Proven Methods to cultivate your Consciousness Growth, upgrade your Mind, and become a better Leader
Updated: Jul 4, 2020
Over the past years while working as a technology leader in a variety of different contexts in different locations (Silicon Valley, Berlin), while scaling organizations, and tackling hard technical problems, I realized that the hardest challenges are related to leadership and collaboration, not the technical aspects.
In particular, building up a strong leadership team to provide the necessary guidance and support for an organization to facilitate communication and collaboration so it can flourish and thrive represents always a major challenge.
While I was experimenting with applying Mindful Leadership to my leadership style (see also the “12 Mindful Leadership Principles”) and my organizations, it became clear that the majority of leaders lack the necessary training and capabilities to actually apply Mindful Leadership consistently.
In my article "The Mindful Leader Mindset - How to Transform Your Leadership Effectiveness to a new Level" I describe those challenges and a required transformation process. However, such a transformation process requires a strong motivation, willpower, and an open mindset.
Many of them were motivated, but still couldn’t follow through.
The “muscle of the mind” similar to your body needs regular training to become stronger over time. This training is based on the foundation and principles of mindfulness and has been scientifically validated in countless research papers and articles.
However, there are different aspects of consciousness growth, as well as certain focus areas that I identified over time to upgrade your mind. Especially if you are new to the area of mindfulness, there are a plethora of resources, courses, workshops, and videos that are addressing certain aspects of it.
How to get started?
To make it easier to systematically learn Mindful Leadership from the ground up I created a structured framework, the “7 Pillars of Mindful Leadership”, to organize this training effectively using a scientific and data-driven approach with clear performance indicators (KPIs) to measure and evaluate progress.
Over the years I experimented with probably more than a hundred different methods and techniques to train and upgrade your mind, as well as different leadership approaches and methodologies. I also incorporated technology that is helpful for training the mind, such as meditation, heart rate coherence (HRV), and neurofeedback devices, or meditation apps.
Some of them worked well, others didn’t produce the desired results.
However, it always depends on the context. A method that does not work well for me, may work well for you. Or an approach that you apply in one team or organization works well, but applying into a different organization fails miserably.
To make it easier for you, I compiled the most effective methods to cultivate consciousness growth, and upgrade your mind, that have proven to produce strong and lasting results in my own experience, and organized them according to the “7 Pillars of Mindful Leadership.”
Think about them like a “menu” of choices. You experiment with them over time, review and validate your results, and pick the ones that work well for you.
Each method comes with clear and measurable KPIs. This way you can validate your progress.
You don’t have to use all of them at once. The idea is you start with methods within Pillar 1 (Consciousness Growth & Mindset Shift), learn and apply them, measure progress, and determine which ones you would like to use going forward.
Methods in this pillar will cultivate your consciousness growth. They are considered the fundamental methods to train your mind and raise your level of awareness. Doing a few (or all) of them regularly will be very helpful to make progress also in the other pillars that build on them.
Then you work your way up to pillar 2, and apply the same procedure within Pillar 2, and so on.
The pillars are designed to follow a layered approach- meaning that capabilities built up in a lower pillar will provide the necessary foundation for methods in a higher level pillar.
For example, if you have not yet mastered a basic formal meditation (pillar 1), it will be hard or almost impossible to master the Spaciousness Meditation (pillar 4).
The methods within the first 4 pillars are all focusing on training your mind and upgrading your way of thinking.
Some methods require consistent application and some time to produce results.
For example, if you start a formal meditation practise with initially 5 minutes per day, it will take most likely at least 2-3 weeks for positive results to kick in. Be patient therefore when experimenting with them and give them the necessary space to unfold their impact.
Below I provide a list with an overview of each method. I will continuously review this list, possibly add new methods that I validated, tweak or refine existing ones.
If you are aware of other methods that have helped you please share with me. I’m always open to new ideas.
If you are interested in more details I’m teaching all of these methods in my new online course (currently only available in German, but I’m working on an English version to be released within Q3 2020).
Pillar 1: Consciousness Growth & Mindset Shift
Daily Mindfulness Exercises
Choose from a variety of typical activities that you do over the day, like brushing your teeth, eating lunch, taking a shower or walking, and decide to do them with your fullest attention and mindfully. The good news is that this takes no extra time out of your busy schedule, but requires extra attention. Try to do a few of these exercises each day.
A simple technique that takes 1-2 minutes to connect to yourself, and clears your active mind to open up a space for something new. Simply close your eyes, focus on your breath and feel inside your body. Notice what you feel and experience without judgment. Ideally use the check-in prior to meetings or before engaging in new activities.
Formal Basic Meditation
Start your formal and daily meditation practise with a simple approach to meditation. Relax, close your eyes, focus on your breath, every time a thought arises gently bring your attention back to your breath. Repeat, and continue for as long as you want. It takes only 5-10 minutes per day to see measurable results in a few weeks, and can be conducted anywhere. Start in a quiet surrounding with no distractions, ideally early in the morning when you wake up.
