5 ways to start the inner work necessary for self-leadership
Doing inner work is critical for health and well-being, and the ability to achieve one's potential in leadership. Not doing the necessary inner work can lead to anxiety, self-loathing and even depression--not a good mix for leading. But there are some very simple things that we can do to offset these harmful symptoms. Here is a list of my top 5:
1. Quieten the inner critic--okay I said these were simple, I didn't say that they would be easy. Research says that our daily thoughts are mostly negative--about 70%. This negative bias clouds our thinking and makes us feel bad about ourselves. Sometimes before we are even aware, we are thinking a negative thought which can actually affect us physiologically. To quieten our inner critic (the voice that tells us we are screwing up) we can't simply think positive thoughts--no, this only leads to thinking that everything is rosy which is not based in reality. No, what we need to do is simply be aware of our thoughts. By pausing, breathing, acknowledging the thought, and being curious about the thought we can actually calm down the inner critic. A meditation practice (which I will speak about below) helps in the task of pausing, breathing, and acknowledging our thoughts. By taking the time to manage the inner critic we can create space for clearer thinking.
2. Daily self-care--okay, so you knew I was going to say this but, you have to take care of yourself. Not only on a physical level (eating right and getting enough sleep and exercise) but also on so many other levels as well. Doing things that encourage psychological and emotional health, personal agency, and meaning in our lives demonstrate love for ourselves. Do you engage in activities that bring you joy and comfort? Do you ask for help when needed? Do you express the unique parts of yourself? Daily self-care indicates that we matter to ourselves.
3. Daily spiritual practice--perhaps you didn't think of this, but having a daily spiritual practice is key piece to leading yourself. An appreciation of something larger than ourselves doesn't have to be religious (although it could be). Prayer for example is a spiritual practice, but so is meditation, mindfulness, and journaling. These practices tend to quiet the mind and when practiced daily over time, they aid our ability to calm and slow the inner critic. Taking time for quiet reflection, spending time in nature, and having a community that supports our beliefs are other ways in which we can care for ourselves on a spiritual level and build self-leadership.
4. Self-compassion--how do you treat yourself when you have made a mistake? Do you treat yourself as you would a friend who is going through a rough time or feeling down? Or do you beat up on yourself further? Research indicates that Western cultures tend to place great importance on treating others with kindness, but not when it comes to ourselves. This links back to the previous discussion about calming the inner critic. When we pause, breathe, and acknowledge our negative thoughts and emotions, we allow time and space for kinder thoughts to come in. This self-compassion counters the tendency to attack and berate ourselves when we make mistakes. What if we were supportive and encouraging by offering ourselves warmth and acceptance? We would certainly be better at embracing our faults (everyone has them!) and better at being our own best ally.
5. Gratitude--yes, I know you have heard it before, but gratitude (like daily spiritual practice) is a powerful mindset to cultivate and can help us see the bigger picture. Gratitude includes recognizing and acknowledging the good things in our lives right now. By focusing on what we do have and giving thanks for it, we remain in a positive state of mind and this thoroughly changes our experience. Gratitude also involves the understanding of the interdependence of life--multitudes of people and events have brought about the good in our lives--by being grateful we are acknowledging and honouring their contribution.
So that's it, my top 5 ways to start the inner work necessary for self-leadership. It probably hasn't escaped you that these 5 things are closely linked. If you have a daily spiritual practice it will not only help you quieten the inner critic, it will allow for more self-compassion. The more self-compassion you have, the more likely you will practice self-care, and the more you care for yourself, the more likely you are to see that you are actually quite blessed. You probably now realize that this inner work is absolutely necessary for leading others as well. So now that you know how begin, what's your next step?