Freedom: Taking Ownership of Your Own Happiness

“Lily doesn’t listen,” had been Shelly’s refrain about her partner for years. She had complained many times to me about this issue, and yet somehow her wife’s behavior didn’t change, and Shelly’s anger and frustration about it also didn’t change.

Lily’s inability to listen had created tremendous conflict in the family. A conversation would happen over dinner, and the next day, Lily would have little or no memory of its content or details. (She was not on any substances.) Their two kids were constantly yelling at their mom for not remembering what they had already told her. Shelly had spent many hours consoling their kids, assuring them that Lily’s inability to pay attention to the details of their lives did not mean she didn’t care (which is how it felt). Although Shelly experienced tremendous resentment and hurt herself when Lily didn’t listen, she did her best to convince the kids that it was their mom’s distraction that was to blame, not them.

Shelly had been talking about this issue for a long time, mostly about how to change her partner and get her to listen better. She had explained to her wife on many occasions how it made her and the kids feel when she didn’t remember what was discussed or the daily goings-on in the family’s life. She had expressed the profound emotional value of remembering the details. Shelly had described in poignant detail how it felt when Lily uttered, “Uh-huh,” at a place in the conversation where clearly no “uh-huh” was called for or appropriate. And how, with that simple, ill-attuned “uh-huh,” Shelly would know instantly that Lily was not present and not listening to what she was sharing. She had talked about the sorrow and loneliness of that moment in great depth and detail.

Shelly had also gone through a stretch of encouraging Lily to get a brain scan, to see if there was legitimately something wrong that made it hard for her to pay attention and land in the present moment. (Lily discovered her brain was fine after a routine cat-scan for an unrelated issue.) In addition, Shelly got Lily into a program of meditation and gave her books on being present and managing distraction. Despite positive changes, when Shelly stopped leading the charge for her wife to meditate, Lily’s behavior eventually reverted back to the way it had been before.

Shelly had also run the gamut in terms of expressing her anger. Again and again, she had begged her wife, “Where are you? Are you ever here where everyone else is, actually listening?” On behalf of herself and their children, she had demanded a change: “Your family is here at the table, we need you here! Where are you?” For Shelly, it felt like an emotional trauma each time it happened.

Shelly had given it the full college try, working at changing her partner for more than a decade. She had lived in a state of waiting—waiting for Lily to change. Some part of her believed that she couldn’t be fully content until her wife became someone else, someone who was not distracted, could pay attention closely, cared about how much it all hurt, and wanted to remember the lives discussed. Shelly had been waiting for her partner to become someone who made her happy.

But as frustrating, enraging, and hurtful as Lily’s behavior legitimately was, the bigger problem as I saw it was Shelly’s belief that her own well-being and freedom depended on someone else changing. Shelly was hostage to a situation she had absolutely no control over (as was abundantly clear by now). Her captor was not actually her wife (as she imagined), but rather her conviction that her wife’s behavior was responsible for her own happiness or to blame for her unhappiness.

Before Shelly could get free from this belief, it was important to offer empathy to the despair and rage that her wife’s behavior triggered, the familial pattern it held, and the emotional abandonment historically tied, for her, to the act of listening. Empathy and compassion for our own experience is a necessary step in letting going of a limiting belief, and in this case, Shelly’s belief that her happiness was tied to someone else’s behavior.

No one, not even our partner, is responsible for our happiness, for providing us with a sense of meaning, or filling up our emptiness. No one is responsible for our well-being—no one except ourselves. (This does not apply to children and their parents.) As adults, it is our responsibility to make ourselves happy—to make choices that are in alignment with our own needs.

This last week, Shelly told me about a recent incident with her wife. In passing, Shelly had mentioned something about an upcoming weekend trip her older child was planning. Lily, per usual, hadn’t been listening when they discussed the trip at dinner (and other times as well) and thus needed Shelly to fill her in yet again on the details, and also to be convinced that she should be allowed to go. In years past, Shelly would have gotten angry, explained what not listening did to everyone in the family, perhaps made an interpretation of her wife’s psychology, and then, finally, done what she always did… repeated the details and explanations so Lily could be included when she was able to pay attention. This time, Shelly felt a sting, but remarkably did not feel inclined to participate in the same way. This time, she calmly told her wife that the conversation and trip had already been discussed, and she was not going to repeat the information again. She then left the house and moved on with her day without anger or resentment. This was, for both of us, a huge victory.

