I’ve coached hundreds of leaders across the globe — and there’s one practice that makes a huge difference in almost everyone’s performance.
When we think of productivity in business, we often think of people pushing themselves to past their limits — pulling all-nighters at work, eating lunch while responding to emails, zooming from one project or appointment to the next. But in my experience, this myth of productivity serves neither the employee nor the organization in the long term.
As CEO of TLEX Institute which teaches leaders tools for greater self mastery, social connection, and purpose, I’ve coached hundreds of leaders across the globe across a variety of sectors. I have found that leaders who create gaps in their busy schedules to restore and replenish are ultimately more effective and successful in the long run.
There’s one restorative practice in particular that makes a meaningful difference in leaders’ performance: conscious breathing.
Conscious breathing is a powerful mechanism to stay calm and focused throughout the day, while anchoring our mind in the present moment. Our breath is the only part of the autonomic nervous system that we can control. It’s one of the few things we can easily access to shift the way that we’re thinking or feeling and calm and restore ourselves. In fact, research shows conscious breathing has a deep restorative impact on our physiology, and it is one of the simplest ways to reset and can have many other benefits. Even one deep, conscious breath can serve as the mini-meditation that we need to slow down and reduce tension. Pausing to take a few deep breaths can allow us to let go and restore, and enter the next activity or interaction with fresh eyes, energy, and enthusiasm.
Beyond using breath in moments throughout the day, the daily practice of formal breathing and meditation techniques allows us to reset and restore so that tension and stress doesn’t accumulate. Research suggests that the rhythmic breathing practice Sudharshan Kriya, for example, reduces anxiety, depression, and increases optimism on a physiological level. By practicing letting go every day, and using the rhythms of our breath, we can learn to observe and manage our thoughts and emotions. These skills translate when our eyes are open, allowing us to engage with the world and other people with clarity, centeredness and intentionality.
While Sudharshan Kriya is an advanced technique, there many effective beginner breaths like alternate nostril breathing. Explained below, alternate nostril breathing is a simple, effective technique for both calming and focusing your mind, and regulating your emotions.
One client that I worked with for years, Peter Cooper, founded Cooper Investors in 2001 – now a $10 billion wealth-management firm. For Cooper, learning self-care techniques such as meditation and conscious breathing have helped him navigate the pressures of money management by lowering his stress and anxiety to increase his ability to focus on what really matters.
When several analysts left his firm in short succession, for example, Cooper was able to deal with this potentially destabilizing occurrence calmly, confidently, and with a clear intention to turn a potentially negative situation into a positive opportunity.
“Before my daily morning breathing practice of Sudarshan Kriya ” Cooper said, “I would have responded with blame, anger, and negativity. With my state of mind turned to learning and growing from challenges with minimum stress, we were able to attract very talented replacement analysts.”
Successful leaders like Cooper know that it’s essential to cultivate mindsets that help us thrive in that space of uncertainty and unrelenting pressure. This means building our physiologies so that we can respond – rather than react – when the stakes are highest.
In our increasingly complex environment, leaders must embrace the idea that pushing ever harder may be a necessity sometimes, but the more restored, resilient and healthy we are mentally, emotionally, and spiritually, the more we can draw on that when the pressure kicks in – to be as productive as possible for years to come.