Too often as leaders we tend to hold on and hold back. We hold on to our jobs, our titles, our knowledge; and we hold ourselves back from expressing our views, concerns, frustrations, inspirations and ideas. This bias toward “holding” can have a crippling effect on our potential to skillfully engage challenges. A thought pops into our head that says “I shouldn’t try it,” and we hold on even tighter.
Letting go, on the other hand, of our fixed mindsets, limiting judgments, opinions, and much more, can open our perspective and enhance our ability to effectively lead a team, an enterprise, or our life. But saying you want to be less of a “holder” is not enough. We actually need to train ourselves to cultivate a different relationship to our own thinking. This is one of the cornerstone’s of the Institute’s Mindful Leadership curricula. In this training, you are invited to engage in mindfulness meditation where the focus of your attention is on your thoughts as they arise in the moment. This powerful practice helps develop greater flexibility in your leadership and helps you see thoughts that are limiting or biased.
But what really happens when we meditate in this way? How can such a simple act of sitting quietly and noticing our thoughts actually cultivate flexible, innovative leadership?
Let’s begin with the basics. What is mindfulness meditation?
When we practice mindfulness meditation, we often take a posture sitting upright, relaxed, and alert. We might begin by noticing our immediate experience using our senses: sounds, sights, smells, and other body sensations we might be feeling. As we begin to settle our mind and body into the present moment, we can then begin to notice that we are thinking: talking to ourselves, making judgments, worrying about tomorrow, ruminating about an old conversation, etc. The meditation practice is to notice these thoughts without getting hooked by them. We notice that they are thoughts, and we let them go for now. For now we are simply aware that we are thinking.
The thoughts need not be evaluated in any way. They might be true and they might not be true, they might accurately reflect who we are, and they might simply be random. Just notice the process of thinking that is constantly going on in our minds. Thoughts arise and they dissolve. We notice this as simply “thinking” without any need to judge the thought, or think more thoughts about it. We simply notice and let it go.
This gesture of “letting go” of our internal chatter, while simple, is also a highly concentrated gesture of leadership agility. Like an athlete rehearsing a movement over and over again, in mindfulness meditation we, too, are exercising core muscles of letting go of thinking that may be limiting our ability to be agile, creative and compassionate. The more we practice with it while we are sitting, the more it will be available to us when we are making decisions, or listening to others.
When we are able to let go of whatever pops up in our mind in that moment, it opens room for us to be curious and more able to discern the course of action that is responsive to the situation. It also gives us some spaciousness around that thought to see it a bit more clearly-is it a bias, conditioned reactivity, perception? In that spaciousness we also have room to decide how best to respond to what is in front of us…react as we always do to a familiar story in our head, or experiment with letting it go and trying something else.
Of course, there is more to being an agile leader than simply letting go, but letting go of those thoughts that are holding you back is the first step. When you begin to practice with this meditation, who knows where you may find yourself soaring?