Shelly had done so many things differently in this interaction. For one, she had actualized the serenity prayer. Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. She had spent more than enough years trying to get her wife to change, which clearly was not in her control. By continuing to spend her time and energy explaining her anger and repeating the details that had been missed, Shelly had unknowingly been inviting her wife to continue not listening, and also condemning herself to the suffering of the relational pattern, ensuring that nothing would change.

On this occasion, however, she did not do what she had always done, and as a result, did not get what she had always gotten. Following the interaction, she did not live a day full of anger and resentment, did not suffer from high blood pressure and anxiety.  She did not spend the day ruminating and obsessing over how and why the problem had happened again, and of course, what to do about it that she hadn’t already done. Shelly had changed her own behavior, had taken ownership of what she wanted, what she was willing to do and not willing to do, no matter what choices her partner made. This is the most important change we can make in any relationship.

In deciding to stop trying to change her partner and start changing herself in response instead, Shelly discovered that freedom and happiness were already available, now. It’s not to say that Lily’s behavior was suddenly satisfying or delightful; the frustration still arose, but Lily’s behavior did not define Shelly’s emotional state or dictate how Shelly needed to spend her energy or attention. Shelly was not captive to Lily’s choices or limitations. Furthermore, she was not responsible for changing Lily, but she positively was responsible for owning her own wants, needs, and boundaries, and acting accordingly.

In this profound paradigm shift, Shelly realized (as we all need to realize) that it was up to her to decide and also act on what she wanted and what she would participate in. She was no longer waiting for Lily to behave in a way that made her happy but rather taking responsibility for her own happiness—separate from her partner.

When we claim and act according to our own wants and needs; when we get clear about what we’re willing and not willing to do (or do anymore); when we give up trying to change others into people who can make us happy; when we’re willing to take responsibility for our own happiness, then, finally, we’re free. As it turns out, when we are responsible for our own happiness, we get the job done better than anyone else possibly could!

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How to Make Every Day Matter

“Oh! It’s today. My favorite day,” Winnie the Pooh once said.

29,200 days. That’s how many days we’ll get if we’re lucky enough to live to 80.

I think about that a lot, not to be morbid or frighten myself, but to remind myself of the importance of each day I get to be alive. The knowledge of 29,200 doesn’t keep me from occasionally watching too much Netflix or perusing eBay, but it does wake me up to the profundity of a single day, and evoke a sense of gratitude for the opportunity to experience another day of life.

So too, reminding myself of the day count of a human life encourages me to pay attention to this moment, treat this day like it matters, and live this day, the only day I’m certain I’ll get—to the fullest.

So the question then begs, what does it mean to live a day to the fullest to make it matter?’ It’s a question I think all of us should ask ourselves. It may be the most important question we can ask, because it forces us to consider what really matters—what makes a day or a life of days feel meaningful.

The message we often receive in our society is that living each day to the fullest means packing the day full with activities and accomplishments. It means travel, adventure, taking chances, being productive, and of course, success. Our version of living fully usually has a lot to do with what we achieve and/or attain.

There’s nothing wrong with achieving and attaining, but getting, doing, and accomplishing may not be what a well-lived day includes for ourselves. How can we know what makes a day feel meaningful or fulfilling if we never ask ourselves, and never listen for our own answers?

We waste a lot of days just going through the motions of life, doing what we’re supposed to do but never stopping to contemplate the value of a single day. Sleepwalking, in a sense. We fall into the trap of accepting what our society and other people tell us we should do with our days, what we’re supposed to want, what’s supposed to matter. The problem is, it may not be what we want, may not matter to us.

For me, a day fully lived is not necessarily a day packed full with activities. It’s not about what I get, get done, or accomplish. It is, however, about the quality and presence of my attention, how I show up for the individual moments that make up this day. It matters to me that I show up present and with kindness.

What makes a day matter is not what the day contains in terms of its contents, but rather that the day contains me, that I am present, physically, mentally and emotionally, tuned into my senses, noticing what’s actually happening in my physical reality, and my inner and outer environment. To fully live, for me, is to be conscious and grateful for the profound gift and opportunity that this one day is.

Furthermore, contemplating the reality of 29,200 makes me more rigorous about not distracting myself with entertainment, information, technology, or any of the other endless choices we use to escape, ignore, or avoid the day.

