Martha Switzer of Sprout: “How To Develop Mindfulness And Serenity During Stressful Or Uncertain Times”
Opening about our feeling of anxiety can leave us feeling exposed and vulnerable. Thank the person you are talking with, let them know that you appreciate their trust and will respect the privacy of what they have shared.
As a part of my series about “How To Develop Mindfulness And Serenity During Stressful Or Uncertain Times”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Martha Switzer, co-founder of Sprout
Martha Switzer is the Co-founder and Chief Strategy Officer at Sprout. She is passionate about health and wellbeing while making a measurable impact. Prior to starting her own company, Martha spent her career in sales and marketing with companies such as Pepsi, Unilever, Nestle, and McCain, where she led brand planning, strategy, and execution.
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?
My co-founder, Christina Ford, and I were working in our respective fields (marketing and finance) with Fortune 500 companies. We could see first-hand that employee burnout was on the rise, and the physical and mental toll meant employees could not reach their full productive potential. As former competitive athletes, we also understood the importance of commitment and support to focus on the simple, consistent routines that would help ourselves, and others, feel better, more energized, and happier.
We founded Sprout in 2012 with a simple mission: create a digital platform that enables employee wellness and engagement.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
The year we launched Sprout, Christina and I were accepted into the Nike+ Accelerator powered by Techstars. This was an incredible opportunity, particularly since only 2.2% of venture capital goes to female-led businesses. The only obstacle — I had just given birth to my first child! I had the needs of my new baby and the needs of my new business to consider. I packed my bags and brought my eight-week-old to the Accelerator program. She attended 100+ meetings with me, snuggled in her Baby-Bjorn.
What advice would you give to other leaders about how to create a fantastic work culture?
We know that the line between work and life is arbitrary. We bring our work experiences home with us, and our personal life influences our work performance and persona. To create a fantastic work culture, leaders need to take a holistic approach to support employee wellbeing.
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 love biographies and am fascinated and inspired by peoples stories and journeys. A few I have enjoyed recently are Open by Andre Aggasi, Phil Knight’s Shoedog: A Memoir, and Becoming by Michelle Obama. As an entrepreneur and a mom, I could relate with her and the struggles she experienced trying to balance her career and motherhood. She spent lots of time connecting with her friends and realized that there really wasn’t a formula. I think that is an incredibly powerful message. We each can find the path that works best for us. Plus, she also brought her baby to an interview! It reminded me of my Nike Accelerator experience. I admire her opening up and sharing her attempts to express her needs and honour what was important to her.
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?
For me, being mindful is to be fully present and open to what I am experiencing on a physical, mental and emotional level. It is deeply personal, and yet connects you with your environment and those with whom you share it.
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?
Perhaps it would be easiest if I used a personal example. I’m a runner, and that means I sometimes spend hours on my own when training and logging my mileage. Being mindful allows me to fully experience my runs and be rejuvenated by them. I can take an inventory of what my body is experiencing physically; the coordination of my arms and legs, the rhythm of my breath. My mind has permission to release itself from the day-to-day concerns that are a part of being an entrepreneur, mom and partner. Emotionally, I am able to enter a place of non-judgement. This state of mindfulness leaves me recharged and ready to commit my energy to the rest of my day.
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.
- Time — Time is one of our most precious commodities. The first step to developing mindfulness is to set aside time for it. It doesn’t need to be an hours-long run. Even a few minutes each day is helpful.
- Acceptance — One of the most common pieces of feedback I hear is “I can’t switch off my mind!” Being mindful is not an absolute state. Embrace the imperfect! An important part of mindfulness is the practice of bringing your mind back to the moment.
- Boundaries — Sometimes I feel as though we are all operating on information overload! Part of being mindful is being conscious of what we are mentally and emotionally investing.
- Nourish — We need to nourish ourselves — (literally, of course!) but also with experiences that bring us joy. With the uncertainty and fear that are currently swirling all around us, it is important to fill our minds with emotions and experiences that can contribute to our feeling of calm and peace.
- Connect — We most often think of being mindful as a solitary activity. However, we need to also think about the connection. There is, of course, connection with ourselves. Technology can also play a role in the form of apps available to help guide us through a journey to reaching a state of mindfulness. Thirdly, we need to think about the community we are connected to. Being intentional with our relationships, staying in the present and engaged in our interactions with others adds an important layer to our experience of being mindful.
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?
- Reach out — One lesson we have learned from this pandemic is that we can not take connecting with others for granted. We need to make a concerted effort. Take the time, reach out to someone. Check in to find out if they are ok.
- Listen — Support isn’t necessarily about “doing”, it is often about listening. We may not be able to solve someone’s issues, but by giving the time for them to express themselves, we are honouring their experiences and that act in itself can go a long way in helping to alleviate some of our anxious feelings
- Medium and the message — Consider your channel of communication. We have so many options of how to connect virtually — which one is most appropriate for the person you are reaching out to?
- Ask how you can support — We are a culture of problem solvers! After you have listened, ask how else you can support them. The person you are connecting with may already know what they need, or perhaps just having someone to share with is enough.
- Thank them for sharing — Opening about our feeling of anxiety can leave us feeling exposed and vulnerable. Thank the person you are talking with, let them know that you appreciate their trust and will respect the privacy of what they have shared.
What are the best resources you would suggest for someone to learn how to be more mindful and serene in their everyday life?
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?
“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel”.
We have the incredible opportunity to give the gift of emotional wellbeing to those we meet. Staying in the moment, really listening, connecting, that’s what makes an interaction memorable.
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. :-)
Thank you! My goal is to make people happier and healthier everywhere. That was the impetus behind starting our company and I am excited to be part of the digital health technology movement that’s dedicated to making happiness and wellbeing accessible.
What is the best way our readers can follow you online?
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!