7 Simple Mindful Tactics to Reduce Stress for Leaders

For over 15 years, I’ve been leading various companies, from the fast-paced world of the agencies to the ever-demanding tech startup scene. And from that experience, one thing, among many others, became clear: being the big Kahuna creates a lot of stress. More than words can describe.

In recent years, I have found some very helpful techniques and practices around the concept of mindfulness that have sustained me in the most trying times. These habits have made all the difference, and I’d like to share them with you.

  1. State of Mind: What Matters Most

This is the easiest concept to grasp, but it’s also the hardest to execute. It’s the simple reminder that your state of mind and how you feel is more important than how much you get done. One more task, 200 more emails or one more meeting pales in comparison to having a positive, energy-filled presence that continually allows you to think clearly, make decisions thoughtfully and communicate with your team in a way that inspires and builds trusting relationship.

The rest of your task list can wait. Basically, this is the “why” behind some of the next six techniques.

Related Article: Open Letter on Mindful Leadership

  1. Plan Around Energy: Building a Schedule to Use High-Energy Time

There are certain tasks that need you at your best: planning and strategy sessions, important meetings and creative functions like writing. It’s best to do these when your energy is highest and your mind is sharp.

For me that’s early morning, so I block out those times for nothing but such tasks. Do NOT reply to emails; review a contract or other tasks that need your full attention.

  1. Mindful Start to Meetings: 2 Minutes of Mindful Silence

This is one of my favorites. For any meeting of three or more people, start the meeting with two minutes of mindful silence. You don’t need to get foofy about it and call it meditation or anything else. Just put your phone timer to two mins and tell everyone to close their eyes and not make a sound.

The results are INCREDIBLE. Nearly everyone opens their eyes when the alarm goes off with a smile and a nice subtle warmth. It also provides that much needed gap to gather thoughts, as we tend to rush from one meeting to the next.

  1. Energize for Round 2: Nap for 20 Minutes Mid-Day

Yes, I know, it sounds crazy. Unfeasible. I can see you saying “I don’t have 20 minutes in my day.”

I too have said (and still struggle) that too. But it’s NOT TRUE.

You have as many minutes in the day you need. For heavens sake, you are the boss. Moreover, in that siesta time of the day (usually around 2-3pm), our body and minds crave a restful break.

And let me assure you, once you take it, your ability to be more productive, more thoughtful and simply happier being will unfold naturally. Even when you travel, you can do this. On the plane, in the cab ride—even at an event, just find a quiet corner.

To capitalize on the #1’s State of Mind, it’s critical to do this, whether you like it or not.

  1.  Tap Into the Subconscious:  Read on Bigger Life Topics

Either right before bed or first thing in the morning (both is best), read a book that focuses on anything but work. Your brain needs the mental release. And if possible, read on bigger life topics.

Spiritual books, self-help actualization, world-changing areas or, I’ve found, even good history books, are perfect way to let your subconscious plant the seeds of the important thoughts to continue in the background of your thinking.

It is also very helpful because it pulls you out of the little “I” in self-absorbed drama or worries and reminds you just how insignificant these daily items are.

  1.  Take Breaks: Take 15-Minute Walks Are Good

Much like a nap, you need breaks. If for nothing else, to allow you to settle your mind on a topic that’s bothering you and to move forward with minimal carry over.  For example, many times meetings with colleagues can turn into energy-draining conversations that cause bad feelings to crop up. When this happens, I highly suggest going for a walk, even if that means telling your next meeting you’ll be 15 mins late.

By taking the walk, you’ll allow your mind to sort through the negative thoughts and get some distance from the immediacy of emotion. It gives you a chance to let the high-stress chemicals pulsing through your body settle down. And most importantly, you won’t let that carry over and effect the next meeting or task.

Related Article: Get Up and Get Out: Walking Meetings Are Your New Creativity Booster

  1. Near Zero Consequence: Ain’t That Important—Period.

The concept of Big “I”, Little “i,” or the Ego, is common refrain in the mindful practitioners world, and it’s a pretty simple idea. Basically, most of our time and mental energy is focused in the self-created (ego) drama of little “i.”

Meaning, we are so unequivocally wrapped up in our world of building and growing our companies, we simply forget that what happens on a daily basis in this process is of minor to near zero consequence. This manifests in two ways.

It’s of near zero consequence to the outcome of the company—all of it. A key employee leaves, you’ll find another. Platform bug, it will get fixed. Scathing feedback from peer, employee or Board—learn from it and move on. Your company will survive, so don’t over-react to small waves.

