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Communication, Thought, and Time

Communication, Thought, and Time

Over at Slow Leadership, this week has been all about using your time. I don’t set out to give each week’s postings a single theme, but sometimes it happens that way.

It began with considering the relationship between time, action and thought in a posting I called Taking Your Time. Some people claim that jumping into actions and decisions without stopping to think is the right thing to do. They want you to put your trust in intuition: a vaguely-defined process below the level of consciousness that is somehow more accurate and powerful than thought or reasoning. I guess Freud started it, with his ideas of an unconscious mind, but even he never suggested such a process is better or more accurate than reasoning or logic. That’s believing in magic.

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Science has shown that human beings typically have a limited taste for the workings of chance and randomness. The human mind tries to reject the idea that things happen for no reason—by chance—and tries instead to discover, or invent, a cause to explain each observed effect. People point to cases when blind intuition (not the kind from informed experience based on long years of study and practice) seemed to work and ignore all the cases when it did not. Anecdotal evidence is always partial: it claims support for what is already believed, skips over any contrary evidence, and ignores the equally likely possibility that the times when intuition came up with the goods were due to nothing but chance.

If taking time to think is more likely to produce a sound basis for action than putting your faith in magical intuition, relying on evidence and proof is clearly a better basis for knowledge than emotions. That brought me back to one of my favorite thinkers, Bertrand Russell, and a post called Those Much-ignored Essentials: Time, Thought, and Proof. In today’s rushed, stressed, and pressured working environment, it’s easy to mistake emotional statements for rational arguments. The media, relying on sound-bites and 30-second news stories, rates anything that hits home hard and fast, however irrational, so we’re all coming to place far too much reliance on emotional “arguments” (which are no arguments at all, since emotional claims allow for no alternatives). It’s unfashionable, even heretical, to decline to accept “human interest” in place of hard news, or point out how much sentimentality there is in conventional beliefs about good and evil, but I do it just the same.

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Back to time and the necessity to slow down. I ended the week thinking about communication. If organizations stopped believing that improving communication skills is a panacea for every problem in the workplace, tens of thousands of consultants and trainers would be out of work overnight. In writing Taking Time Out to Listen, I didn’t quite go that far, but I did suggest that haste, pressure, superficiality, and anxiety—all aspects of today’s business environment that undermine the capacity to pay attention—might have more to do with problems of communication than any lack of skill.

The natural process of “tuning out” topics, values, and motivations you don’t care about is given a massive boost by pressure and lack of time, creating blind spots in your perception. As a result, much of what is being “broadcast” by others is filtered out before it even reaches your consciousness. We’re back to intuition and instant responses. If a topic doesn’t grab your distracted attention right away, it’s thrown in the mental wastebasket unread and unheard. And that’s a great way to miss things that later turn out to be important.

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The antidote is cultivating a greater willingness to open your mind and senses to unfamiliar topics, including those currently assumed to have little or no value. That takes time and attention. And so we return to the need for time: time to listen carefully, develop an open-minded and broad-based view of the world, and come to decisions through thought and reflection, not magical beliefs in the power of intuition.

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Adrian Savage is a writer, an Englishman, and a retired business executive, in that order. He lives in Tucson, Arizona. You can read his posts most days at Slow Leadership, the site for everyone who wants to build a civilized place to work and bring back the taste, zest and satisfaction to leadership.

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Last Updated on January 21, 2020

5 Steps To Move Out Of Stagnancy In Life

5 Steps To Move Out Of Stagnancy In Life

In the journey of growth, there are times when we grow and excel. We are endlessly driven and hyped up, motivated to get our goals.

Then there are times when we stagnate. We feel uninspired and unmotivated. We keep procrastinating on our plans. More often than not, we get out of a rut only to get back into another one.

How do you know if you are stagnating? Here are some tell-tale signs:

  • If you have been experiencing chronic procrastination on your goals
  • If you don’t ever feel like doing anything
  • If you keep turning to sleep, eating, games, mindless activities and entertainment for comfort
  • If you know you should be doing something, but yet you keep avoiding it
  • If you have not achieved anything new or significant now relative to 1 month, 2 months or 3 months ago
  • If you have a deep sense of feeling that you are living under your potential

When we face stagnation in life, it’s a sign of deeper issues. Stagnancy in life, just like procrastination, is a symptom of a problem. It’s easy to beat ourselves over it, but this approach is not going to help.

