“Mindfulness” has gotten quite a bit of mainstream airplay recently. It seems to be the current buzz word for doctors and healers. It has been used as a tool to help people with stress, depression and anxiety. Mindfulness is the awareness that emerges through paying attention on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgementally to things as they are. It requires concentration and dedication to its practice. Essentially, it is akin to the theories and practices of meditation, just without the loose fitting robes, chanting or incense burning.
So how can this be used as a tool to assist in being a better leader?
In a past article, I explained how emotional triggers make us slaves in reacting to particular situations or stimuli. These reactions may be either carefully thought through or may be primal (“amygdala moments”). Recognising the primal reaction stimuli and being able to change that reaction so that it doesn’t result in negative behaviour is the first step gaining a higher emotional intelligence.
The practice of mindfulness can be used to short-circuit the “amygdala moments”. Being mindful means intentionally turning off the auto-pilot mode which drives the “amygdala moments” and instead focusing on things as they are with full awareness. It means knowing that our thoughts (or trigger events) are passing mental events and often based on habitual responses or historical events, not reality itself.
Using mindfulness during an “amygdala moment” starts with steadying the mind by actively disengaging with or choosing not to react to a trigger event. One way to do this is to intentionally focus on just one thing when the trigger occurs. The object of the focus should be something unrelated to the trigger event – an object on the desk or a sound in the distance. Focusing on your breath is the easiest as you will always have it with you!
The intention is to delve into detail with the object of your focus – to see it, to examine it, to understand it. This is very different from the goal-oriented striving that tries to steady the mind by forcing certain thoughts into the mind, by pushing other thoughts out or by erecting barriers to the entry of unwanted thoughts and feelings. This way, your mind works towards a gentle and graceful effort that signals a shift to a mental mode that supports curiosity, interest and a tendency to explore and investigate. It taps into the mind’s capacity to approach rather than avoid.
By focusing on one thing during these “amygdala moments”, your attention lights up that activity and the trigger thought/reaction is dimmed in the mind. This will give your mind the time to naturally settle all by itself and therefore leaving you calmer and clearer to respond to the situation more appropriately.
Calming the mind and controlling your habitual reactions to these “amygdala moments” is intrinsic in getting to know your level of emotional intelligence – the understanding that your emotions will affect your behaviour and that your behaviour will affect other people. By using mindfulness as a tool, you can start to change your behavioural reactions to the “amygdala moments” so that it doesn’t result in a negative outcome.