I wrote this blog several months ago. It was posted on my blog I use with my students. I have decided to move it over to this website. I hope you enjoy it and learn from it. Please feel free to post comments. I would love to hear from you. Really, I would!
It has been a while since I found the time to blog. I find this ironic because the topic for this blog is the importance of finding the time to be still-to slow down and to be left alone with my thoughts. Instead, I have been bogged down by my To- Do lists. As soon as I slow down, I pull out my list and I squeeze every minute I have just to knock something off that list.
I must realize that the best way to be productive and grounded is to stop, breathe, and allow myself to be still. No phone, no computer, no to-do lists, no pressure.
Recently, I asked my leadership students to find a comfortable space within the class on the floor to lay down. My instructions were, close your eyes and lay down for 5 minutes. No further instructions were given. After 5 minutes, I brought them into a circle to discuss where their thoughts had taken them. To no surprise, the majority of students started thinking about life, about what was to come over the next few days, about what had happened earlier in the day, or a pressing issue that they were avoiding. Unfortunately, the students reported they wanted to numb their thoughts. Being in this reflective, free thinking space scared them. Most agreed that they wanted their thoughts to go away. One student said he forced himself to think about something different, because to think about life was too overwhelming.
What are we doing to ourselves? According to Lunau (2012), “a quarter of university-age Canadians will experience a mental health problem, most often stress, anxiety or depression” (para. 3). The high levels of stress may be due to the fact that students can’t unplug from their busy lives (Lunau, 2012, par. 8). When do we give ourselves the time to get lost in our thoughts so we can process our daily experiences? We don’t. We live in a society where being too busy is something we pride ourselves in. “Our culture celebrates the idea of the workaholic (Fried and Hansson, 2015, p. 25). Unfortunately, “getting over the hurdles of life takes time for introspection, and that’s in short supply” (Lunau, 2012, para. 23). We have removed downtime from our lives. We don’t just allow ourselves to sit, without distractions. As a result, we hit a breaking point, where we can no longer suppress our thoughts, experiences and even our internal struggles any longer. It all comes to the forefront and we are too overwhelmed to deal with them. We numb our lives (Brown, 2010, 14:40). We turn to food, alcohol, and vanity (15:33).
Thankfully, it doesn’t need to be this way. I just finished reading the book “The Art of Stillness” by Pico Iyer. I am so thankful for this book. I am one of those people who doesn’t know how to slow down. Even when I go for a run, I take my IPhone and listen to TEDTalk’s with the hope of finding more material and topics for my leadership program. Instead, what I should be doing is allowing myself to enjoy the run and allow my thoughts to either process my day and my experiences, or to even just let my brain think about nothing. The concept of thinking about nothing intrigues me. In fact, I just flat out, don’t understand how that is possible, so I am going to take small steps. For now, I am committed to taking the time out of my day. To stop. To think. To be still. It is my hope that I can instil this practice in my students and to whoever looks like they might need a break from their overwhelmingly busy lives.
How does this relate to Leadership?
Leaders must model a balanced approach to work, and to their lives in general. Leaders must lead the way, by showing that we can be productive, creative, and successful without having to remove all down time from our lives. Bring back the down time. Bring back the times when we would get lost in our thoughts, not in our phones, or To-Do lists. If we do this, we will be more creative, productive, healthier, and happier. Everyone wins!