Finding Mental Space for Nonprofit Executives
"Where the attention goes, the energy flows." -Tara Brach
As I was sitting and listening to so many of the amazing presenters, I was thinking about my own leadership and wishing that I could have a do-over as an Executive Director.
If I had been more present or more mindful, I would have spent less time being anxious and more time enjoying the ride. Here are a few things lessons learned for any leader:
Where do you live?
No, not your physical house, but your energetic house. If you spend a lot of time (as I did), worrying and anxious about things beyond your control, you end up strengthening the synapses of worry. In times of stress, I would absolutely retreat to my house of anxiety and worry because it felt familiar. It was the house I had spent the most time decorating, metaphorically speaking, and I didn't want to move out. Instead, I could have built castles of hope and optimism and used my energy more effectively.
Thanks to Tara Brach, she introduced this acronym RAIN which stands for: recognize, accept, investigate and nurture. In other words, when feelings of anxiety, scarcity and stress come up for you, can you calmly recognize it, create space for it, investigate it and inquire about where it's coming from and then meet the feeling with love and understanding, like a wayward child. For me, the anxiety about always waiting for the other shoe to drop had my mind and heart racing, even when everything was fine.
I used to pride myself on being able to get a tremendous amount of work done and "multi-task." Now, I realize that that was just a super-inefficient way of getting things done. Stanford University research has shown that multi-tasking makes you less effective and generally just dumber.
Stop being a slave to my email
Ugh, ugh, ugh. I used to have some board members who were on email all day and all night. They would email me back within minutes so I felt like I had to do the same. Cue the tyranny of email. It was the first thing I checked in the morning, last thing at night and sometimes at 3am on my way to the bathroom. I wish I had had the courage and foresight to batch my emails and to not respond right away. I just read this amazing article about how Barbara Corcoran handles her email. If you email her, there is an auto-responder that reads:
Thank you for reaching out. I'll not be answering your email, but if you would please forward this to [my assistant] Emily, or if you need immediate attention, please call her at the office.
Love it. No apologies. No excuses. Just "nope."
Chasing mice instead of elephants
You know how it is: you start the day with the best of intentions and then your day gets clogged up with meetings, small annoying tasks and interruptions. I call this chasing the mice. By having a clearer view of what your elephant is and making time to do it, you can tackle the big thing. Figure out how to drop, delegate or defer the little mice in favor of the elephant.
In the end, the great irony is that in order to create mental space, you must have mental space. The best way to do it is to find a trusted partner or coach help you to sort through the mental clutter to perform at your best.
I'm a former Executive Director who now helps executives to clear their mental clutter and obstacles to perform at peak levels. For more information, contact me at rheawong.com