If you are a regular reader, you’ll know I only rarely write an article that follows on from the previous week. However, following last Friday’s weekly insight, I received lots of emails. The general sentiment being, ‘Michelle – great article, but how do I tap into my wise owl?”
This week, I will share tips on how you can do this. Strap yourself in and get ready to fly!
Accept your emotions
We are emotional creatures. So the first step is not to deny your emotions and feelings. They are real (as I’ve written about before in The Power of Validation). Once you’ve noticed the shift in your emotional state, you can then work to acknowledge your feelings and accept them as legitimate. It can help to label the emotions you are feeling. Are you sad, angry, hurt, worried, anxious, happy or a mix of emotions?
Write the words down because it helps to get the words on paper and out of your head. Writing is a powerful process, which helps you reflect, process and heal. If you are interested it’s worth reading this article in Psyche, which explains this more deeply. The simple act of regular journaling enables you to work through your thoughts, feelings, reactions and responses.
However, you can only do this if you’ve noticed the shift in your emotional state and being able to do this readily takes time and practice. And that’s where meditation and mindfulness help.
Meditation and Mindfulness
I characterise meditation and mindfulness as two sides of the same coin. Meditation is an act: ‘I am meditating‘, while mindfulness is a state of being: ‘I am being mindful‘.
The two elements work hand in hand. Meditation is a practice. It helps you recognise your emotions and slow down your immediate reactions so you can wisely respond. It is through meditation that you can become more mindful. Mindfulness helps you better manage how you feel, think and act in any given moment.
Be warned; you won’t see progress overnight. It takes time. So much so that there are various levels of progress:
- Level 1 – focuses on being present to what is happening around you and to you by being aware and curious
- Level 2 – focuses on bringing understanding to what is happening by being open and accepting
- Level 3 – focuses on responding to the issue by being kind to yourself and others.
Each level involves being conscious of what is happening, rather than responding reactively, subconsciously and unwisely.
So, when your guard dog is triggered, rather than launching an attack (or retreat) you instead, pause, stop and breathe. You notice your immediate reaction and what you want to say in response to the trigger. You see your emotions and reflect on the underlying reason for the feelings. Then, and only then, do you respond.
Now, you may be thinking, how do I do this in the moment? Once again, it takes time and practice. Each time you do it, you get better at it.
One of the benefits of meditation is it helps you learn how to breathe. Now, of course, breathing is something that comes naturally. We all do it, but when we are stressed, we breathe more rapidly and from the chest.
It is deep belly breathing (often called yoga breathing or diaphragmatic breathing) that helps. When you do this type of breathing, you pull your diaphragm down with each inward breath – helping to bring air into your lungs more effectively. This process also helps to kick start your parasympathetic nervous system, which aids your body’s rest and digest processes. Your sympathetic nervous system is activated during ‘fight or flight’.
If you want further insight into the benefits of controlled breathing, this New York Times article is worth reading.
Some time ago, I was taught a five-minute breath-awareness exercise by a yoga instructor. The idea was to use this activity at various points during the day. For example, on the bus on the way home, before going to an important meeting or when I was feeling stressed. It is simple and easy to remember:
Find a comfortable and quiet place to sit.
Close your eyes.
Become aware of your breathing.
Notice its depth and how your stomach rises and falls.
Try to breathe slowly and deeply. Breathe in through your nose and out through your nose.
As your mind wanders, come back to breathing.
Keep doing this for five minutes.
Open your eyes.
Get back to your day.
Reflect, rather than ruminate
As I’ve written about before, ruminating stops you from moving forward; reflecting helps because it focuses on learning. When you reflect, you think about the situation, focus on uncovering what you have learned, how you were feeling and identify what you would do differently next time. It requires a growth mindset to generate insights as to the cause of the situation and is outcome-focused.
Check your meaning
As part of your reflection, challenge yourself regarding the meaning you are giving what has happened. In the words of Brené Brown, ‘What’s the story you are telling yourself?’ We all tell ourselves stories, and often there’s a gap between a person’s version and reality.
Notice what you are giving attention to and what you are ignoring or avoiding. Next, consider what you can and can’t change about the situation. Lastly, consider the options you have to reframe the meaning you are attaching to the event.
Shift your focus
There are things you can do to shift your emotional state and energy as well. Once again, taking this approach doesn’t mean you ignore how you feel. Instead, it’s about recognising what’s created the ‘bad day‘, reframing what it means, and adapting to the changed circumstances.
As the remarkable Helen Keller once said: “When one door of happiness closes, another opens, but often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one that has been opened for us”.
As you think about how to make the most of your wise owl, it’s also a perfect time to reflect on where you want your development to focus in 2022. If you are thinking about making some wise choices, here are some suggestions:
Your Career Investment (kicks off in early February 2022)
Are you looking to accelerate your career and leadership? Feeling stuck or looking to elevate your approach? This program is your opportunity to invest and take charge of your career and development. The 2022 program is now open. With a limited capacity of 10 places get in quick to secure your spot.
Dare to LeadTM (starts end February 2022)
Do you want to be a courageous leader and build a courageous team culture? Based on the work of Dr Brené Brown, this three-day program is your chance to equip you and your team with the skills they need to excel in today’s world.
Step up and Influence Course (28 April 2022)
This course will help you navigate complex environments and effectively engage, collaborate with and influence colleagues, team members and stakeholders at all hierarchical levels.