All Articles Leadership Inspiration Why you need to prioritize aliveness, starting today

Why you need to prioritize aliveness, starting today

We all have a "voice of aliveness" within us, waiting to be uncovered. Executive coach Jack Craven offers 3 questions and 3 strategies to feel more alive.

6 min read



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I realized how urgently something needed to change when I found myself at a leadership retreat in California and was asked by the facilitators if I wanted to scream to release pent-up anger. It was 2012, and I had been the CEO of a successful company for almost twenty years. On the outside, I was in a good place. On the inside…not so much. So I screamed, releasing years of frustration and unhappiness.

I had never really considered that I was unhappy. I didn’t believe I had time for that as a leader. You get bonus points for production, not self-reflection. So, you simultaneously push yourself and ignore yourself until something breaks. 

Luckily for me, my breaking point was my ego, not my sanity or health. I was surrounded by twenty other business leaders who were supportively encouraging me to connect with something deep inside that was trying to make its voice heard.

The importance of embracing aliveness

That something, that inner voice, is what I have come to know as aliveness. It’s a sense of being fully awake, fully present and fully me. I’ve learned that the more I align my actions with aliveness, the more authentically and effectively I show up in the world. Learning to make aliveness my metric of success has transformed the way I live and lead. This is what I call an aliveness mindset. It’s a way of approaching life that prioritizes aliveness. 

Unfortunately, what we learn in society works against aliveness. In 2022, the American Psychological Association released their ”Stress in America” study, which reported that 34% of adults feel their stress is “completely overwhelming most days.” Among people ages 18 to 34, that number jumps to 56%. This stressful, reactive state is the polar opposite of aliveness.

We can’t change society, but we can change ourselves. We can reframe our perspectives, reset our expectations and restructure our schedules to increase our aliveness experience. 

As an executive coach, I’ve worked with many high-profile, high-functioning leaders as they learn to embrace their aliveness. I’ve watched as they regain control over their schedules, dreams, and careers and discover greater satisfaction in their daily lives. 

Three questions to ask yourself

To help people understand what aliveness feels like, I walk them through three questions. 

  • When have you felt most alive? Think back from your childhood to today. What activities or moments stand out in your mind? When have you said, “This moment is right; this feeling is what I want; I wish I could feel this way all the time”? Try to relive what you felt.
  • What does aliveness feel like to you? Search for words (preferably verbs) that describe those moments. Did you feel: Calm? Carefree? Playful? Enthusiastic? Inspired? Energized. This is about defining your aliveness, which is unique to you. This definition will help you identify which things are sabotaging your aliveness and which ones are extending it.  
  • What could you do today to increase your aliveness? Aliveness is a journey, not a destination. You don’t have to make massive changes today or expect overnight success. Instead, make incremental adjustments that allow you to spend as much time as possible within your aliveness zone. I see this as a game of seconds: every second you are truly alive is a win. 

I love to ride my bike, and I’ve participated in over 60 triathlons over the years. I often illustrate the aliveness journey by referring to a wheel. A bike wheel does three things: it turns, steers and gains momentum. In the same way, growing in aliveness is a cycle you repeat while pointing in a specific direction until your momentum grows. The spokes on the wheel include mindsets of ownership, openness, awareness, authenticity, courage, tenacity and love. As you grow in these seven mindsets, you find yourself in the free, wide-open landscape of aliveness.

Apply the aliveness principle

Here are some practical suggestions to increase your aliveness that I’ve found helpful, both for my clients and myself.

Aliveness is always within you. You just have to find it, nurture it, listen to it, and learn from it. Nothing has to change around you for you to feel more alive. A lack of aliveness is not the fault of your stubborn partner, disengaged employees, demanding board or packed calendar. Therefore, you don’t have to wait for anyone else to get their act together before you experience aliveness. 

Prioritize how you want to feel each day, not what you want to do. We are trained to do the opposite, making efficiency and effectiveness the twin voices that drive our decisions. When you wake up in the morning, decide how you want to feel that day. Then, adjust your mindset, activities, and reactions to move toward the feeling you wish to embody.

Avoid calendar creep. Over time, your calendar can become packed with meetings you shouldn’t be attending and people you should either be delegating more work to, mentoring or releasing. Take a look at your next two weeks. Notice which items on your calendar spark aliveness and which do not. Which do you complain about most? Notice if you are thinking, “I have to attend this meeting.” Own that it is your choice. Your emotions point to areas where you may need to take action. Consider how you might reclaim your calendar to maximize aliveness rather than simply meeting other people’s expectations or preferences. 

Meet the challenge head-on

A word of warning: adopting an aliveness mindset will challenge you in ways you might not expect. You’ll need to deal with some things that are holding you back. That isn’t always easy, but it’s worth it. Carol Dweck, the psychologist who popularized the idea of a growth mindset, said: “The hallmark of successful people is that they are always stretching themselves to learn new things. […] They persist in the face of obstacles, and often these obstacles are blessings in disguise.”

So stretch yourself. Learn new things about what makes you tick. Overcome obstacles to your aliveness. Assert not only your right to exist but to show up in every area of life as fully, authentically you. 

You don’t need to scream at a retreat or anything nearly so dramatic. Listen to the voice of aliveness within you. 


Opinions expressed by SmartBrief contributors are their own.


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