All effective leadership development starts with the self. Self focus is not selfish or self-centred. We learn about the self so that we can respond more effectively to others.
Our first task is to be present and self-aware. An important and useful way to cultivate self-awareness if by grounding yourself in the awareness of your body. In his book Transforming the Mind, Healing the World, Joseph Goldstein reminds us that most of the time we go through our day, our activities, our work, our relationships, and our conversations lost in thoughts, feelings, emotions, our stories, and our plans. He suggests paying attention to those times when we’re rushing – not necessarily physically, but when our minds are running ahead of ourselves, so we’re not present. The next time you notice that your mind is elsewhere – perhaps even as you’re reading these words — stop, take a few deep breaths, and come back to simply being present. When you’re present, you can know and work better with your own mind, which is where all change begins.
Here is an example of negativity bias and an alternative. In his classic American comic strip Pogo, Walt Kelly said “we have met the enemy and they are us.” Pema Chödrön [Start Where You Are, Shambala Publications 2004] says “the cause of confusion and bewilderment and pollution and violence isn’t really someone else’s problem; it’s something we can come to know in ourselves. But in order to do that we have to understand that we have met the friend and that is me. The more we make friends with ourselves, the more we can see that our ways of shutting down and closing off are rooted in the mistaken thinking that the way to get happy is to blame someone else.”
We know from neuroscience that as much as 95% of our brain activity is unconscious – things we’re not aware of. In order to overcome bias we need to be aware of it – to become more aware of our own mental and emotional processes—the waves of thought and emotion that continually course through our experience. When we’re more aware and take the stance of the observer two things happen – 1) the waves become less potent and we’re not so overwhelmed or distracted by them and 2) we can choose to respond with greater awareness and compassion – understanding that all human beings are subject to the same waves of thoughts and emotions. It’s been said that when you know you’re the ocean you’re not so affected by the waves. Self-awareness and self-compassion increase our capacity for equanimity and balance in our response to life – we respond more from choice less from habit. And we can choose to create positive, practical, and productive change, and overcome negativity bias. Step one is to become self- aware.