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The Short Story: Chocolate Mindfulness

According to Melissa Mueller-Douglas MSW’11, if you want to make yourself be present, then get yourself some high-quality chocolate.

Melissa Meuller-Douglas

Melissa Mueller-Douglas MSW’11 has a mantra: “Build teams with chocolate, not trust falls.” That maxim has guided her into establishing MyRetreat, a successful business-consulting firm that relies on what she calls chocolate mindfulness.

The logic behind chocolate mindfulness is straightforward: when people eat high-quality chocolate, Mueller-Douglas reasons, they are engaging in mindful behavior. “We use all of our senses,” she says, “from feeling the chocolate in the palm of your hand, noticing its weight, to listening to the sound of the wrapper, unwrapping all the way through to tasting the flavor, and smelling the aroma.”

Mueller-Douglas shows people that this is what mindfulness is — being fully present. She then encourages them to apply that same attitude toward their interactions with colleagues.

But Mueller-Douglas didn’t always intend to be a business consultant. She comes from a long line of social workers, and when she enrolled at the UW, it was her intention to pursue the family calling.

“At the Thanksgiving table there would always be conversations from the lens of social work, and I just wanted to know more,” she says. “And seeing outside of the traditional therapy setting, where social work can take you, was intriguing enough that I decided to move forward and apply to the UW. And it was the only school that I applied to, the only one that I wanted to go to.”

Mueller-Douglas held a few traditional social work jobs: she interned in the Wisconsin legislature, and she worked with community organizations such as United Way and the East Madison Community Center. She moved to Rochester, New York, and worked with the University of Rochester Medical Center. But she wanted to get into a leadership role, and so she created one for herself: MyRetreat.

Melissa Mueller-Douglas

As a consultant, she explains, she draws on the skills she used as a social worker, but with a different population. “What we do for one-to-one or in a [small] group setting is the exact same thing,” she says. “A treatment plan is the same as a business plan.”

The principle of chocolate mindfulness grew out of a realization Mueller-Douglas had with an early retreat group. She fed her clients high-quality dessert, and they reported an emotional breakthrough.

“Everyone who came to that retreat said this is phenomenal,” she says. “ ‘I was in the present moment. I wasn’t worrying about the future or thinking about the past.’ ”

Mueller-Douglas says that her retreats offer a one-hour experience in which participants learn to pay attention to themselves and others. Group members work intentionally to slowly enjoy a piece of gourmet chocolate, noting the aromas and flavors and sharing the associations that the experience brings to mind.

“You can have chocolate anytime, anywhere; you can meditate anywhere,” she says. “I want to remind people of how you can actually continue the practice in other areas of your life to prioritize your wellness.”

By working with corporate clients, Mueller-Douglas has brought chocolate mindfulness to thousands of people, and she hopes eventually to reach a million. “Who doesn’t want to bring people together,” she says, “and show them how to eat chocolate?”

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