This side of the grave, there’s no way to actually stop and do nothing. We stop one thing in order to start another. But lest we go from one busy-busy activity to the next, without interruption, it behooves us to stop and think. This Provision identifies seven thinking strategies that can make life better when practiced regularly.
In last week’s Provision, Click, I wrote about the importance of interrupting the press, problems, and pace of work. It may seem counterintuitive to pull in the reins and stop when there’s so much that needs doing and fixing, but it’s important to let up from time to time if we want to achieve our objective and enjoy ourselves along the way.
My specific charge was to (1) Stop pushing performance at the expense of learning and enjoyment, (2) Stop criticizing ourselves and others in the name of management and quality control, and (3) Stop rushing through the day with no time to prioritize and plan. All three stops require conscious choice and active coaching in order to counter the incessant momentum of life and work. Time waits for no one, but we can wait for a time.
As many LifeTrek Coaching clients discover, to take time out requires clarity about one’s core values and vision. To “just say no” to the demands of the day takes determination and resolve. It’s especially hard to “just say no” to legitimate things, since the weight of society is not always on our side.
Take sleep as an example. Sleep represents the biggest stop of the day for most people. But who among us has not cut short our sleep in order to get something done at work or around the house? With the advent of computers, it has become even easier to work 24-7. And again, who has not fallen asleep only to be woken up in the middle of the night with something on our minds? We lie in bed, we toss and turn, until we finally give up and get up.
Sleep studies have demonstrated that people sleep better when they go to bed and get up at more or less the same time each day, seven days a week. They don’t often mention how challenging this can be. And I have never seen them mention our core values and vision in relationship to our sleep schedule.
But the decision to stop what you are doing and go to sleep before the point of exhaustion is, at its core, a highly-principled decision. It is to say, “The business of life can wait. My sleep is more important.” Some make this decision out of their understanding of personal wellness, others for the recovery value to their waking energy, and still others in recognition of the treasurers sleep can bring in terms of insight and wisdom.
Regardless of your framework, the decision to stop doing one thing in favor of another is not to be taken lightly. We are always doing something, so the decision to stop one thing is simultaneously the decision to start another • even if it’s just sitting still.
My favorite poet, David Whyte, illustrates the power of sitting still with a simple poem called “Enough.”
Enough. These few words are enough.
If not these words, this breath.
If not this breath, this sitting here.
This opening to the life
we have refused
again and again
This poem was written by someone who knows how to embrace the rhythm of stopping busy-work and starting breath-work in order to enhance the meaning and measure of life. Although David may go deeper than most, he speaks a profound truth that applies to one and all: there is more to life than being busy.
Deep down we know this, but if we stop the busy-ness, what do we start doing? If we even have a hard time stopping to sleep, how can we possibly bring ourselves to stop during the waking hours, while the phone rings, the email chimes, the kids cry, and the deadlines loom? It takes more than an act of will. It takes a plan, that we recognize as important, for doing something different.
Tim Gallwey suggests that we plan to use the time to stop and think. He turns STOP into an acronym, Step back, Think, Organize our thoughts, and Proceed, in order to describe what we can do with short, medium, and long stops throughout the day. He wants us take the time to gain perspective, raise consciousness, set priorities, savor accomplishments, recognize mistakes, and connect with the true purpose of our life and work.
The problem with Gallwey’s acronym is that “thinking” sounds so very analytic, as though we need to measure our every move in terms of pros and cons. But “thinking” is much bigger than analysis which, as one of our readers notes (Go There), can often lead to analysis paralysis.
To get a better handle on the richness of “thinking” and of what we can start thinking about when we stop doing stuff, here are six tried and true approaches.
(1) Weigh the value of our activities. What do they mean in the overall scheme of things? Are they worth doing at all? Are they worth doing well? How much time and attention do they deserve? In other words, how do they relate to our values and vision of life and work? Based upon our assessment of the importance of any given activity, we may decide to make some changes. Too often we go about doing things that should have been delegated or dumped. As a result, we end up over promising and under delivering. Starting to think about the value of our activities can reduce or even eliminate such occurrences.
(2) Consider the wisdom of our strategy. “Insanity,” observed Albert Einstein, is “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” Such is the stuff of Dilbert cartoons. By pushing just a little harder and just a little longer, we think we can finally make things work. But if the problem is a wrong-headed strategy, no amount of pushing will lead to success. Marathon runners know that if we push too hard at the beginning of the race we will crash at the end of the race. Unlike shorter races, marathons require a more carefully planned strategy. Starting to think about strategy, to be sure its realistic and attainable, can avoid disappointment and injury.
(3) Visualize the sweep of our performance. We can think in pictures as well as in words. We can see visions and dream dreams in living color. “Visualization,” writes Jerry Lynch and Warren Scott in their book on mastering the body-mind-spirit connection, “is an active, preplanned attempt to choose appropriate success images while in a deeply relaxed state of mind in order to influence how your body responds to a set of circumstances. It is a learned skill that needs to be practiced regularly in a relaxed state.” Through visualization we can feel, hear, smell, and touch the task at hand in advance of the task itself. Positive visualization produces positive experiences and positive results.
