE Magazine | www.iise.org/ISEmagazine
Engineering a mind-body connection
to your breathing. After the three minutes is up, redo your as-
sessment. Did thoughts come in that were helpful? Were you
thinking about a topic that is a current frustration? Were you
able to focus on the breathing the entire time?
As a more left-brained person with a tendency toward logic,
analytics and reason, this opened up my right side and allowed
me to pay attention to my emotions as well as those of the peo-
ple with whom I interacted after the meditation session. When
this started happening, it made me think about the book by
Travis Bradberry and Jean Greaves called Emotional Intelligence
2.0. They highlight the concept of emotional intelligence (EQ)
and help identify your core EQ skills related to self-awareness,
self-management, social awareness and relationship manage-
When I first calculated my EQ scores a few years ago, I was
at an overall score of 69 with my lowest score in self-awareness.
To be self-aware is to know yourself as you truly are. A few of
the strategies they include are to quit treating your feelings as
good or bad; feel your emotions physically and check yourself. I
have found that, through meditation, I have become more self-
aware and am able to check in with myself regularly. By being
aware of my own emotions, it has helped me check in with the
emotions of those around me to see what they are feeling.
After a couple of the sessions, I started to be mindful with less
focus on making the session efficient and effective. Mindful-
ness, a concept introduced in the class that I had heard of previ-
ously but hadnt practiced, allowed me to shift my perspective
to one of planning and forward thinking to just being present.
Psychology Today denes mindfulness as “a state of active, open
attention to the present. This state encompasses observing one’s
thoughts and feelings without judging them as good or bad.
A mindful approach: Slow down, savor
During the class on mindful eating, we were given a grape to
eat. Normally, I would have popped the grape in my mouth,
chewed it partially, then swallowed without much thought to
what I had just consumed. The instructor asked us first to look
at the grape, smell it and roll it around in our hands. We were
asked to think about the growing of the grape, where it came
from, how it got from the vines to the grocery store to our
class, etc. Next, we put the grape in our mouths and slowly ate
it. This allowed us to really taste its flavor and feel its texture
before consuming it.
If you have a meal or snack coming up soon, I encourage you
to try this out. Before eating one of the foods, run through the
items above: look, smell, feel, listen, taste. Use all the senses to
experience a few bites. Slow down and savor the flavor. What
was that experience like? Did you notice something new about
the food you ate? Did you enjoy it more or did you enjoy it less?
This activity made me think about how in my career as a
healthcare process improvement expert I have to get teams to
think about processes from where they start to where they fin-
ish with all the steps in between. Working with a team to com-
plete this mapping requires time and focus. Creating a detailed
process map is really an exercise in mindful mapping of the
process under study. Sometimes a team has to pause and take a
minute to think about the perspectives of their customer and
their suppliers. Team members have to think about what hap-
pens before the team process begins.
Another activity we completed in the class was drawing our
current state and our future state. This didnt mean mapping
out what it was but drawing a picture that represented what we
currently felt and then sketching a picture of what we saw in
the future. Of all the exercises we learned, this was one that I
have applied with project teams many times. This can be a fun
activity to get teams to share their frustrations with their cur-
rent state in a creative way. I have often seen teams draw chaos
in different forms by trying to display confusion, poor commu-
nication and other frustrations. The future state is ordered and
streamlined with the team members all having smiling faces.
The last activity I will share is the concept of dialoguing.
When this topic was first introduced, I was initially skeptical
it wouldnt work. That was until I realized that dialoguing re-
minds me of working through a “five whys” exercise when you
just keep conversing with a frustration until you get to the root
cause. The activity started with the students each identifying
a frustration and then having a dialogue with that frustration.
My conversation was with my aching knees and hips (obvi-
ously, I am no longer a young engineer). After having this con-
versation with my knees and hips, I came to realize I needed
to incorporate more stretching and yoga into my life. This is
again something I can build into my calendar and test different
PDSAs to see what works for me and what doesnt. Without
this conversation, I might still be thinking that all I need to do
is find better shoes or spend less time working out.
For the last self-guided exercise, draw your current and fu-
ture states or complete a dialogue session with a frustration
you are having. What was your conclusion? Did you notice
More on mindfulness
Author Satya S. Chakravorty discussed the topic
of mindfulness in the September 2017 issue of ISE,
“Mindfulness boosts process performance.” You can read it
at https://link.iise.org/ISESept2017_Chakravorty.
