Time Alone

Find a regular time and place to be alone. People in transition are often still involved in activities and relationships that continue to bombard them with cues irrelevant to their emerging needs. Because a person is likely to feel lonely in such a situation, the temptation is to seek more and better contact with others; but the real need is for a genuine sort of  aloneness  in which inner signals can make themselves heard. Doing housework after the kids leave for school or paperwork with the office door shut are not being alone in the sense I am talking about.

The old passage rituals provide the person with this experience of deep aloneness, often in a wilderness setting. (Interestingly, the Hebrew word for the “wilderness” in which Jesus, Moses, and Buddha spent time during critical periods of their lives is the same word that means ‘sanctuary.” This unmappable “nowhere” was also, as several of these heroes were explicitly told, holy ground.) Traditionally, time spent in such “sanctuaries” was a continuous period; but you many have to plan your time to accommodate your own life situation. One person manages that getting up every morning forty-five minutes ahead of the rest of the family and sitting quietly in the living room with a cup of coffee. Another jogs regularly after work for a half an hour. Another plays ocean sounds and temple bells on his car stereo whenever he drives along. Still another has cleaned out a little storage room off the upstairs hall and sits quietly alone in there for an hour after supper.

William Bridges, Transitions

Your Sweet Spot

Once you understand introversion and extroversion as preferences for certain levels of stimulation, you can begin consciously trying to situate yourself in environments favorable to your own personality--neither over-stimulating nor understimulating, neither boring nor anxiety-making. You can optimize your life in terms of what personality psychologists call "optimal levels of arousal" and what I call "sweet spots," and by doing so feel more energetic and alive than before.

Your sweet spot is the place where you're optimally stimulated. You probably seek it out already without being aware that you're doing so. Imagine that you're lying contentedly in a hammock reading a great novel. This is a sweet spot. But after half an hour you realize that you've read the same sentence five times; now you're understimulated. So you call a friend and go out for brunch--in other words, you ratchet up your stimulation level--and as you laugh and gossip over blueberry pancakes, you're back, thank goodness, inside your sweet spot. But this agreeable state lasts only until your friend--an extrovert who needs much more stimulation than you do--persuades you to accompany her to a block party, where you're now confronted by loud music and a sea of strangers.

Your friend's neighbors seem affable enough, but you feel pressured to make small talk above the din of music. Now--bang, just like that--you've fallen out of your sweet spot, except this time you're overstimulated. And you'll probably feel that way until you pair off with someone on the periphery of the party for an in-depth conversation, or bow out altogether and return to your novel.

Imagine how much better you'll be at this sweet-spot game once you're aware of playing it. You can set up your work, your hobbies, and your social life so that you spend as much time inside your sweet spot as possible."

Susan Cain, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that can't stop talking

allowing for Transitions

It's easy to believe you are in a different place in life than you really are--because it's hard to know when you have passed through a transition until you are completely through it and are able to glance back and say, "Look at that! Look what I just went through!"

The in-between time is what William Bridges calls the "neutral zone."  During this period, you will be in the process of "destroying what used to be."  You will be "dismantling" while undertaking “some new building."

Bridges is most helpful in pointing out that life's changes are driven by the desire to reach a goal, while life's transitions:

"Start with letting go of what no longer fits or is adequate to the life stage you are in... although it might be true that you emerge from a time of transition with the clear sense that it is time for you to end a relationship or leave a job, that simply represents the change that your transition has prepared you to make. The transition itself begins with letting go of something that you have believed or assumed, some way you've always been or seen yourself, some outlook on the world or attitude toward others."

It's an internal move of greater significance than any external move.

If you are having trouble getting motivated to finish a project, consider the possibility that filling up the pages to finish that report (or whatever completes your project) will mean having to face an even clearer (and more gut-wrenching) void. So you avoid it.  You don't want to see the emptiness for what it is. So you wait until you can skip to a new distraction. If you delay finishing that project, you can put off looking at some hard things about yourself.

While in the midst of a project with deadlines, you feel like you have a clear identity because, your purpose is defined by the project's needs. But if you could remove the projects out of your life, what justification would you have for thinking of yourself as someone of value?

Likewise, a serious relationship with someone provides a sense of purpose, defining you and giving you a sense of worth. If you are forced to sit down and write out the definition of who you are without the benefit of a title (manager, employee, project manager) or relationship (wife, girlfriend, mother) you crutches, your “go to” terms to define yourself are gone.

A suggestion: Spend time doing things that allow you to center yourself. Give yourself down time to listen. Whatever brings you to stillness will put you in a good position to allow the transition to take hold and internalize it, so you don’t miss the opportunity to make a paradigm shift toward greater emotional and spiritual health. Allow yourself to just "be" within the knowledge of who God is and reconnect with the world around you (its sounds, smells, tastes, touches and sights).

Stephen Goforth

Information Overload

“Information overload” is one of the biggest irritations in modern life. Commentators have coined a profusion of phrases to describe the anxiety and anomie caused by too much information: “data asphyxiation” (William van Winkle), “data smog” (David Shenk), “information fatigue syndrome” (David Lewis), “cognitive overload” (Eric Schmidt) and “time famine” (Leslie Perlow). Johann Hari, a British journalist, notes that there is a good reason why “wired” means both “connected to the internet” and “high, frantic, unable to concentrate”.

These worries are exaggerated. Stick-in-the-muds have always complained about new technologies: the Victorians fussed that the telegraph meant that “the businessman of the present day must be continually on the jump.” Yet clearly there is a problem. It is not merely the dizzying increase in the volume of information (the amount of data being stored doubles every 18 months). It is also the combination of omnipresence and fragmentation. Many professionals are welded to their smartphones.

