3 Things I Learned By Doing “Nothing”
Advice I give my clients that I had to first practice myself
If you are like me and most of the clients I work with, you have way too many things you are trying to juggle and make time for, and are chronically stressed about finding time for them all. Our busy lives find us struggling to balance the multiple demands and expectations we place on ourselves, and the demands we think others place on us.
We imagine dire consequences if a ball drops — loss of job, reputation, and external validation, being labeled a horrible spouse, parent, friend, daughter or son, and just being an all-around failure in regards to our own self-image and ability to keep it all together.
This story-line in my head was jolted the past few months when I was ordered by a doctor to stop “doing” anything and just lay down and rest for 10–14 full days. No working, no exercising, no doing — just “relax, be still, and let your body heal a bit”, she insisted pretty adamantly. I had had a cascade of physical ailments hit me at once, a tonsil infection, an iron deficiency caused by my noble attempts to become a vegetarian, and thyroiditis — an inflammation of the thyroid gland that causes all sorts of physical maladies — including persistent fevers, heart rate irregularities, fatigue, weight loss, and anxiety to name a few. (And to top it off — the thyroiditis can take 10 weeks to 6 months to clear itself!)
So here I was — feeling pretty awful physically, with all the same demands, routines, and expectations sitting there, being told to just STOP and do nothing for two weeks.
The thought of halting everything created more stress, but since I felt so bad physically, I surrendered. I would “do” nothing for the next two weeks and let all my stories of unmet expectations go.
The irony of this experience is that as a coach, I often discuss the importance of relaxing, balance, and letting go of “doing” with my clients. We talk about stress and self-imposed expectations and how to manage them. And I do consider myself someone pretty good at self-care, boundary setting, and staying in balance. But the prospect of not “doing” anything other than relaxing for two weeks didn’t bode well with the high-achieving story-teller housed in my mind.
Here are 3 things I learned from letting it all go for two weeks, and having lots of time on my hands to reflect and think about all these things–things I have been reading about, studying, and purporting for years, but hadn’t fully internalized.
1. Your worth is not measured by what you “do”
In a world of constant “doing”, we hold up our busy-ness as badges of honor. We marvel at our own ability to manage our jobs, households, families, and obligations, and keep it all together. The “doing” we are so addicted to may give us a sense of achievement and accomplishment, but it is not indicative of who we are. Achievements and accomplishing tasks are one thing, who you are being and who you are– quite another.
Who are you “being” as you do all these things you are doing? Are you frazzled, harried, stressed, and disconnected? Are you so caught up in the act of “doing”, that the accomplishment is the end goal?
Are you enjoying the moments? Are you proud of who you are being while you go about accomplishing all these things?
How much you “do” is really irrelevant. The real question is — is how I act on a daily basis congruent with who I am, who I want to be, and the impact I want to have on those around me?
2. The storylines in your head are authored by you; only you can change them
It is amazing the stories we tell ourselves about what will happen if we don’t meet an expectation we imagine and hold for ourselves. What will others think of us if we don’t do it all — and keep it all together?
What is really true is that most of the stories are stories we make up ourselves. They are not static — they are really things we can negotiate with others and constantly shift — as long as we are willing to accept the consequences of the choices we make. Our own priorities are things only we can set — others do not create them. But expecting to have our cake and eat it too is the storyline that gets us in trouble.
If you choose one priority over another–that is a choice that has a consequence. How willing are you to accept that consequence and realize that you are the one authoring your own storyline — no-one else is doing that “to” you.
3. Being still is “doing”
As I laid on the couch day after day, too fatigued to read or write, I found that the self-imposed introspection and reflection time was remarkably cathartic.
How often do you take time to sit back and think about “why” you are doing the things you are doing?
Do you know “why”? And is that answer congruent with what is important to you?
Taking time to be still and reflect on why you do the things you do and what needs to be adjusted in your day-to-day behaviors is probably one of the most important things you can “do”. Staying connected to that deeper voice inside of you that knows not only “why”, but “who” you want to be and “what” you want to do doesn’t happen by constantly doing. You have to be still, ask, and listen.
As the holidays are upon us, I hope you will take some time from all the hustle and bustle and doing to stop and be still. Quiet your mind and listen.
Who do you want to be this coming year?
What do you want?
What stories do you need to rewrite and what boundaries do you need to set to get there?
Originally published at www.themanagroup.com.