Welcome to my panic attack.

It feels like my heart has skipped a beat, then jumped into overdrive. As I become aware of the rapid pounding of my heart thumping in my chest, I also notice a feeling of light-headedness and dizziness. I can feel the blood pumping through my neck, a tightness in my chest, and a cold clamminess in my hands.

For the majority of my life, this combination of physical sensations would be a common occurrence for me, happening at least once or twice a week.

I remember visiting the Doctors, probably in my early 20s, to find out what was happening. After being put through some tests, The Doctor told me that my heart was fine and there was nothing physically wrong. He called it a minor heart palpitation and explained that I shouldn’t worry about it.

It wasn’t until many years later that I came to realize that what I was experiencing was a panic attack triggered by too much caffeine, stress and anxiety.

We all have blind spots.

Everyone has blind spots when it comes to dealing with stress, anxiety and self-confidence. Yes, I mean everyone (this includes you).

The problem is that the human mind is really good at keeping us in the dark about what is going on. Our mind creates stories that justify our behaviour, distract us from the truth, and keeps us stuck in our respective ruts.

“An enormous portion of cognitive activity is non-conscious” – Dr. Emmanuel Donchin.

Scientists have shown that somewhere between 96% to 98% of our behaviour is automatic, happening below our conscious awareness. Think about this for a moment. A tiny portion of what you are noticing about the world makes it into your conscious level of awareness.

The vast majority of the time, we are running on autopilot, not consciously aware of how we are responding to the world around us. This is why developing the skill of awareness is critical to the success of every mindful leader.

Progressing through the five stages of mindful leadership.

When you develop the skill of awareness, you are enhancing your ability to observe the various patterns of your thoughts, behaviour and emotions, without getting swept away.

Here’s an in-depth look at how to measure the skill of awareness as you progress through the five stages of mindful leadership.

Stage 0 – Rookie Leader (aka Corporate Zombie)

The rookie leader regularly experiences negative self-talk, lack of focus and overwhelm. They struggle with low self-confidence, stress and anxiety. Rookie leaders can be emotionally reactive, closed-minded, experience a fixed mindset, addicted to urgency, and view the world through a negative lens.

The challenge with progressing past the stage of a rookie leader is that our unconscious mind is preventing us from acknowledging that we even have blind spots.

To progress past this stage, the rookie leader needs to set aside their ego and admit that they don’t know it all. This change in mindset can be challenging for some as it makes us vulnerable to new ways of thinking. This takes both humility and courage.

If the rookie leader can move past their resistance to change, they can start progressing through the next stages.

Stage 1 – Aspiring Leader

The aspiring leader has been able to achieve some degree of mindfulness (aka awareness). They have been able to reduce stress and increase focus. They have even been able to quite their inter critic for short periods of time.

To achieve success at this stage, the aspiring leader has developed a regular mindfulness practice. The foundation of this mindfulness practice is meditation.

Don’t let the simplicity of meditation fool you. The act of mediating just 10 min a day has been proven to reduce anxiety and increase attention.

The challenge at this stage is to build a regular meditation ritual. Refer to this article for my formula for developing a daily meditation habit.

Stage 2 – Trusted Leader

The trusted leader regularly experiences calmness and focus from their daily meditation ritual (on the mat), and they have become mindful of the patterns of behaviour of themselves and others.

The challenge at this stage is to be intentional with being mindful, both on and off the mat. This means consciously becoming aware of your triggers, noticing your internal patterns, and increasing your awareness of how the behaviours of others impact you.

To achieve success at this stage, the trusted leader regularly experiences mindfulness during simple tasks like writing, eating, and exercise (off the mat).

Stage 3 – Tribal Leader

The tribal leader can maintain mindfulness during regular, low stress, interactions with others. This includes one-on-one interactions as well as speaking in front of small groups. They can notice their patterns of behaviour, widening the gap between stimulus and response.

The challenge at this stage is for the tribal leader to catch themselves BEFORE getting emotional, staying calm and free from strong emotions like anger or anxiety.

I call this having a matrix moment; the ability to dodge bullets (aka triggers) before getting caught up in an emotional hijack. If the tribal leader happens to get caught up in an emotional hijack, they can reduce their recovery rate.

To achieve success at this stage, the trial leader needs remain mindful during low-stress conversations (one-on-one and small groups). This means paying attention to your internal patterns while paying attention to the patterns of others, and noticing how both intertwine.

The tribal leader has achieved enough experience that they have started coaching and mentoring their teams on the benefits of mindfulness.

Stage 4 – Mindful Leader

The mindful leader can maintain mindfulness while having significant, emotionally charged, social interactions with others. They can keep a clear and level head while having tough, one-on-one conversation and when they are speaking in front of large groups.

The challenge at this stage is for the mindful leader to continue practicing the fundamentals. You can’t achieve and maintain this stage unless you are intentional with your mindfulness practice.

To achieve success at this stage, the mindful leader is maintaining a regular meditation practice, continuing to be aware of their patterns and the patterns of others, and expanding their awareness well beyond yourself.

Success would also include noticing how you can influence the strategies that you are using to achieve your outcome, the patterns required to create a culture of mindfulness, as well as broader trends within the marketplace.

In Summary

Awareness plays a critical role in becoming an effective leader. Without it, we move through our careers like corporate zombies. Here’s a quick recap of the five stages:

At Stage 0 – Rookie Leader, it starts with acknowledging that you need to develop awareness to notice blindspots.

At State 1 – Aspiring Leader, it’s about establishing a daily meditation practice so that you can notice your internal patterns. This comes with the added benefit of an increase in focus and happiness while reducing stress and anxiety.

At Stage 2 – Trusted Leader, takes mindfulness off the mat and into your day-to-day activities, where you practice being mindful during simple activities like writing or coding.

At Stage 3 – Tribal Leader, you expand being mindful during regular, low stress, interactions with others. This includes one-on-one interactions as well as speaking in front of small groups.

And finally, at Stage 4 – Mindful Leader, you can maintain mindfulness while having significant, emotionally charged, social interactions with others. This includes difficult one-on-one conversations and when they are speaking in front of large groups.

Do you have a question about establishing a regular mindfulness practice? I’d love to hear about it. Leave a comment below or in the LEARN2LEAD Community.

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