Strategic Stillness: The Essential Cornerstone of Peak Leadership Performance

Strategic Stillness: The Essential Cornerstone of Peak Leadership Performance / Alessandra Edwards

In the relentless pursuit of productivity and excellence, it is easy to fall into the trap of non-stop hustle, thinking it is the best way to achieve results and get things done.

While endurance and long hours have their merits, they are neither sustainable nor efficient in the long run when it comes to harnessing our evolutionary biology.

Luckily, our understanding of what fosters sustainable performance has evolved considerably in the last decade, and with it, the strategies we need to employ to ensure our vitality, presence, and longevity. Enter a subtler yet more efficient aspect of performance strategy: Strategic Stillness.

Generally speaking, today’s leaders are more attuned than ever to the importance of sleep, meticulously monitoring every nocturnal metric with state-of-the-art wearables. This is fantastic and a far cry from the ‘work hard, play hard’ mentality that has led so many before them to burnout. Yet, while I applaud this commitment to sleep tracking, it’s important to recognise that sleep sometimes overlooks the broader spectrum of rest our biology demands.

Inspired by Dr. Saundra Dalton-Smith, author of “Sacred Rest: Recover Your Life, Renew Your Energy, Restore Your Sanity,” who eloquently categorised the seven types of rest, modern science champions a new narrative:

True rest isn’t merely the absence of work or the silence of night. 

It’s a series of deliberate pauses that recalibrate our biological rhythms and replenish our cognitive reserves through cycles of day, weeks, months, and seasons.

If you find yourself: 

  • in an endless cycle of long working hours
  • binge watching Netflix into the wee hours
  • squeezing every free 15 minutes you can at the gym
  • rushing in between Saturday kids sport commitments to meet that friend for coffee because we’ve been told it’s good to connect
  • overwhelmed by the sheer volume of ‘stuff’ you’ve committed to…

…I invite you to either read Dr Dalton-Smith’s book, or peruse through the list of the seven types of rest below. Which one have you left behind for good that might need some much needed attention?

Let’s shift the narrative from overwhelmed to fully rested by harnessing the profound impact of strategic stillness.

Physical Rest – The Non-Negotiable Recharge

This is an easy one. I bet there is no leader on the planet who doesn’t know that sleep is essential to one’s energy and health. Physical rest is the bedrock of a leader’s vitality. From sleep to naps, physical rest empowers our bodies to mend tissues, fortify muscle memory, and strengthen our immune system.

Start here if you’re in overwhelm and running in reserve.

Mental Rest – The Leader’s Downtime

Our brain, a mere 2% of our body’s mass, demands over a fifth of our energy reserves. Mental rest is thus the essential reset for our neurological well-being. It clears the mental fog, solidifies learning, and nurtures the neuroplasticity crucial for inventive problem-solving.

Do this: Take a short rest every 2-3 hours. I really like a technique called Non Sleep Deep Rest for this.

Emotional Rest – The Leadership Haven

Emotional rest is the conscious disconnection from the emotional demands of leadership. It’s the space where leaders can peel away the professional facade and reconnect with their inner selves. In this restful state, cortisol levels drop, reinstating a balance that shields against chronic stress and emotional burnout, which can otherwise cloud judgment and diminish empathetic leadership.

Do this: Start at home. Choose to be authentic in voicing your emotions and your needs. Then graduate to speaking your true voice with friends.

Social Rest – The Rejuvenating Circle

Social rest is about mindfully nurturing relationships that replenish rather than drain us. Leaders need to be discerning in their social engagements, as our neurobiology can react to social interactions with either a release of oxytocin, fostering trust and bonding, or stress hormones, leading to social exhaustion.

Do this: Do an inventory of your social connections. Invest more in those who replenish you and let go of those who drain you.

Sensory Rest – The Quietude of the Senses

Our senses are our windows to the world, but unending stimulation can lead to sensory burnout. Sensory rest provides our nervous system a chance to lower the volume, easing the cognitive burden on our brains.

Do this: Schedule in a 100% digital detox. Start with one day at the weekend, then graduate to two full days per month. You’ll love this, I promise.

Creative Rest – The Spring of Inspiration

Creative rest is the deliberate disengagement from active problem-solving, allowing the subconscious to weave together new ideas. It’s linked to an increase in alpha brain waves, a state associated with creativity and insight.

Do this: Take regular walks in nature. Longer walks are better as according to Prof Huberman, the human brain struggles to shift states from thinking to creative. It takes about 20-30 minutes for thoughts to subside.

Spiritual Rest – The Journey to Purpose

Spiritual rest is the reflective practice that reconnects leaders with their core values and purpose.

Do this: Pray, meditate or serve. Life is short. Live it on purpose and in service to others.