It’s of near zero consequence overall. Your company is not you. Just the most current focus and the role you decided to play as its leader. Its success or failure is not a reflection on you. So, be sure to maintain a life otherwise your perspective.

The thoughts and practices here in go much deeper, and it takes courage and strength to even attempt breaking your current routine. So I commend you for even caring enough to read this. After all, it’s your own peace of mind that’s at stake here—and what matters more than that?

3 Mindful Magic Tricks …You’ll Enjoy

3 Mindful Magic Tricks for Every Day Life

Mindfulness is a simple idea that has been taught for over 2,000 years by nearly all religions as the key to salvation, the soul and, in modern society, greater purpose. This is a non-secular, clear-cut practice of separating one’s thoughts and emotions from one’s self. That’s it.

For many today, that might translate roughly into not getting caught up in the drama. For others it means finding deeper inner peace and greater purpose in life. And for leaders it means finding the mental space to be a great leader. Mindfulness is the path to finding yourself and gaining control over what matters most – your mind. My personal translation of this, after 15 years of building three companies, is “less doing, more being.”

And that starts by just letting go of the past (see above), as well as unraveling the anxiety around the future. And then presto, the stress is gone – replaced by the warm, compassionate, high energy, life-loving Aaron! It’s not magic, but it’s damn close!

3 Mindful Magic Tricks

“Find your voice, then help others find theirs.” It’s a motto deeply ingrained in my psyche. And so, I’m sharing here my three favorite Mindful Magic Tricks, for those minds open to the possibility of a better way…

DISCLAIMER: I am far, far from a perfect mindfulness practitioner, so please don’t confuse what works for me as the emblem of the ideal practice (at least not yet 😉 ).

Magic Trick #1: The Breath

“Just breathe,” the Zen Buddhist monk said to me atop the mountains of a famous Zendo in Tassaraja. My mind (not words) replied, “I am. I am!” as I sat motionless, in classic cross legged/straight backed meditation style. And yet, I was not following the instructions. So simple, yet so hard.

To sit still and just breathe, focusing solely on that deep in-breath and out. The hard part is focusing on NOTHING ELSE. For all those new to the concept of meditation, that is all it is. Not some freaky-deaky Jedi Master technique for levitation.

The magic part of this trick is that it’s often just ONE breath that makes all the difference in a given moment. What I like to call the Moment of Truth.

For example, say you are having a difficult conversation with a co-worker or employee on your team, and you feel your chest tighten and your mind narrow – the exchange is emotional and the energy is high. It’s your turn to respond, so what do you do? You look right at that person, close your eyes, take one big deep breath in, open your eyes, and let that deep breath out. In that moment, you’ve created space between thought and reaction, and now you have a chance… a real chance to provide a calm, compassionate and purposeful response versus an emotional, ego-driven reaction. Just that breath is what got you there.

Personally, my favorite time to use it is when giving a speech, sometimes in front of thousands of people. It’s perfect for that time when you’ve lost your train of thought, or when someone asks a difficult question.

One Breath.

Magic Trick #2: Right Here. Right Now.

The Power of Now, made famous by Eckhart Tolle, is key to our mind ownership. It’s about simply tapping into what’s happening here and now, and focusing on nothing else. Translation: letting go of thoughts of the past. That last email you got telling you what a terrible person you are. Or that meeting earlier this morning with the team that just didn’t go as planned. Let it go… and move your mind to something you are doing right now. I am driving. So drive. I am walking. Just walk. I am meeting with Susan. So just meet with Susan. Nothing else.

This also means letting go of anxiety about the future. We all have endless lists of things to do and goals to accomplish. Don’t worry, that won’t go away just because you stop thinking about it. It will always be there. What won’t be there is your presence. Your calm. Your greater sense of purpose and powerful positive nature. You lose that if you allow the future to compromise what is happening here and now.

Just ask yourself, “What am I doing right now?” and allow your mind to say, “Oh yeah, I’m _____” and then just focus on that. You’ll never get so much enjoyment out of washing the dishes. Trust me!

Magic Trick #3: Be the Observer

As you’ve probably noticed, all of these areas are inter-related. And this trick is without a doubt part of the above tricks in 1 & 2. “Be the Observer” means allowing yourself to simply observe the thoughts or emotions you have. For example, your loved one might say something that frustrates you – that one thing they always say or do that bothers the crap out of you! Next time this happens, stop and say, “Hmm, that’s interesting…after all these years, him/her saying that causes me anger. I can feel it.” That alone will give you a much greater perspective around this simple emotion, versus the emotion being who you are, and of course causing that knee jerk reaction that gets us no closer to a solution.

