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Life

The Fine Art of Doing Nothing

Sometimes it’s hard to be alone, especially alone with our own thoughts

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“…people never are alone now. We make them hate solitude; and we arrange their lives so that it’s almost impossible for them ever to have it.” ~ Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley

In this era, it’s becoming harder to be alone, especially alone with our own thoughts. Dr. Timothy Wilson, a social psychologist at the University of Virginia, along with other researchers conducted an experiment with student volunteers. The students were given two options: For 15 uninterrupted minutes they could do nothing.

Or, they could give themselves a small, electric shock. Roughly 67% of the men and 25% of the women in the experiment chose to give themselves small shocks, even though earlier, many had proclaimed that they would pay money not to endure such a shock.

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Anxious for Anything To Do

Why did they opt for the shock? They became increasingly anxious for anything to do over the course of the 15 minutes. Aha, you say! These were probably millennials for whom a 15-minute stretch of doing nothing is virtually impossible.

As it turns out, the participants consisted of adults recruited from a farmer’s market and from a church. They acted in much the same way that you might expect of millennials. They felt anxious and antsy when left alone for a 15-minute stretch with nothing else to do but be with themselves.

The question  for each of us is why is it becoming so hard to take a few moments throughout the day to simply do nothing? Have we become such a driven populace that we cannot even spare a few minutes for ourselves? Do we not recognize the peace of mind that we can experience when we’re not fully occupied every minute of the day?

Weaning Yourself

If you feel that you are constantly seeking to optimize every minute of the day, and perhaps are oversubscribed, over-informed, and overwhelmed, here are interlaced ideas that you can put into practice:

Start small. Rather than attempt a long stretch of doing simply nothing, see if you can last for 60 seconds or maybe 120 if you’re feeling brave. It’s best to attempt this after you finish a task, and feel good about your accomplishment. Marinade in your positive feelings.

Perhaps before you go to lunch or return from lunch, or before or after taking a break, why not allow yourself a little time to pause and, well, simply do nothing.

If you have a 15 minute break, where is it written that you can’t spend 60 seconds at your desk doing nothing, take a 13 minute break, then spend the last 60 seconds at your desk, again doing nothing.

Expand Your Ability

As you build more and more confidence in your ability to take some time out with no thoughts or activities in mind, strive for three to five minutes. If you arrive at work early, you could spend such time in your car with the radio off, not checking your cell phone, and not doing anything, other than simply sitting there.

At your workplace, maybe you can spend three minutes undetected in a conference room, corporate library, rooftop terrace, or elsewhere.

At home, where you have more flexibility, could you attempt a short weekend session? This should be no problem. During the weekday, it’s understandable that you seek to efficiently commute to and from work, although even on weeknights it might be possible for you to carve out a few minutes. Think of all the times you’ve been online, or you flick through the TV channels, and how aimless that can be.

Reinforce What Works

As time passes, giving yourself some stretches here and there where you don’t have to do anything can become reinforcing. You have the opportunity to take a deep breath. You get a chance to reflect, or to clear your mind. You have time to visualize.

Even if none of these things happen, you still get a chance to slow down. Any way you look at it, it’s a good proposition.

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Jeff Davidson is the world's only holder of the title "The Work-Life Balance Expert®" as awarded by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. He is the premier thought leader on work-life balance, integration, and harmony. Jeff speaks to organizations that seek to enhance their overall productivity by improving the effectiveness of their people. He is the author of Breathing Space, Simpler Living, Dial it Down, and Everyday Project Management. Visit www.BreathingSpace.com for more information on Jeff's keynote speeches and seminars, including: Managing the Pace with Grace® * Achieving Work-Life Balance™ * Managing Information and Communication Overload®



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Faith

Unleash the Spirit Within

It doesn’t take considerable effort to engage in spiritual-type behavior that will benefit everyone

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You can practice being more spiritual in little ways that add up quickly to your being a more spiritual person. For example, there are relatively minor things you can do to start the process, although nothing is minor when it comes to acting spiritually. As an example, if you smile at someone, they tend to smile back. If you go out of your way to help someone, that person might in turn help another and so on.

