“A moment’s insight is sometimes worth a life’s experience” – Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr.
In an interview with billionaire entrepreneur Sara Blakely, owner of Spanx, she said the key to her success is creating space in her day to be still and let her mind wander. This is where she has discovered her best ideas, insights and reflections.
Probably not what you were expecting right?
Sara says it’s critical to understand where you get your ideas. She discovered her place was in the car while driving and listening to the radio. Her commute to the office was 6 minutes so she used to leave an hour earlier and aimlessly drive around town to get in this precious think time and this is where the word ‘Spanks’ appeared to her. Incidentally when she was registering the trade mark, she decided at the last minute to write it as Spanx.
Author, Simon Sinek used to take flights to carve out quiet time when he was writing one of his books. He would literally get on a plane for a few hours, land at the other side, get back onto the plane and travel home. He had no internet connection and no distractions and this is where he was able to get into a flow state and do some of his most productive writing (Pre Covid of course).
Bob Igar, former CEO of the Walt Disney Company would create this time at 4:15AM. He would exercise with no music so he could be alone with his thoughts and just let his mind wander. Even Bill Gates created ‘Think Week’s where he would take himself to a remote location and spend the week engaging in reading and creative thinking. This is where he formed some of the most profound Windows products.
Stillness and reflection time are not ‘nice to haves’ or something you can only achieve on a yoga mat. It is not a luxury other people can afford but not you. The ability to be still is critical to your success, in fact it is your success.
You can’t wait for this time to magically appear in your schedule, you need to actively carve out white space in the calendar especially with the way work and life are merging into one period and weekends seem to be optional.
You also can’t wait for a ‘quiet’ week to show up – by now I think you know that will never happen. You need to strategically plan and schedule this time in daily. Yes daily!
The good news is you don’t have to get into the car on onto a plane to find this quiet time. Here are some ways you can begin to carve out pockets of time for some much needed silence:
Create a Power Nour ™
“The things that we love tell us what we are” – Thomas Aquinas
I want you to introduce a Power Nour ™ as in ‘Now-Hour’ into your day. This is time dedicated solely for the purpose of creating stillness into your day. If an hour feels too long or unrealistic, then start with 15 minutes. My Power Nour ™ happens between 5AM and 6AM. I do 15 minutes of yoga followed by a meditation. I then sit quietly and journal. This is where I reflect on the day ahead, I write down my goals, think about my future self and where I get my best insights about my writing or my business.
Maybe I don’t get to every single activity because my daughter wakes up early but I always aim to get at least 2 out of 3. I don’t include my exercise in this time because I use that time to listen to a MasterClass series or a podcast. My Power Nour ™ is a special time of the day where I can just be alone with my thoughts, this is why I have trained myself to wake up early while the family are asleep.
I prefer to do these activities as I wake up as a means to connect back to myself – physically, emotionally and mentally. I do not pick up my phone apart from switching on the yoga app. There is no checking of email, messages or the social feeds.
Sometimes I have days where I get zero insights but the practice of stillness enables me to start my day from a positive state as opposed to reactive. I go into that time with no expectations, I don’t want anything from it other than quiet time alone with myself.
If this feels like it would never happen for you, then here are some other ways to bring some much needed reflection time into your day:
- Indulge in a long shower/bath
- Go for a walk without headphones
- Don’t carry your phone around the house
- Turn off all your phone, email and social channel notifications for 30 minutes
- Take a drive without the radio on
- Focus on one activity without distractions or your phone – cooking, painting, etc.
- Take a walking lunch break in your garden without your phone
In fact there are more opportunities available for stillness, the key ingredient being to ditch your phone.
How to manage your meetings
“Intention leads to behaviors which leads to habits which lead to personality development which leads to destiny” – Jack Kornfield
I know this sounds very idealistic. You are probably thinking this only happens to other people where they can get the luxury of this magic time to reflect. You only get yours on the 31st December and your birthday if you’re lucky. You’re envisioning your present calendar and the barrage of Zoom and MS Teams Meetings scheduled and you cannot even contemplate where that 15 minutes could insert itself. Here are some thoughts on how to insert a pause button into your meetings:
Introduce a Minute to Arrive
“Once she stopped rushing through life, she was amazed how much more life she had time for.” ― Unknown
When I start an online training or coaching session, I use a tool called ‘A Minute to Arrive’ that I learnt at a workshop called ‘Search Inside Yourself’. I invite all the participants to take a deep breath and let go of the day’s activities, irritations, stresses and give themselves permission to be fully present in the session.
It provides people with the opportunity to get their headspace in the right place and let go of the frustrations of the last meeting. It is a forced pause to enable people to steer their awareness away from what they’re meant to be doing next week or even making for dinner and redirect their focus into the present moment.
Try inserting this practice into your day before each activity, not only meetings. I often do this before I take the kids to school in the morning. As I get into the car, I take a deep breath to centre myself from the busyness of the morning. It is a way to press the reset button and be present so I don’t take any frustrations out on them.
Schedule a buffer zone between meetings
“Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished.” – Lao Tzu
It’s all well to feel centred in the meeting but what about in between? You cannot be at your best if you are sitting all day logging in from one meeting to the next without space to really digest and download it.
When accepting meetings, where possible, create a 15 minute gap between them. During this time, go outside, get some water, take a breather and give yourself a moment to process what happened in the meeting. Do you need to make some notes about next steps? Do you need to follow up with someone? Was there a heated discussion that got you really upset?
More than creating additional action items, think of it as a closing ceremony between events in your day. It provides a space for the one to be left where it is and not dragged along with its baggage into the next activity.
This space provides an opportunity to set your intention for the next activity – how do you want to show up? What skill do you want to demonstrate? What do you want achieve out of it?
