8 Mindful Leadership Tips for Reducing Stress
By John Murphy
Here is something to contemplate: Why manage something when you can delete it? Why solve problems inside a box when it is the box itself that is the problem?
In today’s world, we are inundated with strategies and techniques on how to manage unhealthy stress, but very little is offered on how to eliminate it. Some even question whether this is possible.
No doubt, stress can be a challenge. Every year seems to bring more things to worry about. Viruses. Climate change. Air quality. Contaminated food. Conflicting politics. Terrorism. Road rage. Technological threats. New forms of competition. Aging bodies. Disease. Constant distractions. Challenging relationships. Overwhelming expectations. Continuous uncertainty. Just keeping up with all of this can feel like falling behind. What is a leader to do?
Here are ten tips I find helpful in challenging the idea of stress and inspiring others to see beyond it in any circumstance. These ten tips, all of which I use repeatedly, give me guided counsel. I hope they do the same for you in all the years to come.
- Recognize that stress can be self-inflicted. It does not come at us from external people and situations. It comes from us. It is a response to a negative projection of the mind, triggering a physical, hormonal response in the body which makes it seem real. We are given proof of whatever it is we are looking for. Ultimately, our perception becomes our reality. So, be mindful of your perception, challenge your assumptions, and exercise positive vision to inspire a sense of eagerness and enthusiasm.
- The root cause of anxiety and stress is an individual’s attachment to the ego thought system – a mindset that is fear-based and dualistic. The ego does not see unity among us, and it does not understand true forgiveness, atonement, and peace of mind. It feeds on drama, constantly searching for greener pastures. It sees duality in everything – us/them, win/lose, good/bad, male/female. Stress free leadership requires transcending this thought-system by learning to see from a uniquely different perspective, a completely different paradigm. Addressing problems and managing stress from inside the ego box will not eliminate the stress. It will only help you cope with it. Learn to let go of your attachment to the ego thought system.
- Contemplation is an excellent strategy for opening the mind and transcending the ego mindset. Contemplation means looking at people and situations without criticism, judgment and condemnation. We practice contemplation by observing the yin (negative) and yang (positive) of everything - without attack and defense. Think of this like looking at a battery with negative and positive poles. Both are necessary. Both are needed for universal harmony, balance and power. How can we know light without dark, or up without down? Contrast helps us make choices, especially when our neighbors make different choices. This insight gives leaders valuable insight into leading with both power (yang) and grace (yin). It is not either-or. It is both. Contemplation allows us to see the wisdom in diversity.
- Meditation is a complement to contemplation. With meditation, we quiet the mind and focus on being present. Stress cannot exist in a mind that is present. It only comes when the conscious mind (which is rarely present for long) is projecting a negative image onto the future or dwelling on a regretful past. Perhaps one is getting stressed about an upcoming speech or interview or exam, or some misfortune that happened a week ago. Maybe one is feeling anxious because of potential harm. This stress is coming from the assumption that something might go wrong. The stress-free leader recognizes that in any situation, something can go right. Both are projections coming from a mind that is not trained to be present. Imagine the effect this can have on a professional golfer about to hit the ball, or a professional basketball player about to shoot a free-throw. Meditation can be as simple as taking a few deep breaths and focusing on the only time that ever matters – the eternal now. Learn to be more present and take time throughout the day to meditate.
- Forgiveness is essential to inner peace, equanimity, and grace. Without forgiveness, leaders are trapped in a world of shame and guilt and grief. Why? Because condemnation has a dual effect. Any time we condemn another, we subconsciously condemn ourselves. Forgiveness, then, is the ticket to spiritual and emotional freedom. However, it must be true forgiveness – meaning without any condemnation. The ego does not understand this. To the ego, forgiveness sounds like this: I was right, and you were wrong, but I forgive you. This is not forgiveness. It is a disguised form of condemnation. Forgiveness means totally and completely letting it go. It means forgiving and forgetting while retaining any lessons learned.
- Healthy nutrition and nourishment are also essential to stress-free leadership. Coupled with an optimal vascular delivery system, we must be mindful of what we are delivering to our cells. For example, foods and additives that increase inflammation, like sugars and trans fats, will wreak havoc on the immune system. Look carefully at what you are putting into your body. Shop the outer aisles at the grocery store. Look for whole foods. Choose items where the only ingredient is the food itself, like avocados, nuts, greens, berries, and wild-caught fish. Consider organic alternatives. Fuel your body with good, clean energy. When your body feels good, your mind will be less troubled, and when your mind is at peace, your body will respond in more positive ways. The mind-body connection is a cycle worthy of mindfulness and attention.
- Exercise, fitness, and rest are all essential to maintaining a healthy mind and body. This is another classic yin-yang balance phenomenon. For example, we must exercise our muscles using a variety of fitness strategies, and then we must rest, giving our bodies time to recover. An imbalance here will contribute directly to elevated stress levels. The same is true for the brain. We strengthen it with creativity and problem-solving exercises, and we give it time to rest with meditation and sleep. It is also important to note that healthy fitness requires more than just physical exercise. How often have you witnessed people at the gym, grinding away on a treadmill with a scowl on their face that could scare away a pack of wolves? Combining exercise with meditation, contemplation, upbeat music, infrared saunas, steam rooms, and spas can have a magnified, synergistic effect. Want to let go of some unhealthy tension? Consider dancing.
- Be mindful of Flow. Find ways to “let go and let flow.” There are countless ways to get into flow – a state of consciousness that seems timeless and effortless. Athletes often refer to this as the zone. It is a condition of peak performance – highly focused, creative, and productive. For some, it is writing. For others, it is designing, speaking, managing projects, or solving problems. Whatever form it takes, it is good for the mind, body, and soul.
John Murphy is an author, speaker, entrepreneur, business consultant, and coach and has been for over 30 years. He has traveled as many as 51 weeks out of 52, teaching in dozens of countries around the world, with languages and cultures he knew little about.
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