After that simple observance, you may want to say, “Hmm, I wonder where that reaction comes from? Is it something tied back to my childhood, or a feeling of inadequacy that I have yet to address?” and then let your mind dwell on it for a second longer…before you let it go. Just like in trick #1, let it go like the clouds floating by in the mind’s sky. Look at it, see it pass by and smile, knowing you are one step closer to gaining control of that crazy, crazy thing we call the mind.

A Conclusion

Why? Why did you write this, Aaron? You’re a well-known figure in the industry – respected by many, revered by a few and generally known for your entrepreneurial conquests. Why such a soft and personal share?

Answer: Because all my conquests are of little consequence. All that really matters is my “state” of mind, better known as becoming mindful. And I hope that writing about and sharing my experience can shed light on the topic for others.

3 Steps to Building a Mindful Company Culture

Talent retention. That’s the word on everyone’s mind when it comes to Executives, HR and company culture conversations.   And it’s a seismic problem.

  • Loyalty is at an all time low.
  • Mobility, all time high.
  • Millennial mindset makes it exponentially harder.

And booze fests deemed “team building” don’t work. Even skills training are not effective long-term. So how do we work towards making our staff, team and compatriots feel happy, fulfilled and downright at peace with the work they are doing right now?

In short, it’s an inside job.

Step 1: Reduce Stress by Calming the Mind
We must remember it’s not within our reach to make others happy. Only individuals can do that for themselves. What we can do is lead the horse to water and teach tools to quiet the mind, nourish the spirit and develop a path to a routine that will reduce stress.

Begin by thinking about one person. How you can help them or even how you, as that person, can help yourself.

Meditation practice, mind-body work like yoga, and simple routines or rituals are examples of where to start. First, we need to help folks understand how to be proactive in building a regular practice of no distractions. Cultivate clear minded thinking time.  For me it’s what I call bookending the day. Start with clear, no distraction time in the morning and end the day the same way. Being outside helps. Reading deeper non-related books even better and meditation, for those that are ready, the best.

This also means learning non-reactive habits, like turning off ALL notifications from Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat and even text messaging during most of the day.

We get anxious and non-productive when we are constantly reacting to all this inane stimuli. It frays our mind and nerves, and we become disengaged with our work, and with our peers. It makes sense to set some time aside to enjoy that communication, in a mindful and focused way, but not at all moments of the day. A peaceful, purposeful mindset will do wonders for all, but especially our digitally native millennials.

Step 2: Avoid Burnout Through Acceptance Perspective
Provide perspective on how truly great it is to work in the industry. For my peers in Digital marketing, it’s easy. This is an ever-changing world that is dynamic and fresh with boundless opportunities for those willing to unlock the secrets of success. But finding time to reflect on how much positivity there is in the work we do (compared to so many others), helps us keep some real perspective and reduce the self-created, un-needed drama in our heads.

Share perspectives, and support conversations, on the seemingly intangible – like how nice it is to work with great and smart people. Enjoy interactions with like-minded peers. Understand and discuss your work path and long-term goals. Think about the career journey, what the path might look like while allowing yourself to relish where you currently are. These small acts of reflection and gratefulness can do wonders to enliven the day and re-connect those in your organization to one another.

In the mindfulness world, it’s referred to simply as “acceptance.” To build a practice one person at a time, and to have that as part of a daily routine, truly is life changing.

If you think a mindfulness refresher would be helpful as you begin to share these important perspectives, try taking a Mindfulness Basics course. You’ll surely be inspired and more well equipped to bring some of these tips to life in your company.

 Step 3: Make Training the Catalyst to Life Practice
Nearly all training initiatives in every topical area, including mindfulness, create moments of inspiration but then two days later, fall flat into oblivion. The goal is to create enduring motivation. To find a training program that starts with inspiration, and has the day-to-day tools in place to capture that momentum and turn it into a life practice. Daily audio podcasts, weekly video workshops, like-minded support groups and so on. If you want real results, this is where it’s at. Not one more training!

Shameless plug would be to Invite your staff to visit The Mindful Institute.  But, that wouldn’t be too mindful of me,… so forget I said anything J.

In summary, begin to think about one person. How you can help them or even how you, as that person, can help yourself. Then translate that into a meaningful dialogue about how the company can facilitate such. And finally, act with the long-term in mind and do it right v. getting a nice pat on back for bringing in that amazing speaker who gave a two hour lecture. The results to your organization will fade as quickly as those feelings of hubris on that given training day.

