My best work happens when I'm not working

Published on March 24, 2017

Returning from a week's holiday on Sunday I had the familiar experience of a rush of ideas and creativity on the flight home. Over the years I have come to both rely on, and expect this to happen. I am reminded of the importance of being idle - not the Oasis song (although it's a cracker), rather the benefits of creating space to let the subconscious mind work on our behalf in the background.

Conversations with others seem consistent; "I have my best ideas when I'm out running... in the shower... driving home... when I wake in the morning." It is not so much about being idol - it is more about relaxing the mind for long enough to access higher thought process.

Neuroscience informs that the cleverest part of our brain, the region that makes us human, allows us to think about our thinking and accommodates complexity, is most effective when we feel safe and relaxed. It is worth considering how much of our activity at the coalface has us in a state of safe and relaxed.

So often our day jobs get in the way. As we bounce from meetings, to emails, to deadlines, to crisis - days and weeks disappear into months, and time for strategy and creative problem solving are compromised. I remain surprised when clients report; "This is the first time in a long time I have paused to reflect." It really shouldn't surprise me as I hear it all the time - it's just that I believe leaders could do themselves a big favour by regularly scheduling appointments with themselves.

The paradox of great thoughts coming from a place of not thinking (subconscious activity) is an important concept to hold in coaching. The magic often happens between sessions when any helpful disturbances can bubble away and present new insight, awareness and different choices.

Yet there is something of an addictive reassurance in being flat out busy all the time. Busy provides rewards via adrenaline, feeling needed, avoiding potential failure, or getting found out (we are all faking it!). And if we are obviously busy we are obviously working right.

As serendipity would have it my a friend was telling me about a conversation she recently had with a Yoga pal of hers. She was bemoaning the fact of not having enough time for practice. His reply was to assert that for those who don't have time for Yoga or meditation, they should probably be practicing twice a day. As Eric Paskel said; Yoga is not about tightening your ass, it's about getting your head out of it!

The discipline of Yoga is about taking time to go inwards, become more self-aware and self-regulated. The reported rewards include calmness, clarity and focus. I think this is a good metaphor for coaching - stopping, pausing, reflecting and re-booting might be some of the most valuable work we can do.

Is it time you scheduled an appointment with yourself?

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Photo by Jozsef Hocza on Unsplash

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