(4) Affirm the intention of our being. I call this self-coaching. Affirmations are different from visualizations, since they rely on words. But affirmations are not analytic words; they are synthetic words • bringing together separate elements to form a coherent whole. They work best when they are short, positive, and present tense (even when we don’t fully embody them in the present moment). By saying or writing affirmations repetitiously, like a mantra, they assist us to live into the intention they represent. For example: “I take a genuine interest in people,” “I’m fast, relaxed, and strong,” and “I persist each day in the pursuit of truth” are affirmations that have the power to transform our life and work.
(5) Release the creativity of our spirit. Instead of censoring ideas, we can express them through brainstorming and heart storming. We can let them flow, stream-of-consciousness style, through a variety of modalities. The most obvious is to write them down in a journal, but we can often generate even more ideas by using poetry, music, movement, drawing, and sculpture. As one client recently noted, “working with clay is so grounding.” In my case, writing Provisions and sharing them with the world has become an important discipline for seeing new connections and possibilities. It is a very public journal and an important weekly stop enabling me to express and experience creativity.
(6) Breathe in the stillness of life. This is another way to get our bodies involved with the thinking process and it certainly speaks to the wisdom of David Whyte’s poem. “These few words are enough. If not these words, this breath. If not this breath, this sitting here.” By controlling the breath we shift our thinking into meditative modes. It is the opposite of brainstorming and heart storming. Instead of pouring forth all the creativity our spirits have to muster, we quiet down in order to listen to the still, small voice of life. Robert Fulghum learned in kindergarten the importance of taking naps. Whether we sleep or not, a relaxed and quiet mind is the one of the greatest gifts we can give ourselves. Controlling our breath facilitates the kind of thinking that leads to successful and deliberate action.
David captures this dynamic of connecting our stops with the pulsing rhythm of life in another short poem, ironically called, “It is not Enough.”
It is not enough to know.
It is not enough to follow
the inward road conversing in secret.
It is not enough to see straight ahead,
to gaze at the unborn
thinking the silence belongs to you.
It is not enough to hear
even the tiniest edge of rain.
You must go to the place
where everything waits,
there, when you finally rest,
even one word will do,
one word or the palm of your hand
in the gesture of gift.
And now we are truly afraid
to find the great silence
asking so little.
One word, one word only.
It is my hope that you will stop this week to sleep, to clarify your core values, to develop winning strategies, to bolster your self image, to enhance your well being, to express your creative spirit, and to find that quiet center. The great silence may ask so little, but it enables so much.
Coaching Inquiries: When you stop doing things, do you know what to start thinking about? Are your sleep habits regular and restful? Do you know who you are? How could you think more often about the things you want to do?
To reply to this Provision, use our Feedback Form. To talk with us about coaching or consulting services for yourself or your organization, Email Us or use our Contact Form on the Web for a complimentary coaching session.
Editor’s Note: The LifeTrek Readers’ Forum contains selections from the comments and materials sent in each week by the readers of LifeTrek Provisions. They do not necessarily reflect the perspective of LifeTrek Coaching International. To submit your comment, use our Feedback Formor Email Bob.
Talk about a wonderful STOP. Today, I walked out the door into an amazingly beautiful day, warm and bright with sunlight. And became aware of a lightness in my being. This awareness hits me suddenly: I’m smiling, walking lightly, and it feels as if all the weight of those doubts, those mistakes, that uncertainty, that fear • all of it falls away, and I am left to experience the moment. The warmth of the air. The bright blue of the sky. The healing touch of the winter sun. My feet connecting firmly but lightly to the ground. I feel lightness and joy. I smile effortlessly. I know that, right now, all is well.
In your latest provision, “Stop It,” I liked the following quote: “Just doing it without stopping to consider options and consequences usually results in a lot of just undoing it.” I see evidence of this all too often around me in my professional environment. However, I myself often experience the opposite problem: stopping to consider options and consequences too often usually results in no doing at all … or analysis paralysis! In case this subject hasn’t been covered in previous provisions, I’d welcome your thoughts on this.
Hi! LifeTrek Coaching! I truly enjoy the awesome stuff you send us. I am a junior boy in the mechanical department in Beijing Institute of Technology. I have introduced your website to my classmates. I saw a Chinese girl’s feedback just now. I wonder whether she is one of my classmates. Please let me know her name or her school. Thanks! (Ed. Note: Yes, I think your referral put Melisa on to us. Thanks!)
In response to Christina’s last Parenting Pathway, Click, I might add that for young children, like my own (4 years) I’ve encouraged setting mundane (but still incremental) goals. I think young children benefit most from the habit of setting goals and developing plans. For many parents with young children the questions you’ve suggested may elicit unsatisfactory answers (for the parent) and may lead to unnecessary pressure on the child.
May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.
Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC
President, LifeTrek Coaching International, www.LifeTrekCoaching.com
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School Transformation, www.SchoolTransformation.com
Immediate Past President, International Association of Coaching, www.CertifiedCoach.org
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a Time, Online Retailers
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