We must go inside to develop inner strength, peace, and health.
It is our inside that determines our outside – our actions, results, and impact on others.
The challenges that await us on the inside are many:
- What do you do with your anxiety?
- What do you do with your overwhelm, fear, or resignation?
- What do you do when you are exhausted?
- What do you do with your dissatisfaction?
- Where do you find your meaning?
The external consequences of our internal states are significant:
- What do you do when your leadership impact isn’t impacting?
- When your identity isn’t what you want it to be?
- When you feel the urge to create something new, but you retreat into the safe and familiar?
- When others won’t go with you into the new future that you are called to?
The common default of working harder or doing more doesn’t work here. It just exhausts us and distracts us from what is missing. We need to go inside first.
But what does it mean to go inside?
Going Inside – A New World of Awareness
My life kept giving me breakdowns that I finally realized were calling me to look inside. I had achieved being a vice president in several companies and founded my own business. But, I also went through a physical and total burn out that took a year to recover. I hesitated for many years on the verge of stepping toward my own vision and ambition and instead stayed frustrated in the safe job. I spent years delivering workshops where my attendees were satisfied, but I wanted to help them achieve bigger breakthroughs. I had to look inside, not just try harder.
I needed to learn how to do this, and my explorations took me to studies of somatics and somatic self-awareness, language, and communication, meditation, embodied learning traditions, emotional dynamics, and Chinese inner wisdom traditions. I found a new world of awareness, experience, practice, and skills that are crucial for our actions and interactions with others. I learned that this awareness is the foundation of leadership impact and is crucial for living a meaningful and healthy life.
Our mainstream culture has been blind that our emotions, body reactions, and mental habits are places of choice and skill.
Our culture tends to have us believe that our emotions happen to us, that we have no choice about body reactions, and that our mind and mental activities are actually us. This is all wrong. In this perspective, we are trapped in our bodies, emotions, and stories.
With extensive searching I have found that there are disciplines that make each of these areas open for observation, choice, and developing skills to shape our emotions, body reactions, and thoughts to support our commitments. We can walk a path to becoming our best selves. We can shape our abilities in leadership like an athlete shapes their physical performance. We just have to learn to pay attention to what we are practicing. We are already practicing, so we might as well learn to shape our practice to improve our skills. Otherwise we are practicing drift without awareness and choice. We can practice developing excellence or practice staying where we are.
Here are some guideposts for your leadership journey into your internal world. We need to commit to learn actual new internal skills that are emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual. New tools and frameworks will not be enough.
1. We need to commit to learning new internal skills that are emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual.
New tools and frameworks will not be enough. Our culture teaches us to focus on action and results – that the action is “out there,” in the external world. But, all actions and the results they achieve arise first from our internal being – our thoughts, emotions, body reactions, and habitual patterns. To shift our actions and results we must first shift our internal way of being, our internal ecology. We need to cultivate our internal garden.
The old common sense about action is that effort and activity produce results. But, there is a new and more potent understanding for action. It has four steps that start with our internal states:
Internal states => our External actions => We interactions => Results.
The “We” interactions are those with other people. They are not just activities we can see. They include most importantly the sense of connection and resonance that arises or not between people. The “We” space is a shared internal state between people that determine how action is coordinated.
2. The internal and “We” spaces include the unified coherence of the dimensions of Body, Emotions, and Language (BEL).
Learning in these internal spaces is experiential, not just conceptual. We learn through practice, we embody skill through well-designed recurrence. There are many traditions that have deep wisdom with these dimensions. And the good news is that we can learn and practice in our everyday lives and actions. We just need to bring moments of reflection to what we are doing.
Generative Steps for Going Inside
So with these dimensions, how do we go inside? In my work with generative leadership, we are always looking for “generative” interpretations, which means ones that articulate what we can see, do, and learn through practice to develop new skills. Here are generative steps for going inside.
