Read this at 2:00 PM

Today’s approach to “leading with our best self,” is entirely practical. Biologically so.

In January I began my fourth semester of teaching “Holistic Leadership” to law, public policy and other graduate students at UC Berkeley.  With the three prior runs, I have struggled to find my rhythm.  I’ve poured over feedback. I even met with one of the assistant deans to go over the written feedback. And I’ve been slowly improving it. Then a week into this semester, I had this earth-shaking realization.  I was listening to Martin Seligman’s book Flourishing: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-Being* and these lines jumped out at me:

“Basic Rest and Activity Cycle, or BRAC, is characteristic of human beings and other diurnal -that is awake during the day — animals. On average we are our most alert in late morning and mid-evening. We are at the bottom of our cycle – tired, grumpy, inattentive, pessimistic – at mid-afternoon and in the wee hours of the morning. So very basic is this cycle that death itself occurs disproportionately at the bottom of BRAC. (emphasis added)

OMG! People are dying disproportionately, because their energy is literally depressed.  So, when do I teach this grad school course? From 3:35 – 5:25 PM.  Siesta time!  It was so obvious in retrospect that they weren’t just somewhat cynical law students, they were TIRED (and somewhat cynical) law students.  And I realized that my energy was nowhere near what it is at other times that I step in front of an audience or class.  I’ve been running uphill, and of course, not very fast!

I changed.  I told my students that I would be doing a power-walk in the 10 minutes before class and they were welcome to join me.  I can’t tell you how much more energetic I feel after this stroll up the hill and around Memorial Stadium. And, I now begin — and punctuate the middle of class — with simple yoga stretches and/or simple meditative breathing to awaken energy and alertness.  Students volunteer to lead, so we learn different stretches.  (I also brought the same practices to my 12:30 – 2:00 undergraduate class, because half the students haven’t eaten yet, or their bodies are starting to digest food instead of digesting ideas about leadership. Bottom line: the brain is just another part of the body. Energize it.

Maybe you’re ahead of me on this stuff.  If not, try it.  Schedule a 10-minute walk around 2:00 each day.  If you have a key partner — boss, peer, or direct report(s) — invite them to walk quickly. You think differently. More fluid – literally and figuratively.  Or throw some Nerf balls around your corporate board meeting at 2:00. 🙂

Alternatively, download a meditation app and give it a whirl.  Or, here’s a post on the best 10 meditation apps for iPhone and Android if you’re drawn to that.  Give it a spin to

Lead with your best self!

* Seligman is considered the “father of positive psychology.” This book offers a retrospective of his 30 years of helping create the field. The research is utterly fascinating and there are extremely helpful ideas.  If you’re interested in positive psychology, and I am a zealous convert, I’d suggest starting with Learned Optimism by Seligman.  It’s a shorter book with some very practical ideas on — as the title suggests — consciously building more positivity and resilience into your life.

  • Good post. You know the 1st and sometimes the 2nd time around you are getting acquainted with the textbook for the course if it isn’t a personally developed curriculum. After that you’re looking for ways to make this class your own or developed a deeper level of intimacy for the subject matter.

    Grad and law students by now are likely looking for those epiphanies in which they say “this is why I’m here” or “this is why I took this class”. So you’re walking uphill and take brisk strolls for 10 minutes. How many grad students/ or groups of students will discuss why a particular chapter is important to them or their profession. Contextual feedback is important to energy.

    I had a courtship and marriage class that I took and no matter how tired I was I went and didn’t want to miss. The class energy was so contagious for each section we attended each other’s class. It was interesting. You know what I figured out our energy level was connected to our ability to understand or relate to the class beyond our scheduled time. I had my cold soda in had and I tried to sit next to the cutest guy in class on some topics for better understanding. j/k but it was great.

    So where are students on public policy and housing, public assistance, immigration, funding for DOE, Human Services (Their federal budget for looked nice a few years of ago). My family and I argued about who got what and why. We had lots of energy around 7:00pm for the subject because we felt so strongly about it. 🙂

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