If you’ve spent your career with the mentality that to get ahead, you have to work yourself into the ground, then you might be surprised to hear that your strategy was actually counter-productive. A performance-at-all-costs mentality actually decreases productivity. Every high performer needs to take time to restore his or her muscles or mind. I’m not saying it’s a crime to want to make a meaningful impact on the people and organizations you lead. And don’t think you don’t have to work hard to be successful. But focusing exclusively on your goals at the expense of your mental and emotional health is in actuality a disservice to your work. Let’s look into a couple leaders who have embraced a gentler approach to success:
Ariana Huffington, CEO of Thrive Global, believes that performance-at-all-costs mentality isn’t worth it in the long run. How did she stumble upon this new mindset? Her body gave her a rude awakening: it became clear that her life was out of control when she collapsed of exhaustion and fractured her cheekbone.
“We founded The Huffington Post in 2005, and two years in we were growing at an incredible pace. I was on the cover of magazines and had been chosen by Time as one of the world’s 100 Most Influential People. But after my fall, I had to ask myself, Was this what success looked like? Was this the life I wanted? I was working eighteen hours a day, seven days a week, trying to build a business, expand our coverage, and bring in investors. But my life, I realized, was out of control.”
Peter Cooper who founded Cooper Investors, a $10 billion investment management firm in 2001, expects his employees to be “In the Moment and Present.” For his business, in which there is a sense of urgency to respond instantaneously to media, clients, or brokers, returning to the present moment can be a serious challenge.
Cooper uses techniques like meditation, yoga and restorative breathing to help him navigate the pressures of money management. These techniques lower his stress and anxiety and increase his ability to focus on what really matters: serving his clients. In challenging times, clients and employees look to their leaders for signals on how to react. The more we’re able to regulate our emotions, stay calm and centered, the more we’ll elevate confidence in those around us, and the more clarity we’ll have to move forward.
The turning point was when several key analysts left his firm in short succession last year due to a lack of culture alignment with the CI values, Cooper’s self-awareness techniques made a measurable difference. He dealt with the potentially destabilizing occurrence calmly, confidently, and with a clear intention to turn a potentially negative situation into a positive opportunity.
He said: “Before my meditation practice my internal experience would have been quite different. I would have responded with blame, anger, negativity, and would have been concerned about the client reaction. Instead, my state of mind turned to learning and growing from challenges with minimum stress, and we were able to attract very talented replacement analysts. We were also able to use this circumstance to cement the firm’s foundational values of humility and authenticity.”
Prepare for the Big Moments.
How we deal with those make-or-break opportunities often has a far-reaching impact. Whether it’s delivering a major sales presentation, making an investment decision or coming up against an impossible coding deadline, our ability to “show up” at critical moments can shape our business results, impact the effectiveness, health of our organizations, and define our careers forever.
Successful leaders, like Cooper, know that it is essential to cultivate mindsets and cultures that can thrive in uncertainty. It takes time to get to that kind of culture. It requires an openness to trying new techniques that help build resiliency. What techniques should we learn? The technical skills of our professions. How to get ahead in life through trial and error. Most importantly, how to truly thrive in the moments that require a high level of self-mastery. That means sharpening our physiological and emotional responses in the face of stressful situations.
What Individuals and Organizations Can Do.
Just as we cultivate our physical muscles, you can maintain your mental hygiene and emotional responses. Solve the problem before it happens. Use restorative techniques before those high pressure moments happen. Tunnel vision happens when we’re working nonstop and the demand exceeds our capacity. When that big pressure moment occurs, can we respond well if we aren’t in good condition?
Here are things leaders and teams do to avoid burnout and maintain a high performance standard:
Breathing. Different breaths have different effects (calming, stimulating, etc.). In general, however, breathing is one of the simplest ways to reset. Breathing is the only part of our autonomic nervous system we can control. It is always grounded in the present moment. Certain emotions have corresponding breath patterns. And different breaths can actually change your emotions.
Meditation. It might seem counterintuitive but allowing the mind to unfocus through meditation can actually help us focus when we need to. Research suggests that meditation improves creativity and cognitive functioning, emotional stability and regulation, and response to stress – with enduring effects on brain functioning.
Awareness. To combat a negative stress response, we must learn to be aware of the cues. When the pressure moment comes, you may notice that you’re feeling an emotion, or your mind looks for the negative in the situation. The minute you notice, you have a choice and an ability to respond. Know your triggers in advance can help you see the cues coming. The goal is to build up your resilience so that you don’t get caught in a stress response with won’t serve you in the moment.
Show up when it counts.
The quality of our mind and emotions not only defines our ability to show up but also can determine the quality of our lives. In our increasingly complex business environment, a growing number of leaders are learning that pushing ever harder may be a necessity, but the more restored, resilient and healthy we are mentally, and emotionally, the more we can draw on that when our defining moment arrives.