Awareness creates choice. If you are not aware of something, you have no choice available to interact with it. The first practice is awareness of what is going on in your body, emotions, and thought patterns, and how they interact with each other. Take a moment and become aware of your body and its sensations right now – notice what thoughts are happening (including “I don’t want to do this”) – and the emotional state that you are in. These are always going on, but we are usually unaware of them. But they are shaping we what see, do, and produce.
If we don’t develop the muscle of our attention, it drifts, gets distracted, and wanders. With awareness and attention, we have developed the basic capabilities for choice – choice in the moment, and particularly choice when our automatic reactions want to choose for us.
The skill to put ourselves in the state of choice is called “centering.” To achieve center is to enter a physical, mental, and emotional state of choice. It’s not a decision type of choice since your body and emotions and mind often will resist your will, continuing in their familiar pattern. The practice of centering is to build new patterns over time.
This requires that we understand learning as the embodiment of new capability, experience, and skill, not just the understanding of concepts. We learn through appropriate practice. This is where a coach can be crucial, to see what we don’t see, and to guide us in effective practice. We need a vision and standards of what we are trying to achieve, and we practice to develop the inner conditions to achieve the outer results.
3. Develop and Grow
Now we have the basis to be able to have a generative interpretation of “development.” By “generative” I mean actions that you can see, do, and learn that produce desired outcomes. To develop is to cultivate our capabilities and reactions through appropriate practice, starting with the practices of internal awareness, attention, and choice. From a generative perspective, what are inner strength, peace, and health, and how do we produce them?
4. Inner Strength
Inner strength is not just adding more power to something. We relate to inner strength as the ability to be clear in our choices, to hold to them in the face of resistance, and to have resources to draw on in the face of challenge and demand.
Inner strength is the ability to clarify what you care about, to commit to taking care of that care, and to do so in the face of declines and negative assessments from other people.
You develop the capacity to go to your source of meaning – for the sake of what are you taking action – and bring that to committed action. This does not mean being tough, unavailable, or pushy – in fact, such a commitment calls on us to become skillful in connecting to others, finding shared care, and giving others an invitation to a shared commitment that they can accept or decline. We find our center, our commitment, and act from there.
Peace is available through acceptance. Acceptance is not resignation or giving up. It is not agreement. It is holding your care and commitment in the face of circumstance, knowing that you are finite and can only do what you can do and that the world does what it does. You don’t let yourself get captured by worry, the need to control or fall into the assessment that what is real should be some other way, including yourself.
Neither does peace mean that we are inactive or even calm – we are in acceptance of our actions, our outcomes, and take the next step in our dance with life. This kind of peace is a source of power to take stands and act, not a contraction away from engagement. We engage in full playing of the game, not complaining about it.
Health is not just a body state. It not only includes mind, emotions, and spirit, but also meaning, vitality, and aliveness. We can listen to our body and ourselves. It is also a commitment to a state of well-being and of taking care of concerns in life. We need to learn appropriate taking care for our physical well-being, for example, by learning to have enough water, to be aware of what foods do to us, and to engage in the exercise of our body with joy rather than drudgery.
This is a place of awareness and attention. We will not feel fully healthy and alive if we don’t connect to our care, and feel that we are engaged and taking care of our cares. Include what is meaningful for you by picking a “focal practice,” one that brings you to aliveness and satisfaction, whether it be jogging, cooking, reading, conversation, – whatever makes you fully alive.
For the sake of what do we develop inner strength, peace, and health? These are part of a good life. What is a good life for you? Include a good life for yourself and others in your leadership. If you leave it out, then what is leadership for you?
As you learn to learn to better cultivate your internal skills and virtues, you will find you have a shift in your presence, how others respond to you, and in your identity. You can better embody being your own offer in the world, giving your gifts, rather than waiting to respond to the demand outside of you.
You will be developing the ability to be fully yourself, to create new futures that you can realize with others, and to take care of what you care about. On to Life!