There’s so much noise in the world right now. It can create loads of fear and uncertainty and overwhelm. The antidote is silence. Give yourself permission to be perfectly still once a day for at least 15 minutes. Tune out the world and tune into that little voice inside. It’s your signal amidst the noise, and your stability from the inside out. It’s also your rocket fuel for focusing on what really matters to (and serves) you.
As a part of my series about “How to Slow Down To Do More” I had the pleasure to interview Shelley Paxton, Author, Speaker, and Liberator of Souls.
Shelley Paxton as seen in PBS, Forbes, CBS, CW, and Thrive Global is an author, international speaker, & transformational coach. She can best be summed up as a burnout fighter and fire re-igniter who is rebelling for rewriting the traditional script of success starting with her new book, SOULBBATICAL: A Corporate Rebel’s Guide To Finding Your Best Life (published by Simon & Schuster 1.20). Shelley spent 26 years as a highly regarded marketing and advertising executive, stewarding some of the world’s most iconic brands, including Harley-Davidson, Visa, McDonald’s, and AOL and walked away from it all to launch her own company, Soulbbatical and become the Chief Soul Officer of her own life. Her mission is to liberate the souls of leaders and organizations by inspiring them to realize their greatest purpose and potential. As a certified professional coach, she works with executives at Fortune 100 companies & with fellow rebel soul individuals and entrepreneurs. She holds a marketing degree from Boston College and graduated from iPEC, one of the country’s premier coaching certification programs. Paxton has trained with some of the top teachers in the world including Brene’ Brown, five-time New York Times bestselling author. www.soulbbatical.com
Thank you so much for doing this interview with us! Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to this specific career path?
At the height of my 26-year career as an accomplished marketing executive and global brand leader — having become CMO of Harley-Davidson — I discovered that the view from the top of the corporate ladder lacked the fulfillment I expected. In fact, it was taking the joy out of my life — and the life out of me. I had been playing by someone else’s rules for so long that I didn’t even realize what I’d lost: my wellbeing and a connection to my own soul.
It would take a couple years, several international flights, and innumerable moments of self-reflection to regain my deepest, truest sense of self. It took a full blown Soulbbatical to get reacquainted with my purpose: to teach people how to rebel for who they are, what they want, and the impact they want to have in the world. I’ve reached a point in my life where I’ve realized that to rebel against something — the establishment, the rules, the red tape — isn’t nearly as productive, meaningful or fulfilling as rebelling for something.
I started Soulbbatical, the company, with the mission to liberate the souls of leaders and organizations by inspiring them to realize (and rebel for) their greatest purpose, possibility, and impact. As an ICF-certified professional coach, I work with executives at Fortune 100 companies as well as fellow rebel soul individuals and entrepreneurs. I’ve trained with some of the top teachers in the world, including Brené Brown, researcher and five-time New York Times bestselling author.
I wrote Soulbbatical: A Corporate Rebel’s Guide to Finding Your Best Life (published by Simon & Schuster in January 2020) as a manifesto on breaking free from the traditional shoulds and should-nots of life and leadership. It’s about rewriting the script of success — personally and professionally. It’s not the six-figure salary and corner office. It’s not external validation. Success is radical self-commitment — giving yourself permission to be YOU. It’s saying yes to what serves you and no to what doesn’t. It’s carving your own path. It’s choosing wellbeing. It’s becoming success-FULL instead of success-EMPTY.
According to a 2006 Pew Research Report report, 26% of women and 21% of men feel that they are “always rushed”. Has it always been this way? Can you give a few reasons regarding what you think causes this prevalent feeling of being rushed?
In my experience, this phenomenon of always feeling rushed has dramatically increased over the past two decades, since the dawn of the internet. I believe it’s caused by the confluence of three factors:
- We now live in what’s being called the “Attention Economy” with a greater number of demands on our attention than ever before, especially in the digital domain (emails, text messages, social media, online meetings and content). As a result, most of us are on overload and in constant reaction mode.
- We lack the skills and training to proactively manage our focus and attention in this new economy. Most companies are propagating the problem instead of teaching employees ways to thrive in the Attention Economy, i.e. mindfulness practices, mindful meetings.
- The modern culture celebrates busy-ness as a badge of honor. It encourages multi-tasking over mindfulness and productivity over presence. We’ve become obsessed with “doing” versus “being” because it (falsely) validates our worthiness. The 24/7 “always-on” mentality is only exacerbating this challenge — and the plagues of distraction and burnout.
