DANIEL MONTGOMERY Founder & CEO Leadership Reality
How’s your body doing right now?
I’ll admit, that’s a strange question to lead with. I’m not a doctor, and you’re not my patient. This is a blog, not an exam room.
Still, I’ve been amazed to see just how easy it is to get so engrossed in our work that we fail to notice what’s going on in our bodies.
- Do you have a headache right now?
- Are you clenching your jaw?
- How’s your lower back doing?
- What about your shoulders?
- When was the last time something on you didn’t hurt?
Unless you’re on a construction site or a battlefield, leadership for you probably happens more in pixels and ink than in sweat and toil. For the office-dwellers among us, we just don’t think about our physical condition very much at all.
The trouble is, our minds really do matter when it comes to physical well-being. Psychological stress has serious physical consequences—especially among leaders.
From One Stressed-Out Leader to Another
Consider a few of the following stats from the Center for Creative Leadership:
- 88% of leaders say work is their primary stress point.
- 60% of leaders say their organizations aren’t helping them manage stress.
- 90% of stressed-out leaders say the only solution is to retreat.
That last stat is the most alarming. Nine out of 10 leaders say the only way to manage their stress is not to engage but to run from it.
I understand. For 18 years, I’ve built things: churches, networks, a business. In my heart, I’ve felt the stress and anxiety of many long hours. And in my body, I’ve suffered the pain of always running at 100 miles an hour.
Leaders are driven; that’s what got us here. But, as Marshall Goldsmith would say, what got us here won’t get us there. The same unyielding drive that lifted us to the top will destroy us if we don’t regularly pause to tend to our bodies.
How to Mind Your Matter
As we’ve seen in earlier posts, mindfulness is about re-situating us within the present moment in terms of time and place. An essential part of that includes reconnecting us with our bodies.
The most popular exercise we can talk about here is the body scan.
If you go to YouTube right now, you’ll find 65,000 videos that offer a mellow romp through mindful body scanning. Some of these videos are an hour long.
Save yourself the hour; here’s the basic gist:
- Pause — Find a time and place to still your heart, quiet your mind, and pay careful attention to the present state of your physical body.
- Breathe — With most (all?) mindfulness exercises, the way into that quiet mental space is through slow, intentional breathing.
- Notice —Starting with your left pinky toe, shift your awareness slowly along your entire body. What do you feel? Pleasure? Pain? Nothing at all? Just notice what you’re feeling (or not feeling) and then move on.
The body scan pays its best dividends in your ordinary run of life. As you “train” bodily awareness, you learn to identify triggers. Random headaches, debilitating back pain, digestive trouble—these are all your body’s way of telling you something is wrong. The body scan simply trains you to receive the message.
If awareness is power, then avoidance is our every leader’s Achilles’ heel. The body scan facilitates awareness over avoidance by teaching us to befriend these bodily messengers rather than belittle them (that “nagging” headache).
How to Make the Body Scan Work for You
The world we live in tends to reduce human being down to nothing more than biology. Plenty would write this stuff off as new-age nonsense—even in spite of the evidence that suggests mindfulness effects real changes in our neurobiology.
To be sure, physical problems very often have physiological causes. If you’re sick, go to a doctor. But, from a Christian perspective, I can’t help but point out the important biblical connection between our mental/moral and physical states.
In Psalm 32, for example, David describes the intense pain he was experiencing because of unconfessed sin. In the end, it wasn’t a pill that saved him; it was repentance and forgiveness.
That said, you should try the body scan. Do it regularly. Every night when you lay down to go to bed, give yourself 5–10 minutes to “check in” with your body. Train up that awareness; learn to tap into it when your body starts acting up at work.
When you do, ask good questions about what you’re feeling:
- Why am I experiencing this?
- What is it about that employee that gives me a pounding headache?
- What is it about me that leads me to react physically?
- Where do I need patience, forgiveness, and grace?
- When do I need to slow down and rest?
Let your body become a window into your mind, even as you train your mind to notice your body. If you can do that, I’m confident you’ll not only find physical relief, but you’ll discover a better way to engage both at home and in the office.
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