Work these days is getting faster and faster.
I hear otherwise well-balanced professionals saying they are struggling because they find they:
- cant slow down
- are attempting too much multi-tasking
- and are busier than ever before.
Sleep disturbances are more common now and they make it even harder for a mind to focus. With so much going on, professionals find it harder to stay calm, which is a foundational element of emotional intelligence. Staying calm is becoming a leadership imperative; a required competency especially for senior leaders.
I am not implying that you have a habit of setting your hair on fire or that you infer “staying calm” to mean you turn into Dr. Spock. My intent is to highlight the power of making a decision to more often leverage a wider field of vision and consider issues at more depth. Of course you do this already since you are reading this blog. But maybe not always. Calm big picture thinking is in fact neurologically impossible when our brain is triggered through stress and change fatigue which compromise our ability to manage internal interruptions to our own thoughts such as judgements and running commentary. But HOW do we calm our mind when we need to be thinking a mile-a-minute to not fall behind?
Stay clear on your purpose. Do you know your one MAIN focus for that moment? Personally making the decision to focus is a critical step. Ask yourself if it is a true priority. Do you really want it?
Presuming you have been coached (by self or others) and are clear with and have made an explicit decision to be committed to it, you can be more present with it, know that you can ignore interruptions and complete your thoughts. You will have the confidence to keep the conversation topic clean, uncontaminated with other burning platforms (which you will deal with later) and can resist the temptation to do five things at once. By using cleaner “fuel” for your focus, your thinking engine will run smoother and at higher efficiency than when trying to use “mixed fuels”.
But that’s much easier said than done.
So HOW do we better manage interruptions and derailleurs and maintain our focus?
1. Become more mindful
2. Manage your mental muscle fitness and habits/reflexes
3. Be the leader that brings out their best
Become More Mindful
Ever noticed that stream of commentaries about the world that goes on in our heads? Feels silent at times, and very loud indeed at other times. Who you are is not the voice (the thinker) but the one who is aware of it. At different times, we need to attend to the different parts of our thinking. For example, when the other person is speaking, are you preparing the next thing you’re going to say rather than truly listening to what’s going on for them?
Through formative experiences we may have developed a reflex to evaluate ourselves and what’s going on at all times. But the greatest gift we can give might be to be truly present for them and listen deeply. Other times it is essential to be the objective, rational, realistic judge of the data available in order to make a sound visionary, informed, evaluated and strategic decision. So maturity in this case, is knowing when to be the scientist, and when to be in the moment. We must learn from the past but not dwell there. We need to plan for the future but not worry about or believe that once when we have that car/job/lover/whatever THEN we will be happy, because that’s dwelling in the future. There is no time like the present. In fact it is all we will ever have.
How can you best serve and contribute? Depends on your purpose, and the context.
Purposefully paying attention to the moment and delaying judgement will keep you open. When you have clarity on your goal, have decided on your objective (intention), you will become more effective, the way an engine runs quieter and more smoothly with cleaner fuel.
MINDFULNESS can help you to:
- Make more effective decisions and be more clear and selective on when and how to take action both in organisations and in life in general because you have a wider perspective
- Increase your awareness of here and how, which play a huge role in capturing missed business cues and preventing the loss of big picture thinking which affect our perceptions of what is real e.g. threats and opportunities, apparent logic, and knee-jerk decisions.
- Dampen stress receptor systems and cortisol flood, which all trigger Fight-Flight-Freeze reflexes, which measurably compromise our ability to see alternative perspectives (both abstract, and literally with peripheral vision acuity changes), to innovate and be resourceful, and to be empathic and calm.
- Develop your capacity to pick up on what a complex situation TRULY requires, rather than just the presenting problem at a superficial reactionary level.
Manage your Mental Muscle Fitness and Habits/Reflexes
Staying mentally aware is work.
Our thinking mind is DESIGNED to hand over everything it possibly can to our unconscious and our filter sets. For example, feel the skin on your feet. Hear sounds around you. Listen to your breathing. These are things our brain is supposed to filter out so that it doesn’t explode with the burden of decisions (when should I breathe? Are my socks too tight? Oh look, a bird. Should I digest now?). These filters saved our hides. For example, in a crazy noisy room if you hear your child call your name, or you hear a person quietly choking, that same filter system will force you to notice it because they are emotionally relevant. Or if you are speaking to a crowd and you spot a frown of anger or curled lip of contempt from the sea of faces looking at you, you will most likely notice if you care about your audience. Conversely, if you are so wrapped up in how you appear and are delivering your message, you won’t notice your audience’s responses as much. Filters are invoked depending on our hopes, fears, expectations and priorities. You might as well be aware of them, because they are running your life for better or for worse.
This is where we need to develop our Mental Muscle Fitness, and be more aware of our thinking habits and reflexes which code our responses. If we are able to stay un-triggered (calm, open and un threatened), we leverage our big brain and remain open minded, skilled and resilient even in the face of uncomfortable discussions and feedback. Staying calm even measurably increases our learning readiness. This forms a key element of the most admired leaders who are most effective at engaging and inspiring those they lead.
Be The Leaders Who Brings Out Their Best
Ever been in the workplace where an individual was so skilled that people fought to be on his or her team? Effective leaders manage themselves in a way so that those they lead feel better about themselves.
It helps their team to better incorporate the information available to them, fosters an environment where they can debate, provides feedback in a climate that generates more sound decisions. They take initiative and take the right actions because their brain RAM isn’t preoccupied wondering and computing the ruckus of stories, false conclusions about what statements might have meant and if they are a threat to their personal credibility, acceptance or belonging.
On the other hand when you are stressed, others’ mirror neurons can hardly stop themselves from picking that up. While they don’t know why, they tighten up, and are not able to do their best work for you their leader. Remember, you will influence much more powerfully when you are mindful, manage your emotions and are clear on your purpose. As their leader, they NEED you to take managing yourself seriously, because then they can do their best work.
These are not rules or absolutes. They are mere thoughts and perspectives gained from my experiences which might apply in certain contexts and may provide a new lens.
I would love to hear if any parts ring true (or don’t) for you?
What have you found works best for you?