They raise three big worries. First, information overload can make people feel anxious and powerless: scientists have discovered that multitaskers produce more stress hormones. Second, overload can reduce creativity. Teresa Amabile of Harvard Business School has spent more than a decade studying the work habits of 238 people, collecting a total of 12,000 diary entries between them. She finds that focus and creativity are connected. People are more likely to be creative if they are allowed to focus on something for some time without interruptions. If constantly interrupted or forced to attend meetings, they are less likely to be creative. Third, overload can also make workers less productive. David Meyer, of the University of Michigan, has shown that people who complete certain tasks in parallel take much longer and make many more errors than people who complete the same tasks in sequence.

What can be done about information overload? One answer is technological: rely on the people who created the fog to invent filters that will clean it up. A second answer involves willpower. Ration your intake. Turn off your mobile phone and internet from time to time.

But such ruses are not enough. Smarter filters cannot stop people from obsessively checking their BlackBerrys. Some do so because it makes them feel important; others because they may be addicted to the “dopamine squirt” they get from receiving messages, as Edward Hallowell and John Ratey, two academics, have argued. And self-discipline can be counter-productive if your company doesn’t embrace it. Some bosses get shirty if their underlings are unreachable even for a few minutes.

Most companies are better at giving employees access to the information superhighway than at teaching them how to drive. This is starting to change. Management consultants have spotted an opportunity. Derek Dean and Caroline Webb of McKinsey urge businesses to embrace three principles to deal with data overload: find time to focus, filter out noise and forget about work when you can. Business leaders are chipping in. David Novak of Yum! Brands urges people to ask themselves whether what they are doing is constructive or a mere “activity”. John Doerr, a venture capitalist, urges people to focus on a narrow range of objectives and filter out everything else. Cristobal Conde of SunGard, an IT firm, preserves “thinking time” in his schedule when he cannot be disturbed. This might sound like common sense. But common sense is rare amid the cacophony of corporate life.

Schumpeter, from The Economist

fuming and fretting

One autumn day Mrs. Peale and I took a trip into Massachusetts to see our son John and we pride ourselves on the good old American custom of promptness. Therefore, being a bit behind schedule, we were driving at breakneck speed through the autumnal landscape. My wife said, "Norman, did you see that radiant hillside?"

"What hillside?" I asked.

"It just went by on the other side," she explained.

"Look at that beautiful tree."

"What tree?" I was already a mile past it.

"This is one of the most glorious days I have ever seen," my wife said. "How could you possibly imagine such amazing colors as these New England hillsides in October? In fact," she said, "it makes me happy inside."

That remark of hers so impressed me that I stopped the car and went back a quarter of a mile to a lake backed by towering hills dressed in autumn colors. We sat and looked and meditated. God with His genius and skill had painted that scene in the varied colors which He alone can mix. In the still waters of the lake lay a reflected vision of His glory, for the hillside was unforgettably pictured in that mirrorlike pond.

For quite a while we sat without a word until finally my wife broke the silence by the only appropriate statement that one could make, "He leadeth me beside the still waters." (Ps 23:2) We arrived at Deerfield at eleven, but we were not tired. In fact, we were deeply refreshed.

Norman Vincent Peale, The Power of Positive Thinking

Healing Quietness

One summer afternoon my wife and I went for a long walk in the woods. On this beautiful afternoon, nature was laying its hand of healing quietness upon us, and we could actually feel the tension being drawn off. Just as we were falling under this spell, the faint sounds of what passes for music came to us. It was nervous, high-strung music of the jitterbug variety. Presently through the woods came three young people, two young women and a young man, and the latter was lugging a portable radio.

They were three young city people out for a walk in the woods and tragically enough were bringing their noise along with them. They were nice young folk, too, for they stopped and we had a pleasant talk with them. It occurred to me to ask them to turn that thing off and listen to the music of the woods, but I didn’t feel it was my business to instruct them, and finally they went on their way.

We commented on the loss they were incurring, that they could pass through this peacefulness and not give ear to the music that is as old as the world, harmony and melody the like of which man has never equaled: the song of the wind through the trees, the sweet notes of birds singing their hearts out, the whole background of the music of the spheres.

This is still to be found in America in our woods and great plains, in our valleys, in our mountain majesties, and where the ocean foams on soft shores of sand. We should avail ourselves of its healing. Remember the words of Jesus, "Come ye yourselves apart into a desert place, and rest awhile." (Mr 6:31)

Norman Vincent Peale,  The Power of Positive Thinking

Filling Up on Digital Junk food

We’re becoming quite intolerant of letting each other think complicated things. To hear someone else out, you need to be able to be still for a while and pay attention to something other than your immediate needs. So if we’re living in a moment when you can be in seven different places at once… on a phone here, on a laptop. How do we save stillness?

Erik Erickson talks about the need for stillness in order to fully develop and to discover your identity and become who you need to become and think what you need to think. Stillness is one of the great things in jeopardy.

When we’re texting, on the phone, doing e-mail, getting information, the experience is of being filled up. That feels good. And we assume that it is nourishing in the sense of taking us to a place we want to go. And I think that we are going to start to learn that in our enthusiasm and in our fascinations, we can also be flattened and depleted by what perhaps was once nourishing us but which can’t be a steady diet. If all I do is my e-mail, my calendar, and my searches, I feel great; I feel like a master of the universe. And then it’s the end of the day, I’ve been busy all day, and I haven’t thought about anything hard, and I have been consumed by the technologies that were there and that had the power to nourish me. If kids feel that they need to be connected in order to be themselves that’s quite unhealthy. They’ll always feel lonely, because the connections that they’re forming are not going to give them what they seek.

Sherry Turke, Alone Together