Spirituality certainly does not have to be restricted to the confines of organized religion. Freed from the rules, restrictions, and impediments that organized religion may impose upon you, how and where might you be more spiritual in your life?

Each little action sets in motion the potential for greater good. So, as you proceed through six items below, do not discount the value of engaging in any of these. Each has the potential to add up to more.

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Spirituality While Driving

Researchers report that when people get in their cars, they think they’re in some type of invisible vehicle. No one sees them as they motor down the road. If you curse or scream, who’s to know? Obviously, you’re not invisible and the way you conduct yourself as a motorist potentially impacts other motorists, as well as pedestrians.

The next time someone cuts you off in traffic, fails to use their turn signal properly or otherwise engages in improper driving, practice maintaining your composure.

Don’t curse, scream, or honk your horn. If the other person is in view, look at them blankly, but not with disgust or anger, or a mocking smile.

Often, the other party knows what they did wrong. If not, venting your spleen is not likely to change their behavior.

If you travel frequently, say as part of your job, and often traverse high traffic arteries, chances are you’ll have an opportunity at least several times a week to practice engaging in small displays of spirituality. As a goal, why not establish for yourself one composed response per week?

Each time you can remain composed, you increase the probability that you will be more composed in other aspects of your life. Perhaps you’ll even be kinder to people in face-to-face encounters when they commit a transgression.

Comfort the Less Fortunate

As a small gesture of spirituality, what can you do for someone you see right on the street? It’s one thing to write a check to charity; it’s another to encounter someone who is in need and aid that person on the spot.

When you have shoes that you no longer wear, but are not necessarily in pieces, keep them in your trunk as you motor around town. Then, if you see a homeless person with less than sufficient footwear, and it looks like you might be roughly the same size, pull over.

Promptly get the shoes from your trunk, walk up to the person and say that you want them to accept the shoes. If he or she accepts, fine, bid them good day, and be on your way. If he or she chooses not to take them, that’s okay too.

Your goal in this area could be to give away each pair of shoes or other worthwhile item of clothing that you no longer want, perhaps on a monthly basis.

Participate in Group Action

If this is not for you, volunteer once a month to serve a meal at a local shelter for the homeless. If you’re a busy career type, perhaps serving dinner will work best for you. Whatever your preconceived notions about this may be, once you actually serve dinner to real live people, you’ll see that reality is different than you thought.

Perhaps you think that people would be reluctant to speak up for what they wanted. Or worse, they’d be groveling, and you would have to do your best to remain humble. Perhaps you feel like you’ll seem to be some kind of “goody-two-shoes,” dispensing dinners with an overly pleasant, “And how are you this evening? Here’s a nice dinner for you.”

Actually, none of the above usually happens. Person to person, you simply serve another, as if you were in partnership. More peas? Fewer carrots? It’s much more matter-of-fact than you might imagine. They’re appreciative but not groveling.

Note: Some people who show up at a shelter are well dressed. Perhaps they’re temporarily unemployed, or they had a financial emergency they were unprepared to handle.

The more often you serve others in this way, the easier it becomes to do it again. You start to get the notion that there are a lot more similarities between human beings than differences. The old axiom, “There but for the grace of God, go I,” is much more true than we all often acknowledge.

Look for the Good in Others

Is there a co-worker with whom you have had a nasty relationship? Is there something good about this co-worker that you can draw upon, so that you can get yourself to  say something nice to him/her at your next encounter?

Will Rogers, a political satirist, entertainer, and beloved figure in the first half of the twentieth century allegedly said, “I never met a man I didn’t like.” Many people have interpreted Will Rogers to have meant that he could find something admirable in everyone he met. So, too, can we all.