Observing your Thoughts
To become a better communicator you first should focus on becoming a better active listener. To do this start observing your own thoughts while in conversations with others. Avoid thinking up your response while the other person is still talking. Stay aware, and observe your thoughts as they are arising in your mind. Don’t identify with them. This method can be practised anywhere and anytime without extra effort of time needed. If you did this during a conversation you can ask afterwards for feedback. People will usually notice if you are actively listening to them and give them the gift of your fullest attention.
Have you ever considered scheduling an “empty space” in your calendar? If not, get started! Schedule a one-hour empty space (blocker) in your calendar, preferably in the morning with no intent of doing anything. Then use the space that is forming up for new ideas and self reflection. This is probably the most powerful tool to increase your impact in life - by purposely creating empty spaces in your busy schedule. Watch what happens …
Meditation with MUSE
Leverage technology to upgrade your meditation skills. Especially at the beginning this tool can be very helpful to guide you when setting up a formal meditation practice. Read my article on my experience with the MUSE meditation headband. It contains a lot of details and tips. You’ll receive real-time brain feedback, and you can also choose from many guided meditations. If doing this regularly you can measure and track improvements in the duration of your calm states of mind. Set aside 5-10 minutes per day at least. It can be done as part of your effort to establish a formal meditation practice.
Consciousness “Fitness” Training
Similar to going to a gym to train your muscles, it is helpful to do “fitness exercises” with your awareness. Learn to stretch and move your awareness inside and outside your body, even back and forward across space and time. This can also be integrated into your formal meditation practise. By “playing” with your awareness, you will actually become aware of yourself as awareness. This will gradually introduce a mindset shift that will be very helpful for the methods below within pillars 2-4.
Brain “Reset” Breathing Technique
A powerful breathing technique, sometimes also called “4.2.4.” Basically try deeply breathing in through your nose for 4 seconds, hold your breath for 2 seconds, and deeply breathe out with your mouth for 4 seconds. Then wait 2 seconds and start over again. Repeat 30 times. Doing this with intensity will trigger a reset of your mind. Do this particularly when you feel stressed or prior to a mediation.
Pillar 2: The Mind - Cleanup and Upgrade
Continuous Inquiry and Self Reflection
This is a continuous process to collect and identify limiting thoughts and false beliefs that hold you back from your personal growth. The proposed inquiry process uses 4 questions to verify whether a particular thought is really and absolutely true or not. The method is a simplification from Byron Katie’s “The Work” and has the ability to connect you with reality and truth. This takes some systematic effort, and possibly external feedback in the beginning can be quite helpful.
Effective Reprogramming of your Mind
Typically if you identify limiting thoughts and false beliefs, and realize they are not true - this alone is sufficient for them to resolve within a short time. However, there is also an opportunity to reprogram a limiting thought into a more helpful and positive thought. For example, a limiting thought like “I am not worthy” could be reprogrammed into a more positive one “I am worthy of love and most capable”. The proposed technique can be done before going to bed, or first thing in the morning when waking up.
Pillar 3: Toward Conscious Decisions
Identifying and collecting reactive Thought Patterns
I propose a systematic way of becoming aware and collecting your reactive thought patterns (or emotional “pain body”), that make you sick, cause stress, defensiveness, anger, or fear. The idea is to first become aware of them, and decrease the latency of how long it takes to reach this awareness. The proposed systematic method allows you to self reflect, and gradually collect those patterns in a journal. This way your awareness of them will be increasing.
Resolving reactive Thought Patterns
Once you are aware of reactive thought patterns, I show an effective and simple method to break the habit of reacting unconsciously and replacing your response with a conscious and deliberate one. Instead of being on auto-pilot with your mind 95% of the day, increase your awareness and upgrade your decision making. This method requires training, and especially in the beginning it will take some time to get used to breaking these patterns. As your awareness increases this will become easier over time, and the quality of your decisions will be improving significantly - making it a worthwhile investment.
Pillar 4: Cultivating your “forgotten” Qualities
Cultivating and training your “Super Powers”
With an increased level of awareness new capabilities (e.g., kindness, compassion, empathy, gratitude, and forgiveness) are emerging, or existing ones are blooming - but only if you put in the necessary amount of training.
Think about how many hours in school did you practise “reading” to become a prolific reader?
Now compare this with the amount of time you spent in your life practising “gratitude.”
These “super powers” are based on an increase in your emotional intelligence (EQ). I describe an effective method that you can sprinkle into your daily routine, where you focus on one particular capability (e.g., gratitude) and actively apply them in your daily life. I recommend combining the training with reflection in the evenings, going over situations again where you practised the specific capability. This will help to further raise your awareness, and has other beneficial effects on your mind (e.g., stress levels are decreasing, self confidence is building up)
I propose a system and method of “continuous forgiveness”, as the capability of forgiveness is mostly overlooked in its impact. You will learn how to effectively forgive other people for the sake of cleaning up your own “negative energy”. The method can be learned and integrated into your daily formal meditation. If mastered it can be integrated into your daily life.
