The most important thing


Several years ago, I was had the privilege to do some self-awareness work with horses. This work is called “Equine Assisted Learning” and it was so much more than that; it helped to deepen my sense of what matters most to me.

In one particularly insightful exercise, I stood in the middle of a ring with a pointer, guiding the horse around the perimeter without touching him. He was literally “following my lead”. At some point, as I listened to the facilitator and my attention was grabbed away from the guiding exercise, the horse stopped and casually began to munch grass. I had lost sight of the task at hand and recognized the experience as a metaphor for letting something that was important to me slip away.

Don’t lose sight of what’s really most important to you.

If you are a driven leader, you need to be particularly mindful of how short life is and the importance of not allowing those things that are closest to your heart slip away. Because they will if you aren’t mindful. Once you get distracted by the bright shiny objects out there that give you an adrenaline hit, you can lose the thing that is most important to you. And sometimes it’s very hard to get back.

Before you lose that most important thing, you need to know what it is.

I learned of this brief mindfulness exercise that can help you discover what the most important thing this weekend as I attended a conference (all credit to the amazing Ruth King ). I’d like to share it with you.

The most important thing exercise

Close your eyes. Sit comfortably and breathe easily. Your back is straight, your feet are on the floor and you’re relaxed.

Consider that you’ve just found out that you only have a small amount of time left to live. What would you do if you knew you only had (consider each of these timeframes in succession)….

….six months to live?

….three months to live?

….one week to live?

….one day to live?

….one hour to live?

….one breath left?

What would you do?

You might find that this exercise can help you to focus in (or refocus) on what matters most. Once you’ve found it, ask yourself if you are acting as if this is the most important thing to you.

If you are, congratulations for having your heart aligned with your head.

If not, what will you do about it? What’s the first step you can take?


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Mary Jo Asmus is the founder and President of Aspire Collaborative Services LLC, an executive coach, writer, internationally recognized thought leader, and a consultant who partners with organizations of all kinds to develop and administer coaching programs. She has “walked in your shoes” as a former leader in a Fortune company.


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