How often do you put the needs of others above your own?
Taking care of yourself is essential to a healthy life. Focusing on you and putting yourself first isn’t selfish or narcissistic. In fact, if you have ever been on an airplane, you have probably heard the safety announcement, “Make sure that your own oxygen mask is on first before helping others.” The same principle applies to life. You’ve got to attend to your own needs, before you can go about helping others effectively.
Today, I invited Maria Gonzalez to share with us how taking care of herself through mindfulness has elevated her business and personal life. Maria Gonzalez (BCom, MBA) is an award-winning and best-selling author and a 30-year business veteran as a corporate executive and entrepreneur. She believes that Mindfulness transforms lives and organizations, and that it has the potential to transform society. She has been meditating regularly since 1991 and teaching Mindfulness since 2002. I’m so grateful to share her wise words with you all!
AM: Hi, Maria! Thanks for being here. How do you maintain the balance between work and personal life? Why is this balance important?
MG: Balance in life is critically important! By maintaining balance, I believe we are better rounded as human beings. Meaningful work is important AND so are our personal relationships, hobbies, interests, taking care of our body and mind, and being of service in our community. By maintaining a balance, we are more creative, more interesting to ourselves and others.
Throughout my career, I have always aimed for balance between work and my personal life. The way in which I have aimed to achieve this is by enjoying regular vacation time and by setting weekends aside for my personal life. Except for very rare exceptions, I do not work on weekends, nor do I think about work. I have trained myself to work when I work, and to not think about work when I am not working. Perhaps that is because of my Mindfulness training, where we aim to be present and aware no matter what we are doing. When I go for a walk, I just walk and enjoy the company of the person I am with, when I cook I enjoy the activity of cooking, when I paint, I just paint and on it goes. It's very relaxing to be in the present moment and also very fulfilling. It honours the moment.
AM: How do you practice self-care in your busy life?
MG: I make it a point of treating myself every single day. I put aside time every day for myself. Sometimes, depending on what is going on, it may only be 15 minutes; sometimes it is much longer. Some days it is just enough time to enjoy a cup of tea, or a walk, or listening to a piece of music. But, I am deliberate and conscious that it is for me. I also make it a point of meditating every day. For more than 27 years, I have set aside an hour each day to meditate. That is important to me. And, I attribute my success in life to this practice; it centers me, enables me to sustain high performance and to be resilient. I also make sure I eat at regular times each day and that I get a good night's sleep. I know that whenever I have deviated from these practices I am not as effective or as happy. And, that is my trigger to come back to center.
AM: How has a positive mindset influenced your work and home life?
MG: I think being positive is critically important. In Mindful Leadership: The 9 Ways to Self-Awareness, Transforming Yourself and Inspiring Others, I describe how being positive is one of the 9 ways to be a Mindful leader. When you are positive, you expect the best possible results for yourself and you enable others to see the best in themselves. Being positive means that you empower yourself to have a "can-do attitude", you aim to be of service in the world, and you pay special attention to being grateful. Gratitude is a tremendous force within us that unleashes unimaginable potential. I recently wrote a blog about gratitude because I believe it holds tremendous power to influence our happiness and well being.
I believe this applies to work and home life. The same principles apply. Being positive in any setting means you are there to do your best and to be of service to others and yourself. It includes being compassionate with others as well as focusing on self compassion.
AM: How do you cope with negative self-talk?
MG: I believe negative self-talk is extremely destructive; in fact, it is the most harmful thing we can do to ourselves. Negative self-talk is insidious. It can be unrelenting and if it goes unchecked, it can be with us all day, every day. The only possible outcome of this is that we believe the self-talk and soon we are worthless and unworthy.
I have made it a point in my life to not tolerate negative self-talk. I have trained myself to listen to the internal messages I tell myself. If by chance there is a negative message (which now very seldom occurs), I immediately stop and correct the message, with a positive statement. I will not tolerate a single negative thought. This does not mean that I am unrealistic or neglectful. The reason I feel that I don't deserve to speak negatively to myself is because I know that I do my best, moment by moment, under the circumstances. This means that I do not expect myself to be perfect. No one can be. To expect perfection would be unrealistic and harmful. And, since I know I have done my best, I deserve to speak kindly and gently to myself. That is what Mindfulness is about, a gentle and kind approach to ourselves and others. I live by the spirit of Mindfulness, which advocates and aspires to be gentle and loving to oneself and all sentient beings.
When I coach people in Mindful Leadership, I train them to listen to themselves and to correct all negative thoughts. Soon, with practice they become really good at it and it changes their lives.
AM: How do you practice being confident daily?
MG: I don't consciously practice being confident. I feel it is a natural outcome of living a Mindful life. I know that if I stay present and aware moment by moment, the right things unfold. I know I am really good at what I do. I work hard and I have been blessed. I am very grateful for this. I also aim to keep an open heart and this makes me confident. An open heart connects you to those around you and they generally respond positively. This creates more confidence. I feel empowered to make a difference in the world. I aspire to be of service and this too raises confidence.
AM: What is your number one productivity tip?
MG: To stay in the present moment; to do one thing at a time and to do it well. Whether speaking with someone, in a meeting, making a presentation, staying in the present moment makes you very effective. This way you only do anything once and you do it correctly. This means no multi-tasking. Multi-tasking is the biggest time-waster. It is physiologically impossible to do, and research tells us, it causes us to become increasingly incompetent. It also destroys relationships when we multi-task in the presence of another person as we communicate to the other person that they don't matter. I write at length about multi-tasking in Mindful Leadership.
AM: I love your style. Why is it important to dress for success?
MG: To me, dressing for success means that you dress in a way that makes you comfortable. I think when you are comfortable in your own skin, you choose clothes that make you happy, you pick colours that make you feel good. It is also important to dress appropriately for the situation. Sometimes it means adding your own style while respecting the fact that there may be certain dress code requirements. I love colour, so for me it means wearing bright colours even in conservative settings.
Thank you, Maria, for speaking from your heart and empowering us all to be Mindful Leaders! You are a gifted teacher and I have learned so much from you! Thank you for empowering my self-discovery journey! A key message resonated with me from our conversation; you stated: “To stay in the present moment; to do one thing at a time and to do it well. Whether speaking with someone, in a meeting, making a presentation, staying in the present moment makes you very effective.” This idea on paper seems so simple yet actually doing so is very difficult for many; it’s hard to switch off thinking about the future and to focus on being in the now. Taking care of ourselves through practicing mindfulness is so important for our effectiveness and overall happiness!
How about you? How has staying present empowered you on your journey? With so many competing priorities in your busy life, how do you take care of YOU?