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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Slow down

Lately, I’ve been feeling pretty groggy. Feeling like I just went to sleep, I sit up in my bed in the middle of the night, half awake and I hear a voice in my head saying, “It’s a marathon not a sprint, slow down.”

This voice is neither premonition nor mantra (nor psychosis), but rather the literal voice of my wife, Sheryl, coaching our 5-week old son, Aaron, to slow down while he enjoys one of his middle of the night feedings.

AJS Nats

He’ll grow into it

I’ve listened to people for years talk about how much they learn from their children and I honestly did not pay it any attention and really just heard it as lip service, something parents say. Here I am though, just a few weeks into fatherhood, and Aaron is already teaching me something. Whether it’s moving his body too quickly or eating too quickly, Aaron seems to get into trouble when he rushes. I just wish I could clearly communicate  to him that childhood is a special time and he should hold onto being a child for as long as possible. While the world is a wide-open and exciting place, being able to experience new things with pure joy as a child is a time nobody should rush through.

Meanwhile, I’ve been engaging with friends and colleagues over the questions, “When this COVID mess is all over, what will you change? What will you never take for granted again? What will you do to make the world a better place?” It has left an impression on me that in nearly every conversation, at least one person says that they have learned that the world has not ended because they have been forced to spend more time at home with family, forced to not run to the next event, and forced to be with their own thoughts in reflective moments or boredom.

There is a lesson in here for leaders too. How important is being fast? Could we accomplish more, maybe lead more compassionately, if we just slowed down? If we allocated one afternoon or, dare I say, an entire day every week to reflection, thoughtful planning, and building deep relationships, rather than running around? How would that impact our ability to help the people we lead?

Personally, I have found that slowing down allows me to focus, feel rejuvenated, and actually be more productive overall. When the COVID-19 pandemic ends, one of my goals will be to capture time back for deep work. Adam Grant described this concept analogous to REM sleep, that we have REM work opportunities. When we are interrupted by needlessly long meetings or other distractions at inopportune times, we sacrifice productivity and REM work.

I hope this pandemic ends soon and that some of the therapeutics and vaccines in development are safe and distributed soon. One of the major learnings though that I will keep with me is to slow down, a meaningful first lesson from a great Little Dude.

KEY TAKEAWAY: Learn from Aaron and slow down. It relieves pressure, allows time for deeper work, and helps us derive more meaning from what we do on a daily basis.