Cultivating the Still Point: The Power of Reflective Practices
An interview with Ellen Wingard, author, social entrepreneur and early innovator in the field of leadership development
IWL: At IWL we are committed to cultivating presence as leaders. Yet, let’s face it, starting any kind of centering or meditation practice can be very challenging for high achievers who may equate sitting still with ‘slacking’ and losing one’s ‘edge.’ Where to begin?
Coaching Tip #1:
EW: The first step is to observe how much of the time we are distracted and not present for the opportunities to think contextually, to build relationships, or experience the fulfillment of success . The extreme sport of multi-tasking is appealing but research shows it actually hinders high performance. Over my desk is a New Yorker cartoon that sums it up. Two people are rushing by and the caption reads, “Weekends I like to be able to panic without having all the interruptions.”Between time urgency and competing commitments, we can lose the capacity to pay attention to ourselves, clients, employees and family resulting in lost opportunities for connection and impact.
IWL: Self-observation is essential but most high achievers have equated success with speed and ‘overdoing.’ This ‘still point’ notion is a big shift in context.
EW : Yes, ‘getting still’ in order to be productive is counter-intuitive. But research into high performance demonstrates time again that mental rejuvenation through practice such as mindfulness meditation, Heartmath and Holosync Technology ‘resets’ our physiology. The benefits of these practices are well researched and show that daily practice results in the capacity to:
- Enhance higher order thinking capacities
- Intercept stress reactions and ‘grabs’ to accelerate rebound
- Heighten empathy (EQ) and sustain emotional equilibrium
- Expand sense of present centered time
- Improve immune system function
- Reduce cortisol production
- Increase self-awareness of impact as a leader
IWL: These are great results, yet realistically what do we do after we have observed our pace and perhaps add a practice as one more ‘to do’ on the overfull plate?
Coaching Tip #2:
The second step is learning to create positive interruptions of 15 minutes per day by working with the breath to enhance our concentration. These ‘breath’ breaks can be scheduled into your computer, for instance, to remind you to pause, reflectand reset your physiology, especially when in transition -driving, preparing for a meeting, eating, walking, or handling a difficult conversation.
We joke at IWL that I am always asking leaders to be quiet. The quiet I am referring to is not suppression or silencing of one’s voice. Paradoxically, the more we can quiet ‘noise’ the more we can access direct knowing and our own leadership intelligence– emotional, intellectual and/or instinctual.
The goal is not to be ‘relaxed’ for 15 minutes but rather to have a ‘carry over’ effect throughout the day — awake to shifting perceptions, moods, thoughts, feelings. The most important byproduct of all is the capacity to resilient in handling complexity. If you absolutely cannot sit still, additional benefits can be gained from 15 minutes of stretching, listening to music, writing in a journal, or intentional exercise.
Coaching Tip #3:
The third step is to utilize the habitual contexts we employ as leaders and identify how ‘overdoing’ our leadership strengths can lead to derailment. Here are nine leadership strengths as outlined by leading Enneagram theorists and their unintended consequences:
- Impeccable standards and integrity result in striving perfectionism
- Service orientation results in over-commitment and burnout
- Zest for achievement results in auditioning and polishing an image
- The search for significance and meaning result in toxic mood shifts
- An intellectual quest for knowledge results in data overload and social withdrawal
- Troubleshooting and scenario planning result in worse-case scenario thinking
- Imaginative, creative thinking results in distraction and avoidance
- Direct, authoritative approach results in over controlling
- Peace seeking and harmony result in conflict avoidance and passivity.
IWL: So in summary, you are saying that the still point practices provide a vehicle to pay attention to our habits and at the same time offer the physiological antidote to those very habits?
EW: Yes! By paying attention to the unintended consequences of our behavior, we can cultivate a capacity for self-awareness and adaptation to our strengths. The intention of ‘still point’ practices is to use self-awareness at a tool of compassion rather than a blunt instrument of self-judgment.
For leaders who incorporate these practices, the dividends to themselves, their teams and community are enormous.And in the summer season, when many of us have time for scheduled breaks, the most powerful time to introduce a practice is finding that moment for positive interruption . The beauty of the breath is that every moment is an opportunity to restore perspective and locate the place between the in-breath and out-breath- the still point.