Why Mindfulness Is The Key To Innovating In Challenging Times

6 min read

During uncertain times like these, leaders must draw upon the depth of their experiences as they are tested in new ways. Challenging conditions bring opportunities, and it's my job as a leader to work with my team to find new opportunities and bring them to market quickly.

When everything around us is swirling in the unknown, I know that inspiration comes from charting a positive, hopeful, and productive path and then getting everyone moving towards that path. Too often, I see leaders who fail to coalesce their teams in a meaningful way with speed and a bias for action — and that can lead to serious consequences in turbulent times.

One important component of consistently leading a team with positivity and conviction is the practice of mindfulness. Never has this been a more valuable tool than right now. For me, mindfulness is expressly about being fully aware, accepting, and in control of your thoughts and feelings. As a leader, this discipline is critical. I find that many people go through the day allowing their thoughts and feelings to run unabated without taking the time to examine and exert any control over that energy. What you spend your time thinking and feeling will consume your strength, so it is very important to be active in the choice of what you allow. These choices directly impact your outlook, contributions, and health every day.

Developing mindfulness and serenity during such uncertain times requires consistent action, the development of personal rigor, and ritual. The following are five steps that I've used to nurture and strengthen my own mindfulness:

Start the day with reflection and intention. How you spend your first hour of the day will determine how your day unfolds. Take ten minutes to sit, focus only on yourself and your own mind. Reflect on what is challenging you, let feelings go from yesterday or anything that surfaced in the morning, and set your intentions for the day. This time should not be spent on to-do lists, what you need to do for others, or what projects you need to complete. This time is all about clearing your mind of clutter, reflecting on what you personally want to feel on that day, and how you intend to act throughout the day as a reflection of what you stand for and who you are.

Developing mindfulness and serenity during such uncertain times requires consistent action, the development of personal rigor, and ritual.

Be organized and structure your time. I need to have a plan for each day that allows me to structure my time with intention and organization. Each of us has more to accomplish in any day than we can possibly complete, so being intentional with your time is an important extension of being mindful. I reflect on what is most important to me, and I also think about what meetings or engagements are likely to be difficult or challenging, so I can structure them in a way that allows me to be calm and present.

During the day, examine feelings when they happen. Don't just experience feelings without reflection. When you feel any extreme emotion, like anger, irritation, or elation, step back from that feeling for a moment, take yourself out of the experience, and think about what is driving it. Get to the root by being honest with yourself. If it's a negative feeling — do you really need to feel it for any longer? Can you just acknowledge it, release it, and move on?

Take a break in the middle of the day to step back and focus on yourself. We live in such a hectic world of distraction and immediate need that I find it helps to take five minutes somewhere in the middle of the day to reflect on how my day is actually going and re-center. If I'm having a great day, I remind myself to be grateful and to think about how to pass that along to others. If I am having a challenging day, I think about what I need to release and how I can re-establish a sense of calm, clarity, and control that leads to a better second half of the day. No day is promised to any of us, so I focus on delivering my best contribution every day, and sometimes that requires me to exert mental discipline over my thoughts.

During the day, examine feelings when they happen. Don't just experience feelings without reflection.

Close your day out with a non-negotiable ritual. The end of the day is just as important as the beginning, and I find that an evening ritual can prepare my mind and body for restful sleep. For me, this includes 15 minutes of meditation in a space specifically for this purpose. Sensory experiences are very tied to my mindfulness, so I have a calming lavender nebulizer and a cup of decaffeinated black tea with vanilla soymilk. This isn't a large time commitment, but it forces me to slow down, focus exclusively on my own mental refresh, and ensure I am in position to sleep. In times of extreme stress, I write down anything that bothers me as a ritual way of giving myself permission to release it, so I don't think about it while I sleep. Guarding restful sleep is so important.

And as leaders, it's not just what you do for yourself but what you do for others who may be feeling anxious. Thinking intentionally about how you show up for others is an extension of your own mindfulness.

