Executives often search externally for their next big improvement, but Vistage speaker Steven Snyder believes that they’d find the ultimate improvement within their own minds.
For decades, Snyder — co-founder of nonprofit educational foundation Live and Learn and winner of the 2019 Vistage Lifetime Achievement Award — has been teaching executives an exercise to achieve an alpha brainwave state. Alpha brain waves aid calmness, alertness, learning and mental conditioning — a must-have for CEOs making decisions amid a flurry of stress and worry.
Snyder’s program promotes mindfulness, and it starts with helping business leaders find calm in the moment. Alpha brain waves are dominant in the brain during moments of rest.
When executives come to Snyder’s sessions, he asks them to close their eyes and take a deep breath, following the rise and fall of their breath. He instructs them to use their senses to visualize a peaceful place, real or imaginary, where they feel relaxed and comfortable.
When participants have found their own peaceful place — on the beach, in a field, in their childhood home — he asks them to do what many aren’t used to: Relax. Enjoy the peace in the moment.
“You see the stress melting away,” he says. Even a minute or two of relaxing in a peaceful place is enough to bring executives into an alpha brain wave state.
While the practice is simple, it’s also powerful. The mind processes 3,000 thoughts per hour, often swinging from thought to thought like a monkey swings from branch to branch. This swinging saps focus and often leaves executives short of their potential. By making a daily visit to their peaceful place, executives can tame their “monkey mind,” says Snyder, becoming more creative and easily able to perform at peak levels.
The visualization of the practice can also be used to help executives reduce stress and face fears. Snyder says that many executives have visualized giving successful speeches to help overcome their fear of public speaking. One man whom Snyder worked with, a professional baseball player, used visualization to overcome his fear of tripping over second base.
For executives, Snyder says that visiting the peaceful place often — even if briefly — is important, as distractions, multitasking, and mental blocks can cut an executive’s productivity and enjoyment of life. As the human mind tries to orient to different tasks, including distracting thoughts, it orients to the goals and rules of the new task. One study estimates that this activity could hurt productivity by as much as 40 percent. When the urge to multitask or be distracted comes — and it will always come, Snyder says — executives can use their peaceful place to refocus on the moment. It only takes Snyder a few seconds in his peaceful place to regain focus.
Snyder has been presenting to executives across the world since 1987, and helping leaders find their peaceful place is at the foundation of what he teaches. Snyder has found lasting success as a speaker and teacher, but also in his personal life — he and his wife found their real-life peaceful place on their own 70-acre tropical fruit farm on Maui.
As much as Snyder is proud of his life and work — the Vistage Lifetime Achievement Award came as a lovely surprise — he says that he cares most about making a difference in people’s lives.
“I run into people who I worked with 20 years ago, and they tell me that they’re still using this process and they’ve had all these changes in their lives,” he says. “It’s really gratifying. If I had to be done now, I feel like I lived a life worth living. I made the planet into a better place because of what I’ve done, I think, and that’s the most wonderful feeling in the universe.”