“Work expands to whatever time you give it.” -Mel Robbins
August is the perfect time to practice mindfulness as many of us are spending more time on vacation, outside in nature, and with loved ones. When paired with working long hours and the demands of the ever-shifting world of work we are experiencing every day, making the most of downtime and introspective practices is crucial.
How do mindfulness practices help leaders?
According to a recent article in Forbes, Catapult Your Leadership Now: Why Mindfulness Is The Mother Of All Leadership Skills points out committing to a mindfulness practice increases Emotional Intelligence, broadens perspective, fosters a more creative leader approach and enhances intentional behavior while simultaneously mitigating reactive responses. These benefits are the tip of the iceberg as mindfulness has the power to shift how we show up for ourselves and those we encounter, in deep and profound ways.
How can I incorporate mindfulness into my full life as a leader?
Mindfulness has become a bit of a buzzword over the past decade. This definition resonated with me, and I wanted to share it with you. Jon Kabat-Zinn defines mindfulness as:
“The awareness that arises from paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.”
The most common mindfulness practice is meditation, but I know that does not work for everyone. Some leaders I work with use exercise, quiet time in nature, journaling, music, and travel. Whatever the preference is, what is important is the practice of landing in the moment and finding something to appreciate about the present. How one navigates this is entirely up to the individual but I have learned, from working with leaders for decades, the time set aside for mindfulness should be a non-negotiable commitment to oneself. Leaders have so many demands on their time and are often “other-focused.” While flexibility is key in the fast-paced world of work, so is honoring commitments to oneself. This is truly the key to mindfulness and one of the biggest hurdles as well.
Three Mindfulness Techniques to Try Today
#1. I love this technique from Steve Sisgold, Psychology Today because it can be done just about anywhere quickly. It also is very powerful to center oneself in the midst of “busy”.
“Step One: Commit – Place your attention on connecting your brain and body and follow these steps for the next five minutes and feel what it is feeling.
Step Two: Breathe – Take three slow deep full breaths in through your nose and out through your mouth. Relax and fill your belly on each inhalation, then release the breath and belly, as you exhale.
Step Three: Scan-Notice what is happening in your body. Are you squinting or straining in any way? Are your shoulders and neck crunched? Observe for 60 seconds and discover sensations, posture, tension etc.
Step Four: Declare – State to yourself what you notice. For instance, “I am noticing that my breath is shallow and my fists are closed.” or, “I am noticing how relaxed my belly and chest feel.”
Step Five: Act – Take an action that benefits you right now. For instance, if you notice that your shoulders are raised, relax them and let them drop. If you are hunched over your computer, sit back and lift your head up.
Step Six: Visualize – Breathe comfortably, in and out like a calm ocean. See a simple wave form as you breathe in and out.
Step Seven: Center – Sit comfortably with your legs uncrossed, hands, arms, and shoulders at ease, belly relaxed and eyes open. Take one more conscious breath in and out, focus on an intention, and go actualize it!”
#2. For leaders who have trouble with quiet meditation, I find the concept of Lectio Divina: Lectio Divina to be a powerful one. It is an ancient monastic practice of meditative reading. Simply select a section of meaningful text, whether it be philosophical, scripture, or anything that resonates with you. Select just a few lines. Read them over a few times, land on a word or phrase that attracts you, and repeat it quietly, allowing your natural curiosity to take over. Think about what the passage might be saying to you or what the spiritual teaching is if you practice a certain religion. Now, read the whole passage over a few more times. When you read it for the last time, ask yourself, “What am I to do now, based on this information?” You will be astounded at the answers that find their way to you by taking time out to be mindful.
#3. Walking meditation works well for those whose thoughts take over the present moment sometimes uncontrollably. If you can walk somewhere for 15 minutes, you can shift into a greater present-moment awareness and therefore access more choices and options when interacting with others.
As you walk, pay attention to how your feet feel and how your arms swing. Pay attention to your surroundings from a place of detached observation. Ask yourself, “What do I see, hear, smell right now?” to land in the immediacy of what your senses are offering you. For some, running or hiking can have the same benefits. Often if we are used to a certain route, changing the path we follow will make it easier to let our senses take over the experience and land us in the present moment.
If you try these techniques, let me know how it goes for you. Please share your favorite mindfulness practices in the comments section below so we can all grow our tool kit.
As the introduction quote stated, work can take up all of our time if we let it. Whatever you do, make sure you don’t make mindfulness a to-do that you feel badly about not doing. Your practice must be manageable and something you carry with you everywhere, like the very air you breathe, not a burden to be pushed to tomorrow’s list. Once you have something that works, watch in amazement as more things start to work.
The simple act of paying attention to what we are paying attention to changes everything.