Exceptional leaders distinguish themselves because of superior self-leadership. —Daniel Goleman
Effective leaders know the importance of self-leadership – acknowledging their strengths and opportunities and then taking action to move towards their goals and objectives in work and in life. Having self-awareness and then taking action is an important part of self-leadership.
At the beginning of each new year, I practice self-leadership by making a commitment to a specific intention and listing some of the behaviors that will support that intention. One such intention (a few years ago) was to BE PRESENT. There are many challenges to being present in a world where the pace of life is fast, many things are vying for our attention, and our senses are on overload. How does being present help me to be a better person?
Being present is one of the components of mindfulness.
And mindfulness, according to Jon Kabat-Zinn, means “paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.” When I do this, I become more self-aware and more aware of others. Being present is foundational to strengthening emotional intelligence and helps me to be a more effective and connected leader.
So what does this look like in everyday life?
What can I do to be more present and focus more on the journey and less on the destination? Here are four key commitments that are useful for me:
1. Create open spaces on my calendar
Giving myself more breathing room by creating more open spaces on my calendar is critical in helping me to be more present. I like to be busy, to connect with friends and family and to be physically active – these things give me energy. However, rest and reflection are important skills that help me to be more present. They help to fuel creativity, provide perspective and allow time for strategic planning. Opening space on my calendar to give myself breathing room feeds my ability to be present.
2. Pay attention to what is happening in and around me
The open spaces I create support the practice of paying attention. I find myself using all five senses as I pause, observe, listen, and notice what is going on inside me, with others, and in the environment we share. I am more respectful of myself, more tuned in to what my mind, body, and spirit are communicating and I gain the InnerWill to act on what I notice. It also allows me to be more respectful of others, to notice how to best engage with them, and to respond appropriately.
3. Be open and curious without judging
In addition, I choose to have a learner mindset – to be open and curious without judging others. To support this, I listen deeply, ask questions for understanding, and question my own assumptions. These tools help me to step away from being constrained by my own experiences or perspectives as I honor another’s journey.
4. Stay engaged in the moment
In his book, The Power of Now, Eckhart Tolle writes, “The more you are focused on time — past and future — the more you miss the NOW, the most precious thing there is.” One of the biggest challenges to being present for me is staying engaged in the moment. My mind is often focused on revisiting the past (thinking about how I could have done things differently) or thinking about the future (what’s happening next or my to do list). For me, focusing on the here and now brings freedom, joy, and the ability to truly savor an experience.
Matt Killingsworth, a happiness researcher, says if you want to be happier, stay in the moment. His study shows that those who are focused on what they are doing in the moment are happier than those whose minds are wandering away from the moment.
I can help myself stay in the moment by turning off my technology. I can take time to notice where my attention actually is. I can take a few minutes to prepare myself to be present before important interactions by taking a few deep breaths and setting my intention before I walk into the room.
Perhaps the destination really is the journey, and part of the power of the journey is choosing to be present.