What Mindful Leaders Can Learn From The World’s Oldest People
In the book “Ikigai” by Hector Garcia and Francesc Miralles, the authors interview residents of a Blue Zone in Japan that has the highest percentage of 100 year-olds (Centenarians) in an attempt to understand the secret to their long life and happiness. Not only do these centenarians out-live most people, they also tend to have fewer chronic diseases and better health. In the blog post below, I summarize key findings and implications for leaders.
📖 First, a Quote From the Book:
“You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love, you may see the world about you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honour trampled in the sewers of baser minds. There is only one thing for it then — to learn. Learn why the world wags and what wags it. That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting.” – T.H. White
💡 Advice from Centenarians for a Long and Happy Life:
- Don’t Worry: Keep a young heart, take things in stride, practice stress reduction techniques instead of worrying.
- Cultivate Good Habits: Gardening was a popular hobby, in addition to tea, plant-based diets, and regular exercise.
- Nurture Friendships Everyday: It was interesting to see the word “everyday” here. Nurturing important relationships daily is just as important as the deeper quality time moments. (And no, social media probably doesn’t count.)
- Live an Unhurried Life: Slowing down to go farther as opposed to racing from one thing to another.
- Be Optimistic: The killer combination boils down to a positive attitude and high emotional awareness.
🧐 Further Insights and Implications for Leaders:
There’s Something About Gardening…
100% of the people from the Blue Zone interviewed managed a vegetable garden! It turns out, gardening offers many health benefits from self-esteem to stress reduction to, of course, edible home-grown food. The meta point for leaders is that there is a long-term benefit in engaging with a practice that engages the body, the heart, and the mind. Through gardening, we are able to move our body, nurture a living thing, and do it in silent meditation without distraction. It’s a killer combination if you really think about it.
Formal Community Gatherings…
All Centenarians studied belonged to some form of a neighborhood association where each member gave back to their community. The importance of community should not be undermined in today’s digitized and isolated world. With remote work and virtual communications becoming the norm post-COVID, there is a strong case to be made to have regular gatherings with our teams to maintain a sense of community. There have been some interesting thought pieces about using office spaces as in-real-life experiential team spaces in the future, whether it’s quarterly or bi-annually. I have also recently enjoyed learning about The Art of Gathering with Priya Parker to create more meaning when we gather in groups.
Nurturing Connection Everyday…
Nurturing relationships daily can be done with thoughtfulness and in small doses, but it does require some intentionality. In a world of passive likes and anonymous comments, the art of relational connection is often glossed over. The key here is about mutual value exchange that come from building a relationship: helping each other with everything from turning negative situations into positive opportunities, helping out on work projects, managing conflict resolution or having a good laugh with some silly GIFs.
Self-Care Habits Matter (shocker!)…
Leaders show up at their best and increase their longevity in the workplace when they take care of themselves by building healthy habits. Check out my self-care checklist post for more information on types of self-care and apps that can help.
Have a Purpose (But Don’t Take it Too Seriously)…
In the book, purpose is described as that existential fuel that keeps you going. For some reason, we put a lot of weight on finding our purpose for work. By over-thinking it, we rob ourselves of the opportunity to have some fun with it. Instead, defining a purpose for ourselves is an exercise of identifying what gives us a sense of meaning. I’ve written about practical ways to write your story to help unlock what that looks like for you. As Centenarians teach us, having a purpose simply makes our life more enjoyable and meaningful on our terms. I encourage you to define what this means for yourself and for your team and evolve it as you go.
Find Your Flow in Everyday Tasks…
It turns out that happiness and longevity are highly correlated with flow! Finding your flow is about focus, de-prioritization, time management, and enjoyment in focusing on one thing. If you’ve ever lost yourself in your work for a few hours of uninterrupted productivity, you know what flow feels like. It’s pretty damn beautiful and something we should strive to create space for daily.