Every day, we have dozens of encounters or experiences that can send us spiraling into outrage, anger, or frustration.
We also experience things that cause us to get excited and euphoric. All the ups and downs can make us feel like we are riding a roller coaster of emotions.
All of this drama and chaos is contributing to our unhappiness and making us less productive.
How is your focus when you’re riding the roller coaster? If it’s anything like mine, it’s not great.
The biggest obstacle to our productivity is not the external triggers, but our reaction to them.
The person who is most in your way is the one you see in the mirror.
To secret to getting off the roller coaster is to cultivate equanimity.
In a recent training I did for real estate agents, many participants had never heard of equanimity and even those who had weren’t quite sure of what it means. (This tells you everything about the problems in the real estate industry, but that’s a separate topic.)
Here’s an explanation of equanimity and why it’s crucial to productivity.
What is Equanimity?
Let’s start with the dictionary definition:
Equanimity means mental calmness, composure, and evenness of temper, especially in a difficult situation.
It derives from the combination of the Latin aequus, meaning “equal,” and animus, meaning “soul” or “mind.”
Its early usage carried the meaning “fairness or justness of judgment.” Eventually, this evolved into a more general application meaning keeping cool under any sort of pressure.
We can best understand the concept of equanimity by looking at the ancient wisdom traditions.
In Buddhism, the Sanskrit word upeksha and Pali word upekkha, often translated as “non-attachment,” is the fourth of the brahmaviharas — the qualities of true, authentic, and unconditional love. The other three are loving-kindness, compassion, and joy.
The quality of non-attachment, or upeksha, is not the same as indifference or non-feeling. In an article published in Yoga Journal, Frank Jude Boccio explains that upeksha is
a state of even-minded openness that allows for a balanced, clear response to all situations, rather than a response born of reactivity or emotion.
Cultivating upeksha, or equanimity, means we can remain connected to others and all that happens around us, while also remaining free of our conditioned habits to react by grasping for the pleasant and pushing away the unpleasant.
The concept of hishtavut as explained by the great Jewish sages sheds more light on this. Hishtavut is the Hebrew word that translates to equanimity.
Rabbi Yisrael Ba’al Shem Tov explained the concept of hishtavut this way:
No matter what happens, whether people praise you or shame you, it is all the same to you. … Whatever may happen, say: ‘It comes from God, blessed by He, and if it is proper in His eyes, [then it must be for the best].’
The Ba’al Shem Tov based his teaching on the verse in Psalms 16:8:
I have set (shiviti) God before me at all times.
Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, explained that
When we sense that we stand before God, we consider everything in the world around us, and in our personal lives, to be “shiviti” (equal).
Regardless of your belief systems — whether you believe in a God, Godess, Divine Source, nature, Christ, Buddha, or something else — the principle of hishtavut directs us to maintain a constant consciousness of a higher purpose.
Equanimity and Freedom
In yoga, the four brahmaviharas — loving-kindness, compassion, joy, and equanimity — are seen as the qualities of one who has achieved spiritual liberation.
The Lubavitcher Rebbe also views hishtavut as a key element to freedom. He explained that the awareness of God must be constant, and not exercised only in prayer. Without this constant awareness, we are subject to subservience, or reaction, to our own impulses and to the surrounding world.
When we achieve equanimity, or hishtavut, we are not affected by external or internal distractions. This is true and total freedom.
The Impact of Equanimity
The goal of equanimity, as we understand it through Buddhism, Yoga, and Jewish traditions, is to cultivate a non-reactivity to outside influences — both positive and negative.
In a state of equanimity, we don’t get pulled into the spiral of reactivity or the futility of trying to control people or things we cannot control. We no longer get pulled by the current of negative news or clients with shifting priorities. Instead of feeling like each new development leaves us riding a wave of disappointment or excitement, we learn that we are the ocean beneath the waves.
In this state of non-reactivity, we can be more focused on our clients and our work. We become better at filtering out the noise and to hear the sounds that resonate with us.
When we aren’t caught up in reaction or trying to surf the waves, we have the energy to do the work that really matters to us and from which we derive meaning.
That’s the essence of productivity.