On Finding Calm

“You should sit in meditation for 20 minutes a day, unless you are too busy, then you should sit for an hour.”

-Old Zen saying

 I’ve talked a lot about the power of focus and why it is so critical to strategic success. There’s nothing airy fairy about it – it’s just smart. Organisations with 1-3 strategic priorities consistently perform better on all markers – financial, engagement and benefits realisation.

Easy right? But for a busy life, and a busy mind, like a busy workplace… focus is not always easy to find. Focus requires the ability to tune out the noise, sit in peace and find calm for ourselves. If you’ve ever found yourself turning down the radio to see the numbers on the letterboxes better, or heard yourself screech at your kids “JUST GIVE ME A MINUTE TO THINK!” (No? Just me then… ) then you’ll know what I mean.

This is not the place to go all spiritual and dedicate space to extolling the benefits of meditation (this article does a good job of it though). It’s not for everyone and I’m the last person to be considered an expert.

A recovering stress junkie, I only discovered the power of calm in the last twelve months - and it’s been transformative for me. I’ve spent years on the busy treadmill – since my ‘start’ as a teen mum and a foster kid 14 years ago, I’ve always lived what Tony Robbins calls “without a net.” The net-less life has it’s advantages – but shit, it’s stressful.

My ‘why’ has always been crystal clear. I’ve been determined since day one to give my kids a life that I couldn’t have dreamt of and to provide them the example they deserve. I’m a proud doer – I smashed uni, I smashed work and I’m generally pretty satisfied that I’m smashing life. I’ve been juggling kids, responsibilities, work and life since the day I became an adult – in fact, now that I have a teenager myself, I’d say BEFORE I was an adult.

The problem, though, with engaging so deeply in the busy life, is that it brings suffering. It brings stress, and frustration, and decisions made in the heat of the moment. For teams and organisations, this can be toxic and negative long term. Engagement, productivity and morale aren’t just weasel words – they’re real, powerful things that once lost, are bloody hard work to retrieve.

Because I’m a slow learner, I assumed for a long time that this was inevitable. People that couldn’t hack the pace, in my life, or your team, would have to fit in or f off, right?! This is the winners way! The way it has to be when you push the boundaries and live life without a net! I wore the busy, stressed out badge with honour.

But here’s the thing. I was wrong. (Louder for the people in the back! WRONG!)

Focus doesn’t appear through the chaos like some kind of shining beacon. Calm doesn’t present itself to you in a well-timed gap. Good decisions, strong awareness and stress control don’t develop in conditions of madness.

It’s on us. We can’t just look for it either – we have to purposefully, intentionally carve it out. Make it happen. Set aside the time and space for calm.

Think I’m being a hippy? Ha, WRONG. Intentional, consistent calm-seeking is empirically proven to shrink the primitive part of our brain (amygdala, king of the fight or flight), and grow the executive bit (prefrontal cortex, smart decision-making dude). It is scientifically proven to reduce stress, improve memory, improve focus, increase emotional control and boost self-awareness. We have an evidence base to tell us that calm isn’t lazy, or a luxury. It’s a critical component to feel better, think better and work better.

We’re all on Christmas break, yeah? (Don’t panic, I wrote this before the break, I’m not hypocritically writing about finding calm on Boxing Day.) Amidst the festive chaos, I reckon this is the time to commit to calm. Are you with me?

Busy is bullshit. Let’s make 2019 the year of calm.

How to: Find your Calm

  • Meditate – just a little bit at first, using an app like Headspace or Calm. ‘Tag’ it to another activity (for me it was in the car after a morning circuit class) and commit for a few weeks. See how you feel.

  • Quit worshipping at the shrine of busy – it’s a false deity.

  • Lead by example – Be visibly calm, and give your team the permission to find their calm too.

Alicia McKay