Sometimes the most important thing in a whole day is the rest we take between two deep breaths.Etty Hillesum
A tenet fundamental to our company is that the health and success of an organization starts at the top, with the executive team. Over the years, we have worked with many high achieving leaders who have impeccable work ethic and determination. They often pride themselves on being able to work harder and longer than other people and can sometimes value their worth by how much they can accomplish. However, although proactivity and endurance are essential to leadership success, too much of it can put you into overwhelm mode which isn’t beneficial to you or those you lead.
With the unrelenting demands of modern companies, so many executives are tired, stressed and approaching burnout, which we’ve seen trickles down to the rest of the company. When you go nonstop you don’t give yourself time to rest and recharge, which is essential for optimal brain function. According to Joseph Bienvenu, a psychiatrist and director of the Anxiety Disorders Clinic at Johns Hopkins Hospital, busyness has become a widespread health issue:
“Emotional distress due to overbusyness manifests as difficulty focusing and concentrating, impatience and irritability, trouble getting adequate sleep, and mental and physical fatigue.”
As a leader, it’s easy to think that 15 hour work days are the key to success. However, if you are able to dedicate more time to take care of yourself and chill out, you’ll be more centered and better equipped to lead and coach your people effectively.
The Importance of Relaxation
Unfortunately relaxation and rest get a bad rap in our culture of busyness. Many of us think that by allowing ourselves time to relax and rest we are wasting time, or even being lazy. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Neuroscientists used to believe that the brain was essentially inactive when we were doing nothing. However, recent research has revealed that idleness actually supercharges our brains. According to researcher Andrew Smart, idleness means “a healthier, happier, more creative brain.”
Also, when we know how to relax, we become safer, more approachable people. The people we lead feel that they can talk to us. We are more predictable and more stable. Conversely, if we are tense and tight, our body contracts, our mind contracts, and we are less flexible in general.
Exercise: Body Scan
The first step toward relaxation is awareness of constrictions in the body, and a great way to bring awareness to the body is through a body scan practice. Try the 3-minute introductory practice below and simply notice sensations in the body.
During the Body scan, did you notice that you were uptight and constricted in areas? In the next section, you’ll learn another great practice to incorporate into your coaching preparation.
Exercise: Progressive Muscle Relaxation
Progressive muscle relaxation is a practice that relaxes your mind and body by tensing and relaxing muscle groups throughout your body. You will tense each muscle group, without excessive straining, and then suddenly release the tension and observe how it feels to be relaxed. Throughout this exercise, you may visualize the muscles tensing and a wave of relaxation flowing over them as you release that tension. It is also important that you keep breathing throughout this practice. Let’s get started!
- Establish a comfortable posture. You can do this practice seated or standing, but for our initial purposes let’s start in a seated posture.
- Be aware that you are sitting in a chair. Be aware of the parts of your body that are being supported. You might notice sensations in your hands. You can also be aware that your feet are touching the ground.
- Lift up your heels and tighten the muscles in your calves. Notice what that tension feels like. Hold for a few seconds and release. Notice the difference.
- Now, straighten your legs out in front of you lifting your feet off of the ground. Tighten the muscles in your thighs. Notice what that tension feels like. Hold for a few seconds and let it go on an exhale. Notice the difference.
- To the best of your ability, tighten the muscles in your abdomen. Notice what that tension feels like. Hold for a few seconds and let it go on a sigh. Notice the difference.
- Press your palms together in front of you so you’re tightening the muscles in your chest. Notice what that tension feels like. Hold for a few seconds and let it go on a sigh. Notice the difference.
- Take a few deep cycles of breath here, inhaling low into the abdomen and exhaling slowly.
- Lift your shoulders up like you’re trying to touch your ears. Notice the tension and with a sigh, let it go.
- Flex your arm to the degree you can. Notice the tension and with a sigh, let it go.
- Clench your fists and hold. Notice the tension in your hands and forearms, and with a sigh, let it go.
- Scrunch up all the muscles of your face. Notice the tension and with a sigh, let it go.
This simple sequence of tensing and relaxing is the basis of a progressive muscle relaxation practice. This technique is a wonderful way to relax your body and mind before a coaching session.