It also means not engaging with the narratives and judgments my mind wants to write, not going down the rabbit hole of thinking, not distracting myself by thinking every thought that appears in my mind. 29,200 makes me far less tolerant for negative thinking or excessive rumination, far less willing to let my mind control my attention, take me off on this tangent or that, and thereby kidnap one of my 29,200 days.

As I see it, with only this many days to play with, why would I waste a single moment thinking about what I can’t control, makes me feel bad, has already happened, may never happen, doesn’t help me, or just plain isn’t true?

The finite-ness of our days is a what is not a what if. What does the reality of 29,200 days provoke in you? How does it change the way you choose to live today?

We can all benefit by taking our day count to heart, deeply considering what we want to do with and who we want to be today. Don’t take anyone else’s opinion on what makes a moment or a day or a life meaningful. Only you can answer this question for yourself and only you can create a life that fulfills it, one day at a time, one moment at a time.

Ask yourself, how do you want to show up for today, who do want to be, what is your life in service to, and what, ultimately, do you want? Start today, or even better, now.

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Is Your Relationship Evolving or Devolving?

Viv, a composite client, has been married for 25 years. For the past 10 years, she and her husband Alan have experienced intense conflict and emotional turbulence. Neither partner, however, has been willing to leave the marriage, and there are increasing signs that the relationship may indeed find its way back to goodness and peace.

And yet, despite glimmers of hope and movement in the direction of happiness, Alan continues to repeat certain comments to Viv. Specifically, “This marriage is a failure,” “I’ve totally failed at marriage,” or “I haven’t even been able to succeed at anything, including marriage.”

When Alan first started uttering these statements, Viv’s reaction was to become defensive and angry. She felt hurt and back-handedly insulted; his words felt like aggressions against her and the marriage. Her reaction would then be to defend the marriage or blame her husband for destroying it and them. Alan would then react and accuse Viv of being the one who was impossible to have a relationship with. One hundred percent of the time, when Viv engaged with defensiveness and aggression, the interaction went south and created more pain and disconnection within the couple.

After years spent defending herself and the marriage, blaming Alan for ruining things, and trying unsuccessfully to get him to see the marriage in a different way, Viv adopted a new strategy. She began pretending as if she didn’t notice her husband’s comments; she behaved as if he hadn’t said it, hadn’t hurt her. It was an attempt to stave off her shame at being wounded and show him (falsely) that his efforts to cause her harm were useless. Unfortunately, this strategy didn’t work either, because, underneath the nonchalance, she felt enraged and deeply hurt. Pretending in this way made her feel like she was tucking away and even betraying her true self, and this caused deep resentment and confusion in Viv.

Most recently, Viv’s and my work together has been focused on letting go of (or loosening) the controller in her—the part of her that feels it has to change or manage her husband’s behavior. When Viv is able to allow her husband to be the way he is, to let go of the idea that it’s her responsibility or duty to change him, she feels liberated and, unexpectedly, not resentful. She’s realized that there are a lot of things about her husband’s behavior that she doesn’t like, and that’s OK. When she’s not failing at getting him to be the way she wants him to be, and he’s not failing her by not being how she wants him to be, she can actually relax. She can hear his comments and not have to do anything with or about them. Viv has been learning to watch what happens when she lets everything be just exactly as it is, which may be the most important lesson we ever learn. The wise spiritual teacher, Adyashanti, calls this the practice of true meditation, a form of meditation that can happen everywhere not just on the cushion.

When Viv lets go of the controller and allows her husband to be as he is and also her experience of him to be how it is, she feels more separate from him, but also more aware of who he and she actually are, and paradoxically more in relationship with him, rather than the idea of the man she wants him to be. This doesn’t mean that she stops telling him when he says things that hurt her, but she no longer sees him as a piece of clay she has to mold. Alan transformed from being an object in her psyche, one that possessed the potential to make her happy, and became a separate human being with pleasing and not-pleasing parts.

There was a surrender that occurred within Viv; her 25-year effort to make Alan different (so that she could be happy) had given up. As a result, she was left with reality. Reality had always been there, but she had been in a battle with it, rejecting it and living in a state of chronic dissatisfaction and frustration.

The process of letting go is vastly liberating, but it also includes grief. When we surrender the controller, we surrender the hope that we will get to have the partner we wish we could have, that we will get to have the happiness we imagined our partner could bring us. We may discover a totally different kind of happiness, but our idea of how it was going to happen and who our partner was going to become must die.

