Good leaders know the cost of making decisions for the wrong reasons, and how to build the mental toughness to avoid doing it.
I recently wrote about how the best CEOs use a mindful approach to overcome the most common leadership mistakes. While CEOs may specifically worry about being great leaders, we all have situations where we haven’t made the best calls. We just usually don’t realize it until it’s too late.
So what can you do?
The answer is the same–apply mindfulness to keep from falling into the most common mistake everyone faces when making decisions–making them from a place of insecurity.
Mindfulness is the practice of maintaining a nonjudgmental state of heightened or complete awareness of one’s thoughts, emotions, or experiences on a moment-to-moment basis, according to Merriam-Webster. The part about nonjudgmental is the key to this lesson.
So many of us go through our days thinking about what we did wrong at some point in the past. How we performed poorly on something at work, mistreated someone, or messed up in some other aspect of our life. Or we are judging others for what they did to us.
We project that judgment out in the future, thinking about the next time that situation will happen, or when we’ll have a run in with the person we yelled at or who yelled at us. We fear telling our boss about our mistake.
All of that judgment ends up piling up and influencing our decisions in the present moment. That is, we make decisions today due to insecurities caused by things that happened before, or may (or may not) happen in the future.
Let’s play this out for a minute. If you messed up at work, you get really down on yourself for it. Then you start to worry about what it will mean for your career prospects, compensation, or even whether it will directly threaten your employment if it was a big enough mess up. I know, I’ve been there.
When this is how you operate, you engage oddly with people, or avoid them entirely rather than facing issues head on and resolving them. You don’t think clearly about the lessons to learn because you fixate and ruminate on what happened.
What about the other side of the coin–worrying about the future? Lot of companies do planning around how to respond to competitor actions. While it’s good to know what you might do in the face of a competitive threat, if all of your planning is about responding to others, you miss out on all the opportunity around you. You spend your present time focused on all the ‘what if’ moments of the future that may not even play out.
Arianna Huffington put it really well when she blogged about mindfulness. She wrote, “Stress-reduction and mindfulness don’t just make us happier and healthier, they’re a proven competitive advantage for any business that wants one.”
It’s not just about feeling rested or being at peace. When the mind is preoccupied by insecurities around the past or future, it’s left with too little capacity to succeed in the present. How can you possibly seize the moment if you spend all your time and energy on moments past or moments that may never materialize?
Simple. You can’t.
This post is inspired by my best-selling book, “Do a Day: How to Live a Better Life Every Day” available in print, eBook and audio book formats. It originally appeared in my Inc.com column on September 13th, 2017.