How to cultivate Self-leadership

Managing themselves well is what made History’s great achievers. When it comes to living the life of your dreams or achieving your goals, it is important that you set the direction for your life and make your decisions rather than constantly being impacted by external influences. There are various opinions, voices and messages trying to influence and give you the direction on a daily basis. It is very easy to get so caught up in daily demands of life that we tend to get influenced by such external opinions and become reactive rather than leading and managing our own lives. Management of any sorts, be it your work, business, academia or personal life needs you to be internally focused. How well you can manage others and yourself mostly depends upon how well you are able to lead yourself in your personal or professional areas. So, when it comes to making all of those decisions or choices in life, it comes down to the leadership in your own life to handle all of those decisions and situations.

Self-leadership is the key in determining the direction you want to take and to become more of the person you are striving to become. Also when it comes to cultivating leadership skills, most of the times, we talk about from the standpoint of leading others or those working under us. But all true leadership does begin from within and manifests through your effectiveness in managing yourself, in building collaborative relationships, through interactions and daily decision-making process of your personal and professional life. It is always important to lead yourself first, before you can lead a team, organisation or group of people.

What is Self-leadership?

Self-leadership is an intentional process of influencing your thinking, feeling and behaviours to achieve your objectives thereby increasing the positive impact you can have in the world around you. Self-leadership is not self-absorption, but is the process of growing inwardly to contribute outwardly. The difference between leadership and self-leadership is that leadership focuses on how one influences others whereas self-leadership is about observing and managing oneself and most importantly, it is being aware of who you are, what you want to achieve along with your abilities to influence your communication, emotions and behaviours in achieving them.

What determines your self-leadership?

While there are many aspects of self-leadership that are needed to strengthen our lives as leaders, here are some important aspects that determine self-leadership.

Self-awareness: It is the ability to acknowledge, understand and be conscious of one’s own values, perspectives , strengths, weaknesses, and emotional needs. Your level of self-awareness determines your self-leadership potential.

Self-management: The ability to manage one’s talents, nurture and harness one’s own passion, abilities, emotions and leadership capacity in decision-making.

Self-regulation: The ability to regulate or control your emotions. To self-regulate is to take a pause between the feelings that arise in a situation and the action you choose to take

Others-awareness and management. The ability to acknowledge and recognise the passion, strengths, weaknesses, abilities and needs of others. The ability to motivate others in achieving their goals.

Integrity: It is the quality of adhering to moral and ethical principles. It comes with an inner sense of ‘wholeness’ and consistency of your actions, words, decisions, measures, expectations, methods and outcomes.

Accountability: Being responsible for your thoughts, decisions, emotions, behaviours and actions is a quality of self-leadership.

Self-discipline: To manage your mental and emotional state and a strong personal will.

Self-control: Ability to stay emotionally focused and to control feelings, thoughts and behaviours in challenging circumstances.

Self-motivation and focus in the face of uncertainty and ambiguity.

Self-reflection: Ability to reflect on the thought patterns, feelings or perceptions that hold you back from achieving your full potential.

Why it is important to develop Self-leadership?

Many of us don’t realise that to lead others, we must be able to lead ourselves first. Not able to lead your own self makes you more vulnerable to all kinds of errors, often at your own hands and as a result you not only self-sabotage, but negatively impact those whom you lead. Good self-leadership not only creates the environment of clarity, purpose, responsibility, engagement and collaboration but also builds trust and confidence. It enables you to be more productive in your professional endeavours.

Being strongly opinionated or thinking that you are always right forces people to see your way and as a result, you miss out on other perspectives. Feelings of insecurity often hinder your others’ awareness and as you will be more self-absorbed about how you are perceived by others. Also, it becomes hard to appreciate others and give their due credit because you see it as a threat to your own possible influence. Developing self-leadership reduces your feelings of insecurity and reduces know-it-all thinking. Being rigid or close-minded leads to putting others down or dismiss other perspectives or alternatives. By cultivating effective self-leadership, you can be open to range of possibilities, you can avoid self-defeating beliefs, and build trust to collaborate with others in order to achieve your desired goals and can lead others more effectively. Without a strong sense of self-leadership, you can feel of out of control, overwhelmed and confused.

