"You've got to be kidding me, they aren't going to have our servers installed until next month?! What are they doing over there, going out to the movies every afternoon? This was supposed to be done last month! They are useless!"
After the juicy pleasure of my angry outburst subsided a bit, the more evolved part of my brain came back online and noticed I'd just done it again. Fallen into the trap of complaining about "them" in front of my leadership team. And in the very process of presumably exercising the privilege of "the boss" to be angry and demanding, paradoxically diminished my own standing as a leader with a group of people it's essential I actually, you know, lead.
Let's roll the tape back a bit to see how we got here. I had championed this project and convinced the organization it was essential for our continued growth in this market. At a cost of a few millions dollars and many developer-years of effort, I felt my credibility and career were dependent upon this project's success. So, I wanted a particular outcome. And whenever I let my mental "guard" down (mindfulness in this case being my "guard"), it was easy for my mind to generate a thought-narrative that complained and blamed myself and others for any threats to that outcome. It's a very short step from habitually and mindlessly letting those complaining thoughts take the "driver's seat" in my mind to their taking control of my mouth.
So that's how we got here. Now what? Well, luckily, I had been devoting a good bit of time and effort to this training of the mind we call mindful leadership. So even though in this case, my automatic reaction to unwanted news led me to spew unhelpful, and ultimately counterproductive speech, it did not go completely unnoticed. Very quickly, mindfulness practice kicked in, lighting up the executive function of my brain, so I could have clarity about my internal state. The ball is then in "my" court, and I have a chance to respond more effectively. In this case, I said with a smile "Strike that from the record! I don't know why I said that, I'm sure they've run into issues we aren't aware of. Let's get together with them this afternoon to see what we can do."
What to do:
First of all, I'm not suggesting you tell yourself it's bad to have negative thoughts. Partly because that itself is a negative thought. And it doesn't work. You may have noticed.
What I am suggesting is that you develop a practice of noticing the way-too-easy-to-fall-into patterns of thought that come up when you face a challenge. "Purposeful Pauses", a powerful practice we teach at the Institute for Mindful Leadership, can be put to work in this way. One "flavor" of Purposeful Pause is to use the experience of feeling stressed as a signal to check in with yourself. Aside from grounding in awareness of your physical sensations, you can pause and notice the thought patterns happening in that moment. Over time you will become very familiar with your own go-to habitual reactive thought patterns. Eventually, your mind will begin to alert you when that pattern is being triggered. And, who knows? Next time you may even take the wheel back from your automatic reactivity before you sabotage your leadership presence.