This week, I like to share three powerful reenergization exercises with you. Each of these exercises of mind will help you to release negative stress, to refocus and to recharge. They take no more than a few minutes each to complete. You can do them anytime during your work day. Have fun trying them out for yourself. One may work better for you than another.
Do not get frustrated if initially, you feel a bit silly and awkward, get distracted, have difficulties with letting the imagination come alive, and need to pull out of the exercise a few times to review what's next (if you struggle with this, perhaps make a voice recording of the description until you have memorised it).
Exercises of the mind are no different from physical exercise: They need practice. The more often you exercise, the stronger the muscles of your imaginative mind will become, the better you remember the sequences of each exercise and the quicker and better you carry them out.
1. Ground yourself
To regain inner balance and come down to earth
Estimated minimum time to complete: 8 min
This exercise is best done while standing upright.
To begin, ensure that both your feet are flat on the ground, slightly apart from one another in about hip-width. Straighten out your back and neck, and pull your shoulders downwards and backwards. Lower your chin slightly down towards your chest. Your arms hang comfortably down on your sides. Slightly wip from your toes to your heels while pressing your feet onto the ground.
Once you have found a comfortable body posture, close your eyes if you can. Alternatively, look out of a window and focus somewhere on the horizon, or focus on a distant point in the office.
Next, concentrate on your breathing for a short while. Breathe slowly in and out through your nose. Concentrate for two breathing cycles on widening and filling your upper body with air. Then with the next breath, also fill your belly with air. Continue to naturally breathe slowly and deeply in and out from your belly for another two or three breathing cycles, and when breathing in, imagine how the air also streams into your arms and legs, up to your crest and down into your toes.
While you continue to calmly breathe in and out, let your mind's focus wander down to your feet again. Become conscious once more of how all your weight lasts heavily but pleasantly on your feet.
Now, imagine how little roots start growing from underneath your feet and into the ground your are standing on (it does not matter if in reality you stand on concrete on the 35th floor - deep down, there is nonetheless earth beneath you, but if your mind must work around the facts, then make the roots grow extra deep and long with extra speed).
Feel how the tiny roots under your feet tickle. Listen to the cracking soft sounds they make. Smell the moist odour of wood and earth.
With every breath you take, envision how the roots that grow from your feet reach deeper into earth and how they become thicker and stronger. Feel how the roots give you more and more stability and support.
Now, imagine how the roots begin to sprout stems. Feel how a few scions start growing around and up your feet. Picture how these stems develop green buds, and quickly move higher and higher, winding softly around your legs. Hear how the buds burst and the leaves emerge. Imagine how the leaves multiply and become bigger. Inhale the green aromas.
Feel the twigs grow even higher, grow around your hips, embrace your upper body, coil around your arms. Imagine how they finally develop into a majestic tree, how they grow up your neck and around your head and then spread out into the sky above you, holding you firmly but nicely in their middle. Picture the green shadowy roof which is forming above you. Sense how the twigs have become stable branches all around you, and how they attach to your body in a soothing, comforting way.
Now, focus on how the roots from your feet nurture the tree around you. Feel how these roots nurture your body as well. Enjoy the connection. Imagine that you have become a part of the tree around you. Feel how the roots from your feet channel water and energy from the ground into the tree and into your body. Feel how they also provide your mind with fresh motivation and courage, new ideas and new solutions. Think of how the leaves transform light and sun into oxygene and sugar, and imagine that you absorb the energy they generate through every pore of your skin. Let the fresh pure oxygene stream to every cell of your body and to freshen your brain. Now, search for remaining stress, tiredness, anger, sorrow and frustration inside of you. Send all these negative thoughts and emotions into the tree. Feel them evaporate from the surface of the leaves into thin air. Envision them flush down through the roots into the depths of the underground. Enjoy the feeling of being grounded and of being one with the tree for as long as you like.
When you are ready to go back to work, let your mind shrink the tree. Envision how the branches and twigs retreat back into the ground, and sense how the roots under your feet snap and release you. Take a deep breath, press your upper arms against your upper body once with all your strength, open our eyes and/or look at your feet, and then step out of the exercise.
