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The Art Of Being Strategically Selfish

As seen on Forbes.com

The Most Enjoyable And Unfair Competitive Advantage

I was having lunch with a friend of mine, and he casually told me he’s played 56 rounds of golf this year. I nearly choked on my Cobb salad. Seriously? In the past, this type of apparent indulgence would have resulted in an eye role from me, followed by a comment about work ethic. But not anymore. I am enlightened.

How about you?

Think about something for a moment. Have you noticed that your entrepreneurial buddies who play lots of golf, compete in triathlons and take ridiculously long vacations have the most profitable businesses?

If you think this is a coincidence, you may be missing a big opportunity to be a better leader.

Every time we fly, we are told: “Put your oxygen mask on first before helping others.” It turns out that this axiom is critical to running a healthy business. Unfortunately, most of us are too busy grinding through our days to notice our dangerously depleted oxygen levels.

Oxygen is a useful metaphor here because a lack of it creates unfortunate and dangerous outcomes. Without proper levels of oxygen, our decision-making is flawed and we feel tired and anxious. As oxygen levels get lower, our heart rate increases and we breathe harder and harder but get worse and worse…and worse results.

Does that sound like what’s happening in your business right now?

It may be time to take a break. Your friends who are golfing, running and sailing are engaging in the practice of putting their oxygen masks on first. The most successful people have learned that taking care of themselves first and foremost gives them the oxygen they need to think, to dream, to connect and to inspire. In other words, it makes them better leaders––especially during the toughest climbs.

It goes something like this: “First me, next me, then my family, then my business.”

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Here are three fun factoids that will help encourage you to put humility aside and be more strategically selfish.

1) Be Selfish To Be Fearless

My friend Dr. Dan Baker, author of the terrific book What Happy People Know, argues that it is physically impossible for the brain to be fearful and grateful at the same time. Fearful leaders are difficult to follow. Doing what you love is a great step toward being grateful and consequently less fearful. Golf anyone?

2) Give Your Brain A Real Break

According to a study by LexisNexis, half of us now spend time managing and receiving messages rather than doing our jobs, and we are reaching our breaking point. When you run, swim, bike or meditate, you are giving your brain a critical break. It is important to turn off the television, computer and music. Whether they know it or not, that’s what your most successful friends are doing when they engage in their “selfish” activities.

3) Go Zen

There is a reason you have your best ideas in the shower. The water, the quiet, the mindless daily ritual all combine to give your brain the space to unwind. Whether you realize it or not, you are very close to practicing the art of meditation. Try spending 10 minutes with your eyes closed, thinking about nothing but your breathing. When your mind drifts, bring it back to breathing. According to Dr. Emma Seppala, the benefits include improved happiness, health and productivity.

It should not have surprised me that many of my successfully selfish friends had been meditating for years.

Any one of these three practices will create immediate, positive results for busy leaders. Why not go on a nice long walk—right now—and consider all three?

Take care of yourself. That’s what great leaders do.

 

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