When you log off for the day, apply a 15 minute buffer zone to transition from work mode into personal mode, especially if you have kids at home. By creating this gentle space, you can slow yourself down and process the day. Set your intention for the next role ahead of you, be it parenting, partner or friend.
Why the need for stillness?
“You can’t get away from yourself by moving from one place to another.” – Ernest Hemingway
Whether you commit to a Power Nour ™ or 15 minutes a day, the point is to create space and pockets of time where you can be alone with your thoughts. This may be the deterrent because it can be incredibly uncomfortable for some people. Here are some reasons to convince you why you should seriously consider making this change to your day:
Stillness develops self-awareness
“Whenever you are about to find fault with someone, ask yourself the following question: What fault of mine most nearly resembles the one I am about to criticize?” – Marcus Aurelius
The distance between how you feel now and how you want to feel begins with self-awareness. It is about becoming aware of the internal dialogue not only in your thinking but in your physical body. This could be physical exhaustion, mental fatigue or severe stress. Perhaps you did notice that pounding headache but you drowned it out with tablets and coffee?
If you keep ignoring the whispers from your body, you leave it no choice but to force you to stop and pay attention.
I have a friend who fobbed off severe headaches, stress and extreme anxiety for over 6 months and eventually landed up in hospital. She was distraught and asked me what she’s done to deserve this. I had to break the bad news and tell her it is self-inflicted. Instead of asking ‘why me’, rather ask ‘what is this here to teach me?’ The lesson is not to neglect and ignore the gentle nudges from your body because you’re too busy and convince yourself that you will rest when things start to calm down.
Creating a buffer in the day for thinking time is also be about creating an awareness of what’s missing in your day – when did you last laugh? Out loud? If you are always on auto-pilot, you will never stop to make the necessary adjustments to create lasting change.
Stillness allows you to develop a relationship with yourself
“All the insight we will ever need to live well will come from fully being who and where we are” – Brenda Shoshanna
Think of someone in your life you are very close to. Now imagine, you spent the entire day with them and they completely ignored you and sat on their phone. ‘I’m too busy’ they told you. Naturally you would feel quite upset and eventually you would stop trying.
Are you aware that you do the same thing every day? When did you last make time to check in with yourself?
Stillness is about giving your inner voice a platform and consciously creating space to have a conversation with yourself and actually get to know yourself. When did you last sit down and write out your goals or think about what you really want? Or just check in with yourself – how are you feeling now? What’s on your mind? You probably make time to check in on friends and colleagues throughout the day, where do you show up on the concern list?
Stillness generates new ideas and creativity
“Creativity doesn’t wait for that perfect moment. It fashions its own perfect moments out of ordinary ones.” – Bruce Garrabrandt
Even if you are not in a ‘creative’ industry like writing, photography or art, creating some quiet thinking time is a huge opportunity to generate new ideas. Innovate new ways of doing things – perhaps you have an ‘aha’ about a specific process that could be automated. When you have time in a calm environment, it enables a gap to think through a client relationship or a problem they’re experiencing and how you can solve it.
Just a change of pace is enough to ignite this thinking. Rarely, your best ideas will come to you at work. Think about it – how many times have you had a breakthrough moment in the shower, on the treadmill, on a walk? When you schedule white space with no distractions, you are allowing yourself an opportunity for your best thinking to come through.
Stillness leads to self-mastery
“The best vision is insight” – Malcolm Forbes
Jim Kwik, author of Limitless, says that “there is a growing body of evidence that suggests that if we never let our mind wander or be bored for a moment, we pay a price – poor memory, mental fog, and fatigue”.
You can also go a little deeper than just thinking about what’s on your mind and who irritated you at work that day. It is an opportunity for self-mastery. It becomes a tool to observe your own triggers and patterns. Become aware of any habits no longer serving you. ‘Why have I missed my morning run for the 5th day in a row?’ Write it down in a journal and make space for a better solution.
“Everyone has a comfort zone worth considering: how hard (and how often) are you willing to work to get out of it? You can turn that into a habit if you choose” – Seth Godin
By now, you can see there is a business case for stillness. It is no longer just something achieved on a yoga mat but a core component to your success.
I love this quote by Seth Godin because your comfort zone is the chaos, the frenetic pace, the ‘always on’ addiction to your phone. Ask anyone how they are and the default answer is ‘I’m so busy or I’m so stressed’ and then you wait your turn to nod in agreement and share how equally busy you are. This is our new badge of honour.
The new comfort zone or rather your courage zone is creating some space to be still, to do nothing other than to think without distraction. Stillness is an uncomfortable place because we don’t know how to do it very well.
I speak from experience, I didn’t t like the feeling of not doing anything. It generated a fear of ‘I won’t get ahead or achieve my goals if I stand still’. I realised I was always on the train to somewhere and I was terrified of being late and missing the train. There was huge guilt attached to stillness.
A few months ago, I bought an adult colouring book for relaxation but I would only allow myself to colour in when my 5 year old daughter would colour with me because this gave me the permission I needed. I was ticking the box of being a good mom and bonding with my child.
Fortunately, I made a decision to miss the train and I have never looked back. Now when I need to unwind or I want to be still, I sit and colour and it brings me into a peaceful state and my mind can truly let go. Even if it’s 15 minutes, it is enough to detach and press reset.
The pace of work is not going to change anytime soon. This is why it’s crucial now more than ever to introduce the habit of building in a Power Nour ™ into your day or 15 minutes at the least.
Can you become more disciplined at carving out buffer zones between activities and really being more intentional about giving your inner voice a platform?
“If it scares you, it might be a good thing to try” – Seth Godin