There were a few times in my life in which I had to make major decisions. Twice had to do with leaving jobs I loved. Once it was about letting go of a relationship that I was much invested in, and therefore temporarily blind to the hard truth that it was a mistake. And then there were the other occasions which weren’t as emotionally charged.
My go to first step in solving a problem is map everything out on a piece of paper. Give the problem a face. Materialize it. Bring out the objectivity to any subjective matter. Often, I would reach out to others to discuss the situation. Talking helps me organize my thoughts. But, sometimes their views and well-meant advices muddled my thinking. It would all seem logical but felt wrong. Somehow, my stomach and heart weren’t agreeing with my mind.
It is then that I know I need timeout. I’d pack a weekend bag and go somewhere. There’s something about getting away from the madness that really helps to quiet the mind. When the noise is all gone, invariably I find the solutions within me.
The two most transcendental quiet experiences I’ve had were in the Atacama desert in Chile and the Uyuni salt flat in Bolivia. There is nothing like disconnecting completely from the world. So much so that there were days in which I was only with my friend and the guide without seeing a single soul or signs of human civilization. I felt that sort of quietness at soul level. It was just me in awe of the majestic display of Mother Earth. Oddly, I felt more connected than ever. Disconnect to connect.
During one such long ride in a jeep on a roadless stretch in Bolivia, I had an a-ha moment. It came out of nowhere. I wasn’t even searching for answers so to speak. I was just on vacations.
At the time, I was working with one of the most amazing high-performance teams. The best way to describe it was that we were a small assortment of characters working in a startup building startups around the world. What we might have lacked in resources, we more than compensated with passion and commitment. We found a way to overcome every obstacle. We were on 24/7, having to attend to clients in every continent, with time differences of up to 15 hours.
Business grew and our pace never stalled. Long story short, the team started to struggle with the workload and the constant demands from all fronts. We fell into constant fire-fighting mode. Although we were tight, our travel schedules and hectic days made it difficult to stay updated on all issues. Stress was mounting.
And in that car, hours away from any possibility of phone or computer connection, I saw it all so clearly. In a blink of the eye, we had lost focus. The daily “urgencies” took over. We were trying to do everything. And in the process, we lost sight of the priorities.
Back at work, during a leadership team meeting, I had the opportunity to share my insight. I urged everyone to work together in redefining the priorities, choosing the battles that would bring about the final results we were aiming for.
My one piece of advice: once in a while, especially when you are figuring out something important, step away from the issue at hand, take timeout to clear your mind, and come back to it with fresh eyes. It can be something as simple as a 15 minute walk, an afternoon at the beach, or a weekend away. Give yourself the space for the answers to come.
Cultures in the East have long understood innately how to quiet the mind. Today scientific studies show that there are physical and psychological benefits to silence. It improves memory, reduces stress, promotes creativity, bolsters concentration and enables inner peace.
Experts teach techniques to quiet the mind. To name a few: meditation, mindfulness, breathing, yoga, forest bathing. One or more of these might work for you.