You ever have one of those days in the office? You know the one where you go in to the office with a plan of accomplishing certain tasks and winning the day; only to everything go off the rails when someone says something that throws you for a loop, your email and your instant messaging chats are pinging you non stop, the phone rings off the hook. You know the type of day I am talking about. It’s the one where you feel like you got run over by a truck only for it to back up and run you over again and again….and again.
There is a saying, “When nothing goes right, go left.” While I am not sure who said that, it has me thinking of walks with my son, Brooks. I have mentioned in a previous post (Link) that he chooses which direction to go by swinging his arm to the left or right; more often than not it’s left. There is also something else Brooks does on walks that can be relevant to the type of day I described above; he stops, he looks, and he listens.
My wife runs an in home childcare and on some days she takes the children out for a walk around the neighborhood or up the street to our local playground. When my wife and the six kids (stroller and all) come to a street corner they have a routine where they stop, they look, and they listen for any approaching cars before proceeding across the street. Not only is this a good practice for the kids to learn, but it’s also a lesson that we can apply to our daily lives.
In an article for BBC, author Oliver Burkeman, says about the busyness we feel in our daily lives; “…we’re each finite human beings, with finite energy and abilities, attempting to get through an infinite amount. We feel a social pressure to ‘do it all’, at work and at home, but that’s not just really difficult; it’s a mathematical possibility.” (Link). We all know that feeling of just having nothing left to give at the end of they day, but simultaneously feeling like we didn’t accomplish all that we should have. It can be overwhelming and we need a way to overcome that pressure that we are putting on ourselves.
Let’s take a lesson from the childcare walks around the neighborhood; stop, look, and listen.
When it comes to stopping, author Julia Paulette Hollenberry (in an interview for Fast Company) refers to this as a productive pause. She states that, “You are not a machine. Pausing interrupts the unnatural habit of non-stop doing. It is a micro opportunity to improve your concentration and energy at work.” (Link). This is a proven practice for me, I know that I have a tendency to go down what I call rabbit holes. I lose all track of time as I move from one task to the next with no sense of purpose and find myself working on things I never intended to, leaving the important and urgent tasks undone while the trivial and meaningless get crossed off the list. In moments like this I find that when I recognize myself going down the rabbit hole I need to stop what I am doing, take a moment to bring myself back to the present, and look around.
The look stage is a time for reassessment. For the childcare kids it is a time for them to look in all four directions for oncoming cars, for us it’s a time to be cognizant of our surroundings, to refocus, and reapply ourselves to what should have our attention. Actor Paul Gleason once said, “That ability to take in your surroundings and sort out the important stuff, to be aware, to be vigilant. Then take all that information, put it together, and see if it makes sense to you.”
Lastly, we have to listen, this is an opportunity to be aware of what we cannot see. For the kids it might be sound of an oncoming motorcycle or siren that is just out of sight. But what we need to listen for is ourselves. We know when things are going right and we need to go left, we know when we need to take stop and take a break, we know when we should be aware of our surroundings and refocus our energy. The problem is that despite us knowing these things, we tend not to listen to that inner voice telling us to slow down. We tend to tune that out and keep pushing forward to our own detriment. But what is instead of tuning that inner voice out, we turned up its volume instead? Tracy Kennedy of Life Hack, in an article entitled How to Listen to Your Inner Voice for Greater Fulfillment, says “Following your inner voice will lead you to the truth of what’s best for you. Tuning into your innate wisdom will help you make better and faster life decisions, solve problems with greater ease, and live a life of greater happiness, success and fulfillment.” (Link).
We were all kids once, we all went for walks and had to cross streets just like the kids in Jillian’s childcare. We all know how to approach the corner, stop, look, and listen for cars before crossing the street. What if we applied that same lesson to the times of overwhelm, those moments before the truck of life and work runs us over without even a warning honk? If we take that moment to pause, to notice our surrounding and to listen to that inner voice maybe we could reduce that stress or the ever increasing pace of life and be more focused on the task at hand and the here and now.