Is there a neighbor with whom you have had a continuing squabble? What would it do to your relationship if you sent your neighbor a card or a brief note that said something along the lines of, “I noticed how lovely your garden was the other day, and wanted to let you know that I appreciate the work you’ve done in maintaining it.”? Too syrupy, or, pardon the expression, too flowery? Guess again.

List five people at work or elsewhere in your life with whom you may not have a good relationship, but whom you can acknowledge. Next to each person’s name, write a dash and then what is good about them.

You’re going to be on Earth for a finite amount of time. Do you want to go through your life trading hostilities with people, never having the where-with-all to restore some semblance of civility to the relationship?

Listen More Closely

Human beings have a profound need to be heard. When you give others your full and complete attention, in essence, you’re telling them that you value them as a people. All activity and concerns in your life stop as the words and emotions of another person take on paramount importance.

Listening is one of people’s most underrated skills. Your ability to listen to another person, giving him or her your full and undivided attention, can be an act of spirituality, particularly if the other person needs someone to listen to him/her. In this rush-rush world, too often we want people to summarize everything they say.

Consider the people in your life who have mattered the most to you and, chances are, they were the people that listened to you best. Whether it was your parents, a brother or sister, a good friend, a relative, a teacher, a coach, a coworker, a mentor, or just somebody down the street, you tend to value those who value you by listening.

In Siddhartha, by Herman Hesse, the young Siddhartha speaks about his most well-developed skills. He can listen, he can fast, and he can wait.

These talents don’t seem like much to the Western mind, but they’re handy if you want to increase the spirituality of your life. As a goal, why not to listen in earnest to one person per week in the workplace whom you would not have otherwise given such time and attention?

At home, give your significant other one good listening to per day, and I promise things will go better. Do the same with each child.

Judge Deeds, Not People

Judgment is a necessary and practical skill. It’s likely that you judge things, including others, all day long. After all, if you want to choose the colleges appropriate for you, friends that share similar values, and the professional, social, and civic groups that you will enjoy being a part of, you need to make some judgments.

We all judge one another, however, sometimes harshly. Everyone can learn from each other. It is so easy to fall into that game, as psychologist Carl Rogers articulated, of “mine is better than yours.” It is too convenient to conclude that people who walk, talk, or look differently than we do, must be vastly different, and by extension, inferior.

As you might have already concluded, it doesn’t take considerable effort to be spiritual and to engage in spiritual-type behavior that will benefit yourself, and benefit others. The opportunities are all around each of us, every day. All we have to do is be aware.

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Life

Life is Not Perpetually a Piece of Cake For Anyone

Everybody, nearly all the time, is facing an array of problems

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Everybody, everywhere, nearly all the time has a handful of significant problems. They could be related to relationships, health, career, finances, or unresolved traumas and dramas. Undoubtedly, millions of people are encountering some of the same problems that you are currently facing. Yet, it’s likely that everyone’s problems represent a distinct package – probably no one else, problem-for-problem, confront exactly what you face at any give moment.

Human Encounters

Often we are so steeped in our own problems that we fail to recognize that no one gets to skip along day-after-day without issues and challenges of vital personal concern. Everyone you meet is grappling with something.

The most successful, confident, and healthiest among us might be adept at conveying the image of a relatively problem-free life. Meanwhile, they are concerned about their issues as you are with yours.

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The ancient Greek philosopher Plato once said, “Be kind for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” Sometimes the battles of others are apparent to us; more often, such battles are not. Still they do exist.

Awareness and Balance

If you’ve ever attended a group therapy session, or a gathering where people focus on spirituality or self growth topics, then you know first-hand that others you meet have issues much like yours.

With the above in mind, we can choose to be a bit kinder in our encounters. The driver who cut you off in traffic, or the store clerk who is short with you, are exhibiting manifestations of their problems. Everyone is fighting a battle and some are fighting very hard battles. Our awareness of such allows us to stay better balanced, more empathetic, and ultimately more effective in the world.

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