Small gestures matter. I believe that there is a lot of power in the small gesture, and those are not practiced enough today. Handwritten notes, encouraging texts, bringing someone a favorite beverage, offering to do something for the person (like pick up dry-cleaning or watching kids for an hour) all signal that you are thinking of them in a concrete way, you care, and they are not alone. Anxiety can be very isolating, so this is a great way to gently support connection.

Offering to sit together — whether in person or virtually — and be a sounding board. This is a great time to listen and support- just resist the urge to tell someone what to do. Phrases like, "have you thought about…?" or "help me understand…?" can be important. Sometimes, just sharing a laugh or a shared memory can be therapeutic. From a mindfulness perspective, this is an opportunity to practice being fully present with the person and focus on what serves them best in the moment.

Bring your own positive point of view and provide context for how you see your own life or challenges. This is an opportunity to share small ways that you are bringing positivity into your life in the face of a personal challenge. Resist the urge to draw comparisons or give advice based on your experience unless it is actively sought. Tell a great story that can create a connection and provide context in a positive way. If you are personally in a negative headspace, don't bring that with you and facilitate a "misery loves company" mentality. Your personal mindfulness practice should include how you want to show up for others and what you want to project into the world.

And as leaders, it's not just what you do for yourself but what you do for others who may be feeling anxious.

In a turbulent world, mindfulness is a tool that each of us can utilize to exert our own control and discipline. We have all heard the statement, "We don't control what happens to us, but we do control our response". This is a simple statement of mindfulness. Mindfulness is the ultimate expression of controlling what we want in our lives — starting with what we choose to think and feel.

When we are dedicated to a mindful approach for our own behavior and leadership, we breed positivity, a sense of control, and remind everyone that often the best innovations are born out of challenging times.

This article was originally published July May 22, 2020.

3 min read

Help! Hater Wants to be a Dater!

Email armchairpsychologist@swaaymedia.com to get the advice you need!

HELP! Haters Wants to be a Dater

Dear Armchair Psychologist,
My gay best friend is becoming a frenemy, begrudging any success I enjoy and balking at giving me any of the support and help I need. I think he never quite accepted that we remain friends and not anything more. His bitchiness has gotten too grating, which I guess is too bad. Help.
- Yikes

Dear Yikes,

It's too bad your best friend is antagonizing you. I'm sure it's also very hurtful. Perhaps there are underlying reasons for his sudden change in behavior? Maybe he wants out of the friendship and signals it this way? It would be wise to give yourself a bit of distance to determine what is going on. This way, if he comes back and wonders why you've been distant, than this would be a good time to initiate a conversation with him to get to the bottom of what going on. If he doesn't reach out after your MIA act, then good riddance. Have some tea and move on!

- The Armchair Psychologist

HELP! I'm chronically depressed

Dear Armchair Psychologist,
I'm chronically depressed. I try very hard to be a productive person but my mother is extremely psychologically abusive. She makes me feel like I'm worthless, but she's my mother and I'm her only child? What should I do?
- Worthless

Dear Worthless,

I'm sorry your mother is causing you such distress. It sounds to me like you need to create some distance between yourself and your mother. Many psychologists, including Freud, agree that a child needs a mother or caretaker through their development cycle in order to live balanced lives. However, women account for 56% of all child abusers and most cases are psychological abuse.

Essentially, whether you're stuck in a "Mommy Dearest" scenario, a movie in which Joan Crawford mercilessly abuses her daughter by attempting to strangle her and, in another famous incident, beats her with wire hangers because she prefers crochet hangers, or whether you're experiencing a quiet psychological hell, it's time to get some help. I recommend you reach out to a qualified professional psychologist because you're worthy of love and support.

- The Armchair PsychologistNeed more armchair psychologist in your life? Check out the last installment or emailarmchairpsychologist@swaaymedia.com to get some advice of your own!