GUEST POST written by my friend, colleague and an amazing executive coach, Scott Eblin, President of The Eblin Group.
On a summer Sunday night four years ago, I found myself standing in front of a roomful of about 80 corporate managers who probably didn’t want to be there. They were midpoint in a high-profile leadership development program in one of the world’s largest companies and although polite, they were understandably restless. As guest speaker I was brought in to share some of what I’d learned working with several hundred other leaders in their company.
Since high-achieving people usually like to compare themselves to their peers, I asked if they’d like to see the summary results of hundreds of leadership behavior self-assessments completed by those other leaders. Of course they said yes. Starting with the highest assessed behaviors, everyone quickly identified with commitment to behaviors like timely decision making, being clear about priorities and accepting accountability for results. Then we took a look at the lowest assessed behaviors like pacing myself, taking regular time to step back and giving others my full presence and attention. There were nods and murmurs of recognition. I summed it up for the group with the headline, “Leaders in your company are so busy doing stuff that they probably don’t see what needs to be done.
Then the room erupted. Not in anger but in vociferous agreement. “That’s exactly it!” one person exclaimed. “Yeah, another agreed, they expect us to be corporate warriors, answer e-mails at 2:00 am and get by on four hours of sleep a night.” Several people at once said, “We can’t keep this up.”
The conversation I led that evening was the beginning of a thought process resulting in my new book, Overworked and Overwhelmed: The Mindfulness Alternative. In my work as an executive coach and speaker over the past four or five years it has become clear that the demands of a 24/7, smart phone enabled operating environment have left too many people teetering on the brink of a caffeine-addicted, sleep-deprived, stressed-out existence. The impact of all of that on short-term productivity and happiness and long-term health and well-being is devastating.
The alternative for the overworked and overwhelmed leader is to take a more mindful approach to work and life. We hear a lot about mindfulness these days, so let me tell you what it is and isn’t for the average person. It isn’t spending hours a day blissed out, sitting cross-legged while meditating and chanting. That might be great, but most of us don’t have the time or patience for that.
My working definition of mindfulness is that it’s doing simple things that make us more aware of what’s going on around and inside us and then being intentional about what we’re going to do – or not do – next.
We’ve all heard of the fight or flight response, but few of us have heard of the rest and digest response. Think of fight or flight, which is controlled by your body’s sympathetic nervous system, as the gas pedal that helps you get things done – especially in crisis situations. Think of rest and digest, which is controlled by your body’s parasympathetic nervous system, as the brakes that keep you from spinning out of control and crashing. Just like you’d never drive a car and only use the gas pedal, you shouldn’t live your life without using the brakes.
The good news is that even a few moments of routines like breathing deeply from your belly, getting up from your desk to stretch or taking ten minutes to go for a walk can activate your rest and digest response and get you out of the chronic state of fight or flight. Being mindful – aware and intentional – about when you’re overusing the gas pedal and when you need to apply the brakes can create a leadership climate that enables you and your team to get great results.
Simple, easy to do routines adapted from the practice of mindfulness are summarized in my book and offer a simple one-page framework called the Life GPS® that make it easy to generate the practices that lead to a healthier and more effective life style.
It’s never too late to pull yourself back from the brink and reclaim your life. Now is a great time to get started. Overworked and Overwhelmed: The Mindfulness Alternative can help you do that.