A couple of years ago I wrote a blog about how being present is the greatest gift you can give someone. At the time I was particularly focused on the importance of being present for loved ones, but it is also an incredibly powerful leadership skill.
As this article from Harvard Business Review explores, being present as a leader – listening more intently, giving co-workers your full attention, silencing your inner voice and preventing yourself from being distracted – is proven to boost performance. It also makes you and them feel great!
The difficulty is that being present takes practice. It’s something I work on constantly and recently I tried a new approach which was completely amazing and I want to share with you. If my experience is anything to go by, the more you do it, the better you will become.
An exercise in being present
This exercise is all about the five senses. In just ten minutes, by focusing all your attention (and I do mean all) on what you can see, hear, smell, feel and taste, you will notice so much and become completely grounded in the moment.
Ideally find somewhere calm to sit, where there aren’t too many distractions, but once you master your ability to tune out any extraneous interruptions, you’ll probably be able to do this exercise anywhere. I decided to sit in my garden, taking a notebook with me so I could record the experience, but there is no need for you to make any notes (unless you choose to).
Next, take each sense in turn. I don’t think it matters which you begin with but try experimenting with the order to see if it has an impact on the result. Put your focus entirely on that sense.
I started with sight and gazed slowly around at my surroundings, noticing as much detail as I could. First, I saw the colours of the flowers and the green of the grass, but the more I looked, the more I saw. The different shades of colours, the patterns of light and shade. I saw our cats, the wild birds, but then also insects as I homed in on smaller objects. As well as the things in the garden (washing on the line and so on) and the details of the sky above me, I started to see all the layers of nature, going about its business.
Next, I focused my attention on taste, making a note of all the flavours in my mouth. Initially you may think you can’t taste anything much but, if you really concentrate, I’m sure you will! I caught the savour of the peppermint tea I’d drunk a bit earlier and even the remnants of the smoked salmon toastie I’d eaten for breakfast.
I found smell quite difficult on this occasion. Apart from the fresh air on the breeze, it was hard to identify distinctive scents, but I’m sure I can improve with practice. Whether you’re inside or outside, alone or have people nearby, variations and details will be discernible.
Touch was a revelation, and was the point at which I really began to get deeper into being present in the moment. I could feel my body on the seat, the breeze on my skin, my legs crossed over each other and the flip flops on my feet. I could feel the pen in one hand and my notebook in the other. I could sense the sun on my skin and something tickling my nose. My feet were grounded by gravity on the floor, I could feel my tongue on my lips, on my teeth, even the contraction of my cheek muscles as they helped me squint into the sunshine.
And so it went on.
I must have written down over 100 details that I noticed in that brief moment of being present, which completely amazed me. Not only does this make me realise how much stimulus there is in our environment, but also the incredible grounding effect of doing this exercise.
In the context of a busy day and a working life where there are many demands on our attention, there is so much to be gained from being present. In a meeting, a phone call or even just a fleeting interaction with a colleague or client, be ready to give it and them your full attention as I gave my focus to that moment in my garden.
After all, iTS Leadership!