As I wrote last week, we’re all dealing with a lot. And, when there’s a lot to process – work, family, health, the world and life in general – the mind can understandably flit and flutter from thought to thought. It’s called mental chatter and it can make it really challenging to get anything in particular done. Mental chatter is endemic for people whose days are filled with back to back Zooms that are even more challenging to our focus than an equivalent schedule of in-the-room-together meetings. Moreover, the connection between an overstressed brain and the rest of your body can have a serious impact on your long-term health and well-being.
As I’ve been conducting virtual leadership development sessions with managers and executives over the past month, I’ve been running a simple online poll – Have you found it easier or harder to control your mental chatter while working from home? On average, around two thirds of the leaders I’m talking with say it’s harder.
So, most everyone has a need for an effective way to push their mental reset button and get their thought process focused and back on track. How do you do it? There’s a simple technique that works for me and that I’ve been sharing with my clients over the past six or seven years. It’s at the top of the list of habits they adopt because they find it so immediately effective. What’s the magic mental reset button? It’s breathing and I teach you how to do it in the video I shot to go with this post.
You may be thinking, “Breathing? I already do that.” Yes, you already do that but you’re probably doing it wrong. Here’s the back story on why I think that. Seven years ago this summer, I spent around 15 weeks in a yoga teacher training course with an amazing instructor named Birgitte. She’s been teaching yoga for over 30 years and has seen and learned a lot during that time. A couple of weeks into the course, I realized that a lot of what she was teaching us had direct application to the stressed-out corporate leaders I work with. So, I asked her if we could go to lunch so I could get her advice on how I could apply her lessons to my coaching and speaking work with leaders.
When I asked Birgitte what I should be focusing on with leaders, she immediately said, “Breathing. Ambitious people don’t know how to breathe.” Probably like a lot of you reading this would have, I replied, “Breathing? Everyone knows how to breathe,” and she patiently explained that most stressed-out, achievement-oriented people breathe in little, shallow dips from their chest instead of long, slow deep breaths from their bellies. Sometimes, under extreme stress, they even stop breathing for a few cycles. Obviously, not a great long-term approach!
She then taught me the simple process for learning how to breathe the right way that I’m sharing with you in the video. I’ve since shared this technique with thousands of leaders and, based on their feedback, have concluded that it is the mental reset button. After I take leaders through the one-minute breathing approach that I share in the video, I always ask them how they feel and the top answers are always a mix of, “Calm, clear, relaxed and focused.”
A quick round of breathing in the way that Birgitte taught me is a great way to reset your brain between one meeting and the next or when you notice that your mind is flitting and fluttering from one thought to the next. Push the reset button, take three deep breaths and then ask two questions: First, “What am I trying to accomplish in this next meeting or round of focused work?” And, second, “How do I need to show up in order to make that outcome likely?” Once you’ve pushed the mental reset button and get that clear, non-distracted mental picture of what and how, you’re in a much better place to proceed.
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