Can A Mindful Leadership Purposeful Pause Give You 20/20 Vision?

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Can A Mindful Leadership Purposeful Pause Give You 20/20 Vision?

Why did I do that? Why didn’t I say that? What was I thinking?

If you are like most leaders, these phrases are familiar to you. For example, you recall an earlier conversation or meeting and you immediately see something that you could have done or said that would have resulted in a better outcome, or been more authentic.

Why do you have that 20/20 vision more often in the rear view mirror than in the present moment? And, more importantly, is there a way to get a clearer picture of those connections in the present?

To answer the first question, consider where you most often are when you are rehashing an earlier moment. Are you in your car after work, walking your dog or perhaps in bed at 3 a.m.? At these times, you are less distracted by the everyday noise, and so you can listen more deeply to your inner voice. We all have that inner voice, or gut feeling, that is incredibly important in moments of chaos or high stress. Unfortunately, if we do not take the time to train our mind, those same moments can trigger a “fight or flight” reaction that drowns out our inner wisdom. The higher order, executive functioning of our brain gets overruled by the reactive amygdala part of our brain. Learning to meet those moments is at the heart of mindful leadership training. When you train your mind in this way, you begin to take yourself off an autopilot way of living. You can learn more about that in my earlier post “Are You Living On Autopilot.” For now, however, you can learn to have that 20/20 capability in the moment by practicing with what I call Purposeful Pauses. And they will not add anything to your ‘to-do’ list.

What is a Purposeful Pause?

A purposeful pause is a mini break in the momentum and speed of our mind and our days. Purposeful Pauses give us the space to reset and re-center, and when we do, we’re more likely to make conscious choices about our work and our activities that are productive, creative and compassionate.

A purposeful pause interrupts the fog that gathers when we’re on autopilot, pushing our way through the day. It’s not all that hard to bring about a break in the clouds and when we do, we can gain new perspective on each moment. Try experimenting with these two ideas and see if your days begin to feel a little different, and you begin to see things more clearly:

  1. On your way to your next meeting, walk down the hallway with an intention to notice your experience of walking in those moments. Don’t walk and look at your phone. Instead, focus on the walking…feel your feet on the ground, notice the people, colors, sounds around you. When your mind time travels to your story about the meeting, just bring it back to this moment and pay attention again to the walking itself. Stay in the present moment. How do you arrive at the conference room?
  2. When you are in a conversation, begin by feeling your feet grounded to the floor. Any time you feel the stress levels rising, see if you can bring your attention to the feelings of your feet on the ground for a few seconds, and check in with yourself with this question, ‘What is called for now?’. Take a breath or two and feel yourself grounded before blurting out the first thing that comes to mind. What is the skillful way of responding?

When we use the anchor of our own body sensations to help us be at our best, we are acknowledging the fact that body sensations can only be felt in the present. When we bring our mind’s attention to those sensations, we are bringing our mind back to the present. It is in this moment, when our body and mind are in the present, that we can have access once again to that 20/20 vision.

Mindful Leadership: You Can Explore Your True Potential In 3 Simple Steps

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Mindful Leadership: You Can Explore Your True Potential In 3 Simple Steps

“Everyone has inside of him a piece of good news. The good news is that you don’t know how great you can be! How much you can love! What you can accomplish! And what your potential is!”

– Anne Frank

I love the wisdom of this quote. We really do not know what our potential is even though we might think we do. Beginning in our earliest years, we have been told about our strengths and weaknesses. These assessments, given perhaps with good intentions, very often have unintended harmful results. They keep us from knowing more about our true potential. Let’s take a closer look at examples I have heard from professionals over the years.

  1. We all understand that early assessments that tell us we are not ‘good’at something can limit us from even exploring certain positions or professions. And, of course, those can hinder our ability to discover our true potential. But, negative assessments are not the only kind that can limit our potential. Kirstie was a successful physician who, in her late 40s, felt as though she needed to learn more about mindful leadership to be her best self as a physician. On retreat, she shared with me that, as a student, she was told that she had an aptitude for science and so medicine should be her profession. In fact, she explained that the written assessments, and those who had told her she should be a doctor must have been right. She had no trouble passing the exams and boards needed. And her patients loved her approach. It all seemed to be going as predicted, so why was she feeling so unhappy each morning when she left for her clinic? I asked her a simple question, “Did you want to be a doctor?” She looked away and paused. When she returned her gaze to me, tears rolling down her cheeks, she said, “no, never.”
  2. People we admire can also limit our potential. Mason told me that he was fortunate to have had a wonderful mentor when he was new to his profession. In fact, he so admired his mentor that he gave a great deal of weight to his advice when it came time to make a career move. Mason shared the details of a recent career opportunity he considered. He shared that he enjoyed the research work he was doing but he always saw himself eventually moving into a management role and had applied for a department head position. When Mason’s mentor heard about the potential move, he proceeded to share with him all the horrors of management, matching each challenge with what he believed were Mason’s personality weaknesses. He was sure that Mason would have a hard time conforming to the management model, and would likely fail. Mason, reluctantly withdrew his name from consideration but he was still wondering if he made the correct choice.

