Welcome to Q2!! I don’t know about you, but somehow the year only seemed to really get started in the last 4 weeks or so. January somehow didn’t really exist, but now that there is a sense of spring in the air, I’m feeling a lot more energized, positive, focused, and ready to conquer some goals!!
Which is probably why I’ve been drawn to books and podcasts about habits of successful leaders recently. What is it that makes successful leaders successful? What is their secret sauce??
Turns out, the magic ingredients are available to all of us! And not only available, but free of charge! Journaling, focus, meditation, happiness, empathy… these are all things that anyone can do, but most do not. The secret seems not to be in their elite access, but in their consistency.
Read on for a few of the resources that inspired and motivated me this month!
Happiness – and its cousin, Contentment – are so underrated. Success, winning, competition, “keeping up with the Joneses” are all too often the goal we are striving for. But happiness – true happiness and contentment – is something that we achieve for ourselves, with ourselves, and by ourselves. And is surprisingly rare.
I love when there is podcast overlap. When one of my favourite podcast hosts interviews one of my other favourite podcast hosts, you get real podcast magic. Which is what this episode of How to Fail is: pure listening magic.
The entire concept of How to Fail is brilliant. The host interviews various experts and celebrities, always asking them what their top 3 failures have been, based on the hypothesis “that learning from our mistakes and understanding that why we fail ultimately makes us stronger, because learning how to fail in life actually means learning how to succeed better”. It’s always a deep, insightful, eloquent interview.
So when Dr. Rangan Chattergee was a guest on How to Fail, I knew that was an episode I wouldn’t want to miss! I’m a huge fan of Dr. Chattergee and his podcast Feel Better Live More (not least because Dr. Chattergee has the most mellifluous voice!) and his interview centred around how we often don’t strive for happiness, yet how important happiness is. He lays out 10 different ways we can tweak our life to improve our happiness and I found it really insightful.
Added bonus: if anyone is more of a visual person, there is an online transcript of this podcast!
I am a staunch believer in Diversity and If you’ve been around for a while, you’ll know that I am a huge fan of writing things down. Hand-written lists (colour-coded of course!) really help me get – and stay – organized, and get things done. 🙂
However, I was never a huge fan of journaling. It always felt so “dear diary” teenager to me. Until I kept coming up against mountains of evidence that journaling is actually one of the best habits you can develop to stretch your IQ, improve your emotional intelligence, boost your memory & creativity, and more!
“I write and therefore I know…we learn by trying to articulate what we’ve consumed and put it into our own voice and our own words.”
In this excerpt from Mastering Leadership [a book which will figure prominently in the next newsletter “Top 10 Reads for Leaders”!], I was impressed by how powerful journaling is for effective leadership:
And listening to this podcast on the benefits of journaling reminded me of why and how I grew to love journaling a few years ago, and how cathartic and helpful it is. One of my core values is growth, and this quote really caught my attention: “Journaling to record your lessons is like making an investment in your wisdom account.”
Don’t you love the sound of a “wisdom account”? I am all in for that!
FOCUS & ATTENTION…
Another practice I was sceptical of was meditating. Honestly, it seemed just like a semi-conscious nap?? Then I read Stress Less, Accomplish More and figured out not only how to meditate, but why it actually has huge benefits.
There is actually an incredible amount of hard scientific evidence and neuroscience behind meditation. “This isn’t woo woo, this is real.”
One of the greatest benefits of meditation is that it is one of the very few ways we can improve our concentration and focus. Something too many of us are sorely lacking in these days. It turns out that meditating for a minimum of 12 minutes, and paying attention to where you pay attention, is one of the easiest, cheapest, and most effective ways of improving your ability to focus.
This podcast interview with Dr. Amishi Jha, author of “How to Master a Peak Mindset, Find Your Focus & Own Your Attention” was so interesting. I love how Dr. Jha, a neuroscientist, was also sceptical of meditation until her research showed unequivocally how effective it is. She has gone on to teach meditation and focus practices to the US military, elite sports teams and more. Sounds like it might be a very useful tool for us too!!
I also loved her suggestion of starting a “Connection Practice”, by saying to yourself, and also to your loved ones:
1. May you be safe
2. May you be healthy
3. May you be happy
4. May you live with ease
These Loving Kindnesses – ever so slightly modified – are now my cellphone screen saver! [Art courtesy of Morgan Harper Nichols]
I read a lot. I love reading. I have been a voracious reader for as long as I can remember. One of my happiest childhood memories is my grandmother taking me to the bookstore near her home and letting me choose two books to take with me to summer camp. I still have those books!!
So when I read Stolen Focus [a brilliant book btw and absolutely worth reading!!], I was fascinated by the chapter on “sustained reading”. The author interviewed Raymond Mar, a professor of psychology at the University of Toronto [my hometown, how apt!] who “is one of the social scientists who has done most in the world to study the effects that reading books has on our consciousness”.
And as Professor Mar reported, “When you read a novel, you are immersing yourself in what it’s like to be inside another person’s head. You are simulating a social situation. You are imagining other people and their experiences in a deep and complex way. […] Perhaps fiction is a kind of empathy gym, boosting your ability to empathise with other people – which is one of the most rich and precious forms of focus we have.”
I’d honestly never thought of reading as a form of “empathy gym”. But it’s true! You do put yourself in the shoes of the protagonist, and see things from their perspective. I might not have ever thought of it as an exercise in increasing my empathy, but it did! One of the skills I draw on most as a coach is empathy. It helps me to be (to quote Ted Lasso) “curious, not judgemental”. And interestingly, when my sister read Stolen Focus and came across the above passage, she immediately texted me and said “your career choice makes so much sense!” 🙂
The data shows: “the more novels you read, the better you are at reading other people’s emotions”.
So if empathy is one of the skills you’re looking to work on, dive into a book! 🙂
WHAT I’M READING…
The above passage on empathy and fiction reading especially resonated with me because at the time I read that, I was concurrently reading a novel called “The Girl with the Louding Voice” by Abi Daré. The heroine of the story is a 14 year-old Nigerian girl who is sold off as a third wife and then escapes to the big city and tries to find a way to get an education so she can live her life with impact.
I’ve obviously never been a 14 year-old Nigerian girl, nor have I ever been the third wife! But reading this story it was easy to transport yourself into Adunni’s world and see life through her eyes. You could feel her thirst for education and knowledge, and her determination to make something of herself. It was very much “empathy gym”! It was recommended to me by two different friends, who have almost nothing in common other than their love of reading, and I knew I should give it a try. It was a brilliant read!
Hope you have time to enjoy some of these mindful habits over the next few weeks! And if you do pick up a good book, please do feel free to share recommendations!
Happy April, everyone!