As a technology leader, it is easy to assume that sharp management and technical skills are of the utmost importance. But what happens in your head can be just as important or even more important.
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It seems so simplistic and clear that it is often overlooked – our mental health has a direct and significant impact on our work. It is easy to assume that stress and anxiety are just natural parts of the job, and the best solution is to ‘suck it up’.
However, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that nearly one in five adults in the US reported symptoms of mental illness in 2016, while more than 70% of adults reported at least one symptom of stress. We have all had days that we are overwhelmed and not at our best, and instead of assuming that this is just part of being a leader, there are steps you can take to manage your mental state. This will not only help you to become a more effective manager, it will ultimately also make you a better person.
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Recognize that there is a better way
Despite all the studies and statistics, we have only scratched the surface of the mind. However, what seems certain are two things: first, our mental and physical states are intertwined and directly affecting each other, and second, we can influence our mental state either directly or through external help that can vary from simple conversations with a loved one for help from medical professionals. Perhaps the most important step is to positively influence the mental side of your leadership, recognizing that you can change your mental state and that a leadership role is not a lifelong sense of stress, grind and a feeling of disgust every morning when the alarm goes off.
If you experience a certain level of mental stress in the majority of adults, acknowledging that you are not alone and acknowledging that you can influence your situation directly and in consultation with others is the first step towards improving your mental health. Like most things in life, there is no single approach. Talking to a therapist can do wonders for my mental health, while a strenuous workout or a few minutes of meditation may work best for you. Regardless of what works, the first step is to recognize that there is a better way to manage your mind.
Find your style
There are entire libraries filled with books on how to improve your mental state, and with the emergence of tools such as Instagram and YouTube, thousands of “influencers” and celebrities will be happy to share their secrets with an improved mind. These tools can be useful to provide insight and motivation, although it may take some time to find advice that resonates and motivates you as an individual. Don’t be afraid to ignore that book that everyone is excited about or invest your valuable attention span in someone you find motivating instead of the newest cat video everyone is talking about on YouTube. For example, I have found David Goggins, a former Navy SEAL and author of Can’t Hurt Me, a fantastic and motivating person and I follow him diligently on Instagram. But his style, techniques and unlimited language are certainly not for everyone.
Your brain is a muscle
Meditation and similar techniques have been studied for centuries in various religions, martial arts and other practices, and can have a major impact on your mental state and all aspects of life. These practices are not magical; Like any practice, they require development. If you are going to try meditation, you do not have to give up your job and go to a lonely mountain peak – rather take five minutes a day for at least three weeks and see if the exercise is useful. There is a world of apps that will help and motivate you, and five minutes is enough to get you started.
Similarly, moving your body can have a major impact on your mind. A simple walk when stress is high can do wonders, as well as an intensive workout that floods your body with endorphins. If you find that your mental state is in a bad place, do not ignore your physical state, diet and overall health.
Recognize the power of framing
Framing is how you see the world or a certain situation and is one of those simple concepts that can have a profound effect on your mental state. If you see your work as an infinite job through life, framing it will eventually become your reality. I have drastically improved my mental state by focusing on the positive aspects of my life and work and using a variation of journaling called the Five Minute Journal to determine my mental box every morning.
Although it looks like new-age hooey, or one of my daughter’s favorite rules from a recent movie, “Hippy Dippy Baloney,” managing your mental state can not only make you a more effective leader, but it can also make your physical improve health and make you a role model for others facing similar challenges.
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