In the previous articles, RAVI VENKATESAN outlined 4 key aspects of the “inner state” that we want to fine tune to become Heartful Innovators. He explored the roles of the Intellect, Ego, Mind, and Awareness, and their transformation in enabling innovation. He also explored ways to overcome fear, uncertainty, and doubt, collectively known as FUD, which form the main barriers to innovation. In this article we’ll explore stress, another major barrier to innovation, and methods to counter it.
Disruptive Innovation Through Inner Transformation
Two key autonomic nervous systems in humans are important to understand:
- The Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS) – This prepares the body for potential danger. It leads to a fight-or-flight response, and
- The Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS) – This brings the body back to a relaxed state and calms down the mind. It leads to a rest-and-digest response.
The process of innovation cannot even begin, let alone reach the peak of its potential, in an individual who is stressed out, with their SNS active.
To understand why, let’s trace the stress response. Consider the example of Jake, a business executive. He was copied on a nasty complaint that went to his boss, right before he was about to have a 1×1 meeting with her to go over his strategy to enter a new market. Jake’s amygdala, the part of his brain that handles emotions, sends a signal to his hypothalamus (the command center of the brain), which results in his entire system being put on alert. In other words, fight-or-flight mode. As this happens there are several consequences. The hormone epinephrine (adrenalin) is pumped into his bloodstream. Pulse rate and blood pressure go up. Breathing becomes more rapid. Adrenal glands release cortisol. Tunnel vision and impairment of cognitive processes occurs. In this state, Jake cannot even “think straight,” let alone think innovatively. Jake goes into the meeting in a disoriented state of mind. He sounds incoherent and unclear and frustrates his boss even further. She asks him to calm himself down and come back with a clearer articulation of his strategy.
The average adult goes through several such incidents a day, and over time they find themselves under chronic stress. They feel like they are running hard to stay in the same place, almost like a mouse on a flywheel.
How to break out of this trap? For anyone aspiring to be an innovator, it is essential to find ways to activate the PNS, which puts the body in rest-and-digest mode instead of fight-or-flight mode, and reverses the effects of activating the SNS. Here are three great methods to do this:
- Left nostril breathing. Pause and take 8 to 10 deep and long breaths with your left nostril by closing your right nostril using your thumb. Repeat this a couple of times if needed. You will find that it has an instant calming effect. It is a very simple tool; however, it is very powerful in activating the PNS. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ol8RPO27FkI
- Heartfulness Relaxation. This technique systematically lets you calm yourself down and unwind any stress that is present in your body and mind. You can access this practice here: https://youtu.be/rmwqL34FCjA.
- Heartfulness Meditation. This technique will put you in a much deeper state of calm and allow for insights and innovations to emerge naturally from within. You can access this practice here: https://youtu.be/gDClb-yjNdQ.
The process of innovation cannot even begin,
let alone reach the peak of its potential,
in an individual who is stressed out, with their SNS active.
Try these practices during the next week. You can use the left nostril breathing in any situation, at home or at work. It is essential to develop the ability to recognize when your SNS has been activated and to counter it by activating the PNS. This will not only help you become a Heartful Innovator, but also help with your mental and physical health by combating chronic stress.
Ravi lives in Atlanta, Georgia, and is currently Head of Innovation at Bakkt. He is also a regular public speaker and public speaking coach. He has been a Heartfulness meditator for over 20 years and is passionate about applying meditation lessons to improve workplace relationships and productivity.