by Edward D. Hess, author of “Hyper-Learning: How to Adapt to the Speed of Change“
If there’s one thing we can all agree on, it’s that 2020 was a doozy. Chaos reigned supreme. Our best-laid plans crumbled in the face of multiple disruptions. And while most business leaders are accustomed to operating in a state of uncertainty, COVID-19 and its fallout took it to a new level. Frankly, 2021 isn’t looking much more stable. And while none of us know what’s coming, there’s one thing we can and must control. Ourselves.
The louder the outward chaos, the greater the need for an internal sense of calm. If you’re able to cultivate a state of Inner Peace, you’ll be a far more effective leader in 2021 and beyond.
With Inner Peace — which I define as being fully present in the moment with an open, non-judgmental mind and a lack of self-absorption — you’re open to learning. You’re able to listen to others rather than just confirming your own biases. You’re able to build caring, trusting relationships. All of this allows you and your team to do high-level critical, innovative, and emergent thinking to make better, smarter decisions.
Inner Peace is what allows us to bring our Best Selves to work and engage with others in ways that enable them to be their Best Selves also,” says Hess.
Inner Peace has four parts: a Quiet Ego, a Quiet Mind, a Quiet Body, and a Positive Emotional State. By taking ownership of your mind, emotions, and behaviors, you’ll learn to generate the positive emotions that enable high engagement with others and behave in ways that enable them to be their Best Selves also.
Here are six ways to make it a resolution in 2021.
1. Take a good look at how you define yourself.
Ego is one of the biggest inhibitors of Hyper-Learning. When we define ourselves by how much we know and how “smart” we are (a common problem for leaders!), or when someone disagrees with us, our very sense of self is threatened and our ego gets in the way of having real conversations and seeking the best answers. If you want to be open to feedback and want to challenge your own perceptions, you must first make a conscious decision to quiet your ego.
The first step is admitting you have a non-Quiet Ego! The next step is to redefine yourself, perhaps by the quality of your thinking, listening, relating, and collaborating. Making this mental shift is surprisingly difficult, but it is a necessary starting point.
2. Embrace mindfulness meditation.
This is a way of focusing awareness to something specific, like your breath or a part of your body or an object or mantra, and continually bringing your attention back to that thing every time your mind wanders off. Hess recommends you start small— perhaps just two to three minutes at first. Eventually you’ll be able to work your way up to 20-30 minutes a day. That is how you train your mind so that you can control what you attend to. You must take ownership of your mind. Your mind should not control you! The science on the power of mindfulness meditation is compelling. It is how you can bring your full Best Self to every conversation and every meeting. It is how you can be really, really, really present.
3. Engage in acts of gratitude.
This practice reduces your tendency to be self-centered and cultivates a Quiet Ego. Acts of gratitude may include saying thank you in the moment, writing thank-you notes, keeping a gratitude journal, and every night reflecting back on those who’ve had the biggest positive impacts on your life. The idea is to steep yourself in daily reminders that individual success is not all about “me,” and that none of us got here all by ourselves.
4. Practice deep breathing to calm your body, emotions, and mind.
Back in 2018 I started practicing deep breathing exercises that the Navy SEALs do and monitoring my heart rate daily. Now I do breathing exercises a couple of times a day to regulate the pace of my body so I can be more in the moment.
When I experience a fast heart rate, rising temperature, or stress in parts of my body, I immediately do my deep breathing and my self-talk. I tell myself to slow my motor down, and I try to experience a micro-joy — feeling very positive about someone or nature or something positive in my life.
5. Create micro-joys throughout your workday.
I’m a big fan of Barbara Fredrickson’s writings on the power of positivity resonance, which is the highest level of human connection that results from the sharing of positive emotions. Teams are far more effective when they can attain this elusive state. Obviously, leaders who are mired in negativity will inhibit positivity resonance and thus team performance. This is why it’s crucial to do what you can to keep yourself in a state of joy and happiness — one of the keys to being your Best Self.
What has worked well for me is creating micro-joys during my day. For example, I might focus mindfully on the beauty of nature, the beauty of colors, the unconditional love of a pet, seeing a friend in passing and wishing them a good day, thanking a custodian for keeping the bathroom so clean at work, and going out of my way to smile and express gratitude to fellow workers for specific things I have witnessed.
6. Create your Daily Intentions.
Spending 15 minutes or so each morning reflecting on how you want to behave that day — how you want “to be” — can help you start your day with the right mindset. This can involve inspirational readings and journaling.
Daily Intentions are very personal. The idea is to consciously choose how you are going to react and behave and what you’re going to pay attention to each day. Start each day reading your Daily Intentions and visualizing how each of the desired behaviors would be evidenced. And each night do a 10-minute review of your day. Ask yourself, Where did I behave as I desired? Where did I not behave the way I wanted to behave? Try to figure out what kept you from being who you wanted to be and what triggered that response.
You have choices every day as to how you behave. You have a choice as to how you manage your mind, how you manage your ego, how you manage your emotions, and how you manage your behaviors. These six practices will help you be a better and more effective person if you have the self-discipline and honesty to take ownership of YOU!
Edward D. Hess is professor of business administration, Batten Fellow, and Batten Executive-in-Residence at the Darden School of Business and the author of “Hyper-Learning: How to Adapt to the Speed of Change“. Professor Hess spent 20 years in the business world as a senior executive and has spent the last 18 years in academia. He is the author of 13 books, over 140 articles, and 60 Darden case studies.