I'm a hypocrite. There, I said it.
Leadership, both personal and professional, is an energy game. But it takes more than physical energy for peak performance. Leaders need abundant physical, mental, emotional and spiritual energy to manage their stress and perform their best. And just like professional athletes, leaders need to train properly, regularly and on purpose to achieve the results they're after. I help leaders do just that in Lunch & Learns, half-day workshops and even 8-week online courses.
Photo by Andrés Nieto Porras
So here I was--teaching leaders how to balance their energy--yet grinding my teeth at night. Waking up in the middle of the night with my heart racing, thinking about work and then getting up at 3am to answer emails. Snapping at my team for no reason, putting undue pressure on them.
I'm Good at Talking the Talk, But I Haven't Been Walking the Walk
I was not walking the walk and practicing my own teachings. It was time to step back and assess what was going on. I was totally out of whack! So I did an energy assessment of myself, just like I would for a client.
My Physical, Emotional, Mental and Spiritual Energy Level Assessment
- Physical: I eat well and exercise regularly. My recent check-up showed that I had the physical energy of someone a decade younger.
- Emotional: My EQ is fairly high. When I'm not stressed, I can manage difficult situations and people with empathy and patience.
- Spiritual: I know my values and refer to them regularly.
- Mental: I have the attention span of a flea; I can't focus on anything for more than a few minutes, and my brain is on constant overdrive. No surprise that this is my weakest area. In fact, my husband calls me a shark, because I literally can't sit down for more than an hour without jumping up to do something.
I Have the Attention Span of a Flea
Hmmm..this is going to be a challenge. Ask me to run a marathon and I'll train daily for it. Tell me to go gluten-free and I'm on a baking frenzy. Offer me the chance to work with emotional teams and I can't wait. Tell me something 'can't be done' and I will find a solution or at least a work-around. Yet, invite me to sit and read a book? I read the first chapter and then the last chapter (no joke) to save time. Buy me a cuppa? I'll start getting antsy after 30 minutes. So working on my mental energy to improve my focus is going to be hard.
My Shark-Like Behavior Was Impacting My Family and Team
Yet I had to do it. Not only was my shark-like behavior impacting my sleep, it was also impacting my team and family. In addition, I felt like a total hypocrite. It's like Ellen Page saying she had to come out while filming Freeheld; I can't teach energy management and not practice it myself.
So where to begin on this journey?
I Started With My Limiting Beliefs
First, I had to look at my limiting beliefs, or the things I thought were true that held me back from changing my behaviors. In general, our society is addicted to activity, and rewards constant busyness. We applaud the person who pulled the all-nighter; we recognize the person who stayed late to get the job done. Yet there is no such fanfare for the person who leaves at 5pm; in fact, those people are ridiculed in certain organizational cultures as weak or not team players. In addition, it's frowned upon to take all your vacation time or take any downtime at all.
This perception is problematic for many reasons but one of those reasons is factual. The University of California put out some interesting research on the upsides of downtime. The research says:
"You can't think without space. If you're always doing something, there's no way to get anything new into your mind; there's no way to reach new conclusions."
Why? Because unstructured time stimulates the 'default mode network' part of the brain, where creativity and problem solving happen. When we perform any task at all, no matter how small, our brain switches to the 'executive network control', which is related to deductive reasoning. So it's when we sit back and let our minds wander, that the creative 'default mode' kicks in.
Even Though I Fully Knew the Benefits of Downtime, I Was at Super-Shark Speed
My limiting belief was that 'downtime is for wimps'. The research proved me wrong. My mind was buying into the idea but my body was resisting. Even though I fully knew the benefits of downtime, I was at super-shark speed, racing around the house to get things done.
What would I tell a client in my position? I'd tell them they needed to practice downtime.
I'm a kinesthetic learner, which means I need to touch something to learn it well. So I had to find a role model to physically, literally show me what down time looks like. I had no idea how to 'do' downtime.
Thankfully I didn't have to look too far: my husband. He cherishes his downtime; I don't mean just an hour here or there. He is fully committed to detox Sundays, where he just kicks back and reads the newspaper...the old fashioned thing made from trees. He totally unplugs and sometimes won't even get in a car.
I Started My Practice Small, Slowly Building Mental Muscle
So I started small. I sat down for 15 minutes to read a magazine. Then I got up to plan my work for the week. Then I sat down for 20 minutes to close my eyes on the couch. Then I jumped up, feeling guilty that I hadn't wrapped the holiday gifts. Then I allowed myself to watch a TV show, once all the 'work had been done'. Little by little, week after week, I taught myself to chill. Stare out a window. Pet our cats. Listen to music. Snuggle in bed with our daughter. Sit on a plane without compulsively checking email. It was torture. I wanted to jump out of my skin. I wanted to do something, anything, please give me a task! Yet, I knew that I was slowly building a muscle, just like going to the gym.
I Taught Myself to Chill
And the impact was clear, both at home and work. At home, I was more patient and easier to be around. I stopped grinding my teeth and actually slept through the whole night. At work, I started enjoying writing again. It was no longer a chore. The ideas flowed out of me and actually became my most popular leadership posts, such as this one on surfing and this one on EQ. And my best product ideas and client ideas came from daydreaming out the window.
The best part? I no longer feel like a hypocrite. I'm a leader who inspires other leaders to manage their energy, all of it, for peak performance.
Anne Loehr is a sought after international keynote speaker, writer, consultant, and trainer. She helps leaders in large organizations connect their everyday decisions today to the future workplace. Her end goal is to help organizations retain their top talent and not only survive, but thrive. To learn more about Anne, check out www.anneloehr.com or follow her on Twitter.