At 8 a.m. on Monday morning, Trevor, the CEO of an electronics company, learned of a product quality issue a customer brought to his attention. His calm was shaken, one step off his optimal “calm” zone. At 8:30, his COO’s flight was grounded in Boston due a storm, one more step. By midday, he started to feel the absence of four key employees who were out sick with the flu, another step away from calm. By the time one of his delivery trucks was hit by a bus he had already stepped all the way to agitated, and it was only Monday. Where will he be by Friday?
Like Trevor, most leaders lose part of their day (and their focus and productivity) to “agitated and uncool,” without realizing it is eating away at their week. Stressors are cumulative steps up from your calm, optimal zone.
Imagine if Trevor faced his challenges and each time was able to bring himself back down to his healthy, high-functioning baseline so that the individual challenges were only bumps in the road instead of contributors to an ever-accumulating stress level?
If it were you, wouldn’t you be more effective with each challenge? Would you finish your day earlier, go home, and spend more quality time with the people you love?
As busy professionals, we can maximize our calm – which in turn amplifies our focus and productivity. I train executives how to do this through a series of exercises that can help improve everything from focus at work to concentration on their golf game. Executives who have mastered the techniques know how to return to a place of calm strength, how to regain their cool, faster so they make better decisions and enjoy work more.
While you might need professional help to master these techniques, you can find significant improvements in your capacity to “return to calm” just by practicing one simple exercise: the 4-Square Breath, which you begin with small steps that take a small amount of time.
- First, turn off all electronic notices like email, texts, phone and close your office door.
- Take a few breaths concentrating on your long slow exhalations.
- Close your eyes and as you exhale feel your shoulders drop. With the next exhalation imagine your elbows drop to the seat of your chair.
- Now inhale for a count of 4, hold it for 4, exhale for 4 and be still for 4. Repeat a minimum of 4 times.
Prevention is always superior to cure. Schedule this two-minute practice three times each day until it becomes automatic anytime, anywhere. Notice the effect it has on you: it may lower your heart rate, help you feel calmer and more aware or focused, help you be more mindful to the people around you.
Monday might have been less manic for Trevor, had he paused after each frustration to practice his 4-Square Breath. Bringing yourself down to baseline ensures you never reach extreme peaks of craziness that really inhibit productivity, relationships, and healthy living. The more often you break the momentum, the less often it breaks you.
Debbie Vyskocil is President of Optimal Edge Performance. OEP is a high performance training company that establishes protocols based on how an individual’s brain and body handle challenges. She works with corporations and professionals who can benefit from increased resiliency, focus, mindfulness and handling stress in healthier ways.