If you stir muddy water, it will become murky and dark.
But if you allow the water to settle, the debris will eventually sink and you’ll be able to see more clearly.
The same is true of each of us.
There’s a lot to be stirred up about right now. And perhaps that’s why it’s more important than ever for us to find our calm.
Though our current Covid-19 response is leading us to drive less and stay home more, many of us are having difficulty finding places of peace and stillness. You might feel like you’re working more than ever, now that the lines between work and home are completely blurred.
Throw a kid or two into the mix whose routines (and lives) have been completely upended and you have a perfect mix for chaos.
And of course, there is the ever-present temptation to grab your phone or iPad or fire up the television to tune into the latest news or binge watch those shows on Netflix you’ve been wanting to see.
In addition to our external distractions there is the internal commotion of our never-ending thoughts, worries, and preoccupations.
It’s enough to make your head spin.
But perhaps there is hope amidst the chaos…
I recently read that for the first time in thirty years, the Himalayas are visible from northern India. Air quality has improved in several areas of the world, including right here in the United States. These improvements are said to largely be a product of the coronavirus response that has led to fewer emissions.
What if in addition to cleaning up our air we could find a way to clear our heads as well?
What if our future depended on it?
In such an unpredictable time as this, one thing is fairly certain: there is no more “business as usual”. Even after our social distancing and stay at home mandates have been lifted, things are likely to be different moving forward than they’ve ever been in the past.
Out of necessity, much of life as we’ve known it has had to change – often for the better. Many of the ways we have always done things will likely no longer be effective (or even relevant).
We have the opportunity to reinvent ways of working and being that weren’t serving us all that well and chart a new course into our future.
Now more than ever, we must cultivate the insight necessary to know what we need to do next.
And insight is a product of slowing down, quieting our minds and tuning in to ourselves and each other. It requires us to cut through the noise and create space for new ideas to land.
The best way to do that is to practice presence.
What exactly is presence?
The word present derives from the Latin past participle praesse meaning “to be before one”, from the roots pra – pre + esse – to be.
Presence is a state of being that’s achieved when we are truly in the moment, allowing it to unfold without judging it, labeling it, or getting lost in our thoughts about what it means or what we believe should be happening.
Presence allows us to cut through the clamor of our preoccupations, worries and fears so that our true selves can emerge. It is a gateway through which our intuition and inner wisdom enters and expresses itself.
A moment of presence is a state of grace that can produce great insights that help us to truly learn from our experiences, make the most of our opportunities and rise to our challenges in creative ways.
In moments of presence, we know who we really are and what we are truly capable of.
Have you ever noticed that people tend to match each other’s intensity and tone when they are together?
Comments about trivial matters are often matched with similar banter. Expressions of fear or dread often elicit responses that are equally charged, and expressions of anger have a way of provoking reactions that people later regret.
In a similar manner, moments of presence when shared with others can evoke powerful responses that can be revealing and transformational.
This is because when you are truly present with another human being you create a space that allows that person’s true self to come out as well.
This is why the best leaders have learned to become comfortable with silence. They listen more than they talk, and to allow themselves to become instruments that help others to recognize their own greatness – not necessarily through anything that say or do, but rather through moments of presence that are created and shared with others.
So how does one cultivate a moment of presence?
It is really rather simple, though far easier said than done.
1) The first step is to be still.
That’s right. Sit still. I know it goes against everything you were probably taught about getting things done and being useful. But do it anyway.
You can practice now, while you read this. Become aware of your breathing, of the space you are sitting in, of the weight of your body and how it feels in this moment. Feel the life inside you and trace it to each part of your body. Listen to the sounds around you. Take a deep breath. Let it out slowly.
2) Become aware of your thoughts.
Observe the activity of your mind as it continues to process whatever is there – thoughts like, “this is silly, really – I have way too much to do to be sitting here, doing this…” and “I have to remember to call so and so back today,” and “What did my [boss, colleague, friend, etc.] mean when he/she said…”.
