Are you carrying Buggage?
Why not put it down?
Yes, I do mean buggage…not baggage!
Some months ago, I arrived for a coaching session with a senior leader who was working on his leadership presence and impact. The ask of him was to be “more statesmanlike”. We walked into an impressive new meeting room. A wall of TVs, shiny floor… it was impressive, and I said so. He shared the challenges and his view of the shortcomings in the design of the space – I could sense his irritation. This is an interesting start I thought – I wonder how this will be relevant in our session today? (My experience is that so often the central theme in coaching shows up in the first few minutes).
He reflected that he knew he gets grumpy on occasions. He realised it undermined his impact (he usually got that ‘oh no’ realisation after the event) and was struggling to work out how to prevent this or catch himself in the moment. He shared a recent instance and what he imagined the other person might have thought and felt. Of course, he could go back and talk to that person. Better still find a way to catch himself in the moment or not get triggered at all.
As we explored further, I shared the thought that if we’re not in a positive place in any moment, our ability to respond rather than react or being triggered is rapidly reduced. Sometimes it can be a series of little events that you don’t notice that cumulatively erode your mood, resourcefulness, and ability to show up as the best version of yourself.
He nodded as I shared a possible scenario “something happens at home that means you are slightly late leaving, traffic is worse than normal, you arrive in the office to find an important meeting moved, maybe a technical issue or an email. Little bits of baggage that you pick up that gnaw at you slightly out of awareness.”
Well… I meant to say baggage. What came out of my mouth was buggage. We both laughed (me slightly embarrassed in the moment). And then I thought ‘what a great word – that’s exactly it isn’t it? The little corrosive baggage that you pick up and they bug you. To the point where you end up triggered and behaving in a way that you regret’.
So buggage it is…
Of course, we know that good sleep, healthy eating, less alcohol activity, and exercise help you to be at your best – you feel and think better. And doing that is easier said than done. Realising that human beings are not computers and we need to recharge in order to perform well makes sense. And we each need to find out what works for us – my husband used to suggest I read a book or went for a walk when he saw I was uptight. That’s what works for him. My escape is doing something practical and creative like cooking, DIY, or sewing. This HBR blog Why leaders don’t brag about successfully managing stress which summarises 127 interviews with Executives and 3 years of research suggests 4 categories – health, removal, intellectual, introspection. I recommend this as a useful frame for you to work that out.
BUT what do you do in the moment if you realise have the buggage bug?
- First, you have to notice how you are. So many of us (more so now as we spend more time in digital meetings) are in back to back meetings. We get busy heads and immersed in challenges and forget to pay attention to how we are feeling and what we need. So the first step is to pause for a moment and take stock. You could write down a few words for how you are right now. And you could refer to this 1 minute, memorable tool ‘PAUSE’ I shared in this post
- Focusing on your breath is one of the most immediate ways of self-regulating. And I learned recently that focusing on the breath can be unhelpful for some people and using a gesture with it can be more relaxing. Try this. Sit on a chair with your feet flat on the floor. Close your eyes (or let your gaze rest unfocused some way away). Bend your arms at the elbow and hold your hands a comfortable distance apart. As you breathe in gently move your hands outwards. As you breathe out move them back towards each other (you may find you discover a sense of something like a ball of energy between your hands). Repeat this process for 10 long slow breaths or until you are ready to reconnect with the world around you. And if you can’t do this because you are in a meeting or with others – 3 deep breaths, making sure you empty your lungs can help reset your sympathetic nervous system.
- Put the buggage down. It may sound whacky and it helps to physically set it aside. You can imagine holding your buggage in your hands. Focus on putting everything into the imaginary baggage you are holding – the irritation, upset – whatever is there. Then decide where to place it so that you let it go. Some people find it even more powerful to find something around them that represents it and imagining putting all the baggage into it and then carefully placing it somewhere away and stepping back. Weird stuff and it seems to work.
Of course, there are many ways of doing this. I would love to hear what works for you, please do get in touch.