#SWAAYthenarrative

Why Mindfulness Is The Key To Innovating In Challenging Times

6 min read
Lifestyle

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.

5 Min Read
Career

How Fitness Saved My Life and Became My Career

Sometimes it takes falling to rock bottom in order to be built back up again. I learned this many years ago when the life I'd carefully built for myself and my family suddenly changed. But in those times, you learn to lean on those who love you – a friend, family member or someone who can relate to what you've been through. I was lucky enough to have two incredible women help me through one of my lowest moments. They taught me to love myself and inspired me to pass on their lessons each da

If it weren't for the empowering women who stepped up and brought fitness back into my life, I wouldn't be standing – in the door of my own business – today.

In 2010, I was a wife, a mother of three, and had filtered in and out of jobs depending on what my family needed from me. At different points in my career, I've worked in the corporate world, been a stay-at-home mom, and even started my own daycare center. Fitness has always been a part of my life, but at that point being a mom was my main priority. Then, life threw a curveball. My husband and I separated, leading to a very difficult divorce.

These were difficult times. I lost myself in the uncertainty of my future and the stress that comes with a divorce and found myself battling anorexia. Over a matter of months, I lost 40 lbs. and felt surrounded by darkness. I was no longer participating in my health and all efforts to stay active came to a halt. I didn't want to leave my home, I didn't' want to talk to people, and I really did not want to see men. Seeing my struggles, first my sister and then a friend, approached me and invited me to visit the gym.

After months of avoiding it, my sister started taking me to the gym right before closing when it wasn't too busy. We started slow, on the elliptical or the treadmill. This routine got me out of the house and slowly we worked to regain my strength and my self-esteem. When my sister moved away, my good friend and personal trainer started working out with me one-on-one early in the morning, taking time out of her busy schedule to keep me on track toward living a healthy life once again. Even when I didn't want to leave the house, she would encourage me to push myself and I knew I didn't want to let her down. She helped me every step of the way. My sister and my friend brought fitness back into my everyday routine. They saved my life.

I began to rely on fitness, as well as faith, to help me feel like myself again. My friend has since moved away, but, these two women made me feel loved, confident and strong with their empowerment and commitment to me. They made such an incredible impact on me; I knew I needed to pay it forward. I wanted to have the same impact on women in my community. I started by doing little things, like running with a woman who just had a baby to keep her inspired and let her know she's not alone. I made sure not to skip my regular runs, just in case there was a woman watching who needed the inspiration to keep going. These small steps of paying it forward helped me find purpose and belonging. This gave me a new mentality that put me on a path to the opportunity of a lifetime – opening a women's only kickboxing gym, 30 Minute Hit.

About four years ago, I was officially an empty nester. It was time to get myself out of the house too and find what I was truly passionate about, which is easier said than done. Sitting behind a desk, in a cubicle, simply didn't cut it. It was hard to go from an active and chaotic schedule to a very slow paced, uneventful work week. I felt sluggish. Even when I moved to another company where I got to plan events and travel, it was enjoyable, but not fulfilling. I wanted to be a source of comfort to those struggling, as my sister and dear friend had been to me. I wanted to impact others in a way that couldn't be done from behind a desk.

I began to rely on fitness, as well as faith, to help me feel like myself again.

When I heard about 30 Minute Hit, I was nervous to take the leap. But the more I learned about the concept, the more I knew it was the perfect fit for me. Opening my own gym where women can come to let go of their struggles, rely on one another and meet new people is the best way for me to pass on the lessons I learned during my darkest times.

Kickboxing is empowering in itself. Add to it a high energy, female-only environment, and you have yourself a powerhouse! The 30 Minute Hit concept is franchised all over North America, acting as a source of release for women who are just trying to get through their day. I see women of all ages come into my gym, kick the heck out of a punching bag and leave with a smile on their face, often times alongside a new friend. 30 Minute Hit offers a convenient schedule for all women, from busy moms to working women, to students and senior citizens. A schedule-free model allows members to come in whenever they have a free half hour to dedicate to themselves. Offering certified training in kickboxing and a safe environment to let go, 30 Minute Hit is the place for women empowerment and personal growth.

Through my journey, I have learned that everyone is going through something – everyone is on their own path. My motivating factor is knowing that I can touch people's lives everyday just by creating the space for encouragement and community. It's so easy to show people you care. That's the type of environment my team, clients and myself have worked hard to create at our 30 Minute Hit location.

Fitness saved my life. If it weren't for the empowering women who stepped up and brought fitness back into my life, I wouldn't be standing – in the door of my own business – today. The perfect example of women empowering women – the foundation to invincibility.

This article was originally published September 12, 2019.