Recognize that you are not your thoughts, but rather the thinker of your thoughts. Simply watch them parade around, without getting sucked into them. Feel how much bigger you are than all of that. Continue to breathe it in.
3) There really is no step three.
Simply continue to repeat steps one and two, immersing yourself more deeply into the experience with each breath.
You don’t need to do this for an extended period of time, unless you want to. Often even a couple of minutes are sufficient to bring you to a more intense state of awareness and aliveness.
In these moments of presence, you will experience things on a different level – one that allows you to respond from a deeper, wiser part of yourself. And when you are with others, you will bring out that deeper, wiser part of them as well.
The wonderful thing about practicing presence is that it creates a fertile landing place for creativity and new ideas. The more often you do, the more frequently you may find yourself receiving inklings (often when you least expect them) about solutions to even the most confounding of problems.
Presence is incredibly powerful to practice with others as well, and a wonderful thing to engage in with the family members in your home (who you are likely seeing more of than ever before). The process is the same, except that you expand your awareness to take in the other person as well.
First, put your phone down. Turn off your IPad, computer, television and/or any other device that could potentially steal your attention and focus.
Then, look into the eyes of the person in front of you, and listen to what they are saying. But listen to what they are not saying as well.
Presence is more about being than doing. So, allow yourself to truly BE with another, devoid of judgments, labels, and agendas. When you listen from this place, you are like water to a thirsty plant, allowing others to open up and soak in needed nutrients.
And in this space, they may just find the answers they seek as well – not because you are giving them, but because you have created a space that is illuminating for everyone.
For more on practicing presence, cultivating insight, and reinventing the way you live and lead, check out The Pinocchio Principle Unleashed: The Real Leader’s Guide to Accessing the Freedom & Flow of Your Authentic Genius. Registration for the fall session will open soon (and if you join the waiting list, you’ll have first dibs on the limited seats that will become available).
Image by Gordon Johnson from Pixabay.
To say we are living in a time of great challenge and uncertainty would be a major understatement.
There’s no dispute that we’re currently facing a virus over which we have very little control.
But there is another contagion being propagated that we have every ability to contain.
And that is FEAR.
Fear does funny things to people. At its worst, it produces panic — a physical state that literally disables the brain’s ability to think clearly. There is seemingly no other explanation for the current shortage of toilet paper. It just isn’t rational. But the greater the shortage, the higher the demand.
When people are in fear, they bypass their ability to think and are easily influenced by mass hysteria and knee jerk reactions. They also tend to put their own needs above those of others.
Fear triggers our instinct for self-preservation, leading us to scan our environment for anything that indicates that danger is present.
But when we’re gripped by fear, we just don’t see things clearly. And the more fear there is, the more evidence there seems to be to suggest there is something to fear, which of course elicits more fear.
Fear narrows the aperture of the lens we view things through. In other words, we are only seeing a small fraction of the entire picture. It’s like staring at a dot on the wall by smashing your face against it. The dot is all you’ll see, even though the room you are in is exponentially larger than the small dot right in front of you.
- You’ll put your attention on what is wrong, rather than what is right.
- You’ll spend more time and energy on describing, complaining about, and magnifying the problem than on finding the solution.
- You’ll be more concerned with what you can get rather than what you have to give.
- You’ll focus more on what is out of your control than on things you are able to influence.
- You’ll tend to feel helpless rather than hopeful – and you’ll act in ways that lead others to feel that way too.
But each of us has the power to turn this fear response around. And it is imperative that we do it now.
Though most of us have never lived through a pandemic as extensive as COVID-19, we have all likely weathered a few storms over the course of our lives.
And we’ve not only lived to tell about it, but also learned a thing or two along the way. In times like these it is essential to draw upon that wiser, calmer part of ourselves that knows this too will pass – and that we can rise to these challenges with courage and grace.