How to cultivate self-leadership?

To cultivate effective self-leadership, you must carve out your direction by aligning with your desired goals and know when to change course. You can achieve this by developing deep understanding of yourself. What are your most valuable strengths and weaknesses? How do you learn and work with others? What are your most deeply held values? And in what type of work environment can you make the greatest contribution?

To cultivate self-leadership, begin by asking yourself these questions:

What are my strengths?”

To accurately identify your strengths, use feedback analysis. Every time you make a key decision, write down the outcome you expect. Several months later, compare the actual results with your expected results. Look for patterns in what you’re seeing: What results are you skilled at generating? What abilities do you need to enhance in order to get the results you want? What unproductive habits are preventing you from creating the outcomes you desire? Which are your core strength areas? In identifying opportunities for improvement, don’t waste time cultivating skill areas where you have little competence. Instead, concentrate on—and build on—your strengths.

“What is my Purpose?”

To clarify your purpose, develop a deep and profound understanding of what you could focus on moving forward. We all know what we want. We all have goals, dreams, and aspirations. However, are these things what you really want? Or are they simply things that others want for you? Or is it rather because you have been conditioned by your peers and by society to pursue these things? Consider your strengths, preferred work style, and values. Based on these qualities, in what kind of work environment would you fit in best? What kind of life roles do you enjoy living? Given your passions, experiences and abilities, what’s your true life’s purpose? What do you feel are best suited to your core strengths? Set meaningful goals that serve your purpose.

“What are my values?”

Core values act like a compass that helps you stay on track and focused on the most important things in your life. As leaders, you can overcome honest mistakes or a wrong decision, but recovering from ethical compromise is near to impossible. Values lead you to greater degree of insight and understanding of your own self. Prioritise your core values by reflecting on these questions: What are your ethics? How empathetic are you towards others? What do you see as your most important responsibilities for living a worthy, ethical life? Does your organization’s ethics resonate with your own values? Are your decisions aligned with your personal values? Are you authentic or are you a people pleaser? Do you prioritise being honest with others ? Just as honesty is essential to develop effective self-leadership, so is integrity.

What is my self-awareness?”

Improve your awareness of how you are being received by others or how your work affects the team or organisation as a whole. How well do you know yourself? How deeply do you understand your strengths, motivations or flaws? What do you need to improve? What thoughts are holding you back? What is your narrative identify? You should be aware of how your work and actions that affect those around you. In what ways do you work best? Do you process information most effectively by reading it, or by hearing others discuss it? Do you accomplish the most by working with other people, or by working alone? Do you perform best while making decisions, or while advising others on key matters? Are you in top form when things get stressful, or do you function optimally in a highly predictable environment? Being aware allows you to make adjustments for tendencies that are self-defeating.

What is my self-talk?”

Self-talk shapes our relationship to ourselves. If you self-talk is filled with frustration, pessimism, apathy or if your self-talk of the perfectionist, it cause you to lose to your destructive self and leads to poor decisions and making choices that serve short-term goals. Your biggest challenge while in the pursuit of self-leadership, of course, comes in the form of negative self-talk. It’s natural for us to have these kinds of thoughts when facing an uncertain future. But you experience lapses where you begin doubting yourself. Quickly recognise those moments for what they are. What is your self-talk? Does it enhance ‘Can-do’ attitude? Is your self-talk helpful In correcting your faults and weaknesses? Shift your focus to positive self-talk by using words like ‘can’, ‘will’ and ‘yet’.

What is my decision-making framework?

Everyday offers the opportunity to make a decision. Effective self-leadership depends on your ability to make right decisions and to learn from wrong ones. No matter how big or small a decision is, it is important to have a clear intention for why you are choosing a specific course of action. For instance, one of the reasons for indecisiveness might be fear. Figure out the reasons behind those fears to recognise triggers that cloud your mind. Is it a fear of failure? Or fear of missing out? Or is it because of your insecurities? Are you basing your decisions on your assumptions or facts? Do not allow others’ agenda to sway you from making the choice that’s right for you. Identity alternatives to seek others’ view points. Listen to arguments and probe for understanding. There may be valid perspectives you hadn’t considered, which could pave way for right course of action. Looking for alternatives creates different points of view, new insights and new choices.

