Cleanliness is next to Godliness, as the saying goes, but not all of us are naturally inclined towards hygiene. Regardless, we learn certain standards of personal physical hygiene, hygiene related to our homes, and even fiscal hygiene regarding our financial habits.


What we are not so good at learning, or teaching, is emotional hygiene.


In the fall of 2016, the Dalai Lama addressed a group of devotees in India. He said, “Like physical education, learning emotional hygiene is in great need today. Years of discussions with many scholars and educationist friends have led to the decision of coming up with a curriculum on moral ethics without touching any religious aspect.” He went on to emphasize the importance of friendships built on trust, and trust only being possible in the presence of love and compassion with the absence of jealousy and pride.


If we agree that our emotional hygiene is lacking, it follows that this area of neglect will impact our interpersonal relationships in the office and beyond. Whether it manifests as dysfunctional team behavior, a lack of engagement and focus, or self-limiting beliefs, a messy mindset is not conducive to building business.


Here are a few key components of emotional hygiene to ensure your mental house is in order:


Clear Your Mind


If you’re too busy rushing from Thing A to Thing B to spend any time focusing on your mental state, you’ll eventually have a mess to clean up in your own head. Give yourself permission to spend an hour at the beginning or end of your day doing something that allows you to focus on yourself, your feelings, and your thoughts. That may be meditation, exercise, journaling, or a creative outlet.


Whatever form this effort takes, maintain the discipline to protect it on your calendar and to actively devote that time to your own well-being, without allowing distracting thoughts about what’s on your to-do list to creep in.


Accept Emotional Challenges


Hard-driving overachievers often function under the false belief that being emotionally down is a weakness or a sign of defeat. It’s not. It’s part of being human. Your ups and downs will come and go, but you can’t work through them if you refuse to acknowledge them in the first place.


Disappointed that your new initiative didn’t get buy-in from the team? Upset by the colleague who threw you under the bus in the last executive meeting? Own it, process it, and find the lesson you can learn from it. Determine any action you need to take to clear the air or handle it differently next time, if that’s warranted. Doing so will turn it into a positive and allow you to scrub it from your mind’s relentless attention.


Nurture Empathy


During this talk, the Dalai Lama emphasized the role of empathy in fostering mutual understanding. “We should all keep our identity and religion aside and consider ourselves human first. At the fundamental level, we all seven billion human beings are the same wishing for a happy life,” he said.


Perhaps easier said than done, but a few approaches come to mind to help nurture a mindset of empathy.


Prioritizing volunteerism is an obvious way to send a message to your team regarding the importance of stewardship. At Greenleaf Book Group, we dedicate every other quarterly staff outing to community volunteer activities. We read books to kids, clean up parks, inspect donations at the food bank, and mix in all sorts of other worthwhile causes.


Another tenet of empathy revolves around my favorite theme of “assume best intent.” We tend to filter things through our own self-serving lenses, and sometimes that conveniently allows us to tell ourselves stories about why others may have it out for us in the office. This quickly escalates into paranoid thinking and, worse, rumor mills and office drama. That is the opposite of empathy and creates malicious, negative thought. Train your mind to assume best intent in others (trust but verify), and encourage your staff to do the same as you work through inevitable misunderstandings and miscommunications.


Thinking this way takes work. It requires discipline to carve out the time to clear the mess from your head and foster the same with your team, but the return on that investment regarding your ability to focus on growing your business with a team that is emotionally healthy and engaged is worth every second.