Moving Toward Mindfulness
There is a great deal of talk lately about mindfulness in organizations. It is coming up as a common denominator for not only success at work, but also significance in life.
But, what does mindfulness mean?
For some, it sounds a little out there. But for others, it simply means being aware of yourself and others. Mindfulness is not for the faint of heart. It requires a special willingness to get comfortable with our discomfort because we all know that it’s not easy to look in the mirror and see who we are as holistic human beings – our strengths, our foibles, our indifferences, our intolerances.
Mindfulness also requires a special sense of leadership – courageous personal leadership. Which is where it begins. It begins with ourselves.
Mindfulness is an inside-out job. It starts with some important questions you need to ask yourself: Who are you? What do you stand for? How are you showing up? How are you including and developing others as well as yourself? What is your piece of the action in any given situation – good or bad? Where is your focus? What is it and to whom do you want to give your focus? Why? What will be the impact?
It is from these answers that we can start to dig deeper into pillars that will move you further toward mindfulness, and listen to some specific calls to action that will only strengthen our understanding of the practice and ourselves.
One of the distinctions between good leaders and great leaders is the commitment to reflect.
Reflection is one of the pillars of mindfulness; it breeds greater self-awareness leading to increased growth as a person and a leader. That self-awareness is powerful because it puts us in the seat of choice. Once we are aware, we can make a different choice in our thinking and in our actions. Recently, a colleague and I had the opportunity to work with an incredible group of leaders at a Fortune 100 organization.
As part of the two-day session focused on Creating Agile Cultures from Agile Leadership, we asked these leaders to hold up a mirror (several times throughout the two days) and reflect on who and what they saw there. They shared their observations and insights with their partner and then got their partner’s perspective on what they saw. This was a powerful exercise in vulnerability, honesty, and courageous leadership. They then had the opportunity to reflect on what they saw, the feedback they received and the impact of their new, heightened awareness. It required that each person in the room STOP and reflect. How often are we stopping and reflecting?
Call to action: Buy a journal, a pen, and a mirror. Write down what you see about who you are. Get feedback. Is your vision of yourself really true?
Your Physical Well-Being
Mindfulness requires clarity. And clarity in its purest, most authentic form requires taking care of our physical bodies so that we may show up with maximum energy.
But who has time for that, right? We are too busy pursuing success for a 60-minute cardio workout every day, right?
That is a short-sighted, self-serving view of not only your time, but also your life and leadership. In order to be of service to others it is critical that we take care of our own well-being. It means that we eat well, exercise appropriately, and here is a novel concept – rest well.
Call to action: Determine the first next step that will support you in being your best physical self. Write it in your journal. Tell someone and enlist him or her as as your physical well-being accountability partner. Reflect on the difference you feel. Repeat with a new next first step.
Your Mental Well-Being
Mental well-being has three elements: self-talk, focus, continuous learning.
What would you learn if you started paying attention to the stories you tell yourself? What are the themes and patterns you hear? What are those thoughts and patterns anchored into? How are they supporting you as a leader who is in service to others (or not)? I attended a retreat recently, and I heard my coach, Hilary, say, ‘there is what happens to you and then there is what you make it mean.’
What do you make things mean? Often what we make them mean is anchored in assumptions and old patterns that are no longer true. Take some time today to listen to your stories, your thoughts. Often times the stories we tell ourselves impact our ability to be fully focused.
Think about a situation at work where you must give an important presentation or deliver on a critical project. What is the story you are telling yourself about your ability to deliver in a way that is aligned with your greatest potential? The thoughts and stories you are telling yourself carry the potential to distract you from your focus. Are these thoughts and stories helpful to you and in support of living into your greatest leadership while supporting others in living into theirs? When you change your self-talk and the stories you tell yourself, you have the power to change the outcome and ultimately the quality of your life and your service.