“What is my Emotional-quotient?”

Your emotional-quotient is the direct measure of your leadership skill. People with high emotional intelligence make good leaders as they are able to understand what motivates others and relate to them in a positive manner. Assess your emotional quotient to know your emotional strengths and weaknesses. Examine how you react to stressful situations. How do you react when someone or a situation doesn’t measure up to your expectations? What specific people or circumstances trigger you on an emotional level? How do you respond to pressure situations? Do you interpret the situations based on facts? Or is it possible that your perspective of the situation has triggered your emotions? Learning what triggers your emotions and which emotions are driving your behaviour can help you achieve emotional stability. Attending to unhappy emotions by a way of communication and expressing fully what you feel, you can free yourself of unhappy emotions and improve your emotional quotient.

To conclude,

Self-leadership is life-long process of self-development and self-reflection. It is a never-ending work in progress that draws on continuous self-understanding. Apply the above strategies to overcome your insecurities, self-defeating habits, and limiting beliefs to maintain healthy and successful working relationships and to manage your workloads, opportunities and challenges.

• Practice regular reflection on the above questions to gain better awareness of your emotions, your motivations, and your challenges. Reflect on your strengths and weaknesses.

• Take time to gain awareness of who you are, your purpose, and your priorities. Create a clear direction for future and keep yourself inspired and motivated.

• Become solution-oriented. Seek multiple perspectives and develop understanding of alternative views.

• Be clear about your values and practice them with integrity despite social, emotional and peer pressure.

• Shift your focus to positive self-talk and purposeful goals.

• Accept responsibility for your actions and decisions.

“Self-leadership is about awareness, tolerance, and not letting your own tendencies limit your potential.”- Scott Belsky

Why Mindfulness is a must-have mental skill.

“The mind is everything. What you think you become” – Buddha

Each one of us wants to achieve our cherished goals or those which we think are within our reach. We are always in a constant chase in order to achieve them and other things which we think will make us happier. As a result, we either get into stress or discontentment with our present state of existence depending on what we can and cannot. We end up spending lot of time mulling over past mistakes and negative thoughts and want to get rid of anything that limits us.

Negative thinking is one of the reasons for underachievement. When you choose to engage in negative thinking you are deciding to believe in your inability rather than your possibility. How you think manifests in your actions. If your mind is always filled with jumbled, chaotic thoughts, that’s what your output will be. When you’re clear on what is important to you and on the type of person you want to be, it becomes easier to block out distracting mental noise so that you can focus on your goals and objectives. When we face overwhelm, self-doubt and various other unhelpful habits of mind, learning to pause them in their tracks puts you back in the productive state.

Mindfulness; key to being a productive self

We as humans are evolutionarily hard-wired to operate by a negatively biased mindset. In our daily life, be it personal or professional endeavours, there are emotional and mental challenges we experience as our work load keep changing as per work demands. Stressful conditions give rise to doubtful critical voice that makes us feel incapable of handling such situations. Having no intervention to keep such negative thoughts in check can result in cognitive and emotional derailment. However, mindfulness provides for a non-confrontational intervention where you can choose to pivot your thinking and stop the broken record of unhelpful thought looping on repeat.

Mindfulness meditation is not only a way to gain insight into your own mind; it also serves as one of the primary ways to become aware of the negative thoughts and emotions that are blocking you from focusing on your goals. In meditation, content from your subconscious that you hide from the world and from your own awareness reveals itself. When negative thoughts rise up to the surface of awareness, you can choose to respond rather than recoil or react to them impulsively. Allowing yourself to observe your present moment reduces stress and increases your wellbeing and productivity.

So, what is mindfulness meditation?

