THE BLOG
12/08/2014 09:32 am ET Updated Feb 03, 2015

Executive Burnout: Don't Pick a Fight You Will Lose

Billions of dollars are spent on perks, incentives and professional development every year to keep executives and their teams excited, engaged and high performing. The intention is to get them to achieve their goals and beyond, be more creative, beat the competition, become faster and more intelligent with technology and essentially gain larger market share. Expensive perks and incentives, while may make the executives feel important, keep them focused and push them to more success, do not solve the problem of exhaustion and burnout they experience as a result. Burnout has proven to lead to illness, relationship problems, other stress-related issues and untimely death. In the article, When Executives Burnout, published in the Harvard Business Review, Harry Levinson talks about how 15 years ago the concept of burnout was still very new and how extreme feelings of stress among executives today are pervasive and growing worse.

In the past several years, I have continued to coach executives through our Mindfulness programs and private coaching. During this time, I have encountered hundreds of executives. Some exhausted and at the end of their ropes. Many lost faith that their hard work, creativity and dedication could bring them happiness. In subtle or explicit ways they express their desire to leave the corporate world for a better quality, less demanding life. A life they can actually feel as though they have the right and more importantly the permission to be content. To have time and a clear mind so they can be loving and attentive to their children and spouses. To not have to be driven by the underlying horror that if they didn't continue to succeed they would lose their job, relationships, health and self-esteem. Some enter the program or class almost hopeless having heard that mindfulness can help deter themselves from their path to destruction.

During the course of their mindfulness practice, the first thing that shifts is their perspective. They learn that they do not need to be in conflict with everything that goes wrong or differently than they had planned for. They learn to see the harm in self-criticism and become compassionate towards their own selves and others. This does not mean that they would be less driven, but that they do not have to be upset in order to solve something that goes wrong.

One client reported after only two sessions of private coaching that he went into an important audit meeting and announced that he wasn't going to be upset throughout the meeting and no one believed him. He was able to go through four hours of discussion and problem solving without one bit of anger or frustration, which baffled everyone in the room. He had understood that not only it is not necessary to be angry and demonstrate outrage in order to make a point, but also that his anger or inner conflict was the cause of his tension headaches. He was given daily mindfulness meditation homework, which he diligently had done. The best characteristic of executives and successful people is that they are serious about success and they will do what is necessary to make it happen. He had done even more sessions than I had asked him to do. So when I showed him that the "happening" of things is not something he could fight and win, he was able to see it.

I showed him this by a simple demonstration. Holding my phone between my fingers I asked what would happen if I open my fingers? He said, "The phone would drop." So, I opened my fingers and dropped the phone on the carpeted ground. While he was looking at the phone with surprise I said, let say this was a very important object that just fell and got ruined. When you get angry and frustrated with this incident you are going to war with the actual act, the happening, of the incident and asked him, do you think you could win the war and conflict with the actual act of the object having fallen? This highly intelligent, highly successful, top of his class executive was not one who would pick a fight he wouldn't win. He immediately got it. He completely understood that most of the stress and anxiety he experiences is caused by his own unachievable expectation that things shouldn't happen. Continuing with his daily mindfulness practice and with several other coaching sessions he has remained calm in the face of all happenings and just tends to the next step, saving his own health from jeopardy, his team a lot of grief and his family from his anger. We explored the added amount of happiness he has also brought to his environment at home and at work. It's been great.

Training for the new habit of recognizing where most of your attention is spent and recognizing your perceptions and expectations for what they are is essential to managing stress as well as success in all aspects of your life.

To train your attention try a simple exercise. Right now, stop for a minute and shift your attention to a neutral place, such as the gentle process of breathing in your body. Experience your chest rising and falling, belly move in and out, rib cage expand and contract. Do this for three inhales and exhales and then continue reading.

Though simple, this task is not easy because you are not used to doing it. It takes time, patience and repetition. The result is that by shifting your attention to a neutral place, you can also see what else is going on around the neutral object. When we are lost in thoughts or worries we are not aware of much else and we can take things personal and not see that the "happening of it" is a natural phenomena. When we are able to see this truth then our choices and actions become wiser and more strategically effective.

For more information on what mindfulness is and free guided mindfulness meditation download Dr. Motaghy's Free podcasts here: http://www.podcastgarden.com/podcast/mindfulvalley