Elevate Your Leadership Practice with the 5-8-1 Mindfulness Technique

Mindfulness is an important part of any leadership practice. Today, I want to share a mindfulness technique that I’ve adopted from an unusual source.

Thanks to my amazing wife and this incredible sleep training resource, our boys have been reliably good sleepers. Generally they sleep from about 6:30pm to 6:45am. While that schedule has involved some sacrifice over the years, my wife and I both feel that it has been worth it.

My younger son recently turned one and has had trouble falling asleep on his own. So I turned to the internet for help and found a method that has worked well for my son called the 5-8-1 method.

The 5-8-1 Method for Infant Sleep

The 5-8-1 Method works like this: When it’s time for my son to sleep for the night or nap, I hold him while standing and move for 5 minutes. During this time, I rock him in my arms or pace around his room. Even if he cries or fusses, I just keep moving. Then, I sit down and hold him, sometimes rocking him in our glider (which is incidentally so comfortable, we bought a second one) for 8 minutes. Finally, I stand up and put him gently in his crib. He almost always rolls over on his own and then I gently rub his back for 1 minute.

The 5-8-1 technique for baby sleep

When I finish and leave the room, he is almost always sound asleep. While 5-8-1 hasn’t worked 100% of the time, it has worked close to that, around 90% of the time.

In addition to helping my son sleep, 5-8-1 has also given me 14 minutes of interrupted thought, which is hard to come by. Since I am holding my son, I can’t check my phone or respond to messages. I can’t scroll the internet. I can’t read an article.

Over time, I found that I really loved those 14 minutes. Not only do I get uninterrupted time to appreciate my son, but I also get uninterrupted time to re-set and re-center.

Adapting 5-8-1 To Busy Leaders

I’ve started experimenting with a 5-8-1 mindfulness technique for leaders to use during stressful days and have found it to be both therapeutic and helpful. After doing this adapted technique, I have found myself to be more productive and able to plan my next steps from a place of calm rather than a place of stress.

The mindfulness technique works like this:

  • 5 minutes doing some physical movement
  • 8 minutes of meditation
  • 1 minute of deep breathing

I found the combination of physical movement along with meditation close together to be part of the secret to the positive impact of this mindfulness technique.

Mindfulness Resources for 5-8-1

In the graphic above, you can see resources for each stage of the 5-8-1 mindfulness technique. Here they are with links to make it easier for you to try 5-8-1 for yourself.

5 Minutes of Physical Movement

8 Minutes of Mindfulness Meditation

1 Minute of Deep Breathing

  • Box breathing at a 4 count – This is a helpful breathing technique that works like this:
    • Breathe out slowly, releasing all the air from your lungs.
    • Breathe in through your nose as you slowly count to four in your head. Be conscious of how the air fills your lungs and stomach.
    • Hold your breath for a count of four.
    • Exhale for another count of four.
    • Hold your breath again for a count of four.
    • Repeat for three to four rounds.
  • Calm app – The calm app has breathing exercises as well that you could do for a minute.
  • Apple watch – The Apple watch has a “Mindfulness” app that includes short guided breathing exercises using the watch’s haptics so you can keep you eyes closed.

Of course, you can also use any of your own resources to meditate. These are just some resources you can use to get started. The most important thing is not which app you use but to try to 5-8-1 mindfulness technique.

The Benefits of Mindfulness for Leaders

There are an increasing number of academic studies validating the connection between mindfulness and positive leadership.

One such study, published in the journal “Mindfulness”, found that mindfulness was positively associated with employee well-being and performance. The study also found that mindfulness was mediated by emotional intelligence, which suggests that mindfulness helps leaders to better understand and regulate their emotions, which in turn leads to better employee well-being and performance.

More and more leaders are adding mindfulness to their leadership practice because of its benefits to both the leader and teams. I have meditated with my teams in the past and found the results to be positive.

The 5-8-1 Mindfulness Technique is now in your toolbox to use in your leadership practice.

Key Takeaways

Mindfulness is essential for leaders. In this post, I introduces a mindfulness technique called the 5-8-1 method. The method involves 5 minutes of physical movement, 8 minutes of meditation, and 1 minute of deep breathing.


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Sensory Pollution: A Silent Killer for Leadership Impact

I’ve been thinking lately about pollution. This time, not pollution in the environmental sense, which is how man-made items contaminate the environment. Instead, I’ve been wrestling lately with another kind of pollution that impacts leadership.

Sensory pollution can distract leaders and shift focus to non-important work. This can hurt their ability to practice leadership effectively.
Sensory pollution can distract leaders and shift focus to non-important work

Leaders face so many distractions, which can pollute or contaminate the mind. Let’s call this “Sensory pollution,” a phenomenon that has been extensively studied in animals, but has a very important impact on leaders as well.

Where does Sensory Pollution come from?

Some culprits of sensory pollution are social media, the 24-hour news cycle, and other value-subtracting stimuli. Sites like Twitter and Facebook are filled with garbage dopamine and cortisol hits. From a sensory perspective, social media contaminates my sense of sight and my sense of touch, reflexively scrolling through my news feed passing by the minutes looking for the next hit.

