Imagine a future event that you feel anxious about. It could be an upcoming presentation for work. Or a tough conversation that you’re going to have with a friend. As you imagine this event, pay attention to your body. You may notice a tightening in your chest or a shallowness of breath.
Now, for one minute, put that thought aside and focus on your breathing.
Start by taking one deep breath.
If you find that you return to your feelings of anxiety, gently bring your attention back to the breath without judgment. After you get through the full minute, reflect on how you feel. You may notice that your heart rate has slowed or that your body has become more relaxed.
This short exercise demonstrates the power of meditation. While mindfulness is an important skill for everyone to practice, it’s especially useful for leaders. By bringing more mindfulness into your daily life, you’ll develop the ability to identify blind spots, build resilience, and grow on a personal and professional level. We’ll explain how in this article, starting with the foundations of understanding our emotions.
What are emotions?
While there are many ways to describe emotions, our favorite definition is that they’re “a natural instinctive state of mind deriving from one’s circumstances, mood, or relationships with others.” When it comes to types of emotions, all researchers agree that all humans – regardless of where they’re from – experience five basic emotions: happiness, sadness, fear, anger, and disgust. There are a few things to understand about these basic emotions, which is that they:
- Originate deep within the brain in regions that evolved in early humans
- Are generated by specific neurons
- Are most active during early childhood or during a crisis
- Interact with our thoughts and with one another to form more complex emotions
While everyone will experience the five basic emotions regardless of where they’re from, culture does influence how we perceive certain emotions. For example, in Western cultures, shame is perceived as a negative and damaging emotion. This is because Western cultures are more individualistic and self-determination oriented societies where you’re supposed to be able to make mistakes without having them weigh on you.
On the other hand, Eastern cultures view shame as a helpful emotion that you should experience on a regular basis. Because these societies encourage critical self-reflection, shame is aligned with their values.
While there’s no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ approach, these differences are important to keep in mind when trying to understand the role that emotions play in our daily lives.
How mindfulness helps us manage our emotions
We’ve all experienced what emotions without mindfulness feels like. It happens when our emotions become frequent, intense experiences that influence our behavior in unhelpful ways. We feel out of control and often end up hurting ourselves and the people we care about. This is especially common during moments of crisis, where we’re more prone to negative emotions like fear, anger, and anxiety.
What mindfulness does is help us develop a more sophisticated relationship with our emotions. How? Through practices like meditation, you end up developing your ability to be an observer of whatever is happening – without getting lost in your emotions. Specifically, there are two things that happen when you practice mindfulness:
- Disidentification. Every time your awareness goes from thought to breath, the power that you would otherwise have given that thought is diminished. So that thought can’t just run on autopilot and make you do things that aren’t really in your best interest. In other words, while you acknowledge what you’re feeling, it doesn’t drive you.
- Interoception. This is a general awareness of what’s happening in your body. It’s helpful because you mostly feel emotions in your body. So when you’re mindful of what’s happening in your body when you experience strong emotions, you can build the capacity to simply be with that feeling instead of running away from it or finding a way to push it down.
Neuroscience research has also found that mindfulness positively impacts two parts of the nervous system: the sympathetic nervous system and the parasympathetic. The sympathetic nervous system is responsible for raising your blood pressure and directing energy into your muscles when you perceive a threat. The parasympathetic nervous system is what kicks in once the threat is gone and brings you back down to baseline. Mindfulness not only takes you out of the chronic state of arousal brought on by your sympathetic system, but it also helps your parasympathetic system restore your baseline better and faster.
Why does mindfulness matter for resilient leadership?
Mindfulness, as you might expect, can serve as a powerful tool for leaders. This is a practice that can help you grow tremendously in both a personal and professional sense – such as building resilience and increasing self awareness.
Among other things, mindfulness can help leaders:
- See blind spots
- Regulate emotions
- Grow from feedback
- Deal with rejection or failure
We also believe that mindfulness accelerates change. So any leader who wants to quickly mature as a person, have better relationships, and influence people in positive ways, will benefit from meditation or any other technique that brings more mindfulness into their lives.
Emotions – both positive and negative – are an inevitable part of life. But by learning how to bring mindfulness into your daily life through techniques like meditation, you can regulate these emotions in a way that helps you be a happier, more self aware and resilient leader. If you want to learn how coaching and mentoring can help you build more resilient leaders, request a demo below.