The moment our eyelids flutter open in the morning is the moment cortisol (the body’s primary stress hormone) begins flooding through our body. Our chest becomes tight, breath is shallow and we tremble for a moment before rolling over to check our email inbox — oh, and the morning’s Instagram feed, too.
The mental, physical and psychological constrictions of our hyper-connected, tech-savvy world have resulted in elevated levels of stress, anxiety, and depression. According to the American Psychological Association, most Americans experience moderate to high-stress levels and 44% of Americans report elevated stress levels over the past five years.
As a mindfulness-based psychotherapist, I see highly stressed leaders in my office every day. After working with dozens of CEOs, I’ve witnessed two main trends in leadership:
- Leaders are experiencing the increased awareness that productivity demands, work hours and expectations of 24/7 connectedness are not sustainable for living a happy, healthy life.
- Leaders of corporations and organizations are seeking ways to infuse wellness into their own lives in order to survive daily work and life demands…and after implementing wellness practices into their own lives, these awakened leaders are motivated to share what they’ve learned with their employees.
I’ve had the tremendous honor of working with leaders who identified feeling perpetually stressed, or perhaps they experienced insomnia…or other significant emotional or physical symptoms. Our bodies possess the wisdom and will tell us when enough is enough. Our Western society glorifies the ‘grind’ of being underslept and overworked. This illusion of success has devastating consequences such as severe mental illness and disease — both resulting from untreated stress and inflammation in the body.
What’s the answer?
Mindfulness is about walking through the world with presence. Mindfulness is being in the present moment experience, intentionally and without judgment.
How can mindfulness help redefine success and leadership?
Leaders that implement mindfulness in their lives by cultivating a daily meditation practice have greater levels of empathy, problem-solving skills and access to inner resources such as emotional regulation in the face of challenge. There’s a quality of focus and intention that radiates from a leader who is aligned with their mindfulness practice. Additionally, mindfulness is a powerful modality to reduce stress, increase inner peace and prevent burnout.
Power is no longer about embodying a hard-nosed, aggressive demeanor, but rather, power is found in the quality of our presence. When hold the intention of living in the space of heart-center mindfulness, that energy will naturally flow into our leadership work.
Companies like Google, General Mills, and Goldman Sachs offer mindfulness courses to their employees. These mindfulness offerings meet the human needs of the individuals that work together to create these companies. Studies show that people who are heard, valued and cared for by their employers have higher job satisfaction and produce better work. Infusing wellness into company culture comes from the top-down and should be offered with clarity of intention and compassion.
Cultivating a mindfulness meditation practice isn’t a small undertaking. Our busy minds will do everything but sit in stillness and silence. However, with a dedication to meditation, the benefits will ripple into every domain of your life. Mindful leaders have redefined the meaning of success. Letting go of our cultural addiction to productivity is key. Remember, the slowing makes the going much more meaningful and fruitful. Begin with 10 minutes every morning before your feet hit the flooring the am (and before you get on email!), sitting up in bed and breathing deeply and slowly into the belly. Follow the breath and your body sensations, having gratitude for another beautiful day before you. This day is full of boundless potential.
It’ll be the most productive 10 minutes you’ll have all day.