2. The door to peace and quiet
To de-stress, let go and silence the inner voices
Estimated minimum time to complete: 10 min
For this exercise, it does not matter whether you are standing or sitting. But you should be comfortable to close your eyes during it.
Start with finding a comfortable and relaxed body posture. Place both of your feet flat on the ground, straighten your spine, bring your pelvis slightly to the front, and pull your shoulder blades softly down- and backwards. Lower your chin slightly towards your chest. Let your arms rest at your sides.
Begin with closing your eyes and taking a deep breath out. Then calmly and naturally breathe in and out through your nose a few times with mindfulness. Continue to calmly breathe throughout the exercise.
Now turn your attention to the voices in your head. Turn your attention to all thoughts which are on your mind and cause you stress or anxiety. Give space to all your worries, fears, problems, difficulties, conflicts, negative experiences, sorrows and inner self-critics. Imagine that you are suddenly standing in the middle of a wide room. Look around and see how all these thoughts, emotions and voices manifest as figures which slowly begin to fill the room. If you find it easy, imagine these imaginatory personas cluttering in small interacting groups of people. Think of them as beings of different age and gender who are dressed in different clothes and have different hairstyles. If it does not come easy to you, think of them just as some dimly shadows surrounding you.
You may be surprised that there is a real crowd gathering around you, and more continue to join. Acknowledge their presence and how loud and agitated their voices and gestures may be. Realise that the individual figures do not seem to notice you standing there between them. You are merely an observer who watches and keeps a distance. Let them talk, whisper, scream, shout, moan, sigh and mutter amongst themselves. Picture how the voices blend into one another and become no more than an ambient noise.
Imagine now how you turn your head to the right, and there, in the wall, is a door which you did not notice before. Envision how there is a clear empty path which leads through the crowd and across the room straight to this door.
In your imagination, now walk towards the door. Open it. Step through it. Close the door firmly behind you, and imagine how you are immediately enclosed by wonderful silence. It smells nice. It is a very pleasant temperature. You find yourself in the middle of a peaceful, relaxing stretch of nature. It can be a sandy beach, the shore of a lake, your own garden, a sun-lit forest or the top of a mountain range. Maybe you are even diving at a coral reef. The place of nature you are in after you step through the door is which ever place of nature real or imaginative is the most appealing to you. You are free to choose it to be your perfect scenary. Picture everything around you as lively and perfect as you can and do so with all your mind's senses. Smell the aromas in the air. What does the ground under your feet consist of? Do you see the sky? Stretch you body. Become aware of the sounds of nature around you. Sit, stand, lie down, run, jump, float. Do what is best for you while you are in this quiet and peaceful place of mind. Stay as long as you like and need to be. Enjoy the clarity and ease of mind you have regained. Let feelings of tenseness and stress wear off.
When you feel relaxed and calm again, open your eyes and return directly from this oasis in your mind into reality.
Return to this imaginatory place when ever you require to have another moment of peace of mind.
3. The internal fire
To recharge your batteries and reconnect with your source of inner strength
Estimated minimum time to complete: 5 min
This exercise gets you in touch with some of your deeper feelings and your inner self. You may feel almost overwhelmed by powerful positive emotion. If you want to make it work, try not to fight these feelings.
To carry out the exercise, sit or stand in a relaxed posture with your eyes closed. Take a deep breath and straighten your upper body: Pull your shoulders down and backwards and stretch your backbone and neck. Bend your hip bone slightly to the front. Put your feet flat onto the ground. Continue to naturally breathe in and out through your nose.
Now imagine that you are holding a burning candle in your hands. Picture it as clearly as you can manage. Envision the heat coming from it, how the flame flickers, how the wax smells and melts.
When you have formed a clear picture of this candle in your mind, focus on your navel region. Imagine how you take the candle, reach through your navel and place it inside your belly (yes, of course this is possible: It is your imagination and only you decide what is possible and what is not). Feel the warmth and light of the candle spread throughout your belly region. Imagine the flame getting bigger until it reaches your heart.
While it slowly fills your heart and body with warmth and light, let your thoughts wander to those who love you and whom you love. Think about what you love about them. Feel the strength of their love and appreciation for you. Look at yourself through their loving eyes. Remind yourself of all the positive things they have to say about you. Look at yourself with the love and appreciation you deserve.
