Is working on our inner world essential for executive performance?

For many decades we have put our focus on growing and developing high performance through our systems, processes, efficiencies, and productivity. We’ve analysed how we do things from the top of an organisation all the way through to its new starters and ground floor workings. Productivity gurus have supported organisations and their leaders with the latest approach to effective working and “time saving” with only mild, short-term success.

As reported eloquently by Oliver Burkman, a self-proclaimed productivity junkie, in his book 4000 Weeks,  it turns out that these productivity hacks just don’t work. Across history any time-saving invention has tended to lead to the creation of more time available to “do more”, ultimately leading to the opposite effect to what was intended.

So, slowly, we’ve begun to look again at what we really need to be truly high performing, and more importantly, sustainably so. We have spent too many years looking externally for answers, working on our “outer world” without any long-lasting results. It now begs the question, what can we look at inside us that might make energising, positive and sustainable changes a reality. As with so many aspects of our world now, we are wisely looking for answers where we began and where ancient wisdom has already provided so much insight.

The concept of understanding our “inner world” can be identified in nearly all original philosophies, cultures, and religions. A search for purpose and meaning has always required going inward, getting quiet and having faith. “It is in the quiet interior spaces that we can observe something of our true essence and effect deep and lasting change.”

Our inner world can be loosely defined as the place where our mind and body intersect. It consists of not only how we think about ourselves, but what our preset notions and conditioning are that create our unconscious reactions today. This preset conditioning is shown to be laid down in the first 7 years of our life, but can also be attributed to earlier generational factors, perhaps that we have no conscious memory or experience of.

Because this inner world has so much influence over the way we operate, it would seem fundamental that we investigate this as a basis for finding true high performance, a way of operating that is energising, productive and truly sustainable. So, how do we navigate this inner world and what can do to effect change there? Of course, we must also ask, how does this fit into the corporate world?

Our inner world is what lies behind what we are conscious of

Because of this we must become highly curious about ourselves. We must slow down enough to observe the way we act and react. Self-awareness is at the very start of the process. When we begin to create awareness of how we behave and how we think we can then start to unpick our unconscious operating system. The starting point is language. Paying attention to what words we choose. Are we being aggressive or passive, what words are charged and how much self-responsibility do we take in our language choices?

Curiosity > Self-awareness (language, behaviour and reactions)

From curiosity and self-awareness we can start to see a bit more about our programming, what is automated and of course, what we might want to change should our behaviour and thoughts not be serving us as well as it could be to achieve the high performing state we’re looking for. From here, we need to turn inward. In any given day, it is highly unlikely that we take many if any moments of real stillness. The type of stillness that is more than just settling of the body but also settling of the mind.

Stillness practices

Deep stillness, where not a muscle moves, gives us an opportunity to see how greatly our mind fluctuates. With time and practice, we begin to be able to quiet the mind too. When the fluttering of the mind recedes, we can reveal some of our greatest awareness. This is the beginning of a meditative practice. A practice that is used by many of the greatest, most successful CEOs in our modern world.

From a neuroscience perspective, meditation allows the brain to recoup energy, heal itself and remind the body that there is “no danger” and therefore normal and optimal functioning can occur. It slowly releases tension that is held at very deep levels and allows us to undo conditioning and reactivity that has held us captive.

Mindset, personal practices and commitment to change

While discovering and changing your inner world is so much more than just “mindset”, it is a useful component to understand what your mindset currently is and just how malleable it can be. The greatest impact we can have on our inner world, and therefore our outer world, is to create personal practices that reinforce useful thinking, behaviour, and reactions. These practices may include movement, mental resilience, among other practices such as:

  • Mindful movement – yoga, tai chi, dance
  • Weekly conversation with your soul – taking time to ask yourself what you are in need of
  • Connecting – to your body, mind, and intuition with challenging questions
  • Seeing yourself a number of years from now, having made one decision or another and physically taking steps forward while inquiring how that might feel
  • Journaling regularly
  • Gratitude practices


The key to any work on your inner world is consistency. Committing to a regular time of day that you’ll create a practice supports the brain’s ability to create new connections and therefore find access to a more positive and aware way of operating.

We can no longer ignore the huge benefits and the essential nature of discovering our inner workings if we are truly going to create better ways of working and living.