At the moment, I'm on vacation. It's summer. It's relaxing.
Wait a minute...if I'm on vacation, why am I writing this?
Ever since I ceased working full-time, earlier this year, in order to focus on starting a part-time business, I've noticed just how busy I've been keeping myself.
Don't get me wrong. I worked really hard when I was working full-time, including regularly putting in many extra hours. I rarely took lunch. When I stopped, I thought I would take a few months off and chill.
It began well; I went on a week-long meditation retreat just after I left. So far, so good. In the protected, structured space of the retreat center, I assumed I would wind down. I did, a bit. But in retrospect, I treated that retreat as if it were my "job" for a week--I worked at it. (I'll treat it very differently next time)
Next, I began creating a website, doing all of it myself--a steep learning curve for me as I'd never done this before. For a while, I worked on this project seven days a week. I revised, I tinkered. I thought about it incessantly. I viewed other folks' websites. I couldn't keep away from the task for long. Finally, I had it done.
Ahhh, I thought. Now, I can take some time off.
But I noticed something odd: It was so hard to just stop.
Most Americans have real trouble with downtime. We can't put down the electronic devices that tether us to work. (Enough media attention has been given to that so I won't discuss it here.) But even when we aren't "connected," we have to be doing something...anything, it seems at times. Otherwise, many of us (most?) become jittery and restless.
Really? Is it helpful and healthy to keep busy every moment?
I'm entirely open to the possibility that for some people, the answer may be yes. We are all wired differently, I know.
And yet, for most Americans, I do wonder about our inability to slow down and drift for a bit each day. I'm not talking the whole of a workday; I'm talking about taking an actual lunch hour, taking a walk at lunch, taking a break when we truly are doing something other than working or being online...daring to simply stare into space for five minutes.
“What is this life so full of care,
And what about evenings and weekends? Where have they gone? Why are we all working all the time? I know all the stock answers about constant pressures at work, the need for some of us to work two or even three jobs just to keep our heads above water, how after work it's all about the family. These are all very true, but still...Why can we not take a minute or two just to clear our minds periodically, just to be quiet, just to "do nothing?"
Here is a very useful article from Scientific American on the benefits of slowing down and doing nothing occasionally. It's a long article. It's worth reading. Why not allow yourself the time to actually read it, not just skim it? All the latest neurobiological research is validating that "doing nothing" for a while is great for health and can actually make us more productive--and Americans are certainly intent on being productive.
Consider this quote from the article I just referenced above: "...A wandering mind unsticks us in time so that we can learn from the past and plan for the future."
We all have trouble slowing down. I'm working on it. I'm reminded of older family members, in the past, sitting on the porch--remember porches?--and staring into space for a just a little bit. I remember how, when I would sit with them, I would be restless and itchy. And yet, I know that it would inevitably refresh me. And the more often I would participate, on family vacations, the less restless and less "itchy" I would be, just sitting.
So think about it: Sit on your porch, or take your dog for a walk, or have an actual lunch with someone you enjoy and don't talk about work. Do that yoga. Or go for a run. Work on your quilt. Read a trashy novel, or a good one you've long wanted to devour. Have that pool party. Put your phone/tablet down as you watch your kid's softball game. Just be. Just sit. Just be fully present for a few minutes a couple of times a day. You'll be surprised at how hard it is, and how rewarding.
It's what you need.
You know it.
Even if it's uncomfortable to allow yourself to do it at first, you'll get used to it.
Plug in to yourself, and recharge; you'll be much more productive.
"Fun, fun, How can you have fun? Just sittin' doing nothin' when there's nothin' to be done." Dr Seuss (in a cartoon)
Sick of hearing about "the mindful revolution" and mindfulness in general? Feeling like this is just the latest fad? I don't blame you...and I'm a mindfulness practitioner. But I do worry that all the publicity about it right now could turn folks off. As someone who was forced, early on, into a religion that didn't make any sense to me, I truly abhor "conversion" talk. Some of the publicity borders on that.
That said, there is so much to recommend becoming more aware in our lives...at work, and at home. There is so much to recommend being able to choose our responses rather than being driven by knee-jerk reactions, which we often wish we could take back later.
The secular version of mindfulness (you do not have to be a Buddhist to be mindful) has nothing to do with religion and everything to do with becoming more effective in all aspects of life and work. Equally unusual these days, it reminds us to slow down, and reminds us that a whole life will speed past us if we do not learn to focus on each moment.
Any type of coaching or counseling will ask you to become more mindful--whether or not that term is used. If you want to change a behavior, the first step is thinking through what needs to change and why. Next, when are you exhibiting the behavior you wish to change? When does the behavior come up for you? What would you like to do instead? And so on...all these steps are actually aspects of mindfulness.
It's not just sitting on a cushion and meditating. There are many ways of becoming more aware, moment by moment, that we use to deepen our sense of aliveness and increase our choices.
Here's a thoughtful short piece about what's wrong and what's right about the current mindfulness craze. It's very much worth reading if you're on the fence about exploring why mindfulness might be relevant for you, both at work and at home.
As a long-time career and leadership coach, I can't count the number of times I've heard managers and employees describe their work colleagues as family, and tell me, "It's like a family here," or "My boss told us we're a family..."
I've done it myself.
I've had colleagues (and a few managers) whom I felt were like family. And in fact, there was both closeness and trust; I do have former colleagues/managers whom I regard as lifelong friends, and those friendships have stood the test of time. I value them.
But "like family"? Not true, and not smart.
They were first and foremost professional colleagues. Fortunately for me, they developed over time into good friends as well.
Perhaps there are exceptions--I can believe that; but referring to work as family can be downright dangerous to your career. Managers and colleagues leave, and/or retire or get laid off, and that changes everything at work. Or you leave, or you may be laid off...by that same manager who said you were family.
Actual family-owned businesses I've seen have had some distinctly UN-"family"-like issues in the workplace.
Considering how dysfunctional many real families are, is this a metaphor you want to continue using for your relationships at work?
Why does this matter so much? Here is an absolutely compelling short article from HBR to say why the "family" analogy is not a good one for work and career. Read this and give it some thought (even if, like me, you are not a fan of sports analogies, they are perfect for making the authors' points in this article). It matters. A lot.
Here's a very interesting article on the power of active reflection to improve work performance. The "field experiment" at the end of the article is especially telling. Locate the article here.
How can we make this happen in today's crazy-busy workplace? I believe it's possible, and would have major benefits to us all.