It is imperative to be an active agent of your thoughts and feelings, and that agency can have a direct impact on your daily contributions and overall wellness, says Antonia Hock
We’ve all experienced some level of challenges and uncertainty in 2020, but these moments can bring opportunities if you change your mindset. When everything around us is swirling in the unknown, inspiration can come from charting a positive, mindful and productive path.
An important component of finding resiliency and innovation lies in the practice of mindfulness. Never has this been a more valuable tool than right now. We have all heard the statement that, ‘we don’t control what happens to us, but we do control our response’.
This is a simple statement of mindfulness. Mindfulness is the ultimate expression of controlling what we want in our lives – starting with what we choose to think and feel. This ability takes discipline and practice because you can go through your entire day allowing your thoughts and feelings to run unabated without taking the time to examine and exert any control over that energy.
Developing mindfulness requires consistent action and personal ritual. I’ve outlined the following steps that I have adopted to strengthen my own mindfulness practice:
- Start the day with reflection and intention. How you spend your first hour of the day determines how your day unfolds so take just ten minutes to sit, focus only on yourself and your own mind. Reflect on what is challenging you, let feelings go from yesterday or anything that surfaced in the morning, and set your intentions for the day. This time should not be spent on to-do lists, what you need to do for others, or what projects you need to complete. This time is all about clearing your mind of clutter and quieting your thoughts.
- Examine feelings when they happen in real-time. Don’t just experience feelings without reflection. When you feel any extreme emotion, like anger, irritation, or elation, step back from that feeling for a moment, take yourself out of the equation, and think about what is causing it. Get to the root by being honest with yourself. If it’s a negative feeling—do you really need to feel it for any longer? Can you just acknowledge it, release it, and move on?
- Take a break in the middle of the day to step back and focus on yourself. We live in such a hectic world of distraction and immediate gratification that I find it helpful to take five minutes somewhere in the middle of the day to reflect on how my day is actually going and re-center. If I’m having a great day, I mentally jot down what i’m grateful for and think about how to pass gratitude forward. If I am having a challenging day, I think about what I need to release and how I can reestablish a sense of calm, clarity, and control that leads to a better second half of the day. No day is promised to any of us, so I focus on delivering my best contribution everyday, and sometimes that requires me to exert mental discipline over my thoughts.
- Wind down with a non-negotiable ritual. The end of the day is equally as important as the beginning, and I find that an evening ritual can prepare my mind and body for restful sleep — ideally between seven and nine hours each night. For me, this includes 15 minutes of meditation in a space specifically for this purpose. Sensory experiences are tied to my mindfulness, so I have calming a lavender nebuliser, and a cup of decaffeinated black tea with vanilla soymilk. This isn’t a large time commitment, but it forces me to slow down, focus exclusively on my own mental refresh, and ensure I am in position to sleep. In times of extreme stress, I write down anything that bothers me as a ritual way of giving myself permission to release it. Guarding restful sleep is so important.
As you develop and strengthen your mindfulness practice, you’ll notice that your outlook can change immediately and as a result, your actions. And when we are dedicated to a mindful approach for our own behavior and actions, we breed positivity, a sense of control, and remind those around us that often the best innovations are born out of challenging times.
For me personally, my mindfulness practice helped me adapt to the sudden virtual environment at work — both leading my team and delivering for our clients. Historically, my team and I are often face-to-face with clients, traveling across the country and around the world every week and month to work with them to enhance their employee and customer experiences. But with the travel bans and social distancing policies in place, we quickly pivoted to design and deliver all of our services in a virtual format.
This innovation was always on our roadmap but we dramatically accelerated our work in this area. As a leader, it was exciting to see my team not just taking these services virtual but leading the market with new innovations, engagement and design.
And while I’ve had the opportunity to lead many virtual teams in my career, my mindfulness practice helped me think intentionally about how I wanted to show up for others and establish a routine of connection. The two effective ways that I was able to help my team chart a positive path forward – amid uncertainty and turbulence while being virtual – were:
- Sending small gestures — often and daily. From delivering handwritten notes, encouraging texts and flowers to offering to do something for the person can signal that you are thinking of that person in a tangible way.
- Offering to sit together virtually and be a sounding board. This is the time to listen and offer support — and resist the urge to tell someone what to do. Phrases like, ‘help me understand’ or ‘have you thought about..?’ can be helpful. But mostly, sending empathy can be therapeutic. And from a mindfulness perspective, this is an opportunity to practice being fully present with the person and focus on what serves him/her best in the moment.
Essentially, what you spend your time thinking and feeling will consume your strength, shape your outlook and how you show up for others. So it is imperative to be an active agent of your thoughts and feelings, and that agency can have a direct impact on your daily contributions and overall wellness.
Antonia Hock is the Global Head of The Ritz-Carlton Leadership Center, a consulting and advisory firm helping organisations create exceptional employee and customer experience since 1999.