In mindfulness meditation, we’re learning how to pay attention to the breath as it goes in and out, and notice when the mind wanders from this task. This practice of returning to the breath builds the muscles of attention and mindfulness. When we pay attention to our breath, we are learning how to return to, and remain in, the present moment—to anchor ourselves in the here and now on purpose, without judgement. When we practice mindfulness, we can learn how to recognize when our minds are doing their normal everyday acrobatics, and maybe take a pause from that for just a little while so we can choose what we’d like to focus on.

Mindfulness meditation improves the quality of your thoughts and thus helpful for gaining more focus on what you want rather than past or future. No longer will you constantly be at the whim of your racing thoughts. Instead, you can focus on the people and goals that matter most. there are two main functions our brains perform during mindful meditation:

• The generation of thoughts, feelings and emotions — these are transient and can change from one moment to the next;

• The observation of information, data and feedback without judgment, evaluation or criticism, or without even trying to make sense of it.

We learn to listen to and accept the thoughts and feelings that arise within us. We practice being able first to notice that we are having these unfavorable thoughts, labels, criticisms, judgments and feelings, and then we pause them in their tracks by choosing to observe them: 

Even though the idea behind mindfulness meditation seems simple – it requires patience and commitment to stay fully aware of the present moment because our mind quickly gets caught up in other tasks. And also sometimes, the present moment becomes unacceptable and unpleasant. Because of this many of us experience a kind of resistance during the meditation process. This resistance is born out of our inability to accept the moment as it is. A state of well-being cannot be achieved by suppressing all thoughts and emotions. It can be achieved only by becoming mindful of everything that arises in your awareness and by observing and accepting thoughts, emotions and physical sensations as they arise without judgment or expectation. This process helps you to step out of your resistance patterns.

How to practice mindful meditation

To begin the process of mindfulness meditation, get comfortable and prepare to sit still for a few minutes and simply focus on your own natural inhaling and exhaling of breath. Focus on your breath. Try to observe where you feel your breath most, In your belly? In your nose? and try to keep your attention on your inhale and exhale. Follow your breath for two minutes. Notice How long was it before your mind wandered away from your breath? Did notice how busy your mind was even without your consciously directing it to think about anything in particular? Did you notice yourself getting caught up in thoughts before you came back to your breath? We often have little narratives running in our minds that we didn’t choose to put there or tasks that we want to get to. We all experience these sorts of distractions. Here are some insights that you can include in your meditation practice to overcome such distractions.

Set firm intentions

Meditating with right intentions develops focus, determination, patience, and perseverance. Intentions are agreements you make with yourself and then express through your actions in your daily activities. If you don’t set firm intentions, you will eventually find yourself wandering and might lose sight of the reason you are meditating. Intentions set can be small or large. Aim is to discover your genuine intentions or goals and objectives that you want to focus on and affirm those with certainty in your meditation practice. Express each intention in small phrases in present tense as if it is true. This enables your subconscious mind to register them as actualities. Resolutely follow and affirm your intentions for they enable you to overcome negative emotions, and thoughts.

Tap into the feeling of being

Everyday distractions keeps you away from experiencing the joy of simply being. Practice meditation not to become whole, but to connect to your existing wholeness. Realise that wholeness is your birth right and you are more than a limited individual. Just being is a familiar feeling that you have always known, although you may have ignored it until now. Notice how, when you are simply being, you are perfect just as you are. Affirm your intention to experience the feeling of being. With a regular practice, you can learn to connect to your existing wholeness amidst your daily life. During the practice, simply experience the presence and aliveness of being. Staying focused on the sensation of being slows your thinking and eventually turns off negative thoughts.

Connect to something bigger

Meditation helps us to get in touch with universal life force that connects us all. Learn to align with this force through mindful meditation. This connection with bigger force results in a state of well-being. With an expansive mind, you are not narrowly focused on how things should be and on other small desires, but will be able to see those as part of bigger picture. Connecting to and experiencing the universal life force enhances concentration and your present opens up to infinite possibilities. This enables you to interact and respond rather than contract and react. The expansiveness of mind gives a meaning and purpose to your life and sets up positive emotions to go after your goals.