This combination of forces is having a significant impact on our productivity and wellbeing. A study by Paul Gilbert and Matt Killingworth revealed that our minds are wandering from what we’re doing 46.9% of the time. That means nearly half the time we’re distracted from the task at hand! Houston, we have a problem.
Based on your experience or research can you explain why being rushed can harm our productivity, health, and happiness?
This is the exact story I lived out for decades in the corporate world — rushing around on autopilot and cut off from the presence and consciousness that not only give our lives meaning but are the foundational elements to productivity, health and happiness. Busy-ness is an addiction that keeps us from sitting still and connecting with ourselves, our emotions, and our bodies; from coming face-to-face with our deepest fears and desires. It fuels our avoidance of truth, pain, and knowing. And stands in the way of true fulfillment.
We also miss meaningful messages, connections, and moments when we’re speeding through life. Depriving ourselves of joy and insight and growth. Not to mention the opportunity for gratitude. In positive psychology research, gratitude is consistently associated with greater health and happiness. But we have to slow down in order to witness and express those things for which we are most grateful.
And, let’s be honest, if we’re constantly distracted, i.e. focused on the task at hand only half the time, how productive are we really being? We’re not, of course. So, most of us are trying to compensate for lower productivity by squeezing more working hours into the day — and ultimately sacrificing sleep. As Arianna Huffington preaches from first-hand experience, sleep deprivation is deadly to our productivity, focus, creativity, and health.
On the flip side, can you give examples of how we can do more, and how our lives would improve if we could slow down?
My coach, Rich Litvin, has a signature phrase that I live by: “Slow down to speed up.” Slowing down and (re)connecting with yourself is the secret sauce to living more authentically, courageously, and on purpose. It’s also the secret to success. Here are three examples of how to slow down to speed up (i.e. do more):
Listen to (and nourish) your body — Take sleep, rest, and recovery seriously. Just like top-performing athletes do as part of their rigorous training. It’s mandatory, not a “nice to have,” for optimal performance whether you’re in finance or on the field. You’ll feel the difference immediately.
Create space in your days — Block out white space on your calendar every week and month — before anything else gets scheduled. This is your time to think, write, read, create, move, design, or simply be. This is where the magic happens (and your impact gets amplified). Give this space a name that signifies its non-negotiable importance, e.g. ME-ting or Personal Board of Directors Meeting or Think Tank. You’ll thank yourself when you experience a spike in creativity and productivity as a result of this “time away” from the day-to-day. (Bonus points for scheduling this space quarterly. I’m a big believer that time off is a prerequisite for smart work instead of a payoff for hard work.)
Find Your (Soul) Signal — There’s so much noise in the world right now. It can create loads of fear and uncertainty and overwhelm. The antidote is silence. Give yourself permission to be perfectly still once a day for at least 15 minutes. Tune out the world and tune into that little voice inside. It’s your signal amidst the noise, and your stability from the inside out. It’s also your rocket fuel for focusing on what really matters to (and serves) you.
We all live in a world with many deadlines and incessant demands for our time and attention. That inevitably makes us feel rushed. Can you share with our readers 6 strategies that you use to “slow down to do more”? Can you please give a story or example for each?
- Practice Gratitude — Slow down every morning and evening to settle into who or what you are feeling most grateful for in the moment. Write it down. Share it. Savor it. As I mentioned earlier, gratitude triggers happiness hormones which feeds health, happiness, and productivity. Wash, rinse, repeat.
- Play Offense. By doing so you’ll reduce the amount of time you feel on defense, i.e. reacting to all of the incoming distractions. Make it a game to say no more often than you say yes (to others and their agenda) and to say yes more often than you say no (to yourself and your agenda). Creating these boundaries is a powerful shift that keeps you in choice and focus despite what’s coming your way at an intense velocity. You will accomplish more in your time, on your terms.
- Remember to Breathe. Deeply. Deep breathing is one of the most profound mindfulness tools we have at our disposal every minute of every day. Too often we find ourselves barely breathing and trapped in our (fight or flight) lizard brain, which limits our perspective and creativity. When overwhelmed by the demand for your attention, center yourself with deep breaths (5 counts in, 5 counts hold, 5 counts out) and reconnect with your higher energy, consciousness, and priorities. This will help you focus and perform.
