Life as an executive can be filled with demanding schedules, high-stakes decision-making, and relentless pressure to perform. In such a fast-paced and high-stress environment, finding moments of calm and peace is crucial for maintaining overall well-being and avoiding burnout. Fortunately, copious research is being done to help us manage these challenges. There are many effective strategies that busy executives can incorporate into their lives to create a sense of calm amidst the chaos. By implementing these research-backed techniques, executives can enhance their personal and professional lives while improving their overall happiness and productivity – in essence, creating the elusive and often-thought “mythical” work-life balance.
In this article, I’ll explore various strategies supported by scientific research that can help leaders to cultivate a sense of calm. These strategies encompass different dimensions of well-being, including mental, emotional, and physical aspects. By incorporating these practices into daily routines, executives can experience a significant positive impact on their overall well-being and ability to handle the challenges of their roles.
It’s important to note that no one-size-fits-all approach exists when it comes to calming down the nervous system. Each individual may resonate with different techniques, and it is essential to find the right combination that works for you. Let’s delve into a range of evidence-based strategies that can guide you in creating a sense of calm amidst the demanding nature of your executive life.
Studies have shown that regular mindfulness meditation practice can reduce stress levels and improve well-being (Jha et al., 2017; Keng et al., 2011). Even a brief but consistent practice can have an impact. You don’t have to sit cross-legged and hum “ohm” or sing mantras for it to work. You can simply sit in the quiet and focus on your breathing for 5-10 minutes each day and you’ll see a positive impact. Certainly, longer is better, and you’ll get better results if you work your way up to 15-30-minute meditations, but the brief meditation works well, too!
Effective time management is crucial for reducing stress and creating a sense of calm. Research suggests techniques such as prioritization, task batching, and delegation can enhance productivity and reduce overload (Mackenzie et al., 2020; Sassenberg et al., 2015). I recommend the Eisenhower Matrix to many of my clients as a means to better time management. This matrix is highly effective and helps you to begin delegating tasks that don’t require your specific expertise or presence, and can make a huge difference to your productivity.
Engaging in regular physical exercise not only boosts physical health but also has a significant impact on mental well-being. Studies have shown that exercise can reduce stress, anxiety, and depression (Penedo & Dahn, 2005; Wegner et al., 2014) and can improve focus, concentration, and even ADHD symptoms. Here, too, you don’t need to work out a ton to see the benefits. 30 minutes a day is enough! You can take a walk outside in the sunshine (superb if you do it first thing in the morning in the sunshine, if you can make it happen, because it will wake your brain up so much better!) Some days I get on the treadmill for a half hour. Other days I work out with my trainer on Zoom. The important thing is to move!
Establishing and nurturing social connections is essential for maintaining calm and peace. Research reveals that having a supportive network, whether through friendships, mentorship, or networking groups, can provide emotional support and reduce stress (House et al., 1988; Folkman & Moskowitz, 2004). Of course, I recommend that leaders have an executive coach, who can provide both emotional support and reduce stress through effective listening but can also provide wisdom and counsel, as well as important perspective shifts. It’s also great to have strategic relationships, including mentors who have more experience than you do, sponsors/champions who can support your development and career growth, and allies, peers who can be there to support you as you navigate challenges along the way. And friends are super important as well, because we all need down time!
Regular Breaks and Boundaries
Taking regular breaks and setting boundaries can prevent burnout and promote a sense of calm. Research suggests that practicing periodic rest and setting clear limits on working hours can enhance well-being and productivity (Citations: Trougakos et al., 2008; Sonnentag & Fritz, 2007). I really like the Pomodoro technique, that sets up 20-minute working periods with breaks in between. This method allows you to put your head down and work with intensity – you’ll get more done in 20 minutes than you think – and also creates opportunities to pause and reflect in between tasks. It also makes it easier for team members to interrupt you, because you can set boundaries around your Pomodoro sets.
Leading a busy executive life presents numerous challenges, but it’s essential to prioritize your well-being and cultivate moments of calm and peace amidst the hustle and bustle. By incorporating these research-backed strategies into your daily routine, you can experience significant improvements in your overall well-being, productivity, and ability to navigate the demands of your role….and you’ll be a much better leader to boot!
Remember, the implementation of these strategies may vary from person to person. It’s essential to experiment and find the techniques that resonate best with you and your unique circumstances. By consciously incorporating these research-supported practices into your daily life, you can proactively create moments of calm and peace amidst the demands of your executive role, leading to greater happiness, well-being, and overall success.