The method of continuous forgiveness is not always easy at the beginning, particularly if you are working on forgiveness for people who did you harm or you had strong negative experiences with them. However, with the right amount of training and patience you can also master the more “difficult” cases.
Equanimity Training - Accepting what is
The ability of not depending on a specific outcome, and living in harmony with reality, or also simply accepting “what is”, is called equanimity.
There are several ways how you can train your ability to accept what is. What makes it harder to train equanimity is that in many cases there are old reactive patterns that are triggered in real-time, causing unnecessary stress and frustration.
I propose a combination of methods that when combined help you train your ability to accept what is.
Spaciousness Meditation - Tap into your inner Creativity and Wisdom
After experiencing and practising a formal meditation for quite some time, I noticed that when I meditate over a longer period of time (> 30 minutes), the mind becomes calmer and reaches states of deep relaxation.
It turns out these deeper states can be systematically harvested for creativity, new ideas, and deeper insights.
I developed the “Spaciousness Meditation”, which allows you to enter these deeper states, which are your source of creativity and allow the retrieval of valuable insights as well as wisdom.
The proposed method is more advanced, and requires a solid and regular meditation practise, as you will be meditating for up to 60 minutes.
The Intuition “Meter”
Your intuition can be a powerful ally, if you know how to tap into it.
This method is based upon a visualization technique, where you look at an imaginary meter or scale with defined values (e.g., yes/no, 1-5.)
When becoming quiet, possibly doing the “Check-in” method before, and then posing a question to yourself, the intuition “meter” will show you an answer that you can use as an additional input.
The challenge is your own bias, which will be addressed with an extra “neutrality gauge”. The method is easy to use, but requires some training at the beginning. In general the idea is not to replace your current decision making process through intuition. It is to use intuition to gain an extra insight before making decisions. It is also sometimes called using your “gut feeling.”
The proposed method works well as it visualizes a response using your intuition.
Pillar 5: Connecting with Yourself - Clarity on Purpose and your Mission
Defining your Essential Values
This can be done initially as an exercise, where you come up with an initial list of values that are important for you.
Through a process of prioritization, filtering, and sorting you end up with a small list of top 6-8 inner values.
Those you can further aggregate and cluster into a smaller group of 3-4 “essential values”.
These represent your inner core, and are extremely helpful when defining your vision or mission statement.
Furthermore, if you can align your purpose with them, you are always acting from a centered self. This reduces friction and stress, and therefore saves your energy.
The “Inventory” and Reality Check
Once you have defined your essential values I’ll teach you a method called the “inventory” that you can use on a regular basis to determine how aligned your actual doing is on a daily basis with your essential values.
This can be eye-opening exercise, and a strong motivator for major changes in life.
Crafting a strong Vision and Mission Statement
Once you have identified your essential values, your purpose, it is time to reflect on your vision in life, as well as your mission, and craft a powerful mission statement.
I’ll teach you a simple method that results in a one-pager narrative.
Knowing clearly your vision and mission is a foundation for a fulfilled life, therefore this exercise is surely worth the time investment.
Your vision and mission may change over time. That means you can go back occasionally and make adjustments to your statement if needed.
Pillar 6: New Leadership - Living the 12 Mindful Leadership Principles
To increase your ability of self reflection, the practise of regular journaling can be very helpful. I’ll teach you an effective method on how to do journaling, what to look for, and how to take advantage of it.
Defining your Personal Leadership Style
Based on the 12 Mindful Leadership principles I’ll teach you a method how you can craft your own personalized leadership style.
This is also a very useful exercise, as it brings clarity on how you want to be perceived by others as a leader.
In terms of doubts, difficult decisions, or challenges, you can use your own leadership principles as your guiding North Star.
I encourage you to familiarize yourself with some of the proposed methods. My plan is to gradually share them in more detail here on my blog, so that you can learn them and try them out. Remember there is no “silver bullet” and always many variations are available to each method. For example, there are several guided meditations available on the Web or on YouTube, and countless meditation apps. I simply wrote down methods that I personally tried and achieved positive results with.
Consider signing up for “The Mindful Leader Newsletter” to receive periodic updates (1-2 per month) and pointers to helpful resources.
If you are committed to your personal growth and want to start right away: I created a self-study online course “A Novel Approach to Mindful Leadership” where I teach each of these methods in depth, along with practical examples and case studies. I also share KPis to measure and evaluate your progress. The course is designed to be taken over a period of 3-4 months.
In addition, to better support you when taking the course, I started to offer a weekly group coaching session with like minded leaders over a period of 3 months. This provides accountability, and allows you to go deeper in each topic. It has been proven that a support community will significantly increase the chances of your success.
Joining the Fellowship of Mindful Leaders is a strong commitment to elevating your level of consciousness (LOC) and investing into your own personal growth. It is also a commitment to teaching and mentoring others becoming Mindful Leaders - consider applying!
What are your favorite and effective methods to grow your consciousness, upgrade your mind, and become a better leader?
Looking forward to your ideas and feedback!