This morning, our six year old son came in to our bedroom at 4:30am. He didn’t say anything, he just climbed in between Phil (my husband) and I, and then snuggled down to sleep again. However, it was a catalyst for me to wake up at that early hour and begin thinking about work. By the time he re-awoke at 6:30am (hyper, because he was going on an Easter egg hunt today), I can honestly say that I had worked my inner landscape into something of a frenzy. Mentally, there was a storm raging and my emotions were spinning in an unhelpful partnership with my mind.
In the two hours that I had remained awake, I had gone through hundreds (or maybe even thousands) of thought permutations of my work, trying to solve all sorts of issues that during my working day and more conscious hours I was to some degree half aware of, but also maybe too busy to give quality time to! However, in the dark hours of this morning, negative thoughts flooded in so that by 6:30am, my heart felt like it was in a vice grips and I was mentally exhausted because I had spent the last two hours trying to solve and fix all sorts of things – from this poor quality state of mind! For example, I had been thinking and worrying about how to create a space to deliver honest and necessary feedback to a management team that would allow them to really hear the key themes and messages needed for positive change, from their team, but without shooting the messenger (i.e. me); I worried about finances and about what to do if work that I have in the pipeline doesn’t actually happen; I thought and worried about what the ideal structure would be for a pioneering Programme that I want to launch, so that it would be transformative but accessible to people at the same time, and I also worried about having the courage to keep stepping forward with the work that I truly believe in and want to do. I’m exhausted even reading back over that!
Anyway, I know I am not alone here, as from my work with clients on high performance, I know that it is a discipline and constant practice to sustain mental performance and eliminate the distractions and negative internal chatter. And particularly in the middle of the night! However, I also know that it can be changed and controlled but that it is up to us, as leaders of ourselves, to do so. So, what did I do? I’ll share it with you with the intention (as always) that it may be helpful now or at some point into the future.
Well, I knew that I didn’t want to keep feeling and thinking the way I did, because it was already impacting negatively on my day and my behaviour. I was also acutely aware of the commitment I have, to leading my Self and being authentic with what I say and what I stand for. And I knew that I had a choice to change my inner state from one of a raging storm of irrational thoughts to a more calm, peaceful flow. So, I chose the inner path of leadership. I chose to lead my Self out of this state.
Step forward – Your Life Is Waiting
I knew that an essential first step that I had to take was to try to create a space for something different, something new, to come in. Internal stillness and quietness is essential but that can be really challenging when your mind and emotions are so frantic. Telling yourself to think positively or to be grateful for all that you have is not an instant solution. I know from experience that change comes in moments, and builds moment by moment but in the first instance you have to step back onto the self leadership path of your life because the best of you is waiting to emerge again.
“Attending my own lectures”
Sometimes I try to create this inner calm and stillness moment by moment, through doing meditation or practising mindfulness and sometimes I do it by getting on my yoga mat and doing physical exercise. Choosing the inner path of leadership, to create this space of quiet and stillness, so that you can lead your Self more effectively, is definitely not easy and requires practice and ongoing commitment – which is why it is often the road less travelled. Sometimes, rather than step onto the inner path, I try to distract myself instead from the feelings and thoughts by jumping into work or getting on a call with someone, expecting them to lift me out of my negative inner state, or sometimes I might even keep the negative feeling going by giving out about anything and everything to anyone who will listen. Sometimes, I’ll even react to something going on and project my frustration on to the other person or situation. Shock, horror! How awful to admit that – but I am human too. However, I am trying to practice walking the inner path of leadership, in as many moments as I can throughout the day, each and every day, so I knew with all my awareness that this was a golden opportunity “to attend my own lectures”.
Change happens moment by moment – with conscious awareness, attention and intention
So, instead of trying to force myself to think positively or change immediately, I chose – with conscious awareness that I was in a negative and therefore unproductive state – to get out in to nature and let it change me from the outside in. I decided to go for a walk by the river. As I started my walk, I intentionally opened my heart and also asked nature to open it for me. With each step, I consciously chose to focus my attention to what was going on all around me, in that moment. So, I listened to the birds singing, I noticed the vibrant green of the trees, the weeping willows all along the path of the river, which are one of my favourite trees, and the bursts of colour from the daffodils everywhere on my path. I felt the noise in my head subside as I listened instead to the river beside me, my constant companion and reminder of how life can and does flow. Then I came to a part in the river which had stone steps from one side to the other, through the river, and I stepped out onto them and stood resting for a few minutes on the middle step, watching the river gush by me and noticing how beautiful everything looked. And moment by moment, as my heart opened up, my mind did too and stillness and space entered. Ahhhhhhhh….big deep breaths and sighs of release. I felt completely different. Nature had moved me and I felt so grateful for its power.
I walked on and actually laughed out loud when very soon after, I came to the parting of two paths in the woods. One path was wider than the other and on this one, the road ahead was more obvious. It was lined with tarmacadam and looked as if the way was clearer. The other road was like a dirt path through the trees, that you might barely notice and therefore miss. But as I looked more closely at it, it seemed to draw me in and I began to look at it differently. It looked like there had been a light dusting of pink snow along the edges of its path, created by the cherry blossoms which had fallen. Its simple beauty was stunning. It seemed as if nature had created a living, breathing example of Robert Frost’s poem “The road less travelled” for me, right there in the woods. I stood before the two paths and heard the following lines from that poem in my now calm mind
“Two roads diverged in a wood and I, I took the one less travelled by and that has made all the difference”.
So, I stepped on to the path less travelled and with each step forward I thanked nature for truly allowing me to get the lesson in the importance of choosing the road less travelled, the inner path of leadership, because it had and indeed always has the power to change our moments and our days.
Happy Easter everyone.
Get out in nature this weekend and Be the Best You Can Be
Bí chomh iontach is atá ar do chumas