When we stop betting our happiness on our partner changing, we discover a different kind of partnership, a bond without shackles, a union that’s both separate and together. When we step out of the role of manager, we start to see who our partner actually is rather than who they’re not, and hopefully, we can do all this with a bit of compassion.

This process, while painful in many ways, is a spiritual evolution. It involves shedding a central part of ourselves, a primary component and motivation in how we relate. Our relationship, with a loosened controller, is fundamentally different; our purpose is no longer fixing the project that is our partner. Without a controller, it’s a relationship without the hope of having exactly what we want, but with a new and undiscovered hope of meeting what we actually have, who our partner is, and who we are in this relationship as it is.

In letting go of the controller, we give ourselves the freedom to focus on our own behavior, our own happiness. We have permission to not have to be in charge of everyone else’s behavior. The more we practice this, the more we get the hang of letting others be who they are and moving on. In so doing, we also give ourselves the possibility of loving our partner now, not if and when we turn them into who we want them to be.

And remarkably, when we change our responses to our partner’s behavior, our partner’s behavior also changes. It has to, as we’re feeding it different food. One thing’s for sure: If we keep doing what we’ve always done, we’ll keep getting what we’ve always gotten. When we change, the people around us change, either through their own behavior or simply through how we see them.

Most recently, yet another shift has occurred; Viv has found a new clarity, a new wisdom that’s not about Alan or the marriage. Viv has discovered an authentic desire to move away from negativity and what hurts and move towards love and kindness, towards friends and family who have a positive experience of their relationship with her—who do not view their relationship with her as a failure. This desire in Viv stems from self-love, from letting things be as they are, and it allows her to disengage from her husband’s comments, to leave them alone in the interest of her own well-being. While she still finds Alan’s words hurtful in these situations, Viv has developed wisdom that, in the moment, tells her to let go and act in service of her greater happiness. Or, as the wonderful Buddhist teacher Pema Chodron puts it, to not bite the hook that’s dangling. When not responding is not just another response tactic, but rather a true act of self-love, we’ve discovered a most powerful tool.

Evolution and happiness in our self and our relationship is not about figuring out how to better control our partner, learning to not care, or swallowing behavior that’s hurtful. It is, however, about learning to allow everything to be as it is, letting go of control and responsibility for our partner’s behavior, and practicing self-love. Ultimately, it’s about learning to take what we want and leave the rest behind, moving away from what hurts and moving towards kindness.

A caveat: In the case of abuse of any kind, emotional or physical, we do not allow anything to be as it is. When abuse is present, we remove ourselves from the situation. When abuse is happening, we do not surrender control or wait for our partner’s behavior to change, we take ourselves out of harm’s way. This article is not applicable in cases of abuse.

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When It’s Always Someone Else’s Fault

Bill came to see me because his wife “never takes ownership of her own behavior.”  Bill is married to a blamer.  No matter what difficulty she experiences, there’s always someone or something else to blame for it, but not her.  As he put it (with exasperation), “She is never, ever, ever, but I mean ever the problem!”  Bill felt a lot of resentment and residual rage toward his wife as a result of this issue, but also felt unable to speak about it with her with any degree of honesty.  When he did try and point out, gently, where she might be part of the problem, she would accuse him of not being empathic, not supporting her, and not being a good husband.  “All I want from you is to know you’re on my team.”

The problem for Bill was that when he empathized with his wife’s problems, and she always had problems wherever she went. He felt like he was supporting a part of her he really didn’t like, and the very part that he believed was responsible for her being so unhappy and unsatisfied all the time.  When he validated her version of the truth, it felt like he was validating exactly the character issue in his wife that made her life stuck and their marriage difficult.  The same part of her that blamed everyone else also blamed Bill and refused to look at herself when problems arose in the relationship.

On a recent morning, Bill had asked his wife how she liked the people at her new job.  She then launched into a diatribe about how everyone at her office was so overly sensitive and that she couldn’t say anything that they wouldn’t find offensive.  She couldn’t relax and be herself because she had to be hyper-vigilant about not offending anyone about their race, gendersexuality, color, and everything else identity-related.  If she spoke naturally, she would be offending someone and there would be consequences.  The office wasn’t safe to make friends.  Identity politics were in the way.

As Bill explained it, she went on and on about the external problem that made it impossible for her to connect to anyone.  She didn’t talk about feeling lonely or awkward or disappointed, she just talked about the reasons friendship was impossible, and what was to blame for her not making friends and enjoying the new environment.

