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Unplugging to Lead: Why Unwiring is Essential for C-Level Executives and How to Do it Right

Updated: Jul 27, 2023

A wealth of evidence from various sectors has repeatedly emphasized the significance of leisure time for everyone, from factory workers to C-level executives. However, it is crucial to note that merely having free time is not enough. What counts is how that time is spent. As a leader, unwiring during your free time is critical to your overall productivity and effectiveness.

The Neuroscience Behind Unwiring

Recent findings in neuroscience reveal that the brain doesn't completely "switch off" during periods of relaxation. Rather, it switches modes. When we unwire, we move away from focused, goal-oriented thinking, which is governed by the Central Executive Network, into a more relaxed and diffused thinking mode governed by the Default Mode Network.

This Default Mode Network, once thought to represent a state of cognitive idleness, is now known to be highly active during periods of rest. It's during these times that our brains engage in significant cognitive processes such as memory consolidation, self-reflection, imagination, and future planning. Such processes are essential for C-level executives for introspection, strategic planning, and innovation.

The Leadership Edge

From a leadership perspective, unwiring offers considerable benefits. Unplugging allows you to step back, reassess situations more holistically, and return to work with fresh insights. Leaders who regularly unwire are more likely to spot trends and opportunities, conceive novel solutions, and inspire their teams with a clear, forward-thinking vision.

Furthermore, leading by example and promoting a healthy work-life balance can have a ripple effect on the rest of the organization, fostering a culture of wellness and sustainability. By prioritizing unwiring, you are not just enhancing your productivity but are also setting a powerful precedent for your team to follow.

Simple, Impactful Exercises to Unwire

Below are a few strategies for effectively unwiring, regardless of how much or how little time you have at your disposal.

  • Digital Detox: Designate certain times of the day when you refrain from using electronic devices. This could be the first hour after waking up, the last hour before going to sleep, or during meals. Over time, these periods of disconnection can have a profound impact on your mental well-being and clarity of thought.

  • Mindfulness and Meditation: Incorporating mindfulness techniques, such as focused breathing or meditation, into your daily routine can help you switch from the Central Executive Network to the Default Mode Network, facilitating the brain's restorative processes. Just 10 minutes a day can bring about noticeable changes in your stress levels and cognitive capacity.

  • Nature Walks: Time spent in nature has been found to boost the Default Mode Network, encourage reflection, and foster creativity. A regular walk in the park or even occasional hiking trips can provide invaluable benefits.

  • Reflection Journaling: Taking some time each day to jot down your thoughts, ideas, and reflections can be extremely beneficial. This can help you gain perspective, solve complex problems, and make more strategic decisions.

Unwiring should not be seen as a luxury, but rather a necessity for every C-level executive. By embracing the habit of disconnecting and allocating time for restful activities, leaders can boost their cognitive abilities, foster a healthier work culture, and enhance their overall leadership effectiveness. As counterintuitive as it may seem, sometimes the best way to stay ahead is to pause and unwind.

In her latest book, Brighter Leaders's CEO Lizzie Claesson, shares some practical exercises to commit and relax during holidays and free time.

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