As we are in the holiday season, I’ve had a little time to pause and reflect, and I want to share this thought with you.
“The sun always rises” is a simple phrase, in which the meaning is intended to provide comfort to those going through a tough time. We all experience times when life doesn’t go the way we hope. Unless we need the sun to shine on our day as a sign that things will be better, it is easy to ignore. How often do we take the time to reflect on the hope that a sunrise brings?
Every day, our schedules are jam-packed with meetings, phone calls, child drop-offs, grocery runs, and a host of activities that make life busy. We don’t have time to take in a moment like a sunrise because it feels like we are at full capacity all the time. Remember, our capacity is full not only from doing things, but also from thinking about things. Our energy is constantly zapped because of our mental load; we just don’t turn it off.
How often do we look at something beautiful, like a sunrise, and not even notice its beauty?
There are productive places to focus our mental capacity. However, there are many more places we spend our mental energy that are not serving us: holding onto frustrations and hurts well past their due date; worrying about the outcome of things over which we have no control; trying to live up to our “perfectionist” desires; ruminating on something that nagged us an hour ago rather than being present for the next moment. As we enter the holiday season, one in particular might be getting prepared for visiting family or dealing with stressful family relationships.
A study published in Psychological Science from well-known neuroscientist, Moshe Bar, shows our capacity for creative thinking or original thoughts is stymied by mental clutter. “There is a tension in our brains between exploration and exploitation. When we are exploratory, we attend to things with a wide scope, curiosity, and a desire to learn. Other times, we rely on, or 'exploit' what we already know, leaning on our expectations, trusting the comfort of a predictable environment.”
As leaders, being able to tap into our Exploratory ability is a huge advantage. We can open ourselves to new possibilities, avoiding confirmation bias, and can make better decisions and build stronger relationships. However, in the daily intensity of our lives, we crowd out our time for exploration, and we exploit what we know to get things done quickly. This can lead to heightened stress, anxiety, and dull our ability to be creative and experience pleasure.
As you head into the holiday season and prepare to take a break from work, make sure that your break includes decluttering your mind. While you are away from the office physically, be sure to leave it mentally as well. It strikes me how we feel guilty being away from family when work takes us around the world, but we don’t have as much guilt when we respond to email while on holiday with our family.
This holiday season find time to practice taking a full break. Be mentally present wherever your physical self takes you. Maybe you will find that moment of beauty in a sunrise, or maybe you will find it with your loved ones.