Every so often I have the nice surprise of talking with someone who was in one of my leadership programs a few years earlier. It happened again last week when I was conducting colleague feedback interviews for an executive coaching client. As I started one call with a guy named Ben, I said, “I don’t think we’ve had the opportunity to talk before have we?” Ben graciously reminded me that he was one of the participants in a Mindful Leadership workshop I conducted at his company a couple of years ago. I apologized for missing the connection and he couldn’t have been nicer. He went on to say that he is still using and benefiting from a number of things we went over in the workshop.
I always love hearing that and asked Ben to share with me specifically what he was doing. It didn’t take him long at all to come up with three examples. Interestingly, they are three of the things that are on the short list of takeaways that past participants almost always tell me they’re still doing when I have the opportunity to talk with them down the road.
Since they work for so many of the people that go through my workshops, it’s likely they’ll work for you too. Here’s what Ben told me is still working for him two years later:
The To-Do Review: One of the simple little tips that Ben picked up in the workshop is taking time at the end of each day to review his to-do list. There are three things he does during the review. First, he checks off what he accomplished during the day. Then, he adds anything that came up during the day that he needs to follow up on. Finally, he identifies the two or three things he’s going to do first tomorrow. That three step to-do review gives him a little buzz of accomplishment each day, gives him the calm of knowing he’s not missing or forgetting anything and sets him up to be focused and productive the next day. That’s a lot of leverage off a five minute daily routine.
Visualizing What and How: One of the standard things I cover in any Mindful Leadership workshop is to share tactics and strategies that will help the participants show up at their best more often than not. Pretty much everyone who comes to my workshops has a calendar that’s racked and stacked with 8, 9, 10 or even more meetings a day. That kind of schedule seems to be the norm in most companies. We need to work to change that, but in the meantime, it’s a lot of gear shifting that leaders and professionals have to do from topic to topic, person to person and group to group. To help manage all of that gear shifting, Ben has adopted a simple self-coaching method that I teach my workshop clients. Before the next meeting or conversation starts, take a deep breath and then ask yourself two questions: What am I trying to do in this next meeting? and How do I need to show up to make that outcome likely? What Ben and a lot of the other leaders I work with are doing as they ask themselves those questions is visualizing the desired outcome in terms of what people know, think, do or feel as a result of the meeting. Then they paint a picture for themselves of how they need to show up in terms of their energy level, their tone of voice, their body language and other factors to make that desired outcome likely. It’s a two or three minute process that can help increase the odds of showing up at your best throughout a hectic day.
Keep Deep Breathing: You may have noticed that the first step in that visualization process I just described was to take a deep breath. That’s not an accident. Taking a few deep breaths from the belly enables you to quickly shift from whatever stressed-out, spun-up state you’re in as a result of what just happened and activate your body’s parasympathetic nervous system so that you can think more clearly about what you’re going to do next. Breathing from his belly is the third thing that Ben has been really intentional about doing over the past two years. It helps him make better decisions by balancing his fight or flight response with his rest and digest response. It will do the same for you. It will also improve your health because it lowers your blood pressure, reduces your stress hormone levels, and strengthens your immune system. Go ahead and try it and see how you feel. Put one hand on your belly, seal your lips gently and take a deep inhale through your nose on a four count, hold it for two counts and exhale through your nose for four counts. Do that two more times. If your belly hand is moving out on the inhale and in on the exhale you’re doing it right. If you get in the habit of doing those three deep breaths four or five times during the day, you’re going to be a lot healthier, happier and more productive.
After reading about Ben’s takeaways, you may be saying to yourself, “Wow, those are really simple. Is that it?” Yep, that’s it. The reason I hear about those kinds of lasting takeaways again and again is because they’re simple, easy to do and make a difference. Why not try one or two of them this week and see what difference they’ve made for you by the end of the week?