I spent a lot of this weekend immersed in some deep reading on the topic of emotional intelligence. The way our brains connect between individuals without us really knowing what is happening fascinates me. It’s pretty challenging stuff, and I started getting lost in understanding how this knowledge applied in my engagement with others, how I might use this in my executive role and how it informs my coaching work. I moved on to thinking of what a great post it would be to talk about how our emotional brain and our intellectual brain interact. I was deep into it. Then I went outside and raked leaves.
It was quite a feeling to go from a highly engaged thinking state to one where nothing was really on my mind except “being”. When I was reading I wasn’t really connected to anything or anyone but myself. I was in a space where I was focused totally on learning but also on how that learning would apply in the future. I was often unaware of what family members were around me, what they were doing and what they might need or want. In short I had retreated inside and somewhat disconnected from others.
Outside with a rake in my hand there was no future and no past. There was just now. I wasn’t consumed with anything more than just being outside, working physically and, I think most importantly, really connecting with the world we live in. I felt really grounded which meant content and alive.
This awareness got me thinking about what happens in an office environment. Often we’re in a sterile, climate controlled environment many stories off the ground with little ability to even see nature. We are often immersed in activities that may engage our brains, but may also engage our engines that just want to get stuff done, potentially reducing our colleagues from people to resources, interpersonal connections to meetings, creative energy to productivity.
How do we make sure that we can find and keep our centered, grounded self in the midst of the high pace of high stakes, high-rise business? Here’s three ways that work for me:
- Exercise – the best technique for me to get centered is to do some strenuous exercise. It doesn’t matter to me if it is cardio or resistance training, just elevating my heart rate lets me reconnect with myself. Starting the day after exercise is a great base. Exercise at lunch is a great break. Working out at the end of a work day helps us transition to an engaged state for our families. When I exercise two things happen for me. First I can often focus my mind on one thing or problem I want to solve, which allows me to let go of what might be taking me off center. Second, the primal nature of exercise slowly allows me to stop over-thinking past performances and future challenges and just be me. I will almost always leave the gym with a renewed sense of self.
- Get Outside – if I can’t get to the gym I will try to get outside to a place with some natural elements. We’re fortunate that our office isn’t that far from the river, so heading there to walk along the banks or sit on a bench among trees and grass, watching the birds and other people passing by allows me to reconnect with the world and enjoy the beauty of natural things. In places like this, there is often others in pairs or groups walking and talking and connecting which in turn resonates with me creating a desire to connect with others.
- Connect With Someone – in those times when I feel that work is getting the better
of me or the tasks are losing their meaning it really helps if I go seek out someone I’m close to in the office and engage in a personal conversation. It’s important that I focus on the other person and make sure that work is not a part of the discussion. We are social creatures, and it is amazing how healing just engaging in an authentic, personal relationship can bring us back to our core. Sometimes it is as simple as making eye contact. Here’s a simple exercise: when walking down a crowded street or through a mall, try walking with your head up and looking as many people in the eye as possible. See the difference it makes in your overall sense of being grounded vs. walking eyes down avoiding others.
As leaders, it is important for us to notice whether our team members are centered and connected. We can create an environment which encourages people to practice healthy living while at work, including exercise, group breaks outdoors and making sure we open authentic connections with team members every day. By fostering such an environment, we will help people’s satisfaction with their work environment and their work-life balance which will in turn help to reduce attrition and increase productivity. Look for people who isolate themselves except when they need something, who are immersed in their “busyness” or just seem to have lost their sense of self.
How about you? What techniques do you use when you are feeling out of sorts to return to your centered state ? How do you help others return to theirs?