In fact, my phone is filled with distracting sensory pollution, engaging the sense of touch to select and scroll, the sight of an application opening up and having unread messages, and the sound of someone trying to reach me through the “ding” from the speaker. Just waking up in the morning can be a sensory pollution minefield.

Then there can be the pollution from draining relationships at work. The never ended meetings that do not reach next steps or a logical conclusion can also pollute the mind and cause a leader to focus on trivial tasks, putting out fires, and pure survival.

Finally, there’s pollution through the sense of taste. For example, when I am stressed, I know that I reach for items that contaminate my body including fast food, fried food, and sweets.

My point in sharing the concept of sensory pollution is that all of these things contaminate the mind and make a leader less impactful and effective.

At their core, leaders are responsible for three things:

1) IMPACT – Having an impact on the core measures and outputs for the business

2) LEGACY – Treating other people, including team members, colleagues, and senior leadership, well and with respect.

3) SANITY – Preserving their own sanity by managing the commitment and emotional investments that come with being a leader.

Does sensory pollution actually advance any of these three areas of focus? If, for example, knowing what is going on in the world is a part of your job, how might you minimize the noise of news cycle punditry to reduce sensory pollution?

The answer lies in lessons from the Stoics, among others. Part of preserving a leader’s sanity is to quiet the mind and be able to focus even in the face of distraction. It is one of the most difficult parts of leadership but also one of the most essential.

Ryan Holiday, a modern student of and prolific writer about Stoic philosophy has been a core resource in my leadership practice to learn how to reduce sensory pollution.

In a recent tweet, Holiday shared:

In addition, you can reduce sensory pollution by not checking your phone within one-hour of waking up in the morning, practicing some form of meditation, and developing non-work relationships in your life that do not mind listening to you reflect or vent on hard issues (pro-tip, someone with a long commute is generally excited to spend time with you on the phone).

Sensory pollution is one of the biggest risks for leaders and must be managed to preserve a leader’s impact, legacy and sanity. Work environments, and its values and behaviors, should make an effort to significantly reduce sensory pollution in order to drive its most important outcomes.

Key Takeaways to Improve Leadership

Sensory pollution for leaders are the things that contaminate your mind, make you reactive, and drain your energy. It is not as simple as going cold-turkey on negative stimuli. Leaders must have a routine or mitigation strategies to filter out the contaminants and focus on the three main aspects of being a leader – your impact, your legacy, and your sanity.

Ten rules for being human

The year I graduated from college, I was looking for a good way to stay in shape. I enrolled in martial arts classes at the Black Belt Martial Arts Center. The gym was an almost magical place where the instructors were always positive, but were simultaneously always pushing me out of my comfort zone and encouraging me to test my physical limits. It was not only the best exercise I’ve ever gotten, but it was so good for my mental health as well. I miss martial arts and plan to pick it back up.

Before one of our classes, Master RJ Lee shared, “The Ten Rules for Being Human” by Cherie Carter Scott, which are posted below.

I have these rules and the Holstee Manifesto on my desk at work, reminding me every day of some of these basic life truths, which I have found to be important guidance, especially as an adult.

But one of these rules in particular have been coming up for me repeatedly lately as I observe the world and, more specifically, as I lead a change management effort. Rule #7 has manifested itself several times this year in meetings, phone calls, and the occasional hostile or nasty email. At its basic level, I interpret #7 much like the concept of projection in psychology.

In Psychology Today, projection is described this way: “Unconscious discomfort can lead people to attribute unacceptable feelings or impulses to someone else to avoid confronting them. Projection allows the difficult trait to be addressed without the individual fully recognizing it in themselves.”

Originally described by Sigmund Freud in 1895, Carl Jung and Marie-Louise von Franz built upon Freud’s description of projection as a defense mechanism. Jung and von Franz believed that projection represents a fear of the unknown, which is inherent in change, especially in a work environment that was previously static or predictable.

I’ve been giving extra thought to this concept lately, especially at work. I have been trying to figure out an answer to the question, what does a leader do when people lash out in what is a clear projection?

The best answer I have come up with is first, not to take it personally. In the style of servant leadership, if the leadership can recognize a clear projection, it is obviously much more about the needs of the person speaking to you. In other words, “It’s not about you.”

Next, there is internal work a leader must do to make sure that the projection does not get solidified in their mind as fear. I took a course last year from Stanford University that offered a helpful trick. I learned than when I experience a difficult moment in leadership, like someone lashing out at me, and I internalize it negatively and dwell on it. When I would go to sleep, my brain hard-wires that memory and it can trigger a fight-or-flight response when I confront the same thing again. Instead, if I take a moment and engage in reflection (I use a journal) to reframe the incident before I sleep, my brain will not hard-wire the negativity. I try not to let one instance of discomfort have a profound impact on my behavior in similar situations moving forward.

After that internal work is when I decide on the next step. I think about the impact the particular behavior could have on the broader team culture and usually consider that first. From there, I check in with my definition of leadership. That usually helps me decide the best next step.