- Prioritize Radical Self-Care — Here’s what it looks like for me: morning meditation, gratitude journaling, minimum 8 hours sleep, naps when needed, clean eating, substantial breaks between meetings/calls, a walk a day, and a cardio kickboxing workout every morning. It can also mean taking the afternoon off to read, and it always means limiting consumption of the news. What does it look like for you?
- Practice Savoring — Savoring is the act of picking a few moments throughout the day to intentionally pause on and savor a beautiful experience for a period of time (if even 5–10 minutes). The goal is to soak in the experience with all 5 senses and appreciate every aspect of it. This practice keeps us in the present moment and fuels our positivity and possibility.
- Embrace Permission — This is one of my favorite morning practices (inspired by Brené Brown). Empower yourself everyday by asking, “What do I need to give myself permission to do, feel, or not do, in order to show up as my most authentic, courageous, and productive self today?” It’s a game-changer. Let go of the “shoulds” and anyone else’s agenda, in favor of driving your own.
How do you define “mindfulness”? Can you give an example or story?
Mindfulness is about being fully present in the moment. It’s a choice to be aware and appreciative of what this moment in time has to offer — instead of replaying the past or worrying about the future. It’s been proven to reduce suffering and increase enduring happiness. Which ultimately fuels the impact we have in the world.
For me, it’s as simple (and as challenging) as showing up authentically in this moment and owning my story. I’m writing this article at the same time as I have clients, prospective clients, podcast hosts, Instagram followers, LinkedIn connections, and more, vying for my attention. And I’m choosing to stay focused on this conversation. For you (and me).
Can you give examples of how people can integrate mindfulness into their everyday lives?
Any one of the six strategies above is a great start to making mindfulness part of your daily life. Start small and build over time. This is not an all or nothing game. Every little bit counts — and so does consistency.
Do you have any mindfulness tools that you find most helpful at work?
All of these build on the six strategies (plus three) mentioned earlier:
Breathe — start your day with rounds of deep breathing and intersperse it throughout the day as demands increase on your attention. It helps to re-center and re-focus.
Focus — get clear on your priorities and proactively stay focused on those. Ensure that the majority of your day is in service of your agenda versus in reaction to someone else’s, e.g. set aside very specific email response time as opposed to in real-time.
Choose — To stay kind, open, and present. We can’t control what happens to us, but we are always in control of our reaction. Stay true to what matters most to you and create what you desire from it. Always.
What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources that inspire you to use mindfulness tools or practices
Favorite app: Calm (for guided meditations, relaxing and centering soundscapes and soundbaths, and sleep stories)
10 Percent Happier with Dan Harris
On Purpose with Jay Shetty
On Being with Krista Tippett
Sounds True: Insights at The Edge with Tami Simon
Indistractable: How To Control Your Attention And Choose Your Life by Nir Eyal
The Untethered Soul and The Surrender Experiment by Michael A. Singer
Wherever You Go, There You Are by Jon Kabat-Zinn
The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle
Radical Acceptance and Radical Compassion by Tara Brach
Sounds True (www.soundstrue.com) is a treasure trove of teachings, trainings, and tools for modern day mindfulness.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
My favorite quote is by my guru and teacher, Brené Brown: “Authenticity is the daily practice of letting go of who we think we are supposed to be and embracing who we are.” It gives me goosebumps because it expresses the very essence of the Soulbbatical journey. I spent decades living my Dad’s dream and convincing myself that I should stay on the corporate track because I was making good money, getting rewarded handsomely, and scared shitless that it was too late to follow my soul. I was living completely out of alignment with who I truly am — and paying the price with my health and happiness.
Now that I’m living into my truth, I’ve created my own rebel version of Brené’s quote which declares that “authenticity is the truest form of rebellion.” It’s my love note and bumper sticker for the world.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
Soulbbatical is that movement. It’s the reason I wrote the book and declared a mission to liberate a billion souls. It’s an invitation to what’s possible when we liberate ourselves from the “Shackles of Should” in favor of living and leading more authentically, courageously, and on purpose. And what can happen when we rebel for our health, happiness, and impact in the world. I invite you to join me as Chief Soul Officer and Corporate Rebel. Let’s shift the culture together.
Thank you so much for these insights! This was so inspiring!