When life is chaotic and precarious, we can’t go to work a stressed-out mess. Instead, we must be calm, positive, and perpetually open to hearing and acting on the best ideas. Ed Hess explains why inner peace is the business skill we all need.
November 13, 2020 by Edward D. Hess
Oakland, CA (November 2020)—No doubt about it: The world is loud, chaotic, and outright scary. And with a pandemic piled on top of political/social/economic upheaval piled on top of “normal” disruptors like AI advancements that change everything about the way we work, it’s only going to get more so. Here’s the question: How do you get heard above the chaos? Do you shout louder? Work harder? Bulldoze over others?
Actually, quite the opposite. Ed Hess says your “secret weapon” to thriving in a world of chaos, change, and uncertainty might surprise you. Inner Peace.
“Whether you’re a leader or an employee, you need to be kind of a port in the storm right now,” says Hess, the author of Hyper-Learning: How to Adapt to the Speed of Change (Berrett-Koehler Publishers, September 2020, ISBN: 978-1-523-08924-6, $29.95, edhess.org). “You need to be fully in the moment so you can connect and listen to others. And you need to tune out the noise and do the kind of high-level critical thinking that lets you make smart decisions.”
So, touchy-feely though it may sound, cultivating Inner Peace is a hot business skill.
Not that it’s a brand-new COVID-era issue. Hess—known for identifying workplace trends early on and helping companies operationalize behaviors that allow them to excel in the face of change—has said for years that we need a new way of being and leading. Keeping your head down and following orders (if you’re an employee) or letting your out-of-control ego confirm your biases (if you’re a leader) just don’t work in today’s world.
Hess says Inner Peace is a foundational building block to becoming a Hyper-Learner: a person who has the mindset and humility to continuously learn, unlearn, and relearn by adapting to the reality of the world as it evolves. And you won’t be able to excel at one of the remaining jobs that require “human skills” after the machines take over the rest unless you embrace Inner Peace.
“Inner Peace is really a survival skill,” he says. “It’s what allows us to bring our Best Selves to work and engage with others in ways that enable them to be their Best Selves also.”
Here are a few simple steps for achieving Inner Peace:
Take a good look at how you define yourself. Ego is one of the biggest inhibitors of Hyper-Learning. When we define ourselves by how much we know and how “smart” we are (a common problem for leaders!), or when someone disagrees with us, our very sense of self is threatened. If you want to be open to feedback and are willing to challenge your own perceptions, you must first make a conscious decision to quiet the ego.
“The first step is admitting you have a non-Quiet Ego!” says Hess. “The next step is to redefine yourself, perhaps by the quality of your thinking, listening, relating, and collaborating. Making this mental shift is surprisingly difficult, but it is a necessary starting point.”
Give mindfulness meditation a try. To be a Hyper-Learner, you must develop a Quiet Mind that is fully present. Mindfulness meditation can help. It’s a way of focusing awareness to something specific like your breath or a part of your body or an object or mantra and continually bringing your attention back to that thing every time your mind wanders off. Hess recommends you start small—perhaps just two to three minutes at first. Eventually, you’ll be able to work your way up to 20-30 minutes a day.
“Mindfulness meditation is Inner Peace ‘superfood,’” says Hess. “Research suggests it may quiet down your brain’s default mode, leading to less self-referential mind-wandering. It also suggests that training in mindfulness can lead to an ability to let go of thoughts rather than fixate on or identify with them. The goal is reaching the stage where you are not your thoughts and you are not your emotions—they do not control you and your behavior. You have the choice—you can engage them or let them go so you focus your attention on what you want to attend to.”
Engage in acts of gratitude. This practice reduces your tendency to be self-centered and cultivates a Quiet Ego. Acts of gratitude may include saying thank you in the moment, writing thank-you notes, keeping a gratitude journal, and every night reflecting back on those who’ve had the biggest positive impacts on your life.
“The idea is to steep yourself in daily reminders that individual success is not all about ‘me,’ and that none of us got here all by ourselves,” says Hess.
Practice deep breathing to calm your body, emotions, and mind. Hess says back in 2018 he started practicing deep breathing exercises that the Navy SEALs do and monitoring his heart rate daily. Now he does breathing exercises a couple of times a day to regulate the pace of his body so he can be more in the moment.
“When I experience a fast heart rate, rising temperature, or stress in parts of my body, I immediately do my deep breathing and my self-talk,” he explains. “I tell myself to slow my motor down, and I try to experience a micro-joy—feeling very positive about someone or nature or something positive in my life.”
Create micro-joys throughout your workday. Hess is a big fan of Barbara Fredrickson’s writings on the power of positivity resonance, which is the highest level of human connection that results from the sharing of positive emotions. Teams are far more effective when they can attain this elusive state. Obviously, leaders who are mired in negativity will inhibit positivity resonance and thus team performance. This is why it’s crucial to do what you can to keep yourself in a state of joy and happiness—one of the keys to being your Best Self.
“What has worked well for me is creating micro-joys during my day,” says Hess. “For example, I might focus mindfully on the beauty of nature, the beauty of colors, the unconditional love of a pet, seeing a friend in passing and wishing them a good day, thanking a custodian for keeping the bathroom so clean at work, and going out of my way to smile and express gratitude to fellow workers for specific things I have witnessed.”
Create your daily intentions. Spending 15 minutes or so each morning reflecting on how you want to behave today—how you want “to be”—can help you start your day with the right mindset. This can involve inspirational readings and journaling. Hess includes a workshop in his book to help readers cultivate their own daily intentions.
“Daily intentions are very personal,” he says. “The idea is to consciously choose how you are going to react and behave and what you’re going to pay attention to each day. This is very powerful.”
Human Excellence in today’s workplace is heavily dependent upon our being able to control our mind, body, and emotions, says Hess. “It’s a lot harder than it sounds,” he admits. “It takes work. But if we want to be viable employees and leaders, we need to do that work. Once we master our inner world—our ego, our mind, our emotions, and our body—we can better engage with the outer world as it is, not as we want it to be. And it feels a lot better than living in constant stress and turmoil. In fact, the inner calm you can achieve is liberating and joyous.”