Mayo Clinic professor Amit Sood defines two primary modes in which our brain operates. The first, “focused mode,” is when our brain is immediately present of the world around us--focused mode is experience-oriented, and allows us to stay attuned to a particular task or allow our brains to react naturally to external situations. The second state, “default mode,” is more internally oriented--our brain thinks actively about, processes, and reflects upon the external events. While self-reflection is hugely important to an effective and happy life, spending too much time over-analyzing our world in default mode can lead to additional stress and struggle as we fall into what Dr. Sood refers to as “attention black holes.”
Stress Management and Resiliency Training
Stress may be an inevitable part of life, but we can learn tools and skills to help us better manage these stressors and reduce the negative impact they have on our happiness and success. One toolset we can use is called SMART, short for Stress Management and Resiliency Training. Practicing SMART is functionally a state of mindfulness, where we put forward active efforts to pay attention to our lives in a way that allows us to see positives, put our stressors into perspective, and improve our mental energy. Here are 5 actions that can help us live the SMART mindset day-to-day:
- Gratitude: This first skill involves practicing gratitude not only on a daily basis, but making it your first priority each day. As you wake up each morning, make an effort to list the people about whom you care most deeply, and express gratitude for their existence and their place within your life. Hold this gratitude with you throughout the day, and if you leave them to go to work, invest those feelings of gratitude into a feeling of joy when you finally return home.
- Compassion: This second skill is simply practicing caring and kindness to those around you, whether they be family, friends, coworkers, or complete strangers--we realize that during stressful times this can be truly difficult, but the more you practice when your life is fairly stress-free, the more you can call upon these skills during stressful situations. We recommend practicing by simply acknowledging others around you--treat the first 20-30 people you come across in a day with proactive kindness and caring, whether it be a caring action or even just a kind look.
- Acceptance: This is the true mindfulness skill, and involves practicing intentional self-reflection about and self-acceptance of your thought patterns. Look inward and consciously identify your responses to various external events, situations, and stimuli, and recognize how they’re shaped by the familial, cultural, and moral lenses through which we view the world. When you identify lenses or thought patterns that are creating stress, prejudice, or restriction, work to instead see the world through the three most significant lenses: forgiveness, compassion, and gratitude.
- Acknowledging a Higher Power: While many think of this skill in spiritual terms (acknowledging god or another deity that influences your life in this world), it need not be a religious action. Acknowledging a higher power is more broadly an admission to one’s self that we exist in a world we cannot fully comprehend or control--whether it be due to the forces of a god, nature, fate, the universe, or wherever we place our beliefs in what shapes the world around us. Accepting this allows us to relieve much of the stress we place on ourselves as individuals and start to see our position within a broader world.
- Forgiveness: The world is not perfect, and neither is anybody who lives in it. While it’s unwise to repress legitimate grievances, unyielding rumination, grudge-holding, and resentment of past faults only serve to add to our stress and anxiety. Consciously and intentionally practicing forgiveness allows us to resolve past issues and move forward with building our family and our community.
A SMART mindset and mindfulness in general are often tools that can trip up otherwise intelligent, effective people--we all like to think of ourselves as rational, clear-headed, and self-aware, but we all have plenty of moments of mindlessness where we make automatic judgments, assumptions, and responses that may increase our stress and unhappiness. For more advice on managing stress within a business family, pick up The Soul of the Family Business by Tom Hubler. Through personal anecdotes, real-world case studies, useful tools and frameworks, and more, Hubler offers an in-depth look at the challenges faced, strategies employed, and successes achieved by all sorts of family businesses. You can pick up The Soul of the Family Business, available in hardcover form on Amazon.com, directly through Itasca Books, or at a bookstore near you. And of course, if you’re ready to take the next steps, you can always contact Hubler for Business Families today.