A daily relaxation exercise promotes successful consensus building, and offers many bonuses for your mental, emotional and physical health. You can do this exercise in just a few minutes, and this small investment in time can pay off in greater productivity and efficiency for hours to come.


If you’ve read Bridges to Consensus, you know that effective consensus building requires calmness and clear thought. Tension and stress work against you. Many consensus skills are counterintuitive, so knee-jerk reactions are their enemy. When you get in the habit of mindfully relaxing your entire body once a day, you can call up a more relaxed state whenever you want to think and communicate carefully.


Choose a time of day when you have access to a quiet comfortable spot to sit or lie down. Close your eyes and take a deep breath, first expanding your abdomen, then your chest. As you let this breath out slowly, mentally say, “Relax.” Repeat this process two more times, and each time you exhale, say, “Relax,” let go of tension and feel it flow out of your body.


Now, continue breathing slowly and easily while you feel all tension flowing out of your forehead and scalp. Move on to your eyebrows and the muscles around your eyes, feeling them relax. Let your eyelids becoming loose and heavy and your entire face—cheeks, jaw, lips and tongue—relax.


Continue to feel the relaxation flowing down through your neck and shoulders, then down your back. Let relaxation flow down through your upper arms, lower arms and fingers. Feel your stomach relaxing. Now extend the relaxation down through your hips, legs, feet and toes.


Enjoy this relaxed state for as long as you like. When finished, open your eyes gently, move your fingers and toes slightly, and gradually become more alert until you feel ready to stand up.


If you can manage a relaxation exercise in the early or mid afternoon, you’ll find yourself better able to sleep that night. But if your work situation doesn’t allow this, try doing an exercise before you get out of bed in the morning and/or shortly after you get home in the evening.


Right before bed is not the ideal time for a one-a-day relaxation exercise, though it can work well for a second or third exercise of the day. But even if bedtime is the one and only time you can do the exercise, you’ll benefit.


With a bit of practice, you can relax at need by doing the first part of the exercise, closing your eyes and taking three deep breaths, mentally saying, “Relax,” each time you exhale. You can relax shortly before beginning any conversation or other activity that makes you feel a little nervous or tense, or any time you want to do your best thinking.


I’ve found that I enjoy this exercise so much, I look forward to doing it. This is one resolution you’ll want to keep even after the month of February is finished.