While paying closer attention to your self-talk and your focus are important to mental well-being, another aspect of mental well-being is continuous learning in more traditional forms. What kinds of things can you choose to participate in that will open you up to alternative points of view, richer cultural and artistic experiences, new approaches, and innovative solutions? If we are reflecting and learning, we are growing.
Call to action: In your journal, reflect on and write down the stories you hear yourself telling most often. Title them. Then write down the stories you want to be telling and title those. What steps can you take to move you closer to the stories you want to be telling.
Your Emotional Well-Being
In the world of work and of life there are often moments that I like to call “swirl”.
When we are attached to the “swirl”, we are not in a state of emotional well-being. We lose perspective, and, in worst cases, we lose ourselves. When I think of someone in a state of strong, yet calm emotional well-being, I think of someone like Ghandi who is the port in the storm. His ability to remain grounded, steady, and clear despite the “swirl” around him demonstrates emotional well-being. While it may seem like an overwhelming feat to live as Ghandi lived, it is not impossible to be the port in the storm for ourselves and others.
Emotional well-being comes from a place of knowing that we are enough despite what is going on around us. Yes, we make mistakes because we are human. But our mistakes and challenges do not define us. How we respond to them is what begins to define our character. As we become increasingly self-aware, we begin to understand the situations, people, and challenges that trigger us and how that triggering is manifested in an emotional reaction which is often times a negative emotional reaction.
Self-awareness allows us to make a different choice in the midst of the “swirl”.
Instead of reacting, we choose to respond. We become aware of the emotions and the people around us that energize us or that help heal damaged relationships and situations. When we are in a state of emotional well-being we make choices to show up mindfully in confidence and possibility. And, in moving forward, we make the mindful, conscious choice to go to that place versus emotional reactions like anger, defensiveness, frustration, shame, and criticism.
Call to action: Wake up to what triggers you and how it manifests. Make a different choice.
In your journal, reflect on those people, situations, and challenges that trigger you. What is your typical reaction? How is that serving you? How might you make a different choice?
Your Spiritual Well-Being
Spiritual well-being is anchored in our sense of purpose which permeates and influences everything. Our enduring purpose is our call to serve and extend our boundaries beyond ourselves. When we are living in mindfulness as people and as leaders, we are living a life aligned with purpose and anchored in non-negotiable values.
Our spiritual well-being aligned in purpose is the inspirational force that drives what we do. It is our constant. It gets us up in the morning and opens us up to what is possible. Our enduring purpose is what keeps our decisions, gifts, values and contributions in harmony and alignment.
It’s time to ask yourself: What is my unique contribution as a leader? How am I leveraging my strengths in living out that purpose? How am I in service to others? What is the difference I am making or want to make?
Call to action: In your journal, reflect on a few of the following questions: Why do you do what you do? How do you want to be of service and to whom? Under what circumstances are you at your best? What strengths do you leverage to make this contribution? Which strengths do you possess that are not being used? What gets in the way of you being at your best consistently? What will you do about that?
Connections for Community
None of us work or live in isolation. We are better people and more engaged when we feel a strong sense of belonging. We are intended to be in community.
As leaders driven by mindfulness, we are in the business of intentionally creating community and caring for its well-being. We have the privilege of creating spaces where others feel they are a part of something bigger than themselves. Creating these environments is part of our enduring purpose as leaders; it is our opportunity to lead in a way that inspires and includes others in the vision of creating a future that is different from the past; a future that promotes enduring purpose anchored in core values; a future that supports the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being of the whole.
Call to action: In your journal, reflect on your contribution to the creation of community. What type of community do you want to create within your organization? How are you contributing to its realization? How are you fostering belonging and inclusion? What impact is it having on engagement and fulfillment?
As we move toward mindfulness, we’re moving towards something bigger: creating a sense of purpose and community that brings out the best in ourselves and others. And we are more of our best selves, we bring out the greatest potential in those we lead which leads to deeper connections, greater trust, higher levels of engagement and enduring fulfillment.