I call this vital part of ourselves Genius. Here are three simple ways to activate it:
1. Do whatever you can to quiet your mind and calm yourself down.
When fear hijacks your system, your thinking will be cloudy, and your body will be on high alert. The cortisol that gets released will increase your heart rate and blood pressure. Your neural activity will be diverted from the most highly developed part of your brain to the most primal.
As a result, you’ll experience a fight, flight or freeze response. You’ll be prone to seeing dangerous things that aren’t there – and inclined to screen out helpful things that are.
To counter that reaction, take some deep breaths. Get oxygen flowing back into your cells. Then, ask yourself a question that moves your neural activity back into your prefrontal cortex, the part that allows you to think deeply and make good decisions.
A question like, “What do I really want?” or “What could I do to make this situation better?” will help you get back on the right track.
The more you can quiet your mind, the more space you’ll create for inspiration and answers to come in – and the more likely you will be to recognize and act on them when they do. Rather than unconsciously reacting, you can respond with thoughtful intention.
2. Choose curiosity over judgment.
Once you’ve come to a fixed conclusion about something, you are not likely to consider other perspectives. Cognitive science tells us that confirmation bias leads us to take in information that aligns with our current beliefs and screen anything that contradicts them out.
And from that mindset, you’ll run the risk of behaving in ways that make things worse.
But while judgment narrows your aperture and keeps you in a fixed position, curiosity opens it and allows you to get unstuck. Your lens zooms OUT rather than IN.
Instead of only seeing that small black dot, you’ll take in more of your surroundings. In place of the wall that once blocked your progress, you’ll see possibilities and solutions that can move you forward.
Notice anything you may currently be believing that could be shutting you down or causing more stress – and challenge it. Ask yourself, “Is it really true?”. Rather than paying attention to what your eyes are showing you, get curious and ask, “What am I NOT seeing?”
3. Shift your focus from what you stand to lose to what you have to gain.
In the face of this international calamity, we have all had to make sacrifices. Life as we know it has drastically changed.
Offices, schools, stores, restaurants and other establishments are closed (or have limited access). Travel has been halted. The market is taking a hit. Your daily routine has likely been obliterated. The safety of people you love (and you, yourself) is in question. And as a result, social distancing has become an imperative.
But amidst all this, there are things to be optimistic about.
- For many of us, the crazy hustle bustle that compelled us to run from one thing to another is giving way to opportunities to slow down, rest and find our bearings.
- Our true priorities are coming into focus, allowing us to find more meaning and purpose in the things that we do and the way that we do them.
- Though we cannot always be in each other’s physical presence, we can stay connected. We can (and must) lean on our advancing technology to communicate with, support and care for one another without being in the same room.
- We are facing a collective challenge that has the power to bring us together despite our differences. As we worry less about ourselves and find ways to help each other, we activate reserves of strength and resilience we may not have realized we had.
- When nothing is certain, anything is possible. We can view the current disruptions we must deal with as opportunities to find better ways of doing things we never had reason to evaluate. We can be more intentional and conscious in everything we do.
1. Do whatever you can to quiet your mind and calm yourself down.
2. Choose curiosity over judgment.
3. Shift your focus from what you stand to lose to what you have to gain.
As you take these steps to become more connected with your own Genius, you’ll hold a space for others to do the same. Your ability to remain calm and optimistic will rub off. And you’ll not only quell the virus of fear but also proactively extend the hope and optimism that will allow us to prevail both individually and collectively.
Now THAT’s something worth spreading.
For more on connecting with your Genius, check out The Pinocchio Principle: Becoming a Real Leader – How to Unleash Genius in Yourself and Others.
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*Image: Pixabay 2020
Well, the dust is finally settling, and the holiday decorations are (almost) packed up and put away for next year. For many, the holidays are a frenzied time – a rush to the finish line that has adrenaline spiking for days on end. Between running around trying to find the perfect gifts to sending out cards, preparing meals, entertaining family and friends and spending a lot of time around people we don’t often get to see, it can be exhausting.
