During these uncertain times of Covid-19, many of us find ourselves feeling unmoored, unable to plan and predict, stripped from our trusted ways of interacting and getting the job done. A colleague of mine used the term unsettled recently to describe how she was feeling, and then backtracked, “I don’t think unsettled even begins to address the range of emotions we’re experiencing. We’re in new territory here.”
As we all look for ways to mitigate what may feel like the constant low-level hum of our stress response, mindfulness can be a powerful tool to help us navigate this new territory, a buffer, and a guide during these times of upending change.
The researched benefits of daily mindfulness are many – increased stress tolerance, resilience, and empathy, as well as enhanced clarity, focus, and productivity. While all of these are valuable to our leadership, I argue that resilience bubbles up to the top and clamors for attention. In short, if we are to successfully weather this (and future) storms, resilience has never been more relevant or needed.
Resilience – “the ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change.”
By fostering the ability to create the right ongoing internal conditions, mindfulness can help us steadily build the reserves of resilience necessary to meet today’s challenges.
So, what can we do to help build this resilience and lead from a place of steady, calm groundedness vs. fear or anxiety? The following simple yet powerful additions to our day (adapted from the 6 Anchor Practices) can help us build sustainable resilience.
Everything starts with the breath. Mindful breathing is the bridge between mind and body, the anchor to our present moment awareness, and can help us regulate our nervous systems by interrupting the flight or fight chemical response.
How: Multiple times per day, pause what you are doing (especially if you are triggered), and simply breathe for 30 seconds or more. Breathe more deeply than your normal breath, but not so it feels unnatural or strained. Begin to relax your shoulders, neck, face, and jaw. As thoughts come up, just notice them, not judging them as right or wrong, good or bad, and then picture letting them go. As thoughts continue to arise, bring your attention back to your breath. That’s it.
Create space between stimulus and response
As we develop our practice of mindful breathing, envision yourself intentionally adding space between stimulus and response…a second here, a few seconds there. When we build the habit of noticing and acknowledging our triggers, our habitual ways of reacting to stress and anxiety, we give ourselves space for new choices, new opportunities to respond skillfully to demanding situations or potentially intense emotions as we traverse the new normal.
Trust the body, question your thoughts
The body does not lie. Our thoughts, however – well that’s a different story. We can’t really trust our thoughts to give us the full (or even half!) truth. Attachment to our thoughts can lead us to feel powerful emotions, and left unchecked, send us into a spiral of fear, doubt, worry, or anxiety. The quickest way to become more present and feel more grounded is to get out of our heads and shift our focus to the body. Multiple times a day, simply tune in to the sensations of the body and breathe. Notice these sensations without judgment or intent to fix anything.
Practice gratitude and self-compassion
When we 1) acknowledge what we are grateful for daily (no matter how small), and 2) talk to ourselves with kindness and acceptance, like a trusted friend would, we not only unshackle ourselves from toxic thoughts and emotions, research now confirms that we are literally rewiring our brains for increased levels of resilience.
As we all experience varying levels of stress, grief, anxiety, and uncertainty, the world has never been more in need of steady, calm, compassionate leadership than it is today. And to bring our best, most authentic selves to today’s toughest leadership challenges, inner resilience is key.
Mindfulness is a way we can cultivate this resilience – not just for today, but for our collective future. To learn more on this topic, view the recent Learning Views webinar on Mindful Leadership for Real World Leaders.