My word for 2021 is “pause.”
I don’t usually choose a word for the year, but this year I felt called to do so. Because it has been such an important year for our company and for me personally, I thought that choosing a word to focus on would help me in times when I will inevitably feel overwhelmed and as if it were above my head.
The word “pause” came to me during my three weeks off. Taking the time to disconnect from my work gave me a much needed break and I realized that taking a break was something I needed to do a lot more: take a break to enjoy lunch. Pause to look out the window on a beautiful day. Pause to reflect. Stopping to think before speaking. Pause to be clear about what’s most important before moving on. Stopping to think about how I want it to appear in every interaction. Stopping to think about how I want to lead our team during this transformation. Taking a break, I think, is key to leadership. You cannot drive on autopilot.
The fact is, however, that taking a break is much easier when you have three weeks off. I knew that when I got back to work, it would be a struggle not only to find time to take a break, but to give me permission to do so. Going from meeting to meeting, even with cushioning time, leaves little time for stillness. Knowing that you only have a short amount of time with those you address before the next meeting can make you talk more than you listen to and make decisions without much thought. On a busy work day when you have priorities that appeal to you, it can seem counterintuitive to stop. I knew that if I really wanted “pause” to be the word I embodied this year, I needed a way to hold myself accountable for it. That is why I have chosen meditation as my personal goal for 2021.
That’s right: this year, my personal goal is to meditate every day.
Even just writing this scares me! It scares me more than any other personal challenge I’ve taken on in the past, including last year’s challenge, which was to eliminate alcohol for 365 days. With my alcohol challenge, I just had to cut something. To that end, I need to add something. I need to create a space for meditation. I have to challenge the way I work and work during the day. I have to rethink the limiting beliefs that tell me I have to work hard. And it gets even harder: the type of meditation style I have chosen is called Transcendental Meditation, which requires two meditations a day for twenty-three minutes each. That’s forty-six minutes a day.
Forty-six minutes ?! Do you think I have forty-six more minutes around? Does anyone do it ?!
Transcendental Meditation (TM for short) is a style used by many successful people you probably recognize, such as Oprah and Jerry Seinfeld. I found out thanks to a member of one of my coaching groups who always comes to our meetings so present, so calm and so intentional. When he told our group that he practiced TM, he intrigued me. What struck me most was when he described how seemingly simple and effortless the MT is: the goal is not to concentrate, clear your mind, or control your thoughts. This spoke to me because every time I tried meditation in the past, I had trouble keeping up because it seemed like I could never silence my thoughts. I thought this meant that meditation was not for me, but it seemed like TM could teach me the opposite.
MT professionals recommend that you find an instructor to guide you as you begin. I signed up for the TM Center in Houston in December, but my training was delayed a bit due to COVID. (I’ll admit I was happy at first – an excuse not to take a break … yet!) I just finished my training (which was wonderful) and I’m meditating for thirteen days every day. Let me tell you, though, that it’s hard. I’m already failing.
What has surprised me is that meditation itself is not difficult. It’s fantastic. I understand why people do that. At TM, your instructor gives you a mantra that you keep to yourself and keep sacred forever. You repeat it internally over and over again during your meditation. If you have other thoughts, that’s fine. You are told to “effortlessly favor the mantra.” If you lose the mantra a bit, that’s fine; just come back when you can. The first rule of MT is that there really are no rules. Meditation should be simple and effortless and should work for you. If you feel difficult or complicated, you are not doing well.
When I truly accept this philosophy, I come to a place of total calm in my meditations. It’s the most amazing feeling. I don’t know how to describe it … It’s that feeling of happiness and warmth that radiates inside. And after my meditation, when I get out of it, I feel clearer. I feel more patient. I feel permission to go slower and take the break I know I need, but I usually have trouble allowing myself to do so. I usually do my best work, my best thinking, and my best leadership after a meditation. I feel more confident leading our team through our transformation after meditating.
But while the benefits are obvious, and the practice itself is easy, it’s not easy. I still find myself scheduled to go back and forth during the day. Having lost a few meditations, I am learning to set boundaries that I stick to. I’m learning to block pause time on my protected calendar; otherwise, I know that I will not be able to reach my goal of meditation. And the more I learn this, the more I learn to pause in small ways throughout the day. To take time to enjoy lunch. To hear more than I speak. Focus on the highest priorities and stay focused.
Taking a break, I think, could help us all.
That same weekend, I was chatting with a group of friends about the challenges of working from home. You may feel that you are always active and that the difference between work and home no longer exists. We lost time commuting, which could have been the time when we thought best or when we disconnected and disconnected after work. We’ve talked about how you can sometimes feel like you’re drowning in your work. That there is so much work, and it doesn’t matter where you look or where you go, it follows you because your office is your home. It can be too easy to work during lunch or even dinner. A friend shared that during the day she finds these little pockets of time to go to a different room, close her eyes and take a break. When he feels that he is above his head, he intentionally makes time to stop. Before the big meetings, he enters this room to collect his thoughts. And especially at the end of the workday, he spends that time quietly so he can disconnect from his day. The break has become his new journey. It is these small moments that make her a better leader, both at work and at home.
Call it meditation, call it pause, call it pause, call it what you will: the best leaders I know incorporate stillness into their routines. That we all give ourselves permission to move a little slower and let ourselves stop when it seems like stopping is the last thing we need to do. The more we pause, the better we lead. Personally, this is my year to lead, and I know I can’t do without each other.
A hug across the screen, and here’s more to meditate on this week than last,
This post was originally shared on KristenHadeed.com. You can find the original post here.
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