Stillness: A Forgotten Strategy Costing Businesses Thousands
Feb 5, 2020
Stillness is not a nothingness or absence of strength, it is in fact an expression of strength and stability. The strategy of stillness is something both JFK and Winston Churchill practiced, as well as many other great leaders throughout history. Pacing yourself and slowing down can make you more productive. Being still gives you a break from your busy life, giving undivided attention to your work helps with your overall focus. Stillness is essential for focused leadership. Recognizing the value that can come from being still encourages us to make more strategic choices about our downtime.
In the book Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less, author Alex Pang discusses the importance of inward focus. Dedicating time for inward focus allows for a level of reflection and analysis to contemplate problems and the possible solutions. It is difficult to do this in public or around others, it is much more effective to do this when alone. We operate in busy environments that can make us feel overwhelmed and overworked. The busy world of business has a real psychological impact on us. In most work environments, it is difficult to practice stillness. Acknowledge the importance of solitude and inward focus, to be still in order to reflect and contemplate is essential for new ideas.
If you take a look at the most successful people and how they work, there are patterns we can learn from and try to adopt in our lives. Many successful leaders understand the importance of taking breaks and engaging in activities that take their mind off of their work. Some partake in relatively physically engaging activities and then follow that time with a period of stillness and rest. This method that promotes focus and contemplation has been used by many successful people throughout history. JFK said “we must use time as a tool, not as a couch” during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Kennedy believed that he would eliminate options if he were to rush into a decision. We have more options when we pause and assess the issue at hand and thoroughly try to get to the bottom of it. He considered every option, trying to de-escalate the problem and give his opponents time to come to their senses rather than immediately taking action. JFK would walk through the White House rose garden to contemplate during this time to take a step back to really focus. He practiced strategic waiting, something we can adopt into our lives too.
Winston Churchill was another very busy man who faced immense dilemmas in his career. He took naps daily and often spent about an hour a day on his porch in a rocking chair, reciting poetry to himself and thinking during the depths of WWII. He turned to painting as a hobby in his 40’s to give himself peace and relief from the demand of his leadership. He went on to write a book called Painting as a Pastime where he discusses the benefits he found in painting such as avoiding depression. Another hobby he took part in was brick laying. He began constructing buildings out of bricks on his property in addition to painting. Churchill understood that the harder you work, the more weight is on your shoulders professionally. He knew the importance of leisure time and relaxation when more stress was added to his plate. He did this because if he wasn’t taking care of himself and taking time to think big picture, he would burn out.
Billie Jean King, Ernst Hemingway, Marcus Aurelius, Stephen King, Toni Morrison and Charles Darwin are just a few more famous names that understood the value of stepping away from their work in order to improve its quality. Psychologists are finding that more physically engaging and mentally less engaging activities such as long walks are rather effective in stimulating a creative state that allows for new ideas and insight. Darwin made a walking path behind his house that he called it his thinking path. He put a set of rocks on the path and would knock them around with his cane in order to keep track of how long he had been walking. Hemingway had a large pool built for his home that he spent a great deal of time swimming in when he wasn't writing. It was considered an extraordinary luxury to have an in-ground pool in the 1930’s when he had it built, but he valued the significance of his hobby away from his obligations. The great philosopher of stoicism, Marcus Aurelius spent many quiet mornings and evenings writing in a journal which is now known as the book Meditations. He was a very busy man with a great deal of stress who used his writing to offer himself advice on how to work harder, be more fair, less worried and less stressed.
When our brains are at rest, they are only about 5-10% less active than when we are doing something difficult like calculus. Take 10-20minutes of intentional time today to just sit still and think. Turn off your phone, take out the ear buds and eliminate distractions. We don’t allow our thoughts to catch up to us enough. As a leader that is very dangerous. It is so important that we take this time. Prioritize stillness. Think about the idea of stillness and try to notice it when it pops up in life. These great minds offer a great model on how to be still. Try these 4 easy steps to practice the strategy of stillness in you life:
Focus on What You Can Control: When it comes to achieving your end goals, stay focused on the process itself. Be present and direct your attention to what is currently happening. Leaders sometimes struggle with focusing too much on the outcome, becoming micromanagers in the process. Stay focused on what you can directly control. You can control how you set up the motion by hiring the right people, providing good information, and offering clear instructions. Let it go and relax - to some degree. Having a healthy level of detachment by somewhat loosening your grip allows you to focus on putting yourself in a position for success.
Be Deliberate with Rest: Rest plays a direct role in our creativity and problem solving. Take necessary breaks from projects. Momentarily walking away gives you time to be still and reflect so that you can approach the issue with clarity. You may come back with a different perspective you would not have found without reflection. Deliberate rest is the key to productivity. It gives us more energy and sharper ideas. Make more strategic choices about your free time. Recognize that there are ways to structure your downtime to work better on your behalf. Go on a walk, a swim or jog immediately after the work period. Then rest and engage in a period of focus.
Unplug as Often as You Can: At home or on vacation, it is so important to disconnect from the work world. Instead of checking your work email when you are bored waiting for an appointment or in line at the store, embrace stillness. We miss out on the benefits that come from letting our minds wander. With our hyper scheduled lives, we become accustomed to a lifestyle where we are constantly stimulated. Try scheduling specific times to check your email in effort to limit how often you do so. We spend more time at work than we do at home. Spending this limited downtime disconnected from our hectic lives benefits us in many ways and even increases overall productivity.
Understand the Value of Your Time: Understanding the value of your time is so important. Time is your only nonrenewable resource. You cannot get back wasted time, but you can get things like money back. Automate any task that is repeated, there are many services that can help streamline processes. It can help serve your customers well and grow business. Work smarter not just harder! The ability to say no, to find humor and joy and making time for creative expression in ordinary things become so important when we are facing challenges. It’s important that we take the time to find hobbies, leisure, to enjoy ourselves and find an outlet for these emotions so that we can miss out on a lot of potential breakthroughs.