Mindful Leadership: 2 Simple Steps To Silence Your Inner Critic

by | Article

“What will they think of me?,” “I’m not good enough,” “I am lazy,” “What if I fail?,” “I am overwhelmed at work.” “Everyone is more beautiful, smarter, stronger, thinner.” “I can never be a good leader.”
Our minds seem to have an infinite supply of critical comments. And those comments are hard to ignore. They distract us and they limit us and they even interfere with our ability to enjoy a peaceful sleep. To be clear, I am not talking about our ability to reflect on where we are in life, and assess our strengths and weaknesses so we can choose what we might want to change. That ability is fundamental to our growth as a human being.
The inner critic is different. It is not constructive and it does not deal with the facts. It is a story-teller. And when we feed the words of the inner critic, the story becomes a full-length feature film that keeps us frozen to the status quo. We begin to believe the criticisms. And those critical comments have the power to prevent us from following our dreams, or taking the chances needed to find happiness or love or success. They can also begin to make us feel sad or anxious.

So, how can mindfulness help?

1. Begin by calling to mind an example of an inner critic statement. As you do so, notice if other thoughts start to pop up to enhance the statement, or if you start feeling any sensations of discomfort in your body. Are they familiar? When else do you notice those thoughts or feelings?

2. Now see if you can meet those words and thoughts with this sentence: “This may or may not be true.” Once again pay attention to sensations and feelings that arise.

There is no need for you to try to deny the critical comment, it is enough to simply begin to generate some spaciousness around it. You are beginning to develop a different relationship to the words that pop into your head. And with that shift, some spaciousness begins to develop and some of the weightiness begins to lift. What decisions will you make now that all that chatter in your head is beginning to quiet down?

Self Care For Leaders: 3 Mindfulness Steps To Better Sleep

by | Article

Welcome to 2020! Whether your holidays were nourishing or draining, today you return to the more mundane challenges and opportunities of being a busy professional and you will quickly remember what that feels like. The hectic pace of work creates a mind that spends the day “time-traveling” … replaying your last conversation and worrying about tomorrow’s appointments. And that constantly busy mind doesn’t stop its busyness when you leave your workplace. You may want to pay attention to dinner with a friend or with your family but your mind is still replaying that difficult meeting you had at 10 a.m. And you may feel exhausted but still find yourself lying in bed with a mind that is incessantly rehearsing tomorrow’s presentation.

Learning to meet this mental busyness with clarity, discipline and compassion, rather than letting it take over your day and night, is part of the training of mindful leadership. It is also an important part of the training that helps you develop good self-care practices like learning to replenish your mind and body through adequate sleep.

What do you know about your own behavior when you are sleep-deprived? When I ask this of participants in the Institute for Mindful Leadership’s workshops and retreats, people report that they are more irritable, impatient, less creative, more likely to overeat, and less productive. Let’s face it, it just doesn’t feel good when you are tired. And science consistently shows that lack of sleep is bad for your body and your mind. So learning to get a good night’s sleep is the most fundamental aspect of good self-care. Are you ready to improve your self-care for 2020? Try the simple practice below to begin this New Year by taking better care of you and your sleep:

3 Mindful Steps to Better Sleep

1. Remove all smart phones, tablets and computers from your bedroom. They don’t belong there. Seeing an email or social media post just before bed, or knowing that distractions are only inches from your head, can fuel the busyness of your mind.

2. When you settle into bed, bring your attention to the feeling of your breath. Feel your breath stretching the muscles in your chest or belly, feel the release. This is not an invitation to think about your breath or control it. Just feel the sensations.

3. When your mind starts to get busy, bring your attention back to the sensations. Let the thought that pulled you away go for now and redirect your attention back to the gentle movements and sensations of your breath. It is important that you be patient with yourself. Redirecting your attention is simply part of the practice and it does not matter how often you need to redirect your attention. Just be intentional about letting the thinking go (for now). It is as if you are saying “not now” to your thoughts and worries. Now is a time to sleep.

Be consistent with this practice, using it each night that your sleep is interrupted. It may take some time to train your mind in this way but the benefits for your health and happiness are well worth the time!!

Are The ‘Shoulds’ On Your ‘To-Do’ List Important To You? A Mindfulness Inquiry

by | Article

It is so easy at this time of year to feel overwhelmed. We work extra hours to bring our organizations to a satisfactory end of the year, to get things cleared away before 2020 appears, and with the often mistaken belief that getting a list of extra things done will allow us to have a more restful holiday. That belief would be more true if there were not an endless list of things that can keep our mind busy thinking about work.

And we have the additional errands and costs associated with entertaining, gift-giving and shopping. Add to those things the pressures of cooking and cleaning and decorating, not to mention the internal chatter of our minds that often arises from the gift selection process for parents, children and friends, and it is easy to find ourselves dropping into bed at the end of the day feeling totally exhausted. And we might conclude that “this is just how it is right now,” hoping that someday it might be simpler. Someday when the kids are older or the business is less hectic or we have more money or…

But how difficult would it be to make a change to “how it is?” For me, the ability to make some changes came from noticing the “shoulds” that were taking control of my life during the holidays. I should do this because that is what is expected, or that is how it was done when I was a kid, or that is how someone else does it. It took some quiet time to actually see the “shoulds” and then to ask myself what I thought was most important about this time of year. And when I had that answer, it became much simpler to go through the list of “how it is” with the litmus test of “does this support what I identified as most important or not?”

