You have been sitting in a meeting all morning, its time for a 2-minute break — and you are up next to present. You feel your analytical mind racing with thoughts, going through your upcoming presentation, making last second changes, and the more you think about it, the more you seem to forget what you are supposed to be presenting. Your stress levels begin to rise, but you don’t know what to do about it.
What if, instead of spending your break between rounds of tough meetings or presentations analysing what you should be doing, you anchored yourself by doing a physical routine, that would keep you present, more calm, and focused? Sound great right?
What you need to develop is an anchoring routine
In my Full Contact Living experience, I remind clients that even if they just have a minute or a brief bathroom break, they can still boost their embodied mental game if they anchor themselves with a physical routine.
An anchor technique, often used by athletes between physical challenges, is a way of summoning your positive emotions, feelings of confidence and trust. It is a way of totally letting go of what happened, or what is about to happen, getting you back to the present moment of performance.
As a martial artist, I use an in-between round routine in sparring that I call the “Circling Shark.” I never sit down or chat with anyone between rounds. Instead, I circle the mat “like a shark,” using the time and movement to resettle into my body. My focus shifts to my breath, leaving everything that just happened, or is about to happen behind. The goal, is to use movement and breath to anchor me to the present moment. From my experience I know that if I engage someone in conversation during my break, or if I found myself holding onto the past round, or began planning for the upcoming round — it would be very difficult to come back with my best game.
The reality is no amount of planning seconds before a performance event is going to change the outcome. If you haven’t put in the hours training or preparing, you are going to be in trouble anyway. The realisation for anyone who has ever stepped in the ring is that, in order to bring all that training to bare, you need to trust your actions, not second guess yourself.
Trust, not second guessing yourself, is only possible in the present moment. Projecting your thoughts into the future, or holding onto your past mistakes, degrades performance. It says, “I don’t trust myself”.
Executives Get It Wrong
But what do most executives do? They leave the scene of their “rounds” of meetings or presentations and start second guessing what they are going to say next, or they try to make last second changes — and then expect that they will be totally focused and do better when they return. Unfortunately it doesn’t work that way. Just like in sparring and being in the ring, these kinds of actions create a rift between action and trust.
But there is good news….
A study conducted in 2009 by researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, asked two groups of people to solve a problem that required a solution by swinging strings. The first group was asked to swing their arms while coming up with a solution, whilst the other group was asked to sit still and resolve the problem.
Those who moved solved the problem faster, which demonstrated to the researchers, that our brains can take cues from our bodies to help understand and solve complex problems. It was an important study that changed the way people think about the impact of body on mind, instead of the classical view of the mind only impacting the body.
Alejandro Lleras, the psychology professor who led the study, said by directing the way people move their bodies, we can direct the way they think about a problem. He noted that the results are interesting since body motion can affect higher order thoughts. Researchers said the study provided new insight into what they labelled “embodied cognition.”
In my own Circling Shark routine, I walk around clockwise, usually three times, while focusing on my breath. It has become an effective anchoring ritual, a physical action that my body recognises, as something I do to calm down, become focused and be ready to enter the next intense round.
The purpose of having an anchoring ritual during challenges, whether they are in the boxing ring or the boardroom, is to literally let go of whatever happened in the round or meeting before. It brings you back to a point of presence and focus in the moment. As you do your routine, the goal is to keep focused in the present moment. To let go of what happened earlier, or what is about to happen. These actions bring about what I call, “Embodied trust”.
The outcome, you will find that when you go back into a challenging situation, you are completely present and able handle whatever comes at you. You have allowed yourself to “re-set”. In fact, that is the best way to think of an anchoring technique, as a “re-set” button — that empty’s your mind so you are fresh as you go back to the challenge at hand.
Find an anchoring exercise that works for you. You may want to swing your arms, squeeze and extend your hands, or just walk in a predictable fashion for two minutes. It can even be discretely crossing and uncrossing your ankles three times (something you can do right in the middle of a meeting).
Make it into ritual, focus on your breath, allow thoughts, feelings to arise, but let them pass without judgement, allowing yourself to come back, time and time again to your breath. When you are asked to step up, you will with trust and clarity.