Back in 2011 or 2012, during a yoga class or perhaps while meditating, I created a pithy phrase that summed up my instructions for a conscious, fulfilling life at the time. Channeling a consumer packaged goods marketer’s brain I came up with “Talk Less. Listen More. Focus on Your Breathing. Express Gratitude. Repeat”, similar to the words we have all seen countless times on shampoo bottles – Lather, Rinse, Repeat. (I am curious – Did including “repeat” to that phrase actually increase sales? Does anyone shampoo and rinse their hair twice?) At the time, I thought my “instructions” had an authentic feel and I shared them on my Facebook page and a few other social media vehicles. Mulling over the words today, I realize they fall short in several respects with regard to my current thinking, but more on that in a moment. For now, let’s break down the individual elements of these instructions:
Talk Less. Listen More – The more I study effective leadership, the more I hear about the importance of listening. I mean REALLY listening – putting away your smartphones in meetings, acknowledging that you understand someone by repeating their words back to them and focusing not only on a speaker’s words, but also their intonation, emotionality and body language. Countless studies have proven that individuals in organizations are far more willing to go along with and support change and new initiatives if they feel that their voices in such matters have been heard and considered. And, yeah, I have found that listening works very well with your kids too!
Focus on Your Breathing – For years, yogis and meditators of every stripe have preached the power of concentration on one’s breathing as a means of helping to induce and maintain a meditative state. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Navy SEALS use a four-part breathing sequence called “Box Breathing” to calm and center themselves during training and on missions. Tony Robbins even has a “breath coach!” I also find that slowing down and taking one or two deep, conscious breathes during any stressful moment works wonders.
Express Gratitude – I start each morning with a simple gratitude practice upon waking, saying “thank you” out loud 5-10 times. I find this effortless ritual subtly puts me in a great frame of mind to take on the day. By focusing briefly each day on what is working well in our lives; on the small and large results of our efforts and talents that we take for granted, we decrease the weight and magnitude of the areas that are not working as well.
Repeat – The word “repeat” could be replaced by “practice daily.” All effective changes in behavior, be they in the worlds of athletics, creative performance or business derive from PRACTICE. If one does not consistently practice new – and often uncomfortable – behaviors, one is not likely to achieve mastery in those areas. Whether your activity is short irons on the golf course, public speaking, sniping a hockey wrist shot top shelf or completing your first marathon, practice goes hand in hand with changing behavior towards long-term mastery.
Although back in 2012, this phrase adequately summed up my thoughts regarding instructions for a conscious and fulfilling life, my thoughts have evolved as of 2017. So, what was missing? The instructions as first conceived may provide suitable guidance for one choosing to live an inward life, one filled with reflection and awareness. They may have applied well for a contemplative or an individual alone in a cave in the Himalayas, but not so much for an individual in the arena of life. I contend that to lead a truly fulfilling life – not just a conscious life – one must live in the outer world; one must interact with others and make a positive difference. So, my current thinking is to add the qualities of 1) An Action Orientation, and 2) Service to Others.
Action Orientation – In my coaching with successful executives, I often find myself extolling the virtues of grit, perseverance and an action orientation. The difference between those who just talk about lofty, challenging goals and those who actually achieve those goals is an action orientation, a willingness to take daily, consistent small – and sometimes large and uncomfortable actions – to achieve their goals. Other factors come into play in goal achievement, but no lofty goal is achieved without daily, decisive action steps.
Service to Others – Philosophers and spiritual teachers as far back as Lao Tzu around 500 B.C. through Robert Greenleaf in 1970 and and numerous more recent authors including Adam Grant in “Give and Take” have extolled the power and effectiveness of the leader as servant. In any organization, when we place the needs of others before our own, we increase our chances of effecting change and achieving goals. In addition, numerous studies including a 2013 study from Carnegie Mellon have confirmed the long-term health benefits, including reduced blood pressure, of service!
In the coming weeks, I’ll work on adding these two additional concepts to my instructions. In the meantime, if any of you have other areas that you think my instructions are lacking OR if you have a concise way to summarize the concepts of Action Orientation and Service to Others, I would very much like to hear from you. For now, I am amending the instructions to “Talk Less. Listen More. Focus on Your Breathing. Express Gratitude. Take Actions Toward your BHAGs. Serve Others. Repeat.” How might your life positively change if you incorporated your own set of “life instructions” daily?