Summary Written by Martina McGowan

The Big Idea

Your A-Game is just a Breath Away

"... align and synchronize our physiology, emotions, feelings, thoughts, behaviour and relationships, [and] we will massively elevate our results and our performance without expending more effort, sweat or tears."- Coherence, page 33

We have all become increasingly aware of the harm that silo thinking, working and managing can do to an organization. Many companies have embraced intermingling the way different groups work and think about problems to keep their companies at the forefront of innovation. But think about what great strides we could make as individuals if we stopped dividing our lives up into silos.

What does the word coherence mean? According to

1) The quality or state of cohering, especially a logical, orderly, and aesthetically consistent relationship of parts
2) The property of being coherent, as of waves.

Dr. Watkins maintains that once we gain the ability to know ourselves at our deepest and most basic levels, biologically and physiologically, and can manage ourselves at each of these levels, we can become “Enlightened Leaders” of almost limitless potential.

What is an Enlightened Leader? Enlightened leaders possess a long list of abilities and intelligences, which they are able to tap into, and use to serve themselves, other people and their corporations to greater benefit. A few of the intelligences important in these leaders are: physical management, emotional intelligence, emotional resilience, self-motivation, and social intelligence.

How we act and react in and to the world, how we do business, how we view ourselves begins inside us. The world is volatile, uncertain, complex and often ambiguous (V.U.C.A., to use Dr. Watkins’ term), and we can learn to perform our best at all times.

The consistency of performance is within our scope of control. The linchpin of our physiological control rests in having power over our breathing and heart rates. By learning to breathe properly, and to control our emotions, we can enter into any situation with a clear and logical mind.

Insight #1

A New Finish Line

"I believe the new finishing line is influence and the ability to foster powerful influential relationships inside and outside the workplace."- Coherence, page 243

Most of us have discovered that the key to a happy, and possibly enlightened life is not in getting or having more stuff. It is about doing and being.

Dr. Watkins tells us that each of the coherences, or areas of our existence, build upon each other in a stepwise fashion. What does that mean? Understanding and mastering our own physiology, by controlling breathing, heart rate, etc is called physiological coherence. The ability to properly control of our physiological coherence then opens the path to dealing with our emotional coherence. Emotional coherence aids our cognitive coherence, behavioral and relational coherence, and so on.

Mastering each of these areas, and bending them to our desired outcomes, all through the way we breathe leads us to the limitless potential of the Enlightened Leader.

Let us take a look at a few of these more closely.

Physiologic Coherence
Physiologic coherence helps us manage our energy reserves. Breathing properly helps protect our energy stores and aids us in more rapid recuperation. This gets us back in the game sooner. Physiologic coherence then becomes a platform on which health and happiness are built.

Emotional coherence
Emotional coherence is made possible by understanding and improving our emotional intelligence, self-awareness, self-regulation, internal motivation, empathy, our social skills, our emotional literacy and finally by good emotional self-management.

Managing our emotional health, and the health of those we lead, is the path to alleviating a great deal of disease and distress in the workplace. We all know that our emotions can take a toll on our mental and physical health. But, we do not often encourage people to take an active part in their watching over their emotional well-being. We focus instead on things like diet and exercise. But it is our thinking that has the greater impact on health and fitness.

Becoming masters of our emotions, is an important key to emotional resiliency, expanded awareness, and clear-headed thinking.

One of the examples given by Dr. Watkins is in emergency situations. During a crisis, real or perceived, he says that we give ourselves a “DIY lobotomy.” During emergencies, our higher order thinking brain switches off, and we go running about fueled by random emotions and adrenaline. This is usually accompanied by rapid heart rate and shallow breathing.

His contention is that the way to keep our brains turned “on” is to be consciously aware of what is happening and proactively manage our physiologic coherence. We keep our brain turned on by stopping and breathing.

He calls it “SHIFT”-ing:

Stop everything, shift your attention
Heart, breath through this area of your chest to,
Induce a positive (rather than negative) emotion
Feel it in your body; for at least 40 seconds
Turn your brain on; notice insights, write them down

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Insight #2

Learning to Listen is the Key to Relationships

"When we embrace the power of relationships and build cohesive high-performing teams or executive fellowship, we won't need to work so hard."- Coherence, page 317

As more and more people make the mental shift from getting to being, doing and getting stuff done, the new target then is relationships and influence. For many individuals, especially in the business world, this will require learning and teaching new skills.

The basic component of real relationships is trust. Trust, especially in a work environment, is created in an atmosphere of personal connection, understanding each other’s true motives, consistent delivery and work style.

The first building block of trust is personal connection. This develops through communication. Communication implies a two-way conversation, a give and take of information, listening and responding. Listening is unfortunately something that precious few people are able to do. Most people remain quiet, giving the appearance of listening, not with the intention of receiving any information, but waiting to speak, to interject, to correct, to persuade.

Here is another acronym that Dr. Watkins uses to help us improve our ability to listen: MAP

Move your attention away from your own thinking and drop into the body and BREATHE
Appreciate the speaker
Play back the underlying meaning

By getting to know ourselves better, managing ourselves better, we have the opportunity to perform at our best. We can become Enlightened Leaders.

Read the book

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Alan Watkins

Dr Alan Watkins is an honorary senior lecturer in neuroscience and psychological medicine at Imperial College, London and an affiliate professor of leadership at the European School of Management, London. He originally qualified as a physician, has a first class degree in psychology and a PhD in immunology.

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