November 2019 | ISE Magazine 47
something that will help you get to your future state? Did you
come up with a plan on how to deal with the frustration? Did
anything surprise you by these exercises?
Clear minds lead to solutions
While I am still constantly using the left side of my brain, ap-
plying these skills to my daily life has allowed me to continually
test different tools that make my life feel more complete and
have helped me excel in my job. I have allowed thoughts to
come during meditation that have led to solutions to problems.
I am now able to monitor my emotions during times of calm
but also in heated discussions. This has also allowed me to iden-
tify some areas of my life that needed a PDSA approach, such as
practicing daily meditation, adding daily stretching and being
present with those around us.
I find that I can pigeonhole myself based on my degree, my
job title or even my dominant brain side, but this Mindbody
program has opened me up to other possibilities. I have started
to embrace these moments of silence as I deep breathe in the
morning and in the afternoon. I have pushed myself to be a bit
more present in meetings, in interactions with others and while
completing tasks. Some days my practice is stronger than others,
but using mindfulness has allowed me to be in the moment and
not focus too much on the past or the future. I am more open to
saying “yes” to a new experience or testing out a new activity.
During lunch, I have been taking walks with a work friend
and fellow student in class around a lake behind our building
at work. We have started to notice the different types of birds
along with their babies, the bunnies eating their lunches, the
alligators hanging out and the other people walking around the
lake. Taking these 20 minutes out of our day has made us more
centered and more energetic as we get in that one-mile walk.
I would have probably stuck with it for a few days on my own,
but finding a friend who helps motivate you only adds to the
successes that you have when testing out these tools.
I encourage you to learn more about how to incorporate
some of these tools into your daily life, and if you are any-
thing like me take a step out of your circle of comfort and
nd how you can grow by trying something new. A younger
version of me would have loved to have some of these skills
and tools available to use when doing some introspective
evaluations. I hope this helps you as you grow and develop
into your future self.
Ashley J. Benedict, Ph.D., is the VISN system redesign coordinator
(lean Six Sigma program manager) for the VA Sunshine Healthcare
Network (VISN 8). She leads improvement within VISN 8 in the
effort to implement lean Six Sigma and data-driven solutions. She re-
ceived her bachelors and masters degrees in industrial engineering from
the University of Florida and her Ph.D. in industrial engineering with
a focus on human factors from Purdue University. She has worked as
a management engineer with Shands HealthCare (now UFHealth) in
Gainesville, Florida, and was part of the New England Veterans Engi-
neering Resource Center in Boston, Massachusetts. An IISE member,
she has served as a board member and president of the Society for Health
An easy path toward mindfulness
Chade-Meng Tan created a mindfulness program called “Search Inside Yourself” while working as an
engineer and one of the early employees at Google. He turned his efforts into a book, Search Inside Yourself:
The Unexpected Path to Achieving Success, Happiness (and World Peace). Tan says as little as a few minutes
spent in meditative breathing can open your mind to clearer thinking and problem-solving.
“You probably need some discipline in the beginning, but after a few months, you notice dramatic changes in quality of life,” he
wrote. “Once you reach that point, it’s so compelling you just cannot not practice anymore.”
He offers three tips to beginning a mindfulness journey:
Have a buddy. Tan uses the analogy of going to the gymnasium with a friend to help motivate regular exercise. Having a
partner helps you encourage each other and hold each other accountable.
Do less than you can. Learned from Tibetan monk Mingyur Rinpoche, author of The Joy of Living, the idea is to do less
formal practice than you are capable of. “For example, if you can sit in mindfulness for five minutes before it feels like a chore,
then don’t sit for five minutes, just do three or four minutes, perhaps a few times a day,” Tan wrote. “The reason is to keep the
practice from becoming a burden. If mindfulness practice feels like a chore, it’s not sustainable. Don’t sit for so long that it
becomes burdensome. Sit often, for short periods, and your mindfulness practice may soon feel like an indulgence.”
Take one breath a day. Tan wrote, “If you commit to one breath a day, you can easily fulfill this commitment and can then
preserve the momentum of your practice, and later, when you feel ready for more, you can pick it back up easily. ... I tell my
students that all they need to commit to is one mindful breath a day. Just one. Breathe in and breathe out mindfully, and your
commitment for the day is fulfilled. Everything else is a bonus.”