It's all in the RAS
One of the most powerful skills a leader can learn, that is not commonly taught, is mindfulness. Mindfulness is the process of bringing ones attention to the present moment, and developing self-knowledge. And while it may seem a little woo woo to some, there's ample evidence of the benefits of mindfulness practices.
For leaders, mindfulness and self-awareness in the moment can be the difference between escalating a conflict and deftly handling a disagreement.
Take Barb for example. When we started coaching together she was having a hard time keeping it together at work. For example, she just had a one-on-one meeting with an employee who was asking for a raise. Something about the conversation was triggering and Barb reacted badly, upsetting her employee and embarrassing herself.
This was unusual for Barb, for her entire career up until a few months prior to us working together, she prided herself on not getting overly emotional about work. Now it seemed like every day she was struggling to maintain her composure, which led to her not only feeling incredibly stressed but also hurt her professional relationships. It didn't help that she was so fired up she was often getting into yelling matches.
Not only was Barb feeling stuck, but she was also worried about her job security.
She was desperate to reclaim control over her career. And the key was helping her cultivate a mindfulness practice that enabled her to be self-aware in the moment so she could self-regulate her neurochemistry.
Barb is just like you and me. We all experience this mix of neurochemical cocktails that stimulate different reactions in our brains and bodies. She happened to be stuck in an unhealthy pattern where she was continually experiencing a flood of stress hormones that triggered her to get into fights at work.
In working together, we were able to bring her awareness to the mechanics of what was happening physiologically. It's hard to bring your awareness to something abstract. That's why we needed to start by educating her about how stimuli were causing the release of neurochemicals that in-turn were triggering her to go into a patterned threat response.
Knowledge like this serves as an invitation for the Reticular Activating System (RAS) to begin filtering information into your conscious mind. The RAS is the reason why you start to notice tons of other Subaru Outbacks on the road after buying one. It's not like everyone else went to the car dealer the same day as you and also bought one. The cars were on the road before, what's different is that you're now filtering that information into your conscious mind and therefore noticing it.
With this knowledge in-hand, Barb was able to cultivate a mindfulness practice that allowed her to be aware of what was happening in the moment so she could choose to respond with intention instead of reacting by following a patterned threat response. Journaling was her go-to tool of choice for cultivating her mindfulness practice.
Through journaling, Barb was able to deconstruct the conversations that were once so upsetting to her so she could better understand the dynamics at play. Journaling also provided a place for her to track her patterned threat responses, bringing her awareness to important neurophysiological indicators like the feelings and sensations in her body. Barb also used journaling to set her intentions, resolving how to handle challenging situations in a productive fashion.
As a result of her heightened self-awareness and mindfulness, Barb was able to show-up as the leader she wanted to be. She was not only a calm, professional and productive leader like she had been before, she was now also much more adept at navigating difficult conversations. And in her line of work, she's frequently called into diffuse tense situations.
Do you strive to be calm and present in the moment but find yourself getting easily worked up and overly emotional? I'll be leading an Introduction to Journaling and Mindfulness Workshop this Tuesday through Shadowcliff's virtual Communiversity program. Give yourself the gift of your own attention by registering online today. Shadowcliff is a non-profit retreat and education center that's been unable to open it's lodges this summer due to COVID-19. This class is normally $65/person, it is free to register, donations to support Shadowcliff are greatly appreciated.