Bill’s wife had in fact rarely been able to make friends and had always felt isolated.  She’d been in many work situations and other environments, and there was always something wrong with the people or the conditions that made it impossible for her to be part of the community.  According to Bill, she was also very critical of others and awkward in her social skills.  She frequently said things that offended people or that she felt people took the wrong way.  For her whole life, she had felt misunderstood and misjudged.

After listening for a while and nodding supportively, Bill had asked if there might be a way to connect with her co-workers at a human level, around something everyone could relate to that didn’t have to do with their race, gender or identity.  Her answer was no, everything led back to identity issues in that office.  Trying to move the topic away from the blaming, he asked if it was lonely or frustrating to be in such an office.  There was no response on that either.  He also poked in a question about whether it was true that if she complimented a man on what he was wearing, she would be accused of being inappropriate.  But at that point, smelling the rat, Bill’s wife erupted and told him that she wasn’t looking for instructions on how to correct it, she was just looking for support.  Bill explained that he was trying to be helpful and suggest a way that she might create a community since she had said she wanted that.  She angrily responded that his help was always directed at changing who she was, correcting her in some way, and never aimed at validating that the situation was in fact difficult.  Bill then did what he often does, namely, go back to nodding empathically and listening to his wife’s newest target for blame, playing the docile part he’s supposed to play.  Meanwhile, on the inside, he was, as he always is, enraged and feeling utterly helpless, with no way to express his truth and also not be attacked and accused of being the enemy.

When he came in that morning, Bill was fed up and tired of feeling controlled, frustrated by not knowing how to deal with this particular situation.  How could he be empathic with his wife’s experience when he was sure the problems she was encountering were caused by her own behavior?  How could he validate the very part of her that made it nearly impossible to be in a relationship with her?

This is a tremendously challenging situation that many of us confront.  We have a strong theory about why someone is suffering or encountering a particular problem; we’re convinced that it’s their own behavior that’s causing it, and yet they want and need us to empathize with and validate their conviction that something or someone else is to blame, which we don’t believe is true.  They don’t want to and are not willing to look at their part in the situation or how they are contributing to their problem, but need us to confirm a reality that maintains them as the victim and repeating the same pattern.

Although Bill felt he had failed at the situation, in fact the strategies he came up with were incredibly wise, which I pointed out to him.  He did some empathizing and validating, nodding his head and responding supportively.  He also inserted some reality checks, as in his question about commenting on someone’s outfit as inappropriate.  And finally, he tried to move the conversation to her experience of loneliness, which could have been a place to join her and feel some real empathy.  His instincts were spot on, but unfortunately, none of his attempts succeeded at giving him a new role in the situation or changing his wife’s behavior for that matter.  He was either the un-supportive spouse or stuck validating his wife in an ignorant and unattractive behavior that he found abhorrent.

So, what’s left to do after all the strategies lead nowhere?  That is, after we  1. Legitimately empathize, because after all, the person is suffering even if we think they’re the cause of their own pain.  2. Reality check: Ask benign questions about the facts and assumptions the other is using to defend their argument.  3. Shift the topic from the object of blame to the other’s experience of the problem. What’s it like to work in a place that feels so unsafe?  (We do this so as to create a place we can connect and empathize authentically.)  What’s left, after all this has been tried, is a strategy of an entirely different sort.  We move our attention from the other into ourselves.

Depending on the kind of situation, the intensity of the other’s pain and our own inner state, we may try to express a bit of what we’re living through as well.  As in, “I want to support you and I feel how hard this is for you, and I really care about that—AND (not but)—I also have some thoughts about what might make the situation better that include you.  Are you interested in hearing that “take” from me or do you just want me to listen and support you that this is the way it is?”

When we can say something that implies or suggests we think the other may have a part in creating their own unhappiness, even if it’s not the actual contents of what we think the other is doing that’s causing their problem, it often feels much better than just behaving by listening or validating.  By asking if the other is open to our thoughts about alternative solutions, we feel less controlled and invisible, and more authentic and present in the conversation.  By acknowledging out loud that we will agree to tuck away our truth and do what they need us to do at that moment (even if we think something different), we’re actually, in a very clever way, giving our truth a place at the table, making ourselves heard and not allowing our truth, even if not named, to be bullied out of the conversation.

