Paying attention helps with anxiety – and success
Over the years, I’ve helped thousands of CEO’s to find, speak and live their true life’s purpose. I’ve noticed a commonality amongst them. They believe that once they’ve found their essence, that’s it. It’s done. They have a plan for everything. And in part, this is true. They have vision and a plan for themselves in every aspect of life. But, they have a permanency of mind too. A fixation on that specific plan. However I’ve come to see for myself, and those I help, that the only permanence is impermanence.
Recently a client of mine, who happens to be the CEO of a multi-billion pound global manufacturing business, told me that ”There’s no place for hope in business. Business needs stability, and leadership is about facilitating that.” This incessant desire to maintain the status quo is driven by fear, by holding onto the same old practices and attitudes. It produces anxiety, stress, poor performance and an inflexibility that breeds disaster and failure.
What if we accepted the impermanence of life?
Whilst visiting a local school last month, I asked a class of teenagers if they could think of anything at all that was genuinely unchanging, anything truly permanent. I wasn’t expecting to see any hands raised. To my surprise, one student did put his hand up and told me there was something permanent, something truly unchanging, and that was impermanence itself. I was blown away.
There is a wisdom that understands the law of impermanence, and it is this wisdom which will protect us from undue suffering. Why don’t more adults understand this? At what point do we become rigid, immovable?
Change is nothing new, however, what is new, thanks to technology, is the pace of change. Never before have we had such ease of access to information about the changing nature of things.
Naturally we feel grateful for the many advantages that technology has provided, such as possibilities for better health care, improved education and a safer society.
However, this rapid rate of change is undeniably contributing to a significant increase in the level of collective anxiety. Many of the structures in society which previously provided a relative sense of security now seem less reliable. Business has changed, life is in constant flux.
But as I ask you to contemplate uncertainty, I don’t want you to assume that change itself is necessarily a problem. We live in hope. Sadly though, while the technology itself is neutral, it does have the effect of amplifying whatever it touches. This in turn leads to intensification, and regarding the rate of change, is contributing to people feeling pushed beyond what they can tolerate.
We all know this accelerating rate of change is not going to cease any time soon. For many of us, unfortunately, this uncertainty leads to becoming habitually pessimistic. I did. I noticed this first hand recently. I was suffering physically and emotionally from anxiety.
Things were changing in my personal and professional life. I noticed how fixated I was about holding onto a particular mindset (I still do at times, but this will change too) and behaviours from the past. I had set objectives for my business and I wasn’t achieving them, but external factors and my business had changed. I was seeing reality as a boulder on a beach; unchangeable. Intimidated by my unwillingness to acknowledge that the boulder of anxiety erodes and changes over time.
Allowing ourselves to be defined by feelings of pessimism is not an obligation; it is a choice, even when it doesn’t feel that way.
The most skilful way of dealing with feelings of fear is that of strategic optimism. When people ask me how I personally deal with challenging dilemmas, I often tell them that I am a strategic optimist. Of course, naive optimism is very dangerous, as is habitual pessimism. Both these perspectives blind us to a great many possibilities, but when our decision to intentionally develop an optimistic attitude is informed by mindfulness, sense restraint and skilful reflection, it is neither naive nor dangerous. We can chose to adopt such an approach out of a desire to take full responsibility for our actions of body, speech and mind. So as to do more than merely react out of conditioned preference.
If we are honest with ourselves, we have to admit that we don’t know that everything is getting worse, any more than we know that everything is getting better. But what we can observe is how being caught in a negative mindset affects the way things unfold and, conversely, how cultivating wholesome mindsets can have a positive influence on our decision making. It isn’t rocket science to see that being positively disposed towards the results of our efforts brings beneficial results.
I realise that, to some, speaking this way will sound idealistic, but I am not talking about how things should be, but about how things are. How are we relating to reality moment by moment? Are we interested in what works, what helps, or are we merely caught in negative thinking and worry about what could happen in the future? I have been.
Thinking is something most of us are quite good at
We tend to do a lot of it. Not-thinking, on the other hand, is probably something we are not so good at and which would benefit from more attention. What? Not thinking in business?
If talking about paying attention to not-thinking sounds contradictory, that is because so much of the time, our attention is tethered to the activity of thinking. We are built that way. Way back from school days in the first throws of independence. Those teenagers last month are measured by how effectively they think.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. Using various meditation techniques, we can discipline attention to untether attention from thinking. Then we are able to pay attention in a more feeling way – a feeling investigation. I get the CEO’s I work with (from a public speaking perspective) to pay more attention by noticing their breathing. The result? Better choices in the moment. They are able to drive a feeling through their talk or presentation.
When we develop the ability to investigate without the persistent interruption of mental verbiage, we have access to a different quality of discernment, where discriminating intelligence and intuition can work creatively together as partners.
We let go of our fixation. We adapt our plans for living our purpose. We rewire our unhelpful conditioning and become who we want to be. We untangle our confusion.
We move away from anxiety and move towards success. Our true purpose.