Uncertainty and conflict come with the territory when you’re a leader. No matter how well you plan and prepare, you’re never in complete control.
For most people, that leads to a certain amount of anxiety and stress.
Maybe a lot of anxiety and stress.
You’re different degrees of anxious, aggravated, or alarmed. All at once.
It can be exhausting.
Mentally and physically we’re not at our best.
Yet, our ability to lead most effectively requires us to provide the focus and energy to get the job done.
For the moment. Or for as long as it takes.
So how do you do that?
I’m calling bull.
No, not BS.
Those four-legged, 1,500 pound creatures that paw the ground and can gore you with their horns.
You’re not full of bull.
You’re not trying to subdue the bull.
You are the bull.
In Spanish bullfighting, the matador has six assistants: two picadores mounted on horseback, three banderilleros, and a mozo de espadas, who serves as a sword page.
Six humans. One bull.
For a gringo who’s never seen the sport, it seems unfair.
But don’t you feel that way some days? People are ganging up on you? You’re getting it from all sides? The odds seem stacked against you?
When you feel like it’s you against the world, what can you do?
Do what bulls do in the bullfighting ring. Find your querencia.
Ernest Hemingway, in Death in the Afternoon, describes the querencia as: “a place the bull naturally wants to go to in the ring, a preferred locality… It is a place which develops in the course of the fight where the bull makes his home. It does not usually show at once, but develops in his brain as the fight goes on. In this place he feels that he has his back against the wall and in his querencia he is inestimably more dangerous and almost impossible to kill.”
The place the bull goes to get energized, heal, and focus. To draw strength. For survival. To overcome. To prevail. To win.
The odds are stacked against the bull in the bullfighting ring. Walls. Fences. Weapons.
You don’t have the same odds. You can win. Yes, you can.
But you need a place to go. You need your querencia.
Four Strategies to Create Your Querencia
Where do you go to clear your head to make your biggest decisions, to de-stress, and prepare to focus?
Depending on the time you have and the severity of what you are dealing with, here are four suggestions:
1. Meditate or Pray
When stressed, shut your eyes and concentrate on your breathing. We all spend too much time torqued up in a stress response / fight or flight mode. It is often due to something like traffic, that we can’t control, or due to some future outcome we’re afraid of — which might NEVER happen.
Sometimes, there are issues, personally and professionally, that are both real and consequential.
As the leader, you have to deal with them.
Whether you consider it meditation or mindfulness, it can relax you and help provide clarity. It is amazing what happens when you turn down the volume on your head trash and the little hamster wheel in your head comes to a stop.
· Find a place where you won’t be interrupted.
· Shut your eyes
· Control your breathing with slow, deep breaths
· Feel the sensation of air going in and out of your nostrils
· Rub the skin of your thumb against the tip of one of your fingers, but delicately, so you can feel the ridges of your fingerprints
You’ll be able to feel the tension leave your body.
You’ll get better at this the more frequently you repeat it.
You’ll find you have more energy, more focus.
If you are spiritually inclined, pray. It can be incredibly calming to communicate with God and to have the sense that you are not alone in dealing with your stressors.
Five minutes can make a huge impact on your well-being.
If you need an app to assist you, I recommend both Headspace and Calm.
Meditation is intermittent fasting for the mind. Too much sugar leads to a heavy body, and too many distractions lead to a heavy mind. Time spent undistracted and alone, in self-examination, journaling, meditation, resolves the unresolved and takes us from mentally fat to fit. — Naval Ravikant
2. Train Your Mind to Go on a One-Minute Vacation
Picture a setting that you find both pleasing and peaceful. Your “happy place” sounds corny, but let’s go with it.
– Shut your eyes
– Control your breathing
– Picture the location
– What are the sounds you hear?
– What is the temperature?
– What else do you notice? The sun? the wind? The smells?
Your imagination can transport you to the place in mere minutes.
My mind vacation is a stream in the woods. I can hear the water moving over the rocks. There are ferns growing near the water. There are oak and maple leaves above me that move with a gentle breeze. Sunlight peaks through the tree branches above. The smell is fresh and clean, with some combination of dirt, wet rocks and tree bark.
I have trained myself to be transported there in seconds. In less than a minute I can feel my blood pressure come down.
When I open my eyes, I am much more focused and prepared to handle whatever is in front of me. I’ve got clarity. I’m ready.
Imagine the place where you can relax. No stress.
Practice going there. Make it familiar. Then, when your anxiety ratchets up, you can shut your eyes and go there.
“Within you there is a stillness and sanctuary to which you can retreat at any time and be yourself.” — Hermann Hesse
3. Get out of Dodge
Sometimes you need to get out of your normal location and routines. It is too easy to get sucked back into the habits and relationships that are causing your stress when you stay at home. A long weekend may not be enough enough to unplug and de-stress. You may need two weeks or a month before you gain real perspective about your priorities and can set aside emotions and others’ expectations.
Some people have a particular location that quiets their mind. It may be a favorite city or a familiar vacation spot. The familiarity makes them comfortable but the freedom of being away from home is rejuvenating.
If you’re seeking a potentially life-altering perspective, you can take a lesson from Laura Berger and Glen Tibaldeo, who took a break from their go-go careers in Chicago and spent six months in the jungles of Costa Rica. The book about their adventure, Radical Sabbatical, suggests that they had a different — and healthier — outlook on their careers and their relationship.
“The vacation we often need is freedom from our own mind.” -Jack Adam Weber
4. Take a Nature Bath
A concept that is gaining popularity involves going into nature with a coach to manage your stress, recover and re-energize. Called Shinrin Yoku, translated in English as “forest bathing,” it was started in Japan in the 1980s to combat climbing health care costs related to illnesses caused by stress. Since then, it has been adopted as a preventative healthcare practice in countries around the world, including the United States. Studies have shown favorable outcomes in improved sleep quality, reduced stress levels and a heightened ability to focus.
Pam Lowe Cho, the Founder of Trek Coaching Outdoors, takes coaching clients to the Cincinnati Nature Center, where she coaches groups of 10–12 professionals at a time. Some groups have been internal teams. Some have been companies and their clients. They learn mindfulness, movement and reflection techniques to recharge and de-stress. Since Cho introduced the program early in 2021, the response has been extremely positive, with a growing list of teams and professionals who have benefitted from the program.
(Note: somewhere, Henry David Thoreau just gave John Muir a high five. 😉)
Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better. — Albert Einstein
Be a Bull For a Month — or a Minute
Leading other people is an adventure. Success isn’t guaranteed.
There are circumstances outside of your control. You often get reminded of that fact at the most inopportune times.
Market changes. Aggressive competitors. Technology introductions. Technology failures.
Garbled communications. Staffing problems. Performance issues. Conflict.
Problems never seem isolated. When they come, they seem to come in bunches.
How do you energize yourself to stay in the game?
How do you recharge the battery after difficult challenge?
How do you clear your head to make an unemotional, objective decision? The right decision?
Be the bull.
Find your querencia.
It may be a physical place or it may be a place you go in your mind.
You may go there for a month or maybe only for a minute.
Any of the four alternatives may be right for you:
1. Meditate or pray
2. Train your mind to go on a one-minute vacation
3. Get out of Dodge
4. Take a nature bath
To recharge. To get clarity. To gather strength.