It’s 8pm, you take another expresso, your heart rate increases, you tense your shoulders and you are ready for a few more hours of work to finish that client proposal… One thing that we often observe in senior executives is a habit of using adrenalin-based energy to drive results. Also when stepping into corporate offices, we often sense a collective adrenalin ‘vibe’ that is present. It’s almost like the office is ‘buzzing’.
“Perhaps you can change that font and color on that slide there”, I hear myself telling one of my team members. There I went again, trying to add some marginal value and get an internal fix of being productive. Looking at the face of my colleague, I just realized that my ‘added value’ wasn’t worth it and I probably reduced his ownership and excitement about the presentation significantly. This is just one example, but all of us have developed certain tendencies and habits in our leadership that actually are not as useful for our career as they were at the moment that we programmed them into our personality.
I am about to step into this freezing alpine lake in the mountains of East-Kyrgyzstan. A group of Russians are watching. I have no other choice then to do a few strokes in this glacier pond. In my head I am thinking: Why did I commit to jumping into this lake! I hate cold water! I don’t want to feel this. I contract my muscles and my jaw tightens. This is going to be horrible! Then I remember: Gaston, it’s just a physical sensation! Don’t make it bigger than it is through your mental stories. I take a deep breath and step into the icy lake. And suddenly the experience was cold and unpleasant but bearable. Once I let go of the mental drama, it wasn’t too bad really…
Last week I had a tough day at work. Meetings didn’t flow. I wasn’t sharp with that coaching client and a submitted proposal wasn’t accepted by a company. On my way back home, my mind started its occasional game of providing arguments why I am maybe not that good of a coach, leader or even person. Then I will catch myself and provide some arguments back why I am a good coach, leader or person. Some are really clever and I try to outsmart my mind with some great arguments. Look at what I achieved here or look at what I contributed there etc. It goes back and forth like a chess game. When I took a step back and observed this process, I realized it’s such a ridiculous and energy-consuming mind game! So I decided to unpack that pattern with some mindful investigation.
“The most important thing in life is to remember the most important thing” Zen saying I recently spoke to a client who has been extremely successful professionally. “Bob” owns equity in over a dozen companies and will retire soon while being in his early 40s. He didn’t reach out to me to get advice on his investment portfolio, but because he was lacking something: peace of mind and enjoyment.
I sit in Zurich airport. It’s 10pm. My plane is delayed, my smartphone’s battery is dead, I finished my book and need to wait another 2 hours for my plane. I watch the people around me and my mind falls back in one of its favorite activities: judging others… If there is one thing that I have observed my mind doing systematically, it’s judging. Either positive or negative, but it’s still judging.
“Relax, drop any tensions, enjoy and don’t get attached to any goal”….It sounds like a life coaching session, but actually it’s my freediving instructor giving me the last cues before I go under water on a single breath….. There I am, floating on an ocean with a wetsuit, 1kg of weight on my belt and a diving mask. I am grabbing onto a little buoy in the water while taking a special set of breath cycles that my freediving instructor taught me that morning. I am about to go down on a single breath of air to deeper than 20 meters under sea level. Welcome to the sport of freediving….
That was the question I asked myself as I ran full-speed to the check-in counter in Bangkok after having broken all speed limits through traffic in my pink taxi for the last hour or so. The lady at the counter gave me a ‘I am sorry-smile’. I was 7 minutes late for my Delhi flight, where I was scheduled to give a Leadership workshop the next morning…. 7 minutes!
No, this is not Photoshopped. This is me and my twin brother last year. So when I recently heard the sentence: Comparison is meaningless, the words sounded almost alien to me. Again, I hear the meditation teacher say: Never compare your own practice and progress with somebody else. Not because it’s ‘bad’ or ‘you shouldn’t’, but simply because it’s meaningless.