When we think of productivity in business, we often think of people pushing themselves past their limits — pulling all-nighters at work, eating lunch while responding to emails, zooming from one project or appointment to the next.
But in my experience, this definition of productivity is mostly a myth that serves neither the employee nor the organization.
As CEO of TLEX Institute, which teaches leaders tools for greater self mastery, social connection, and purpose, I’ve coached hundreds of leaders across the globe in a variety of sectors. I have found that leaders who create gaps in their busy schedules to restore and replenish are ultimately more effective and successful in the long run.
There’s one restorative practice in particular that makes a meaningful difference in leaders’ performance: conscious breathing.
Our breath is the only part of the autonomic nervous system that we can control. It’s one of the few things we can easily access to shift the way that we’re thinking or feeling and calm and restore ourselves.
Even one deep, conscious breath can serve as the mini-meditation that we need to slow down and reduce tension. Pausing to take a few deep breaths can allow us to enter the next activity or interaction with fresh eyes, energy, and enthusiasm.
There are many effective breathing exercises that I teach TLEX clients. Here’s one of the easiest to learn, in the words of Emma Seppala, Stanford University researcher and author of “The Happiness Track.” (Here’s an instructional video she created if you prefer the guided version with visuals.)
- Place the index and middle finger of the right hand on the center of the eyebrow, and place the thumb on the right nostril, and the ring finger and pinky on the left nostril.
- The left hand rests on the lap, palm facing up.
- Take a deep breath in and, closing the right nostril with your thumb, breathe out through the left nostril.
- Then take a deep breath in through the left nostril, close the left nostril with your ring finger and pinky at the end of the inhale, and exhale through the right nostril.
- Take a deep breath in through the right nostril and, closing the right nostril with the thumb, exhale on the left side, and start over.
- Do this with your eyes closed for about five minutes. Notice the effects on your body and mind.
Successful leaders know that it is essential to cultivate mindsets that help us thrive in that space of uncertainty and unrelenting pressure. This means building our physiologies so that we can respond — rather than react — when the stakes are highest.
In our increasingly complex environment, leaders must embrace the idea that pushing ever harder may be a necessity sometimes, but the more restored, resilient and healthy we are mentally, emotionally, and spiritually, the more we can draw on that when the pressure kicks in — to be as productive as possible for years to come.
Johann Berlin currently serves as CEO of TLEX Institute, which works with leading institutions and Fortune 500 companies to bring to employees restorative techniques and authentic engagement, accelerating personal, relational and organizational energy to perform, thrive, and transform. He has participated as a speaker/facilitator at TEDx London, Stanford Center for Compassion, Harvard Executive MBA Alumni Summit, Wharton School of Business, and Yale School of Management. He holds a B.A. in Business from MUM International with a focus on sustainability, and is a certified international Art of Living trainer.