What it Finally Took for Me to Think Clearly, Be Present and Make Better Decisions

By Andrea Lisher

I am always moving. Sitting still is incredibly hard for me. I am happiest when I have a full plate of problems to solve and interesting, challenging stuff to do. I feel unusually great satisfaction in getting stuff done. Given all of this, it is no surprise that quieting my mind is by far my biggest challenge. Attempting to be more still and more mindful will be my lifelong work.

A few years ago, I read Thrive while on a family vacation. Reading the first chapter was like holding up a giant magnifying mirror and seeing my reflection. There was nowhere to hide, and it wasn’t pretty. After reading only a couple of chapters, I decided to take an immediate technology vacation. I emailed my team and let them know that I would be shutting off my devices for the remainder of my trip. Their responses were very funny — they clearly didn’t think I would last 24 hours.

I struggled mightily through the first 24 hours and then, to my surprise, lasted the rest of the week. It was incredibly liberating. I spent my time fully engaged with my family and also doing some reflection and research. Upon returning home I found a wellness coach and paid in-full, up-front, for three months of her services, knowing otherwise that I would have quit after one week. After only a few sessions three things became clear: 1) I was sleep deprived 2) my lack of sleep had a direct correlation to my challenges being mindful and present and 3) being constantly “on” was keeping me from getting an adequate amount of sleep. (You see a disastrous circular cycle here).

I attempted to make some immediate changes. First was removing all portable technology from my bedroom (minus my husband’s phone, which he still refuses to give up). Second was shutting down my electronics an hour before bed. Third, and hardest, was committing to write down “streaming conscious” thoughts just before going to sleep. I was told that by “emptying my mind,” I would sleep more soundly. Lastly, in the morning upon first opening my eyes, was taking a couple deep breaths and recounting a few things to be grateful for.

This stuff was really hard to start and even harder to stay committed to. It was like exercising muscles that I had never used before. I thought it was hokey, silly and felt completely ridiculous, but being determined, I stuck it out. It worked. Brilliantly. The more consistent I became at following these disciplines, the more my sleep improved, and I meaningfully recognized an improvement in my ability to slow down and be more present.

Fast forward to today, I would be dishonest to say that I still continue all of these practices daily. I get lazy or distracted, just like anyone else. But I try to at least do two of them each night — especially during periods of stress. And when I slip up, I reset and try again the next night. For me, the impact on my ability to listen, to think clearly, and to make better decisions is extraordinary. It is a game changer.

Andrea Lisher is the Head of North America, Global Funds, J.P. Morgan Asset Management.