“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s way” (Frankl, 1992).
Stress today is everywhere. Leaders are often adept at managing highly stressful situations, but we are all interested in improving our performance. Self-care is critical for many successful leaders. While everyone learns to value aspects of balanced living in different ways, there’s a lot to be said for the simple yet meaningful practice of Mindfulness. Mindfulness has received a lot of attention recently, while some leaders are now seasoned practitioners – other leaders are still Mindfulness beginners.
Why Mindfulness, why now?
We are now living in what some have termed a VUCA world (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous) (Harvard Business Review, 2014). Leaders are forced to manage each aspect of how this impacts their organizations and employees. It is a new year, 2017. The intensity of last year will most likely spill over, so how do we ameliorate the stress of a volatile and unpredictable world? Enter mindfulness. The answer may be found in being a more mindful leader. Or essentially, a leader who also practices mindfulness.
Leadership is about inspiring and guiding everyone to be the best they can be and mindfulness fosters the ability for practitioners to live in the moment, to take control of any situation by having the presence to remain engaged, flexible, and even calm in an unpredictable and volatile world.
How do we practice Mindfulness?
The FEEL Model by Liz Hall (2013) is a helpful acronym that leaders can use to begin a mindfulness practice. Try FEEL,
Focus – set an intention on what you are trying to achieve. Being mindful is often about paying attention to something – our thoughts, our emotions, our bodily sensations, etc. One may have the intention to focus on their breath for three minutes (for example) before they start a challenging task.
Explore – as you breathe, notice what arises (our thoughts, our emotions, and our bodily sensations), notice each with an attitude of curiosity and non-judgement.
Embrace – each sensation with awareness – breathe as you note each emotion, physical sensation, or thought. Try not to push away or judge what you notice. Just let each experience come and go, like clouds floating by.
Let Go – this is about not holding on to something pleasant or unpleasant for too long. With your awareness, return your attention to the sensations of your breath. Continue to let go as you begin to breathe again.
Practicing mindfulness often does not feel easy or natural in the beginning. Like many new tasks and challenges, the barriers within us are often our biggest hurdle. Many beginners find taking an eight-week mindfulness course as the most practical and informative method to begin a practice. Practicing mindfulness is known to reduce the of impact stress in our personal lives, our job performance and our overall well-being. Research has consistently shown that practicing mindfulness increases productivity by decreasing negative emotions and increasing positive well-being, even happiness. As a leader, fostering mindfulness will not only improve work-life balance but it will enhance your ability to choose how you respond to any given challenge or circumstance.
May we all have a more mindful and balanced – 2017. Keep practicing and stay present.