I don’t celebrate Christmas.
First, I was raised in a secular Jewish house. Second, I’m a little resistant to the tendency of turning the big holidays into a sparkling shopping fest. Third, I prefer to celebrate current progress and future aspirations rather than half-history half-mythology events of the past.
But this time, I had a very good reason to celebrate.
We were just wrapping up a team call, the last one for 2018, after the successful launch of our new initiative, Enkindle Global. We all pushed hard against the deadline of the holidays, knowing that many people amongst our target audience would fade away from Christmas till New Year’s Eve to spend time with their families, friends or in solitude, enjoying some peace and quiet.
Therefore, after a few intense weeks of on-line work, go-to meetings, endless calls, brainstorming, rewriting, and pitching — I felt proud of what the team had accomplished and was ready to let go for ten days. I don’t celebrate Christmas — but my team members do, and so does a great chunk of our audience and partners. And I wanted to respect this.
That team call, last one for the year, was highly energetic; emotional even. After discussing a few final details, we dedicated some time to sharing new years’ wishes, resolutions and discussing what we wanted to invite into our lives in the coming year.
And then I was really ready to let go.
I was ready to slow down, spend my mornings doing some reading and writing, spend my afternoons with my kids playing around without checking the clock, and spend my evenings with my husband enjoying long, deep conversations over a glass of wine. Mainly I wanted to pause the constant train of thoughts and ideas running through my head about what more we can do to benefit our newborn project.
I was ready to focus on how to benefit myself and my loved ones.
I was ready to unwind.
Well — that didn’t work out exactly as I expected. Not at the beginning at least. Not as naturally as I thought it would.
With the reading and writing stuff — I had a hard time concentrating.
The plan with the kids– for the most part I could enjoy the playing bit, but I was occasionally interrupted by my own thoughts about work, the future of work, how my kids will fit into my future work plans, and all the related stuff.
The husband-hangout-aspiration — that worked out quite well, actually, until he had to go away overnight for work, and I used that evening to plunge right back into a business call.
Apparently, I can’t make myself stop thinking of work.
What’s wrong with me? I thought. I’m running an organization that focuses on personal wellbeing, and advocates work-life balance — in fact any balance that favors our physical, mental and emotional health. I constantly make public statements about the importance of self-care, the danger in being overly busy and how to avoid the trap of burning out during professional performance and carrying a meaningful endeavor.
Why can’t I, then, listen to my own advice and pause that train of thoughts about work, when my plan was to unwind immediately?
Sometimes the way to solve a problem is to ask the right question.
When I posed the question above to myself, phrased that exact way, I realized I was expecting my brain and mind to do the impossible — to immediately stop a machine that was running on high-speed, and take it from 120 kph to zero in no time. Which physically, just can’t be done. Not without side effects.
When I was in high school, I hated running. Partly because of the side stitches I suffered after getting to the finish line. In a hindsight, I was just too impatient to dedicate enough time after the run for my body to recover from the massive effort, by walking or properly cooling down. I now act differently when running (but it took me 15 years to overcome the dislike of running and learn to enjoy it) and allow my body to ease down slowly and gradually before a full stop. Obviously, I didn’t see the similarity between my thoughts and my physical body, and expected my brain to stop the thinking marathon without intentionally slowing down.
Understanding was of course just half of the solution. My next step was to employ some tools and practices to slow down the train of thoughts about work, if I still wanted to unwind. And I did.
I started with putting more items on my “Unwinding To-Do List” that would take my mind in other directions. I continued scheduling some hanging out time with friends — preparing them with the caveat that we can talk about any topic in the world, besides “how things are going at work”; I tried to limit my social media engagement for that period of time — that was a hard one!; I invited my kids to one-on-one fun days with me and they, in turn, invited their friends for dinner so I had to be focused while feeding and entertaining this cheerful bunch; I equipped myself with some fiction books and a list of movies I had wanted to catch up on for a while now; I went jogging in the middle of the day. By myself. Twice.
But all of those were preparation, when the key step that helped me unwind was my new awareness of the challenge of pausing the thoughts, and catching myself just in time to quit it. Again, and again, and again — until I was able to enter a situation or interaction without “sliding” from within to a kaleidoscope of reflections and ideas. After the preparations, the awareness, and finally the practice — I could now switch immediately back to a state of being present in the here and now.
Unwinding for me was damn hard this time of the year, despite my best intentions. Sometimes we wish to be in a specific mindset or to experience a certain state of being — but in reality, we fail to fully immerse into that mindset or state. Like people going on vacation, planning to have fun and enjoy every minute of peace and quiet, yet during their time off they pretend to have fun while there’s a little annoying inner voice that keeps asking, “Are we having fun yet?”
Slowing down, apparently, is a practice, and it needs to be intentional as well. The more we give ourselves permission to slow down, to unwind, to take the time and digest what we have recently experienced, to be present and stop worrying about what’s next — the better we are at seeing the value of each and every moment as if it was the whole world.
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