In both of these examples, we see professionals who wonder if they are living the lives they were meant to live. What about you?

Perhaps there is an example of some form of limitation in your own life. Simple statements or an assessment of you at one moment in time easily become woven into your story of yourself. Are there factors that may be limiting your capacity to love, or your ability to accomplish your dreams?

If you are ready to begin an exploration for yourself, try these simple 3 steps:

  1. Begin by sitting quietly and allowing your mind and body to settle. You can focus on your breathing to help you settle. When you are ready, reflect on this question: What are the top 5 pros and cons that describe me? These may be your words, assessment results, or ‘short stories’ others have shared with you. Write them down.
  2. As you review the list, reflect on each characteristic using these questions: if this characteristic is not true, what would be different? Is this potentially untrue characteristic holding me back from living my best life?;
  3. If you are wondering about the truthfulness of one of the characteristics you explored in Step 2, choose to take a small step that further challenge its veracity.

It takes courage to push against evaluations and advice. Listen deeply to your own wisdom. In your personal life and your professional life, it is often easier to go with what is being told to you. Ultimately, however, you may be abdicating your responsibility to live our best life. As Anne Frank said, “The good news is that you don’t know how great you can be!”

Mindful Leadership: Do You Want Your Weekday Mornings To Feel Like Sunday?

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Mindful Leadership: Do You Want Your Weekday Mornings To Feel Like Sunday?

Does this headline feel like an impossible dream? It seems impossible to have a morning like Sunday in the midst of a workweek. Sunday mornings are a breath of fresh air, we may wake up a bit later, or we may get up early for a long run, or perhaps a long meditation. It might be a day to treat ourselves well, however we define that. Or, it might be a day to get that good feeling that comes from finishing something we wanted to get done. Sundays are special, right?

Weekdays, on the other hand, are filled with time pressures, traffic delays, kids’ missing homework, looming deadlines, workplace drama, constant distractions…. In fact, we can even ruin our blissful Sunday by beginning to think about Monday. We get a case of the “Sunday night blues.”

So, what can you do to make your weekday morning feel like a Sunday? Learn to practice what I call “gentling into the day.” This practice originated during the mindful leadership retreats I have been teaching for the past 15 years. On retreat, we begin with an early morning practice that includes a meditation for about 15 minutes followed by 15 minutes of mindful movement. The meditation can be guided or silent. The movements are simple, gentle stretches.

There is nothing magical about the specific amount of time for each part of the practice. It can be shorter or longer. You can determine what is right for you. What is important is your choice to allow some spaciousness in the morning for your mind and body to prepare for the day. There are also many variations on this sequence that will work. Here are a few options:

  1. When your alarm goes off, instead of immediately reaching for your smartphone, sit on the side of the bed and check in with your body and mind-what do you notice? What is your energy level? Any areas of discomfort? Is your mind awakening slowly to the day or is it already in a cycle of your to-do list? As you begin to walk, feel your feet on the ground with each step.
  2. While you are in the shower, try to be present for the experience. If your mind pulls you away to the 10 a.m. meeting, bring it back to your experience of the shower. Feel the warmth of the water, the scent of the soap and shampoo, acknowledge the care you are taking of your body in this moment.
  3. If you are going to have a cup of coffee or tea, take a few minutes to sit and enjoy it fully…without reading the screens at the same time. Allow your body and mind to be present for this cup of coffee or tea. Can you feel the warmth, the smell, the taste on your tongue, how it feels as it goes down your throat?

All of these options have a common thread that is present on Sunday mornings…you are making a conscious choice to engage in an activity that is supportive of your life. While you may be more inclined to make such choices on the day when you are not working, there is nothing to stop you from making such choices on a workday. Starting each morning with one of these practices can set the tone for the rest of the day. Choose to start your day, rather than letting the day start you!

Mindful Leadership: 2 Simple Steps To Silence Your Inner Critic

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“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

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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!!