Imagine and feel how their love for you and the love you have for them and for yourself and everything that is good in your life fuels the candle's flame. Let it grow into a blazing and cleansing fire that engulfs you from head to toe. Feel the fire and energy in every cell of your body. Imagine how the light and heat of the fire radiates from your inside to the outside and forms a shining powerful ball of energy all around you.
Then picture how all this huge positive energy contracts until it is all concentrated in one tiny spot behind your navel, approximately in the place where you have put the imaginatory lit candle before. Use this source of highly concentrated positive energy inside of you as needed. It can be a lasting source of energy for your work and your private life, and you now know how to replenish it when it runs out.
One of my favorite readings as a kid was the adventurous story of Jim Knopf and Lukas the Engine Driver. This popular 1960’s German children novel by author Michael Ende features many a wonderful character. One of the most intriguing ones for me is Tur Tur, whom Jim, the orphan boy, and Lukas, his best friend, encounter in a desert at the very end of the world.
Tur Tur is a very fearsome giant. That is: He is when he is being gazed at from a distance. Actually, the further away one moves from him, the bigger and more frightening a figure he seems.
Once Jim and Lukas gather all their courage and start to approach him, however, Tur Tur begins to shrink. He becomes smaller and smaller, and when the two finally are face to face with him, it turns out that he is no more than an average size guy, and a really nice one as well.
Not only does Tur Tur help Jim and Lukas make their way out of the desert. Later on, standing on a peak at night with a lantern in his hand, the mock giant even serves as a living lighthouse for the miniature island of Lummerland, home of our two heroes.
I regularly remind myself of Tur Tur when I encounter major new challenges, and have told some of my clients about him, too. Is he not a great metaphor for the paradox ways in which we can sometimes perceive reality?
How often when we first encounter a tough situation in our professional -or personal- lives, a situation which we never had to deal with before, does the task appear horribly enormous? How often when we see a beastly giant arising at the horizon of our career path, may we be tempted to search for an easy escape, instead of looking it into the eyes and walk towards it with confidence? The dilemma between flight or attack is all too natural. The ability to see mock giants is all too human.
Even the best of leaders occasionally may feel and think – and perhaps even admit to it - that what is ahead of them is so gigantic that they would rather not want to deal with it. Like Jim and Lukas, managers of all levels may stare at the really big issues, and wish they could just duck and freeze or run the other way - if only they could find a passage out of the desert, with all the sand that blinds their vision.
Tur Tur’s dark shadow falls onto our desk when we hide behind our e-mail instead of picking up the phone and instead of calling in this tough meeting that we know is crucial, or instead of walking over to the office one floor up, because we are afraid of direct confrontation.
We may be intimidated by Tur Tur’s towering silhouette when we postpone dealing with a matter right here and now, because we fear massive conflicts or do not know how to cope with the potential of failure. The scary giants each of us may see in our very own deserts cause a considerable amount of unnecessary procrastination. And if the individual giants multiply throughout a company to a whole army of huge beasts, or whole teams stare at the same mock giant in awe, this will heavily affect organizational efficiency and complicate work lives - and not least our lives outside of work.
The difference between those who when the mock giants appear in stress situations or unknown territory, dare to confront and tame them, and by doing so, are able to lead their teams into the right direction and find the right way out – as did little Jim in our story - and of those who freeze or flee in their sight, is certainly one of the key criteria which distinguishes solid achievers from effective leaders.
And there is yet another valuable metaphor in the story of Tur Tur: The mock giant who starts to downsize into a more and more manageable shape once we start moving into the right direction: That giant once met and put into proportion can become a beacon for us, and a lighthouse for those who look up to us for guidance as leaders. In the future, when confronted with similar challenges, remembering Tur Tur will remind us to identify the unnecessary stressors, and so allow us to be much more efficient from the beginning.
The experience that the last fiery giant we saw was not a giant and not fiery after all, but just a nice and really helpful guy, can allow us to realize that the projections of being lost, overpowered, and set up for failure we or those around us struggle with, may very often be completely unjustified: These perceptions will diminish, then vanish, with every step we take to reach our goal.
I hope you will venture out to meet your very own mock giants with courage and with a smile!
Click here to read the original story (in German only, I am afraid).