Practice mindful breathing

Taking hold of your breath builds concentration. Meditating on your breathing is a natural and extremely effective tool to prevent dispersion and enables you to release obsessive thinking. Observing and following breath exhalations and inhalations enhances your ability to sense and respond to the information your body is sending. Awareness of your breathing patterns allows you to make changes where required to maintain equilibrium. You can continue to do so while walking, sitting or when you are outdoors. You can also practice to count your number of inhalations and exhalations to develop focused attention and concentration. When you recognise you are distracted, gently bring back your attention back to your breath. Breath-counting helps you to maintain a single- pointed focus.

Accept your thoughts and emotions

Meditating on your feelings and thoughts makes you stay calm, grounded, and healthy. There can be many disharmonious, negative, and disturbing thoughts that arise during the process. Meditate focusing on them. When such strong feelings arise, refusing to accept and labelling them as enemies will only make them come back more strongly as if they are here to convey important information. You need to welcome and experience emotions both negative and positive. Know that they are not your enemies but are just seeking your attention. Learn to observe and respond instead of reacting. By focusing on every thought and its opposite, anxiety, fear, and  self- judgements no longer control your life. You can no longer remain a hostage to your negative emotions.

Welcome feelings of joy

Joy is an essential emotion which is already within us, waiting to be experienced no matter what the outside circumstances may be. But many of us believe that it only comes by material possessions or achieving a particular outcome. We keep searching for it outside in objects, relationships, and other experiences. When you deny the feelings of joy which is a natural phenomenon, you lose life’s meaning and its purpose.

During meditation, welcoming the feelings of joy also brings with them its opposite. Experiencing both joy and its opposite makes you realise how stressful the opposite is and how it affects your body and mind. When it feels right, release the stressful thought and let joy radiate through you. This can unearth unchanging feelings of joy irrespective of the circumstances thereby reducing the perceptions of pain, anxiety, and depression.

Contemplate on interdependence

Meditating on the interdependent nature the universe makes you realise that everything is a part of an interconnected wholeness. We normally see reality in compartments and make boundaries around ourselves. Because of this we are unable to see the interdependent nature of the world we live in. We are connected and not separate  in our suffering and in our desire to be happy. When you live the sufferings and joy of others, you start to realise the impermanence of the universe and can strengthen the positive emotions of gratitude and compassion. Experience yourself as a unique expression of life, interconnected with the Universe.

Finally, If you have a long-standing habit of negative thinking, the first step of managing your negative thoughts is simply knowing that they exist. If they are to grow out of control, they might cause lot of despair. Focus on your most troubling thoughts in mindfulness meditation even if you feel uncomfortable. This is where the core of your distress lies. Our deepest beliefs and personal truths will be at the base of all our thoughts. These thoughts fixate in negative outcomes. To untangle from these destructive thinking patterns, you have to be aware of how they work. When you recognise the negative thought patterns, counter them with alternative messages that are positive and optimistic based on truth and not fear. How and what you think can determine relative happiness of your life.

To conclude,

Do not take meditation as some process that magically wipes your mind clear of the countless and endless thoughts that erupt and ping constantly in your brain. Just practice bringing your attention to your breath, and then back to the breath when you notice your attention has wandered. Include the above insights as individually or apply them all together. Insightful meditation not only helps to bring your attention back to your breath but also gives you a focus to keep your thoughts meaningful and positive. And allows you to see each thought as a messenger with information on how to respond in a way that helps you feel in harmony with yourself and world around you. Your negative notions start to fade, instead of chasing you and wearing you down. While meditation isn’t a cure-all, it can certainly provide you some much-needed space to make better choices and focus needed to achieve your goals.

Nourish your intention of making meditation a daily practice. Invest in making this skill an essential feature of your mental toolkit. You’ll not only leap leagues ahead of your competition, but you’ll also move faster and further toward your chosen goals. The noise in your head will quieten and your feelings of overwhelm will lessen even though the workload and increased responsibilities remain. Be patient with yourself and perseverant and you will be able to notice small changes right away.