Leaders globally are grappling with the constant demands of contemporary leadership, often being compelled into a reactionary rather than strategic stance. Yet, there exists a potent solution to this ingrained, automatic leadership style – the discipline of mindfulness.
I have repeatedly witnessed how a consistent commitment to mindfulness can equip individuals to create a brief pause – a single second – between an occurrence or stimulus and their reaction to it. A second might seem insignificant, but it can mark the difference between making a hasty decision resulting in failure and reaching a measured conclusion that boosts performance. It’s the difference between responding in anger and exercising necessary patience. It’s a one-second advantage over your thoughts, feelings, and environment.
Studies indicate that training in mindfulness transforms our brain and influences how we interact with ourselves, others, and our tasks. Mindfulness, when practiced consistently, fundamentally shifts the mind’s operating system. Regular mindfulness exercises redirect brain activity from primitive, reactive brain regions, such as the limbic system, to the most developed, rational part of the brain, the prefrontal cortex.
This shift in brain activity reduces activity in the regions responsible for instinctive fight-or-flight reactions while boosting activity in the region responsible for what is known as our executive functioning. This brain region and the executive functioning abilities it facilitates serve as a control hub for our thoughts, words, and actions. It is the center for logical thought and impulse regulation. Essentially, depending more on our executive functioning means we have more control over our minds and lives.
A single second could determine whether or not we achieve our desired outcomes. We can become less reflexive and more attuned to the present in just a single second. Within that one second lies the chance to improve our decision-making, direction, engagement, and leadership. For leaders in demanding, high-pressure roles, this presents a significant advantage.
This brings us to an important realization – you don’t have to be the first to respond. In the throes of high-stakes leadership decisions, where the pressure to act fast and accurately is daunting, it is vital to remember that a quick reaction is not always the best. Taking a moment to allow mindful attentiveness to guide your response can enhance the quality of your decision and build trust with your team. They will appreciate a leader who responds thoughtfully rather than impulsively, reinforcing an environment of respect and mindful interaction. Over time, this seemingly small shift can significantly influence the quality of leadership and the overall organizational dynamics.
Here are five simple strategies to enhance your mindfulness:
- Dedicate 10 minutes each day to mindfulness meditation. Most individuals find mornings the best time to engage in mindfulness, but any time that works for you is appropriate. I recommend a 10-minute guided mindfulness meditation program, a concise mindfulness meditation guide.
- Refrain from checking your emails first thing when you wake up. Mornings typically provide the most focus, creativity, and comprehensive thinking. Utilize this time for strategic, focused work and essential discussions. Checking your email first thing may distract you and lead to reactive thinking. Consider waiting at least 30 minutes to an hour after arriving at work before reviewing your inbox.
- Disable all alerts. The alarm notifications on your smartphone, tablet, or laptop can lead to reactive thinking by keeping your mind occupied and pressured, triggering reactionary responses. The damage often outweighs the benefits. Try this: For one week, disable all email notifications on all your devices. Check your email once every hour (or at your job’s required frequency) instead of continuously checking incoming messages.
- Refrain from multitasking. It keeps your mind overwhelmed, busy, and pressured, leading to reactivity. Strive to stay focused on a single task and notice when your mind begins to wander to other tasks, which signifies the desire to multitask. When this occurs, mentally close the surplus tasks that enter your thoughts while remaining focused on the priority task.
- Schedule it. Set up a self-check-in on your calendar every two weeks to evaluate your progress with the previous four strategies or as a reminder to revisit this article for a refresher. Consider having one of your peers do the same. This provides a chance for mutual evaluation, which can be enlightening and inspiring.
I urge you to experiment with these strategies. While mindfulness is not a miraculous solution, it can aid in consciously choosing your reactions and making thoughtful decisions rather than falling victim to knee-jerk responses.