As a technology leader, it's easy to assume sharp management and technical skills are of utmost importance. But what's going on in your head can be equally if not more important.
It seems so simplistic and obvious that it's often overlooked--our mental health has a direct and significant impact on our work. It's easy to assume that stress and anxiety are just natural parts of the job, and the best solution is to "suck it up."
However, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that nearly one in five adults in the US reported symptoms of mental illness in 2016, while more than 70% of adults reported at least one symptom of stress. We've all had days when we're overwhelmed and not at our best, and rather than assuming this is just part of being a leader, there are steps you can take to manage your mental state. Not only will this help you become a more effective manager, it will ultimately make you a better human being.
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Recognize that there's a better way
Despite all the studies and statistics, we still have only scratched the surface of how the mind works. What seems certain, however, are two things: First, our mental and physical states are intertwined and directly affect each other, and second, we can influence our mental state either directly or through external help that might range from simple conversations with a loved one to assistance from medical professionals. Perhaps the most important step to positively affect the mental side of your leadership is recognizing that you can change your mental state and that a leadership role is not a lifelong sentence to stress, drudgery, and a feeling of loathing every morning when the alarm rings.
If you're in the majority of adults experiencing some level of mental stress, simply recognizing that you're not alone and acknowledging that you can influence your situation directly and in concert with others is the first step to improving your mental health. Like most things in life, there is no one-size-fits-all approach. Talking to a therapist might do wonders for my mental health, while a hard workout or quiet few minutes of meditation may work best for you. Regardless of what works, acknowledging that there's a better way to manage your mind is the first step.
Find your style
There are entire libraries filled with books on how to improve your mental state, and with the rise of tools like Instagram and YouTube, thousands of "influencers" and celebrities will happily share their secrets to an improved mind. These tools can be helpful in providing insight and motivation, although it may take you some time to find advice that resonates and motivates you as an individual. Don't be afraid to ignore that book everyone is raving about or invest your valuable attention span in someone you find motivational rather than the latest cat video that everyone is talking about on YouTube. For example, I've found David Goggins, a former Navy SEAL and author of Can't Hurt Me, a fantastic and motivating person, and I follow him diligently on Instagram. But his style, techniques, and no-holds-barred language are certainly not for everyone.
Your brain is a muscle
Meditation and similar techniques have been explored for centuries in various religions, martial arts, and other practices, and can have a profound influence on your mental state and all aspects of life. These practices are not magical; like any practice, they require development. If you're going to try meditation, you need not quit your job and move to a lonely mountaintop--rather, take five minutes each day for at least three weeks and see if the practice is helpful. There is a world of apps that will help guide and motivate you, and five minutes is all it takes to get started.
Similarly, moving your body can greatly impact your mind. A simple walk when stress is high can do wonders, as can an intense workout that floods your body with endorphins. If you find your mental state is in a bad spot, don't ignore your physical state, diet, and overall health.
Recognize the power of framing
Framing is how you see the world or a particular situation and is one of those simple concepts that can have a profound effect on your mental state. If you see your job as an unending slog through life, that framing will ultimately become your reality. I've dramatically improved my mental state simply by focusing on the positive aspects of my life and work and using a variation of journaling called the Five Minute Journal to set my mental frame each morning.
While it may seem like new-age hooey, or one of my daughter's favorite lines from a recent movie, "Hippy Dippy Baloney," managing your mental state can not only make you a more effective leader, it can also improve your physical health and make you a role model for others facing similar challenges.
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