Why Mindfulness Is The Key To Innovating In Challenging Times

  • June 04, 2020

  • Antonia Hock

By Antonia Hock, Global Head of The Ritz-Carlton Leadership Center

During uncertain times like these, leaders must draw upon the depth of their experiences as they are tested in new ways. Challenging conditions bring opportunities, and it’s my job as a leader to work with my team to find new opportunities and bring them to market quickly.

When everything around us is swirling in the unknown, I know that inspiration comes from charting a positive, hopeful, and productive path and then getting everyone moving towards that path. Too often, I see leaders who fail to coalesce their teams in a meaningful way with speed and a bias for action — and that can lead to serious consequences in turbulent times.

One important component of consistently leading a team with positivity and conviction is the practice of mindfulness. Never has this been a more valuable tool than right now. For me, mindfulness is expressly about being fully aware, accepting, and in control of your thoughts and feelings. As a leader, this discipline is critical. I find that many people go through the day allowing their thoughts and feelings to run unabated without taking the time to examine and exert any control over that energy. What you spend your time thinking and feeling will consume your strength, so it is very important to be active in the choice of what you allow. These choices directly impact your outlook, contributions, and health every day.

Developing mindfulness and serenity during such uncertain times requires consistent action, the development of personal rigor, and ritual. The following are five steps that I’ve used to nurture and strengthen my own mindfulness:

Start the day with reflection and intention. How you spend your first hour of the day will determine how your day unfolds. Take ten minutes to sit, focus only on yourself and your own mind. Reflect on what is challenging you, let feelings go from yesterday or anything that surfaced in the morning, and set your intentions for the day. This time should not be spent on to-do lists, what you need to do for others, or what projects you need to complete. This time is all about clearing your mind of clutter, reflecting on what you personally want to feel on that day, and how you intend to act throughout the day as a reflection of what you stand for and who you are.

Be organized and structure your time. I need to have a plan for each day that allows me to structure my time with intention and organization. Each of us has more to accomplish in any day than we can possibly complete, so being intentional with your time is an important extension of being mindful. I reflect on what is most important to me, and I also think about what meetings or engagements are likely to be difficult or challenging, so I can structure them in a way that allows me to be calm and present.

During the day, examine feelings when they happen. Don’t just experience feelings without reflection. When you feel any extreme emotion, like anger, irritation, or elation, step back from that feeling for a moment, take yourself out of the experience, and think about what is driving it. Get to the root by being honest with yourself. If it’s a negative feeling — do you really need to feel it for any longer? Can you just acknowledge it, release it, and move on?

Take a break in the middle of the day to step back and focus on yourself. We live in such a hectic world of distraction and immediate need that I find it helps to take five minutes somewhere in the middle of the day to reflect on how my day is actually going and re-center. If I’m having a great day, I remind myself to be grateful and to think about how to pass that along to others. If I am having a challenging day, I think about what I need to release and how I can re-establish a sense of calm, clarity, and control that leads to a better second half of the day. No day is promised to any of us, so I focus on delivering my best contribution every day, and sometimes that requires me to exert mental discipline over my thoughts.

Close your day out with a non-negotiable ritual. The end of the day is just as important as the beginning, and I find that an evening ritual can prepare my mind and body for restful sleep. For me, this includes 15 minutes of meditation in a space specifically for this purpose. Sensory experiences are very tied to my mindfulness, so I have a calming lavender nebulizer and a cup of decaffeinated black tea with vanilla soymilk. This isn’t a large time commitment, but it forces me to slow down, focus exclusively on my own mental refresh, and ensure I am in position to sleep. In times of extreme stress, I write down anything that bothers me as a ritual way of giving myself permission to release it, so I don’t think about it while I sleep. Guarding restful sleep is so important.

And as leaders, it’s not just what you do for yourself but what you do for others who may be feeling anxious. Thinking intentionally about how you show up for others is an extension of your own mindfulness.

Small gestures matter. I believe that there is a lot of power in the small gesture, and those are not practiced enough today. Handwritten notes, encouraging texts, bringing someone a favorite beverage, offering to do something for the person (like pick up dry-cleaning or watching kids for an hour) all signal that you are thinking of them in a concrete way, you care, and they are not alone. Anxiety can be very isolating, so this is a great way to gently support connection.

Offering to sit together — whether in person or virtually — and be a sounding board. This is a great time to listen and support- just resist the urge to tell someone what to do. Phrases like, “have you thought about…?” or “help me understand…?” can be important. Sometimes, just sharing a laugh or a shared memory can be therapeutic. From a mindfulness perspective, this is an opportunity to practice being fully present with the person and focus on what serves them best in the moment.

Bring your own positive point of view and provide context for how you see your own life or challenges. This is an opportunity to share small ways that you are bringing positivity into your life in the face of a personal challenge. Resist the urge to draw comparisons or give advice based on your experience unless it is actively sought. Tell a great story that can create a connection and provide context in a positive way. If you are personally in a negative headspace, don’t bring that with you and facilitate a “misery loves company” mentality. Your personal mindfulness practice should include how you want to show up for others and what you want to project into the world.

In a turbulent world, mindfulness is a tool that each of us can utilize to exert our own control and discipline. We have all heard the statement, “We don’t control what happens to us, but we do control our response”. This is a simple statement of mindfulness. Mindfulness is the ultimate expression of controlling what we want in our lives — starting with what we choose to think and feel.

When we are dedicated to a mindful approach for our own behavior and leadership, we breed positivity, a sense of control, and remind everyone that often the best innovations are born out of challenging times.

This content was originally published on Swaay.com, May 2020. To view the original article, please click here.