I took this photo of Lake Harriet in November 2010

“Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.” – Albert Einstein

In 2005 I hopped on a plan in Newark and left my home state of New Jersey. I left the land of Bon Jovi and “the Jersey Shore” behind and relocated to Minneapolis Minnesota. I was 28 years old and at a crossroads in my life. I needed a change, so I moved to a city I knew nothing about other than the fact that I knew Prince (RIP to my favorite artist) was from there. I also heard the winter temperatures dropped to some crazy cold level.

In first year living in the twin cities, anxiety consumed me. The move to Minneapolis was the biggest life change I had ever made.

I got around town via bus and I lived in a small apartment next to Lake Calhoun. Lake Calhoun is one of the many gorgeous lakes in Minneapolis. This is me at lake Calhoun back then.

Ever since my arrival to Minneapolis the lakes drew me in. We had lakes in New Jersey, but not like these. Calhoun is at least 3 miles around and connects to a chain of other lakes. Beautiful homes and paths for cycling or jogging/walking surround the lakes.

When I would ride the bus home at night, I felt a sense of calmness when the lake came into view shortly before my stop. Whenever I got the chance, I would take walks by the lake. I realized the walks help to ease my anxiety and clear my mind.

I was also fortunate back then to have a 5th floor apartment , albeit small and old, that had an awesome view of the lake. My favorite pastime was sitting on my couch enjoying the lake view while having coffee (often playing my acoustic as well).

The lake brought me a sense of calmness and joy. Today, 12 years later, I still live in Minnesota. Now 40 and married with two daughters, we live out in the burbs but still spend time by the lakes of Minneapolis.

The below pictures are of my daughters Emma (4 yrs old) and Allison (4 months old) enjoying Lake Harriet. My family is my greatest joy 🙂

So now that you know how much I and my family enjoy the lakes, what does this all have to do with leadership? This blog post was supposed to be about how the lakes helped me develop leadership right?

Spending time by the lake helped me improve my self-awareness through the practice of mindfulness.

Self-awareness is the gold standard for leadership. It is the foundation of emotional intelligence.

You see, what I didn’t understand (but could feel) back when I was 28 was that my walks by the lake helped to quiet my mind. The outside noise and distractions of the daily rat race fueled my thoughts, and most of my thoughts I could do without.

The walks by the lake helped to subside the noise so I could check my thoughts and feelings. It allowed me to become more present in the moment and decompress from stress or anxiety.

By improving my self-awareness through my lake walks I also improved my leadership. This affected me, my family, and my work. It enabled me to put things in perspective.

Leadership is not only about leading others, it’s also about leading ourselves. By leading ourself we continue to move towards a higher plane of existence based on our core values.

How do we practice mindfulness to develop self-awareness?

When most think of mindfulness, they think of meditation. Practicing mindfulness though doesn’t mean you have to sit with your legs crossed and your arms in the air. We are all different and for me, the walks by the lake worked well. For you it might be something different like traditional meditation. Or it could be an activity like painting. Only you can decide what works best to help you become more present and self-aware.

There’s no shortage of materials available to learn how to practice mindfulness. If you want to learn more, two of my favorite authors on self-awareness are Daniel Goleman and Bill George. What I like about them is that they relate the importance of self-awareness to leadership.

One thing’s for sure, in today’s society we could all benefit from slowing down and becoming more present and self-aware. This is especially true in the US where we are so politically divided and stressed. Combine this fact with the distraction of social media and the internet and it’s easy to become lost in the vortex of noise.

We can’t lose focus of what’s important in life. Our family, our health, and helping others is what’s important.

PS – If this is a topic you enjoy I highly recommend watching Innsaei which is available on Netflix. It’s about getting in touch with intuition and not relying only on rational thought.

About the Author: Mike MacIsaac is the owner and principal consultant for MacIsaac Consulting. Mike provides leadership as an IT Project and Program Manager as well as an Agile Scrum Master. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikeMacIsaac or subscribe to Mike’s blog.