5 Questions for: Tracy Fink, Director of CohnReznick’s Executive Women’s Forum
In recognition of Mental Health Awareness Month, Tracy Fink, Director of CohnReznick’s Executive Women’s Forum, spoke to Dean Edwards, Communications Specialist, about the role that mindfulness can play in our working lives, building resilience and creativity. Tracy is currently working toward her certification as a mindfulness teacher and organizes regular mindfulness sessions at offices across the Firm.
Q: What is mindfulness and why is it important at work?
A: In this “volatile, unpredictable, complex and ambiguous” world, we are often searching for meaning in our lives and in our work. Too often, we are on running on autopilot – going through the motions of being alive, stuck in habits and negative thoughts, distracted by our phones and our judgments of how things should be rather than accepting things as they are. Mindfulness is simply paying attention in the present moment without judgment. It teaches us to notice where our thoughts have wandered and to come back to the present.
Q: How did you learn about mindfulness?
A: I started out on my journey toward mindfulness in 2013, right before my 50th birthday. I had a nagging feeling of dissatisfaction around my job and family life. I was stuck in old stories, thoughts, and habits. I also tended to “catastrophize” things – making situations worse in my mind through unnecessary worry and negative thoughts.
A friend of mine had developed a meditation practice and I noticed that she was just a little bit happier. It was not as if the stressors in her life had disappeared; it was that she had a new way of looking at things. She was more positive and compassionate toward herself and others, and she was doing innovative, amazing things at work. She introduced me to a book about getting started with meditation: Real Happiness by Sharon Salzberg. I went on a four-day silent meditation retreat that focused on Loving Kindness and was hooked. And happier.
Q: What’s the difference between mindfulness and meditation?
A: Mindfulness expert Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D. says that “mindfulness is basically just being aware.” We can practice mindfulness by easily integrating it into our daily lives. For example, noticing our feet on the floor when we get up to walk to the restroom. Meditation, on the other hand, is a higher intensity, dedicated practice, where we focus our attention on breath or something else. Meditation is not about clearing your mind. Instead, we practice noticing when our attention has wandered, and then center it again. I lead regular meditation workshops in our NYC and NJ offices, which encourages people take a short break to recharge. This is also how we build resiliency.
Q: How has your meditation practice affected your work life?
A: It’s helped a lot! For me, my daily practice has, over time, improved my communication skills and memory. There are physical benefits, too. I feel more relaxed and less stressed. Small things – like how someone words an email – don’t affect me emotionally.
But it takes time and effort. Meditation isn’t a quick fix or a “one and done” solution. We need to practice regularly over time before benefits show up. The early stages of meditation can be frustrating or boring, but stick with it, even if it’s just for a few minutes each day. You can start just by slowing your breath for 30 seconds. Work your way up and you’ll soon crave that quiet, undistracted time of peace. The long-term benefits are well-documented and profound, from improved communication skills, enhanced memory and thinking, heightened motivation, and increased resiliency.
Q: Is there a “cut-off date” for starting meditation?
A: No! It’s never too late to start. I started when I was almost 50. I wish I had these skills when I was younger. The good news is that scientific research supports that our brains can change over time – that’s neuroplasticity. Basically, when we think differently consistently, our brains begin to form new neural pathways. So, if we practice thinking optimistically, over time our brains just do it automatically.
Q: Bonus Question: You’ve traveled extensively around the world. How has travel affected your outlook on life?
A: For me, traveling is a way to connect with ourselves by learning about the experiences of others. It also shows us that people are more alike than we think, no matter our skin color or the language we speak. When we travel, we meet people who have hopes for their children, who volunteer, who care for their aging parents, who delight in a baby’s smile. When we connect with our common humanity, we see similarities in others and offer kindness. That is how we build compassion, and that is how we can change the world.
Interested in starting your own meditation practice? Tracy is open to receiving requests and questions. You can contact her at Tracy.Fink@CohnReznick.com.
Tracy also recommends looking into the countless books and guides that can help you develop your practice, as well as apps such as Insight Timer and 10% Happier.