When confronted with a clear projection, leaders start with the internal work of self-management and self-reflection. Leaders must then consider the broader impact of their response on both the team and their larger goals.

KEY TAKEAWAY: Leaders work hard on the internal processing of incidents and use tools for reflection like the Ten Rules for Being Human and the Holstee Manifesto to put those difficult moments into perspective.

Asking the right questions

ask blackboard chalk board chalkboard

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Powerful questions can yield powerful insights. However, the nature of those questions will vary significantly based on the environment where they are asked, and the ultimate goal that the individual hopes to achieve by asking them.

I grew up around the media because my father is a photojournalist. If you watch a news conference, you may notice that journalists ask almost entirely yes-or-no questions. For example, this was one of the questions President Trump answered at a press conference just yesterday, “Thanks, Mr. President. I wanted to follow up on two things that you had said earlier in the cabinet room. The first was on TikTok, and the second was on coronavirus. On TikTok, you said that you wanted money for the US Treasury from the sale. Does that mean you expect the Chinese company to pay the US Treasury directly?

Most lawyers are taught the same technique. On a cross-examination, lawyers are taught to ask yes-or-no questions to help them build their case or challenge a witness’ account of an event. An example of Hollywood’s take on a cross-examination can be seen below from the classic movie My Cousin Vinny:

However, when leading teams or in coaching an individual, which is an essential requirement of leadership, powerful questions are rarely “yes-or-no.” In fact, powerful questions are just the opposite, open ended, allowing the team or individual to work through and explore the answers.

This concept has been on my mind a lot lately. While we have no clear signposts in the middle of this pandemic, we know that it is far from over. And while the hope of returning to normal activities soon still remains high, there are many steps that need to take place before we will reach the finish line of this pandemic. So how do we process what is going on? How to we stay focused on both the present and the future? How do we connect with optimism and hope during a time such as this?

As you consider those questions, imagine how essential workers in our communities are answering these same questions. I think about my colleagues and friends who deliver care every day to patients during the pandemic. Have they had time to take a deep breath and process the loneliness, pain, and suffering? How can they connect to an optimistic mindset?

Over the course of the last month, our patient experience team has tried to give our clinical caregivers the space to do just that. We came up with prompts and suggested that our caregivers write down how they were feeling. Our caregivers appreciated this newfound space to think about what they have been experiencing over the past 5 months.

Again, powerful questions can yield powerful insights. One of the keys to asking questions that can be transformational is to ask them in a way that encourages reflection, exploration, and depth. So when working with your teams, don’t be a journalist at a news conference or a lawyer in a courtroom—be a leader.

KEY TAKEAWAY: Powerful questions usually start with the words, “What” or “How”. They are open-ended and encourage reflection, exploration, and depth.

Find Peace in Chaos: The Therapeutic Effects of Journaling During Uncertain Times

notebook with blank pages

Photo by MESSALA CIULLA on Pexels.com

By my count, today is day 138 of the COVID-19 pandemic, or a little over four and a half months of social distancing. While my wife and I feel blessed to have a roof over our heads, jobs, our health, and a healthy new baby boy, that doesn’t mean the last 138 days have been easy. We miss our family, our friends, seeing people in our community regularly and, boy, what I would do for a night out at our favorite restaurant or to go to a ballgame.

With all of that said, there is one practice that I hope to keep when all of this is over and that’s journaling. Pretty much every evening, I have sat down and kept a journal and I have found that, despite the lack of normal activity, I have had a lot to say! I have already filled up 2 journals that I have previously started and stopped over the last decade and am on my third.

I find it therapeutic to get my thoughts down on paper, even if they are disorganized and incomplete. I do not put pressure on myself for it to be elegant prose or the next great novel, it just reflects what comes off the top of my mind and out of my pen. Journaling helps me reflect on and explore conversations I’ve had, think through problems, process things I am learning, and put events that are bothering me into a larger context.

Journaling also gives me a reference point for certain events. For example, without the journal, I doubt that I would have any memory of my son’s first 4 weeks of life. As those of you who are parents know, that time is a sleep-deprived blur. Not to mention that, because of the pandemic, it was just the three of us for that entire time.

Most of all, I have found that journaling gives me context. It is hard not to feel like every notable moment or decision is significant. However, I look back later and realize that I may have blown whatever was going on way out of proportion. Reading through it in a journal allows me to understand my thoughts and emotions so that when I am feeling those same thoughts or emotions in a similar context, I can put them into perspective, reminding myself how it turned out. I had this exact situation happen to me just this week, and by making the comparison, I was able to make myself feel better and better manage my emotions.

Seeing progress over time has been one of the best discoveries in keeping a journaling practice. I highly recommend it, especially if you are leading teams or you desire to engage in self-discovery. Happy journaling!

Journal of choice: Moleskine large soft cover lined notebook

Writing instrument of choice: Montblanc Meisterstück Platinum-Coated Classique Rollerball or my gift shop pen from the President Gerald Ford Museum

KEY TAKEAWAY: Journaling is a great way to collect your thoughts, especially during times of growth, change, or uncertainty.