“What do I really need to thrive and be happy as a leader?” It’s probably a question you should be asking yourself from time to time. However, do you actually do it? There are times when recharging is necessary after a long canoe ride.
It can be challenging to “get reflective” when life is extremely busy and you’re constantly balancing competing priorities. But over time, hour after hour gets gobbled up by other people and eventually, you find yourself resentful or in an emotional rut. While things may appear fine on the surface, you begin to realize that you’re not operating as your best self.
I’ve certainly found myself in that situation at times during my career. I’ve experienced stretches where I’m off course and cranky for a period of days or even weeks. It’s no fun for me (or the people around me).
So, in recent years I’ve taken the time to identify what I need to be at my best. I reflected on events or circumstances where I really felt alive and maximally engaged. Thankfully, there’ve been pockets of time when I’ve been in this mode – and it’s truly magical. Time evaporates and I’m at my most creative, focused and fulfilled. This might be while I’m working on a project or at an inspiring industry conference. The feeling is a blissful sense of flow that noted psychologist and author Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi outlines in his wonderful book, Finding Flow: The Psychology of Engagement with Everyday Life.
While needs vary depending on personality type (and current priorities), here are the five things I absolutely need to be at my best on the job and off. I hope these give you some ideas or at least encourages you to make the effort to develop your own list of activities and factors that feed and inspire you.
- Regular thinking time I’m in the people business and while I love it, there’s part of me that still feels like an introvert at heart. Sometimes I just need quiet time. And that’s OK. The solitude allows me to refill my capacity for conversation. Reading, long bike rides and head-clearing strolls all give me the invaluable opportunity to process and recharge.
- Intellectual stimulation When I’m intellectually stimulated, I am more productive and open to opportunity. To stretch my thinking, I regularly attend conferences and seminars – whether it’s Singularity University in Silicon Valley or YPO events. Professional development shouldn’t stop once you’ve reached executive level. Feeding my head helps me find inventive ways to grow the business, and identify and prepare for what obstacles and opportunities might be heading down the pike.I also try to spend time with people who are creative, outside-the-box thinkers. Connecting with individuals who look for possibilities – not problems – is another wise move.
- A regular physical fitness routine I’m no Olympian, but I feel better after I exercise. Sure, I might dislike getting out of bed early, grumble as I’m running or doing squats, but later in the day, it makes a huge difference in my mood. Why? Because I’ve tuned into my circadian rhythm and figured out the best times of day to workout, be creative and be analytical. Also, because of loved ones experiencing Alzheimer’s, I’ve become aware that cardiovascular exercise is one of the main ways to maintain a healthy brain. In addition to boosting my energy, exercising gives me an empowering sense of efficacy.
- Meditation Over the past year, I’ve used an app on my iPhone to experience self-guided five- or 10-minute meditations. It’s easy and unintimidating. I use these exercises to power down at night before I go to sleep. It helps me mentally wash away all the busyness and clutter from the day and get ready for a good night’s rest. I also use it in the morning. I used to dive headfirst into checking my email first thing in the morning, but now I’ve developed a routine of writing down affirmations and creating my action list for the day. Guess which approach has made me happier and more efficient?
- A strong connection to my purpose Finally, I believe I’m on this planet to be of service to others. While I’m not running a charity, I view Planning Alternatives as a service organization and taking care of our clients is our top priority. The spirit of focusing on others instead of me is an important perspective. Without it I can get fearful and even selfish, not traits I want to live by. Looking outward makes me see possibilities and goodness. This leads to amazing conversations and attracts others with the same mindset. The bottom line: Helping clients solve problems, gain clarity about their finances and accomplish their life goals is what it’s about. Being client-centric and not me-centric gets me back into flow.
Want more tips on being an effective leader? Check out this post on boosting your listening skills.