Pause, breathe and experience your true leadership…
The past few days I have struggled with self-judgement.
I have noticed how I have criticized myself for not doing enough. Comparing. Disproving of nearly every thought and deed. Nit-picking.
Eckhart Tolle in The Power of Now talks about pausing to breathe. For when we do, we notice. We see our true selves. We witness instead of judge. We become fully present. We have a presence, and inner peace.
I haven’t been breathing. Well at least presently. Caught up in mind-chatter.
And letting go isn’t complicated…
In life, in leadership, in public speaking it is to simply breathe. Breathing into the body. But to breathe, you need to pause. A pause scares people because it screams the truth.
I was scared these past few days. Scared of not being good enough. Frightened of what having time to think means in terms of success. I must be busy all the time. Must be doing. Treadmill-living.
Mr Tolle says, breathe fully into your diaphragm. In a speaking context, when you begin to focus on thoughts and feeling that do not serve you, like What do they think of me?, They’re not listening to me!, They’re going to find me out, My mouth is getting dry, and every other unhelpful thought you have, pause and breathe.
This simple and most obvious skill…
We deploy this breathing malarkey every millisecond of the day without conscious thought. Funny, we’ve done it since birth. It has powerful ramifications for your presence.
Use the breathing exercise to train your body to breathe with the belly automatically. Not to sound like a stuck record, but this is mindfulness in action.
The irony is, to be able to use emotion effectively and appropriately to connect with others (and we do need our emotions to connect), you need to do some thinking first.
Often, I find clients saying, How could I have been so stupid?, What was I thinking? I have, with kindness of course, said, You weren’t. That’s the problem. Being mindful (which is simply paying attention) isn’t about getting rid of thinking. We’re human; we’re going to think. It’s about giving space to your thoughts and choosing the right thought to help you drive the right emotional response.
In a public speaking context, it is pausing to breathe, which gives you time to think, and in turn this provides you with an opportunity to choose the right, most appropriate emotion to bring to bear which will have an impact on your audience. The same practice applies to any form of speaking: in meetings, one-to-ones, and in the kitchen at home.
Ever lost your keys? And the more you ruminate about where they are the less likely you are to find them.
For me, this attitude of pausing, which is letting go, was a cardinal sin because it suggested passivity. Yet, more often than not, it has been the best course of action. I know when I have pushed too hard at a problem or a situation, I have made things worse.
It has closed down my mind and prevented me from thinking creatively, and instead, I have driven myself round in ever-decreasing and exhausting circles.
Recently, I spoke to a room filled with successful business folk.
I was bricking it. I think I was just having one of those days. Nothing was going the way I wanted it to. I broke down on the A3 and had to get the AA out to tow me to the venue. They fixed the car, but I was late. I realised I had left half the workbooks for the audience at home. Winner!
I thought it may be a good idea to just sit in the car a moment. Hell, I was late anyway, another five minutes wasn’t going to hurt. The pause I had before bolting into the venue and frantically hurtling through my talk was the best thing I did. It reminded me about the power of a pause.
I was able to change the direction of my thinking. My pause wasn’t passive, it was very much an active part of me and that present moment.
Malcolm is a CEO of multi-national bank based in the UK.
He is always having to speak to groups of employees from fifty to three hundred and fifty at any given time, and at the drop of a hat.
Being at ease and being seen as a genuine safe pair of hands is crucial for re-building trust.
He speaks almost as fast has he can run. He used to be a hundred-metre specialist when he was at college. Never pausing. Believing people have to feel your passion for the subject, and a good way to get passion across is to speak quickly.
In truth, Malcolm isn’t wrong. Injecting pace can create a sense of excitement and passion. But not continuously for fifteen-twenty minutes.
In truth, Malcolm would pace feverishly up and down the stage, his physical body movements mirroring his pace of delivering the words. No room for emotion at all. On the one hand, dare I say, it was all congruent – it meshed neatly together. But it didn’t serve him or his audience.
I asked him to undertake a regular practice of noticing his breathing…
Taking time to pause. His regular practice included letting his body do the talking to help him become more aware of how he used his body to convey trust, freeing himself up to use it in better ways that served his purpose.
A great big part of mastering this presence malarkey is becoming more conscious of self. Noticing bodily sensations and your responses to these physical sensations. In time, this awareness will develop into an unconscious competence of the effect your body can have on your ability to connect with others.
It’s going to sound a little wanky, but through the medium of self-observation, I can alter my energy state from one where things are small and intermit to something much larger. I am present. I have a presence in both these states. I am mindfully watching myself and others.
But it’s important to remove judgement and criticism. When you do, you open up. You experience possibilities you may never have realised.
And I am not scared. I stop nit-picking. I have presence.