On the couch: a blog on running a successful kitchen from performance psychologist Mike Duckett

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 12th December 2014
This is the next instalment in a series of blogs from performance psychologist Mike Duckett of Coaching for Success, helping chefs to raise their games in the kitchen. Mindfulness: Wake Up and Smell The Coffee! "WAKEY WAKEY!"Coffee - credit to New York Post When did you have your last cup of coffee? Did you notice the feel of the cup in your hand; the aroma as you brought it closer; the heat of the coffee on your lips and tongue; the set of flavours? Unless you were 'tasting' at the time then I doubt it but all those aspects of drinking that coffee were available if you wanted to notice them. By now you've probably heard of the term mindfulness even though for most people in the west (including many psychologists) it's taken around 3000 years for us to become aware of it. It is of course originally a Buddhist practice but now mainstream psychology has grasped it and so you'll find therapies based on it, many courses training it and lots of books written about it. They even teach it to the U.S. Marines. So what is it and what's it got to do with performing at your best in the restaurant? Like many of these things, it's very simple but not easy to practice; Mindfulness means paying attention in the present moment and without judgement. We all spend much of our waking (and working) day captivated by our thoughts and feelings about things that are in either the past or the future rather than now. How much of your day so far has been occupied with persuing thoughts about things that have already happened or might happen sometime? Do you often get anxious? There are many things you could worry about; what might go wrong in service; how the new sous chef will perform today; will the numbers add up to meet your target by month end; etc etc. Credit to meditation-mp3.org To be anxious your mind must, almost by definition, be focused on the future. You're not anxious about things that are happening right now, you're coping with the event! In fact you might even be trying to deal with the event but at the same time letting your thoughts drift backwards and forwards from between what happened before this and what could happen soon. Someone just massively over seasoned that dish. Your mind takes you back to memories of this happening before, 3 times! You can imagine how the diners are going to start sending back those dishes any minute now - you can imagine what they're saying to each other. This is one route to stress: thoughts about the past trigger thoughts about catastrophes in the future which cause stressful bodily changes as well as unhelpful behaviour; all about something that isn't even happening right now - it's a mind game! It certainly won't help resolve the over seasoned dish that's in front of you now. An important and less widely understood aspect of Mindfulness is that there is no intention to change anything; you just become aware of all that is NOW. That will include becoming aware that your mind has gone to the past and raced to the future. You become more aware that they are just thoughts. It will include becoming aware of the changes in your body ("tension in my neck and shoulders; heart rate is up" etc). Being mindful, you can accept what's happening and then the stress may well reduce but that's a useful 'side effect'. In a previous blog we talked about professional athletes getting 'in the Zone' to be at their best and part of that 'zone' is a focus on the present moment. They don't think about winning or losing when they are performing - the outcome is in the future but their performance is NOW. They are effectively doing Mindful running/swimming/driving etc.mindfulness Do you do Mindful leading? Meanwhile if you are paying careful attention to what you are actually hearing when the chef de partie explains his mistake and you are aware of your own prejudices and frustrations that you are experiencing right now, then you might also make a Mindful choice of response! Do you do mindful cooking? Attention to detail is crucial for fine cuisine but are you as acutely aware of all the fine details of colour, aromas & flavour notes as you were when you first created this dish, or is your mind on the decline in gross margins last month? The fact is, we do most things unconsciously as habits because it would be almost impossible to be aware of everything all the time. Also there is great value in thinking about the past to learn from it and about the future to plan it but would it be better to choose the times you do that? Start your Mindfulness practice by just taking 1 minute (anyone can find 1 minute to spare) when your mind is racing and set the timer on your phone and become Mindful of your body, your emotions, your thoughts and your behaviour during that 1 minute. As a chef-patron said to me recently, "whilst I was thinking about the loan repayments I suddenly became aware that just the right amount of onions still needed chopping"! Mike Duckett Mike Duckett has a degree in psychology and is a member of the Occupational Psychology division, the Sports Psychology division & the Coaching Psychology Special Group of the British Psychological Society. He holds a diploma in Hypnotherapy & Cognitive therapy and is a certified NLP coach. With over 20 years experience he was one of the pioneers of applying performance psychology to coach people in the hospitality industry to get the best from themselves, in areas such as creativity; leadership; optimism etc. As a certified NLP Coach and ANLP Accredited Master Practitioner, Mike has clients ranging from world renowned chefs, restaurateurs & sommeliers to up and coming staff in both the kitchen and front of house. You can see more of Mike's blogs at coachforsuccess.wordpress.com

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 12th December 2014

On the couch: a blog on running a successful kitchen from performance psychologist Mike Duckett