Some of us were lucky enough to have a bit of down time before jumping back in to the excitement that the New Year brings. And others of us have simply been riding that wave that takes us from one activity to the next, with little time for transition. Though New Year’s Day has come and gone, it is never too late to take advantage of the demarcation that the end of one year and the beginning of another brings.
The turning of each year lends itself well to waxing reflective, calling to mind both the experiences in the past that have led us to the present moment, as well as what the future might hold – what magnificent things are bubbling up within us, just waiting to take form.
It’s curious that we often associate moments of reflection with major milestones (like a New Year), rather than as a continual process in our lives. Yet it’s easy to let the frenetic pace of business, the holidays, and personal affairs prevent us from enjoying the clarity of being alone with our thoughts, and even going beyond them into the silence of our own experience.
We get swept up in a kind of auto pilot mode, where we just do what is in front of us and go from one thing to the next, without a lot of thought.
But it is in the evaluation and reflection of our experiences that we receive insight – a vital gift that can become meaningful and empowering force in our lives.
Pressing on from one thing to the next without pausing long enough to integrate what we have learned deprives us of the gifts these experiences bring. It’s like finding a few wrapped presents with your name on them that were left behind in the festivities – and absentmindedly throwing them into a box instead of opening them up to see what’s inside.
Our experiences are uniquely designed to allow us to learn – about ourselves, others, and life itself. We learn about what works, what feels good, what doesn’t, who we are, what we are capable of, what we want more of (and less of too).
But only if we pause long enough to entertain the questions that allow us to unpack these gifts that are waiting to be opened.
If you have not yet afforded yourself the indulgence of conscious and intentional reflection, I encourage you to carve out some time to do so. Because the best goals, the best visions to move toward in the coming year will be those that align with the whispers of your heart – those that tap the infinite potential and wisdom that is already inside you. And you’ll never really know what those are until you take the time to go within and ask.
Below are some questions that can help you in this process. Some of these questions might seem more powerful to you than others – let yourself go where you are drawn with them. You may even want to take a quick look at them and then put them away and see what comes to you when your mind is empty of thoughts.
Or, you may scrap these questions and come up with different ones of your own. The important thing is to allow yourself the time to go within and listen with curiosity and earnestness.
QUESTIONS FOR YEAR-END REFLECTION
- As you reflect on this past year, what were your three or four most significant accomplishments, breakthroughs, and/or achievements?
- Looking back over the year, what (if anything) blocked or held you back as you moved toward your goals/objectives? How will you overcome those obstacles in the future?
- What were your biggest insights or realizations over the past year that you gained through your experiences?
- How will you apply what you learned this past year to what you want to create in the upcoming year?
- What are the top two or three things about your job/practice that you most want to be different this year?
- What two or three changes do you most want to see in your personal life?
- What significant challenges will face you this year? Personally? Professionally?
- What strengths will you rely on most to face the challenges that lie ahead?
- What qualities, skills, etc. could you develop within yourself to better arm you for the upcoming year?
- Picture yourself a year from now, looking back over the past year. What three or four accomplishments would you like to have achieved?
- What actions are you prepared to take to achieve your desired results for the upcoming year?
If you really want to supercharge your coming year, consider joining me and an intimate group of fellow leaders in the spring session of The Pinocchio Principle Unleashed: The Real Leader’s Guide to Accessing the Freedom & Flow of Your Authentic Genius, kicking off the week of 2/17/20.
I look forward to another year ahead of navigating a path of discovery – one that will lead us all closer to our most precious goals, and allow us to make the most out of every experience we have – leaving everything we touch a little better off for the interaction – our teams, our customers, our colleagues, friends, family, and of course, ourselves.
Wishing you a wonderful and prosperous New Year ahead!