Furthermore, as the other is going on about who and what’s to blame for their problem, and asking us to empathize, we turn our attention inside.  We acknowledge, silently, that this situation is really hard—for us.  We remind ourselves, with kindness, that this is the place, the moment, the exact spot where there’s no right way to do it, no strategy to handle this person, this situation, this roadblock, that will make it comfortable or right.  We offer ourselves permission to not know how to do it.  We do the best we can without demanding that it feel okay or that we be able to make it okay.

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The Making of a Corporate Athlete

What skills are necessary for professional greatness? What makes someone able to perform successfully under high stress and constant change and to keep doing it over time without breaking down? As it turns out, we have lots of answers to this question, and most focus on the rewards necessary for greatness, the kind of culture that breeds success, and the particular skill sets necessary for peak performance.

But recently, Harvard Business School conducted a different kind of study, one that examined the strategies and habits of winning athletes and whether they could be transferred to apply to business—in essence, whether we could train high-level executives as corporate athletes. It appears that the answer is yes; we can indeed apply the wisdom of sport to help ourselves succeed in anything and everything that’s challenging.

As someone who competed as a top-level equestrian for over two decades, it has long been clear to me that the skills and mindset I learned as a competitive athlete are what allow me to succeed in every other pursuit in my life, both professionally and personally. It appears that now there’s proof.

Research in the field of sport demonstrates that top athletes succeed in large part because of their ability not just to perform under stress, but more importantly, to recover after stress has occurred. Recovery is the critical process in which the body and mind not only rest, but also rebuild new strengths and develop resilience, as a muscle does between workouts.

When comparing the careers of athletes and executives however, vast differences exist in the natural opportunities for recovery. Most of an athlete’s time is spent in practice with just a small percentage in actual competition. An executive, however, is in competition every day, all day. An athlete’s high-stress season is usually fairly short with lots of time to recover in the off- season, while a corporate athlete gets a few weeks off per year if she’s lucky (during which time she usually works). And finally, the average top-level athlete’s career lasts less than a decade while an executive’s career spans a lifetime.  All that said, an executive, if she is to reap the benefits of the recovery process must find alternative ways to rest and rebuild.

To consistently perform well in high-stress environments, executives must focus not just on the skills needed for their specific field, but more broadly, on creating a mindful and nourishing life, one that feeds them physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. To create excellence at work, a corporate athlete must ultimately create excellence in life.

The Physically, Emotionally, Mentally, Spiritually Fit Corporate Athlete

Although executives are primarily mentally-focused, the corporate athlete must, nonetheless, pay close attention to the wellbeing of her body, not just how it looks but how it being taken care of. A corporate athlete cannot function at a high level, not for long anyway, as just a head running around without a body attached. Corporate athletes are inclined to forget about their bodies, and yet, over time this dismissive attitude is a sure-fire recipe for burnout. Attention to diet and exercise, sleep, and a program of physical well-being cannot be excluded when excellence is the goal.

On an emotional level, the corporate athlete must pay close attention to her feeling state. She cannot wait for a strong emotion like anger or frustration to overwhelm her and thus land her on the bench. Just as an athlete might ask herself how she is feeling on a physical level, a corporate athlete must be aware of how she is on an emotional level and also be able to manage strong emotions when they arise. Mindfulness of emotion is thus a critical practice in the creation of excellence.

From a mental perspective, the ability to control our attention is the key ingredient in the ability to perform under and recover from stress. We must not only be able to focus our attention when it counts, but also to turn our attention away from negative and distracting thoughts. Meditation is the practice of observing and separating from our thoughts, which protects us from getting caught up and sidelined by the thoughts that destroy performance. As such, meditation is the practice of most importance, mentally, for creating peak performance.

And finally, on a spiritual level, a corporate athlete must discover meaning in her life—why she’s doing what she’s doing, what really matters to her, what values she’s serving. As unrelated as it may seem to the executive mindset, a top-level performer in any field, in order to sustain herself, must consciously contemplate what her life is about. A sense of meaning is, above all else, the antidote to burnout.

Top level executives are athletes—corporate athletes. Excellence is created not just by the obvious skills one’s profession demands, but by the building of a whole and well human being. To create and maintain high-level performance in stressful environments, we must pay attention to and nourish all areas of our life. As it turns out, self-care is in fact the recipe for greatness.

This article is based on the work of Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz, the primary researchers and coiners of the term “corporate athlete.”

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