For me, the answer to what was most important was to spend more time enjoying and nourishing the connections I have with family and friends, and to remember those in the society that I might be able to help enjoy the holidays a bit more. And my answer also recognized the need to have some spaciousness in my life to sit quietly and connect more deeply with myself, listening to the body, heart and spirit, as I reflect on the events of the past and enjoy the warmth and love of the present. The “shoulds” that don’t support making room for those choices began to drop away, not all at once, but bit by bit. And sometimes I still need to catch myself falling back into my autopilot mode of the season. But each year the holidays seem simpler and more beautiful.

Right now, consider putting down your “to do” list and ask yourself what is most important to you at this time of year. Not someone else’s answer, but your answer. Then see if the tasks and obligations on your list support spending your precious time on them. Do they further what you believe is important? If not, you might experiment with changing just one thing. You might be surprised by the reaction of others, and the feeling you experience from making that one change.

This season can be a time of connections and reflection, a time for nourishing ourselves and those around us. Be bold and stay ever more true to who you are, listening to your unique inner wisdom.

Wishing you a holiday season filled with warmth and light.

6 Simple Mindfulness Steps That Will Transform Your Meetings

by | Article

Another day filled with back to back meetings, no breaks in sight. With all those meetings, your productivity must be through the roof, right? Or are you among the vast majority of professionals who believe that there are too many meetings and very little actually gets accomplished in them?

The most common meeting complaints we hear from our clients at the Institute for Mindful Leadership are:

a) no one is listening, they are all on their laptops or phones,

b) the same minority of people monopolize the meetings,

c) people often talk over one another which feels disrespectful,

d) too many people are in the meeting because the culture has trust or communication issues, and

e) in an effort to make everyone happy, the decisions sink to the lowest common denominator which is often not the best solution.

If any of those characterizations feel familiar, a few mindful meeting steps can really make a difference. Try them out with the next meeting you lead and see what happens.

Mindful Meeting Steps (these work best for up to 10 people in a one hour meeting but you can modify the steps to fit the specifics of each group once you get used to them):

Send the topics out in advance with a friendly note stating that you invite everyone to come to the meeting with their best thoughts and ideas.
Ask everyone to close their laptops and put away their phones for the duration of the meeting…no glancing at them during the meeting.
Begin the meeting with a minute or two of quiet to let everyone “catch their breath” and bring their attention to this topic.

Use 2 minute monologues-go around the table and give each person 2 minutes, uninterrupted, to share their thoughts-no questions or judgments during the monologues. When one person is done, move on to the next person. When everyone has had a chance to share their monologue, the group can begin to ask questions and discuss.

10 minutes before the end of a meeting, invite everyone to pause and reflect on the following questions: what did I hear?, what questions/thoughts do I still have? Invite brief final comments and questions, if any.

End with a summary of the decisions and/or next steps.

These steps invite all to participate in a way that is respectful and open. It levels the playing field and gives each person the time to speak without worrying about who is going to interrupt. Try it for yourself, what do you notice?

Who Are You Thankful For? A Powerful 3-Step Thanksgiving Reflection

by | Article

As family and friends settle in for a Thanksgiving celebration, it is easy to watch the distractions piling up. The football games are waiting, the cooking is underway and the kids are getting louder. It is a day of “too much”—too much food, too much noise, and sometimes even too much family and friends.
It is easy to lose sight of the opportunity to stop and remember the many people for whom we are thankful. Who are you thankful for? The Thanksgiving Reflection described below is designed to help you really answer that question. You might be surprised at what emerges. The reflection does not take a great deal of time, although I recommend that you not try to rush through it. Take your time and enjoy it.

Thanksgiving Reflection:

Step 1 Bring a pad and pen with you and find a place to sit quietly and comfortably for a few moments. Connect with your breath by feeling the breath sensations arising and dissolving as you settle into the present moment.

Step 2 Bring to mind the first person who touched your life in a positive way and write their name on your piece of paper. Perhaps that person is still physically with you, or perhaps they are here only in your memory and your heart. Take a moment to enjoy any feelings of warmth that arise in your body, or loving memories that arise in your mind. Continue through your lifetime stopping at each milestone to bring to mind those that help you move on to the next phase of your life: childhood, adolescence, college, 20s 30s, etc. At each point, jot down the name of the person that comes to mind. Try not to rush through this. If you get interrupted, just stop and come back to this practice later.

Step 3 When you are done, read through your list, offering a deep, heartfelt thanks as you recognize that without all these people, your life experience might have been very different. Send a message of thankfulness to each one and, as you do, pay close attention to what arises in your heart.