In leadership, it’s important to look at situations from different lenses, understand issues systemically and holistically, and seek the truth. If our minds are creating scenarios based on our stress levels, sleepiness, or anxiety, and if we don’t strive to sit in a meditative state and become aware of our fleeting thoughts and feelings, we may never be in touch with reality.
In the video on Mindfulness for Life with Mark Williams, he explains that “our brains create stories, make assumptions, and automatic inferences which sometimes go beyond the evidence and our mood can influence our understanding of a situation to change, or alter our inference of what goes through our minds” (2015). He goes on to say that “if we are not aware of our mood or state of mind, we could misconstrue things and allow our moods to take over” (2015).
Mindfulness, in its essence, is an appreciative awareness, or “un-forgetfulness” that essentially gives space for taking care of your mind, your surroundings, your loved ones, etc. It takes place without judgment or haste, in moments of lucid clarity. Human nature, being what it is, means that we are often mindful and often running on automatic pilot or acting habitually. How many times have you been driving down the road, intending to make a stop, but drive right past and turn down your street only to remember once you hit the driveway that you forgot to run your errand on the way home?
Leaders can fall into the same habitual routine when holding staff meetings and diving right into a problem, while bringing their stress and anxiety along with them. That energy, or state of being, affects everyone in the room and does not give space for innovative thinking required to solve the problem. Leaders need to take a breath and take stock of their emotions and state of mind prior to interactions with their team so that they don’t infuse the meeting with tension preemptively. Everyone brings something with them internally. We all have some level of stress and anxiety, and I’m not encouraging you to check that at the door. What I am saying is, have an awareness of what you are dealing with, communicate that with others so that they are also aware that you have some distractions going on, and pause for a moment to give yourself time to choose how best to proceed in a way that will not impede progress or successful outcomes.
One of my favorite tools in my Mindful Leader Toolkit, to prevent my mood from taking over, is the S.T.O.P. method (palousemindfulness.com). This is an easy one to practice in low-stakes situations so that when you are in a stressful environment it will come second nature. Try it with your teenagers first!
S stands for stop and take stock. Bring yourself into the present moment by deliberately asking yourself, “what am I experiencing right now?” Notice your thoughts, feelings, and sensations.
T stands for take a breath. Gently direct your full attention to breathing while paying thoughtful attention to each in-breath and each out-breath as they follow one after the other.
O stands for open and observe. Expand your field of awareness around and beyond your breathing to include a sense of the body as a whole, your posture, and your facial expression. Then, observe outwardly your surroundings and what is happening, the sights, sounds, and smells.
P stands for proceeding with new possibilities and continuing without expectation. Let your attention move to the world around you and sense how things are at that moment. Rather than react habitually. You can now be curious and open to respond in a way that is more grounded and respectful. Look for more tips and tricks to add to your Mindful Leader Toolkit next month!
Be well, be safe, and be kind. Happy New Year!