Good luck and may you go forth mindfully in this cauldron of chaos we call… life.

Reconciling the Heights of Aspirations with Depths of One’s Soul

On the eve of our public unveiling of the Mindful Order of Being, I’ve found one thing above all else, to be most profound. Leadership.

It is the entrepreneurs, the internal company champions, the heads of large companies and even the heads of state that have a simple question to ask themselves. “How do you balance lofty business aspirations and goals with the daily need to stay true to the deep spiritual soul?”

 In other words, how can you stay mindful while achieving great things in business?

  • How do you stay present, when every moment of your day is consumed with meetings, decisions and doing something?
  • How do you treat others with profound levels of respect and compassion while needing to drive results to grow the company?
  • How do you stay in touch with your greater purpose in life while achieving societal gains of success and fortune?

As one such entrepreneur and leader, I know that the answers are not easy to come by. And putting them into practice is exponentially more difficult. Yet, we must.

We must be mindful, putting our state of mind (consciousness) ahead of action. How we ARE is primary. What we DO is secondary. To be a true leader, we lead by example, right? We’re taught that early on. We’ve been taught that “leaders attract great talent,” and that level of attraction is what really becomes the powerful driving force behind greatness. It’s the essence of what I call Mindful Leadership.

To manage yourself first, then manage people, and the company.

So many of us get swept away in the morass of meetings, new initiatives, growth and the all-consuming task of “running the company” – and to a certain degree, it’s unavoidable. But it’s critical to have some roots to keep grounding yourself in, to come back to when you need to slow your thoughts and reassess. A foundation that serves you well and provides the necessary clarity of mind to make great decisions, and to lead with courage and a deep connection or inspiration to and with others.

If any of this resonates for you, then I will continue with three tips that have helped me get better at this (as I am still far from great), that may help awaken the soul so required in modern day leadership. If not, then I’ll leave you with this thought: “Who are you and how will your legacy be defined, if not by the character of your soul?”

Tip 1: Use your Subconscious
There are times in the day, right before sleep and in the first hours of the day, that your mind can plant deep seeds of right-path energy that will sustain you in any given day. Reading for even 10 – 15 minutes something that pulls you out of the everyday and into the bigger, broader picture of life is key. Books like Stillness Speaks, or Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind can get your mind into the flow of remembering what matters most.

And let me remind you what will kill the subconscious: watching TV, reading the newspaper (without other readings like the above), or simply flipping through Facebook or email to start or end your day. This is bound to kill any deep positive soulful energy.

Tip 2: Have a Life Practice
If you’re reading this article, that alone means you have reached a stage of understanding that just going through life reacting to what comes your way is not enough. So it’s time to create a sustainable life practice or improve the consistency of your existing one – not just a quick fix. Daily yoga would be one example, meditation yet another. Silent walks and even the reading mentioned above would fall into that category.

Even in the workplace, you can start doing this. Small things, like taking two minutes of mindful silence before you start any meeting of three or more people. It’s incredible what that two minutes can do for everyone in the room, including yourself.

But this has to be a non-negotiable element of your day. It’s the most important meeting on your calendar. It’s the immovable element that has to be done. It simply cannot be wiped away with the justification of “I don’t have enough time today,” since that will ALWAYS be the case. So just make time, and do not waver. You’re strong, right? You’re a leader, correct? So act like one and stay committed – at all costs.

Your soul’s salvation is at stake.

 Tip 3: Reflection on What Matters Most
Recently a friend reminded me of a great practice that was instilled in me at an early age: reflecting on the positivity of life, every day. Simply take five minutes to think about the day behind you, and give yourself a moment to find one or two elements you really liked about your actions in the day and also a moment or two you’d like to improve on so they don’t get lost in the mix. This will allow you to be both grateful for all that you have and are able to do, and also give some closure for things that didn’t go so well. And you can commit to improving them.

My mother used to hold us back from eating dinner until we were able to recite the following: a) what we liked about our day, b) what we liked about someone at the table, and c) what we liked about ourselves. Not bad for a working mom with three kids in the late 80s/early 90s!

Final Word
There is no one answer nor singular middle path for all of us. We must find it in our own time, on our own terms and for our own reasons. To that degree, we must stay compassionate for others who are trying to find their path and get to that place. Then if/when we find ours, we can use that power and knowledge to pass it on to others.

Find some mindfulness in your day. I assure you, it will help in all aspects of your aspirations in life and business.