I often make as assessment at the end of my day. How productive was today? Did I add value enough? How did I contribute? One of my strongest personality patterns is an incessant need to be productive. It dominates most of my thoughts and actions. This tendency has brought me a lot of progress and the ability to make an impact in the world that I feel content with. However, it also so often draws me away from the direct and rich in-the-moment experience of life.
I sit in Zurich airport. It’s 10pm. My plane is delayed, my smartphone’s battery is dead, I finished my book and need to wait another 2 hours for my plane. I watch the people around me and my mind falls back in one of its favorite activities: judging others… If there is one thing that I have observed my mind doing systematically, it’s judging. Either positive or negative, but it’s still judging.
It’s 8pm, you take another expresso, your heart rate increases, you tense your shoulders and you are ready for a few more hours of work to finish that client proposal… One thing that we often observe in senior executives is a habit of using adrenalin-based energy to drive results. Also when stepping into corporate offices, we often sense a collective adrenalin ‘vibe’ that is present. It’s almost like the office is ‘buzzing’.
“Perhaps you can change that font and color on that slide there”, I hear myself telling one of my team members. There I went again, trying to add some marginal value and get an internal fix of being productive. Looking at the face of my colleague, I just realized that my ‘added value’ wasn’t worth it and I probably reduced his ownership and excitement about the presentation significantly. This is just one example, but all of us have developed certain tendencies and habits in our leadership that actually are not as useful for our career as they were at the moment that we programmed them into our personality.
A client in one of my TeamUp Triad Coaching sessions was dealing with anxiety, and he would often get caught up in anxious rumination listening to his mind saying things like “I’m going to lose my job, I will never get a new job, I’ll end up poor”. He became almost paralyzed by his thoughts, and he would have a very hard time getting out of his head once this started. We worked with mindfulness principles to change this; whenever he would start feeling the thoughts and anxiety come up, he would breathe deeply and try to look at the thoughts like they were clouds on the sky.
Have you ever tried having a conversation with somebody where you didn’t really hear what the other person was saying? Perhaps you were caught up in a negative emotional state or you were ruminating about a coincidence that happened earlier that day. I know I have – and many of us experience disconnection if we don’t make a conscious effort to be present.
No, this is not Photoshopped. This is me and my twin brother last year. So when I recently heard the sentence: Comparison is meaningless, the words sounded almost alien to me. Again, I hear the meditation teacher say: Never compare your own practice and progress with somebody else. Not because it’s ‘bad’ or ‘you shouldn’t’, but simply because it’s meaningless.
‘The biggest present you can give to someone is your presence’. Those are the words of Zen teacher Thich Nhat Hanh, however what I have found in my own life is that it takes a conscious effort to give undivided attention to the people I love when spending time with them. The main thing that steals my attention in my relationship to my wife is technology. If I don’t stay mindful at home in the evening I will get distracted by my laptop, when what I really want is to spend time with her. To avoid this we had to set up a rule banning all technology after 9pm, and it really helped improve the quality of our interaction.
That was the question I asked myself as I ran full-speed to the check-in counter in Bangkok after having broken all speed limits through traffic in my pink taxi for the last hour or so. The lady at the counter gave me a ‘I am sorry-smile’. I was 7 minutes late for my Delhi flight, where I was scheduled to give a Leadership workshop the next morning…. 7 minutes!