How often do you feel like being a leader or high achiever means sacrificing your own mental welfare?
Decisions to make, questions to answer, meetings to attend. Too many to count.
Resources to train your people. Time to talk to every key player. Space to think through every decision. Too little to admit.
And it’s killing us. There is a ton of science supporting the idea that stress pounds on our brain like a prized fighter that never gets tired.
The stress of leadership is in the hard-wiring of your brain. In a stressful situation, your brain’s response is activated by the amygdala, a section of the brain triggered by fear and anger. It is where the primal responses of “fight, flight, or freeze” originate.
Researchers have found these primal survival instincts work to override all other thinking in favor of a narrow range of “fight, flight, or freeze” behaviors.
Leading when the amygdala is in control is impossible because it acts to overtake higher level thinking and strategic behavior in favor of a more panicked reaction. But there is a solution...
It's called "Mindfulness". It is the mental state achieved by focusing your awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting your feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations.
But is it really worth all the time and effort?
In today’s post, I’m looking at three different reasons you should carve out time and space for mindfulness even when it seems like there are no more hours left on your schedule.
Mindfulness Tames Stress & Allows Us to Connect with Our People
Your body’s stress response we just talked about kicks in when you perceive you are under threat.
Key word: perceive.
As a human, you have evolved this superb mechanism to ensure you have the best possible chance of survival when faced with a life-threatening situation.
However, we know stress rarely comes in the primal situations of our ancestors like being chased by a pack of wolves or dealing with starvation. They come in the form of production metrics, wins and losses, figuring out how to inspire your team. Even light traffic or cracking your phone can spike levels of stress!
Let’s take traffic for example. Hardly life threatening, traffic still slows you down. So in today’s busy world, slowing down could mean missing an important meeting with your team or losing precious time you need to accomplish your daily tasks.
This affects your performance and is threatening to your job safety. Prolonged poor performance means no job. Stressful, right?
Look, stress is inevitable. But just as concerning is how often our minds wander. And according to science, our minds wander 48.9% of our waking moments!
Wait, why does this matter? Because when we’re under high stress, our mind tends to wander even more with negative inner dialogue, expectations, and judgments. This hijacks our minds and doesn’t allow us to truly connect because we’re so preoccupied with our mind wandering.
The more your mind wanders, the less present you are. The less present you are, the less connection you feel with those around you. And if you can't connect with the people around you, they can't trust you.
In essence, the best way to build trust with your people is to be present with your people.
Just think about how many times a day you’re speaking with someone and you can tell they’re not listening. The glazed eyes and thousand yard stare are dead-giveaways. They’re looking at you like they would watch a TV.
Don’t look at your people like they’re a TV.
Your Drive to Succeed is Working Against You Being Present
Wanting to achieve my goals can make me less present? Yes, but let me explain.
It's called burnout. Burnout? Yes, burnout.
Burnout is one of those road hazards in life that leaders really should be keeping a close eye out for, but sadly—often because of our "I can do this" personalities — we rarely see it coming.
Because leaders are high-achievers and are often so passionate about what we devote our lives' too, we tend to ignore the fact that we're working exceptionally long hours, taking on exceedingly heavy work loads, and putting enormous pressure on ourselves to excel — all of which make you ripe for burnout.
As Air Force Lieutenant Colonel and High Performance Expert Jannell MacAulay puts it, "Many people change only through suffering. Some people need extreme suffering to realize that they are dug in to this competitive stress world and that’s not enhancing their performance, it’s degrading it."
“Success can be our enemy. Via hard work and sacrifice, [leaders] think they need to continue on this route for success. I realized it’s unsustainable. It’ hits you from behind really. You think you’re doing everything right until you hit the wall. I noticed when I wasn‘t feeling good, my teams in the Air Force weren’t performing because of my own lack of focus and my fatigue."
But for achievement oriented people and leaders who know this, why are we still unwilling to slow down?
Because you haven’t suffered yet. It hasn't bit you, yet. But others may see it coming before you do.
“As leaders, we have to sit back and reflect and be mindful. I was cognizant that many of my young subordinates were looking up and saying, ‘man, I don’t want that job. I don’t want [a leaders] life.’ As leaders, we need to take more responsibility for presenting our jobs and the demands of it.”
Stress Has Been Equated to Hard Work
“We have this world, where the busier you are, the more stressed you are, that [automatically] equals professional success. So if you slow down just a little bit, you may lose you edge. Our environment works against us,” explains Jannell who also has a PhD in the field of strategic health, specializing in leadership and human performance, and has over 3000 flying hours.
"The most successful leaders will spend an hour day on professional study, they will spend time self-reflecting. But it seems so counter-productive."
As a leader responsible for more than just yourself, you can easily say you don’t have that time in your day. Or even if you are committed to being mindful, you may rationalize that you shouldn't sacrifice time at work or time for yourself to accommodate this new mindfulness thing in your day.
But when you carve out time to be mindful in a way that doesn’t compromise other parts of your life, you’re way more productive. But it’s a difficult hurdle to get over.
"At the end of the day, being mindful brings an awareness. It allows you to see your stress and then choosing not to let it overwhelm you. That’s where a lot of your untapped power is."
So in a world where stress has been equated to hard work and where being overworked is just "life", you need take a step back and tap into your breath. Become present where you are at the current moment. And remember that presence is the key to connecting to your team.
All organizations and team have leaders, however many don't connect with their people.
The goal is to develop leaders that can truly connect with their people. And for more than just the work they produce.
Through a collaborative process, we can facilitate the development of leadership and operational principles that gives an organization what it needs to progress.
This deliberate type of leadership is the foundation of your mission, vision, as well as your day to day operations. It allows you to train effectively and grow intentionally.
If you want to learn more about how to become more mindful in your process and build mindful leaders at all levels in your organization, click here!