In order to develop “Agile” organizations and leaders, people need breathing room to take on new ideas and behaviors. To accomplish that, we must first relieve their stress. Until they feel relaxed and comfortable, the people we coach and consult can’t focus on making a change.
For many of you reading this, the fastest and easiest way to reduce stress is to ease thinking. I’m not talking about the thinking you do while working or talking to coworkers. I’m talking about the thoughts that are constantly in the background.
When you’re at the gym, on the drive home, trying to go to sleep, that’s when the thinking creeps into your mind. That incessant thinking is what robs us of our energy, time, and productivity. Quieting that thinking is our target.
When you’re feeling stressed, unproductive, or when work just isn’t flowing, take five minutes. Go somewhere where you can lie down and know you won’t be disturbed — your car’s always a safe bet. Then follow these three steps to release stress and quiet the thinking:
Step 1: Do a body scan and breathe the tension out of your body. (2 minutes)
Start with your head, and concentrate on how your breath leaves it. Then move down your body all the way to the tips of your toes.
Follow your breath through each part of your body. Pay attention to how easily the breath travels through each part. If you encounter tightness or tension in an area, focus your inhale into that body part and breathe out the tension through your exhale.
Step 2: Slow your breathing. (2 minutes)
After the body scan, take note of your breath. Pay special attention to your exhale.
Slow each exhale down so it takes between 8-10 seconds to fully exhale. Your abdomen should feel like it’s contracting fully to squeeze out all the air. When your lungs are empty, your body should naturally take a big inhale.
Repeat for this process 10 times.
Step 3: Finally, relax the tongue. (1 minute)
Focus your attention on relaxing your tongue. Most of the time, it’s flat inside your mouth, filling up the space to your teeth. Now try to shorten and thicken your tongue so it floats around in the back of your mouth.
With each breath out, relax the tongue further. Let your chin drop. Exhale. Let your mouth open. Exhale deeply, expelling any stress left in your body.
When you’re done with these steps, take note of how you feel. Does your head feel calm and clear? Is your mind clear and focused? Are your neck, shoulders, and arms at ease?
This is a relaxed state. Explore and enjoy it. Get to know this feeling so you get better at recognizing when you’re feeling anxious or stressed — when you need to stop the thinking.
These three steps will develop into your greatest stress relief and most productive habit, wrapped up into one five-minute session.
In upcoming articles, I’ll talk about the next step in productivity: getting into a creative flow state that will improve your work by leaps and bounds.