Be A Better Leader By Creating Space Between Stimulus And Response – Forbes

Posted: October 3, 2019 at 11:44 am


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Have you ever noticed that exceptional leaders have a calm demeanor and often have thoughtful responses to difficult moments? They seem to elegantly dance in that space between being presented with a set of facts and their outward reaction. Over the past several years, I have found something that has helped me gain greater self-awareness which, in turn, has allowed me to exercise better self-management not only in business but in just about any situation.

I managed to make it well into my 50s knowing very little about meditation. Five years ago I took an academic-based coaching course. One of my projects during the coursework was to expose myself to a new body practice and reflect in writing on the experience. I had witnessed firsthand leaders (including myself from time to time) losing their cool at the wrong time and was curious about developing a mechanism to handle difficult situations more effectively.

Meditation always seemed intimidating to me and I decided to explore what it was all about. I spent the next few years experimenting with different techniques, some of which resonated with me and others that did not.

My goal was to develop a daily practice, but for the first few years, I was inconsistent and not sure if I was truly benefiting from meditating. As often happens, I needed feedback from someone who knew me well enough to be objective and factual. That feedback got delivered to me loud and clear one afternoon from my wife. I had an emotionally challenging day on several fronts and must have been acting surly. I walked into our kitchen and my wife looked at me and quickly asked, You did not get in your meditation today, did you? She said she could easily tell whether or not I had mediated most days by observing my demeanor.

As of the posting of this article, I have completed 365 days of meditation without missing a day. My goal started out as three months without missing a day, but the effects I noticed were so profound I extended it to six months, and then to a year. Here are a few observations for those who, like me, are wanting to dip their toes in the water and see what meditation is about.

For starters, realize that meditation is not religious or spiritual. For meditation to work, you have to commit time to it. I started with five minutes in the morning and did that for a very long time. The key is to approach meditation (like lots of things in life) with a beginners mindset. You need to meditate regularly, like brushing your teeth. Dont get wrapped up in the amount of time you meditate (the number is irrelevant), just get the habit started. You can increase the time later (much later), once the habit is established. My practice is currently 20 minutes in the morning and then again later in the day when possible.

As for the type of meditation, I found it easiest to start with an app on my phone that had beginner guided meditations. You simply listen to the guide instruct you on things like breathing and visualizing. The process is about focusing your mind to identify and eliminate distractions. Becoming self-aware enough to recognize distractions and return my focus has been one of the best benefits of my meditation practice. Headspace, Calm and Insight Timer are all good applications to start with.

Self-compassion is another cornerstone of meditation. Be easy on yourself when you realize you got distracted; just gently leave the distraction and return your focus to your meditation. I once heard it stated that the practice of returning your focus in a self-compassionate manner is one of the most important things to learn.

After you have dabbled with an initial modality of meditation, experiment with others. There are mediations that involve sitting, walking, chanting and mantras -- the permutations are endless. Eventually, you will experience unconscious changes in your daily life and behavior.

One outcome I have noticed is that I would normally get anxious anytime I had to wait in a line. I would get frustrated when people ahead of me caused delays and made the wait longer. Now, I remain calm and do not get upset over things I can not directly control. While it is hard to definitely attribute this new behavior to meditation, I now recognize when I am triggered by other events the same way I notice meditation distractions. Meditation practice has created a space for me between stimulus and response that allows me to decide how I want to respond to the stimulus. This effect goes beyond resilience and also feels restorative.

Many of the leaders I coach have a goal of improving their executive presence. After working with them to develop a meditation practice, they report that now it is easier to maintain a calm demeanor in challenging circumstances, allowing them to think clearly and work toward effective outcomes.

Viktor Frankl is attributed with saying, Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom. For me, meditation has allowed me to widen that space between stimulus and response so that I can focus on the response without distraction.

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Be A Better Leader By Creating Space Between Stimulus And Response - Forbes

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October 3rd, 2019 at 11:44 am

Posted in Self-Awareness