There have been times in my executive leadership coaching career that I have had to help high-level leaders learn how to do precisely nothing. Stopping thought and action go contrary to what high-powered executives have been taught for decades. After all, you rise through the ranks based on action, not inaction.
But mindfulness isn’t so much about “doing nothing” as it is about being fully present in the moment, taking in who you are, what you’re doing, and meeting the moment as it presents itself to you rather than how you expect the moment to be. It sounds simple, and in some ways, it is, but be assured: meditation is one of the busy executive’s most powerful self-help tools.
It’s Not About Forcing Peace, Come What May
While meditation and mindfulness are at heart peaceful processes, in that they involve having the self-kindness to stop and examine what’s really going on in your heart and mind, they’re not about forcing peacefulness through some sort of mental extruder, even as the world burns down around you.
Regardless of how much practice you have with meditation (and it is a skill that requires practice to develop), there will simply be days when your heart and mind are having none of it. And that’s okay. There may be days when your soul is telling you that you’ll benefit more from an intense session on the elliptical trainer than you would from trying to center yourself in a chaotic or difficult situation. Listen to your soul.
Recreation and Meditation Serve Different Purposes
Nor is meditation a substitute for recreation, because both are necessary. Being in the moment by burning up the squash court with your opponent benefits you in a different way than does meditation and being in the moment to center yourself and prepare for action. It’s all about equilibrium. Too often my executive leadership coaching clients have lost perspective on what life balance really means. It can be challenging to teach the action-oriented executive the value of what looks to the outsider like “doing nothing,” but once they learn mindfulness and meditation they quickly see the value in it.
It’s Okay to Lean into Emotions and Experience Them Honestly
Mindfulness isn’t necessarily about peace. It’s more about acceptance of what is going on in your heart and mind. Suppose you are coping with the death of a loved one. Mindfulness is about recognizing your sadness, accepting it, and seeing the value in it. If nothing else, your sadness indicates the immense value that person had in your life, and how fortunate you are for having had them in your life. Anger and other “negative” emotions have a place in mindfulness if they are at the forefront of your consciousness. Mindfulness reminds you that it is necessary to feel the emotions you genuinely feel. And taking time to acknowledge feelings as they are can make a real difference in how well you are able to go about your day.
Benefits of Meditation
Meditation confers benefits beyond simply learning to “calm down.” It can boost your resiliency and how well you cope with stress. It also boosts emotional intelligence – something that has been demonstrated through brain imaging research.
Meditation also improves creativity. Just as you can’t fill the beautiful wooden bowl with fruit until you empty it out of paper clips and junk mail, you can’t fill your mind with creative ideas until you clean the metaphorical paper clips and junk mail from it. Meditation makes an outstanding complement to brainstorming when creative solutions are called for.
Finally, it’s important that you don’t view meditation as just another task on your to-do list. It’s more fundamental than that because it opens your mind and frees you up to tackle what the day may bring. There is tremendous power in acknowledging the moment and your place in it, and the more you practice, the easier it becomes.
Mindfulness and meditation may not seem to have a place in the life of the high-powered executive, but don’t knock it until you give it a chance. I can tell you from years of executive leadership coaching experience that it can be a skill that sets leaders apart from their peers and helps them function at a higher level.