Here, I will share 5 steps to help you move out of this stagnation. They won’t magically transform your life in 1 night (such changes are never permanent because the foundations are not built), but they will help you get the momentum going and help you get back on track.

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1. Realize You’re Not Alone

Everyone stagnates at some point or another. You are not alone in this and more importantly, it’s normal. In fact, it’s amazing how many of my clients actually face the same predicament, even though all of them come from different walks of life, are of different ages, and have never crossed paths.

Realizing you are not alone in this will make it much easier to deal with this period. By trying to “fight it”, you’re only fighting yourself. Accept this situation, acknowledge it, and tell yourself it’s okay. That way, you can then focus on the constructive steps that will really help you.

2. Find What Inspires You

Stagnation comes because there isn’t anything that excites you enough to take action. If you don’t have a habit of setting goals, and instead just leave yourself to daily mundanes, it’s not surprising you are experiencing stagnation.

What do you want to do if there are no limitations? If you can have whatever you want, what will it be? The answers to these questions will provide the fuel that will drive you forward.

On the other hand, even if you are an experienced goal setter, there are times when the goals you set in the past lose their appeal now. It’s normal and it happens to me too. Sometimes we lose touch with our goals, since we are in a different emotional state compared to when we first set them. Sometimes our priorities change and we no longer want to work on those goals anymore. However, we don’t consciously realize this, and what happens is we procrastinate on our goals until it compounds into a serious problem.

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If that’s the case for you, it’s time to relook into your goals. There’s no point in pursuing goals that no longer inspire you. Trash away your old goals (or just put them aside) and ask yourself what you really want now. Then go for them.

3. Give Yourself a Break

When’s the last time you took a real break for yourself? 3 months? 6 months? 1 year? Never? Perhaps it’s time to take a time-out. Prolonged working can cause someone to become disillusioned as they lose sight of who they are and what they want.

Go take some extended leave from work. A few days at bare minimum; a few weeks or months will be great. Some of my ex-colleagues have quit their jobs and took months out to do some self-reflection. Of course, some of us might not have that luxury, so we can stick to a few weeks of leave.

Go on a trip elsewhere and get away from your work and your life. Use this chance to get a renewed perspective of life. Think about your life purpose, what you want and what you want to create for your life in the future.

These are big questions that require deep thinking over them. It’s not about finding the answers at one go, but about taking the first step to finding the answers.

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4. Shake up Your Routines

Being in the same environment, doing the same things over and over again and meeting the same people can make us stagnant. This is especially if the people you spend the most time with are stagnant themselves.

Change things around. Start with simple things, like taking a different route to work and eating something different for breakfast. Have your lunch with different colleagues, colleagues you never talked much with. Work in a different cubicle if your work has free and easy seating. Do something different than your usual for weekday evenings and weekends. Cultivate different habits, like exercising every day, listening to a new series of podcasts every morning to work, reading a book, etc (here’re 6 Proven Ways To Make New Habits Stick). The different contexts will give you different stimulus, which will trigger off different thoughts and actions in you.

When I’m in a state of stagnancy, I’ll get a sense of what’s making me stagnate. Sometimes it’s the environment I’m in, sometimes it’s the people I’ve been hanging out with, sometimes it’s my lifestyle. Most of the times it’s a combination of all these. Changing them up helps to stir myself out of the stagnant mode.

5. Start with a Small Step

Stagnation also comes from being frozen in fear. Maybe you do want this certain goal, but you aren’t taking action. Are you overwhelmed by the amount of work needed? Are you afraid you will make mistakes? Is the perfectionist in you taking over and paralyzing you?

Let go of the belief that it has to be perfect. Such a belief is a bane, not a boon. It’s precisely from being open to mistakes and errors that you move forward.

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Break down what’s before you into very very small steps, then take those small steps, a little step at a time. I had a client who had been stagnating for a long period because he was afraid of failing. He didn’t want to make another move where he would make a mistake. However, not wanting to make a mistake has led him to do absolutely nothing for 2-3 years.

On the other hand, by doing just something, you would already be making progress, whether it’s a mistake or not. Even if you make a supposed “mistake”,  you get feedback to do things differently in the next step. That’s something you would never have known if you never made a move.

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Featured photo credit: Anubhav Saxena via unsplash.com

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