Stop. No, really, I want you to stop. Do you know how to?
Stop mentally reviewing tomorrow’s to-do list. Stop replaying this morning’s meeting in your head. Just stop. Don’t stop reading, but stop spinning your wheels.
In our world of speed and instant-everything, we too often consume books and meaningful information with whim and nonchalance. “Yeah, I’ve read it,” we say, or “Yeah, I met with him.” But we haven’t really taken it in. When we do this, we only scratch the surface of the growth awaiting us.
Reflection and consideration precede meaningful authentic application.
I’ve found silence to be not just a “thing” I experience but a way of life I try to cultivate. To get outside the craziness of the everyday, I routinely create opportunities for space. When I take time in the river, away from my anxious schedule, to-do list, and ringing phone, I find myself exposed—face to face with my honest thoughts, fears, and dreams. When I jump on my bike on Saturday morning and ride 12 miles on the trails around the lake, I may consider a book, ponder a conversation with a friend, meditate on Scripture. It’s a business meeting with God that covers all aspects of life. For me, this quiet business meeting has four key elements:
- I must find my own cave.
And no, I’m not a bear—although some of my closest friends might disagree! Finding your own cave is, quite simply, establishing your place of retreat. In order to meet with God and reflect on life, family, and business, you first need a place to go.
It should be a place you know will give you the space to reflect, think, listen, rest, unload. It must get you away from the normal routine without requiring you to buy a plane ticket. A room in your house, a cabin in the woods, a walk on the trail, a bench in the park.
- Limit digital communication use to basically nothing.
I realize this is a bold, dramatic statement. I think this Harvard Business Review blog is more the standard for modern businesspeople. But the standard doesn’t nearly go far enough. Don’t just unplug a little. Unplug.
Aside from a quick call to my wife to check in, I’m off the reservation. While this may sound like an obvious aspect of quiet retreat, we don’t even realize how addicted we are to digital communication. In talking with young and seasoned professionals in every industry, almost everyone admits the difficulty of literally unplugging.
Test what I’m saying. This evening, don’t open your tablet, don’t turn on the television, don’t answer your phone or texts, and don’t get out your laptop. See how much you notice it. (Your first thought was probably, “Yeah, tonight’s not a great night for that because __________________.”) I’m not sure I can even do this.
- Do not center on a particular agenda.
In times of rest and quiet, I am not attempting to achieve anything in particular. I’m thinking, I’m reflecting, but I don’t have a goal. I often recommend to the executives I coach to go spend some time being “non-productive.” That sounds like a bit of heresy in a culture where outcomes, ROI, and “impact” saturate the business and leadership world. We must, however, learn that thriving does not always entail achieving.
Productive work may come out of it, but that’s not the goal.
- I capture my honest epiphanies and visit them often.
In addition, since my days in college I have practiced a discipline every holiday season in which I reflect on the year about to close and the year about to open.
This isn’t just “Dear Diary” for the artistic. Even Harvard has research showing the value of taking 15 minutes at the end of the day to reflect. I simply take the same concept from time to time and expand it well beyond 15 minutes.
Writing my thoughts down provides me with a built-in accountability device. For example, when I write my goals down and return to them, I will either be encouraged by my progress or convicted of my laxity in an area.
Find your cave. Unplug. Don’t have an agenda. Write things down.
Five centuries ago, Francis Bacon said, “Silence is the sleep that nourishes wisdom.” My advice is to get some “sleep.” A flourishing mind awaits. It must be cultivated. You’ll have to make some adjustments, like stretching a muscle you haven’t stretched in a long time. But it’s there.
Steve is an organizational strategist, social innovator, pragmatic theologian, executive coach, and mentor. Over the past 25 years Steve has helped hundreds of organizations launch and scale, while authoring over 15 books aimed at showing business people how to flourish in their life and work.