I was in the shower recently when I had a revelation. It came a moment after I quieted my spinning mind after having spent at least five minutes trying to feel how I was feeling. Was I anxious or did I have COVID or did the secondhand smoke from the previous night’s Elton John concert bother my throat or did I have a cold or did the very stressful work conversations of my week physically exhaust me or did I have throat cancer or did I sleep with my mouth open or did I not drink enough water yet that day?
After running through all of those scenarios for a while I took a literal deep breath and remembered some wise advice I heard just the day before at a leadership conference. In a talk based around his new book Soundtracks: The Surprising Solution to Overthinking (which I admittedly haven’t yet read), author Jon Acuff said “Overthinking steals time, creativity and productivity.”
The previous day, his words had been notable. But that day in the shower, when I was in the action of overthinking, they were monumentally important.
I switched my thinking gears and wondered about how many minutes, hours, maybe days or weeks have I spent overthinking and overanalyzing problems or issues over the past 2.5 years?
Probably quite a few, I concluded. What a waste!
Acuff’s point, and my personal observation, is that thinking is not inherently bad. We should take time to think before making decisions and speaking. To maintain thriving relationships, we should consider how our words and actions impact others, and it’s ok to note how they, in turn, made us feel. In the era of a pandemic, we should periodically take stock of how our bodies feel so as to minimally risk the health of others.
The thinking process becomes a threat to life when my stream of consciousness gets so stuck in a cycle of worrying about the minutia that I am delayed from or incapable of tapping back into the present and dreaming big ideas, experiencing my emotions or considering my actual needs in that moment.
About six months ago I was at a different leadership event, listening to Ruth Haley Barton who shared about how she has benefited at different times of life from seeking silence and solitude. She’s written quite a bit about the value of finding pause from normal life rhythms. She also spoke about the many ways she has learned from mentors and from the process of writing books.
I left that event feeling very inspired and encouraged. In fact, I made a short list in my phone that simply said:
1. Silent retreat
2. Write book
3. [Find a] mentor
I almost immediately got to work on those three goals by telling trusted friends about what I wanted to do and seeking advice on how to get started.
I started this summer with a trip to northern Wisconsin booked, the desire to meet with local women whom I admire once per week, and the dream to write and publish a memoir of my 20s. Of course, not everything has gone perfectly to plan, and my momentum on all three goals has been derailed multiple times. However, with each barrier or pause I have been better able to refine my purpose in each goal.
Last month I went on my personal retreat. In an effort not to waste my time, I had been very intentional about preparing my heart and mind to create space for new growth in the weeks leading up to the trip. It ended up being one more of solitude than silence, but I still reaped so much from taking the time to get away and just be.
I was able to schedule a handful of coffee or lunch meetings with women throughout the past few weeks and got connected to Zonta International, a women’s service organization.
In response to the question “what would you like to do for a career” I have lately said that I want to write books. At some point this summer I changed my mindset from writing being something I might think about doing to something I am daily working on. In addition to my one writing project, I now have three other book ideas I’m consistently working on – all in different genres.
I have declared to myself, and now the general public, that I am in a season of dreaming. So far, I have experienced incredible results when I’m able to get and stay in a headspace where my negative thoughts take the backseat to gratitude, wonder, curiosity, joy and creativity.
It is really amazing what human beings can accomplish when they set their minds to a goal, make it a priority and then take small steps forward. There has been nothing extraordinarily special about my summer other than the fact that I made space to identify things I felt would stir my soul, told people about my ideas to keep myself accountable and have consistently carved out time, saved money and put forth energy to move those projects forward.
Thinking is a necessary part of life, especially for the Enneagram 5 that I am, but I don’t want it to steal my joy or sap my energy to the point that I can’t engage in the present or invest in my future. My personal challenge is to reorient my thought patterns to ones that are more focused on the well-being of others, opportunities to explore my creativity and processing new information than on getting wrapped up in minor anxieties.
If I have learned anything this summer it is to look up. It is a bit crazy how simple of an action it is to lift my eyes, but it seems to signal not just to my body that I need to correct the slump of my posture, but also to brain that I need to move my thoughts higher than their normal nonsense. That’s my encouragement to you too: Look up. None of us wants to waste our lives, but sometimes we need some gentle reminders to change our view so we can receive new visions for our own personal versions of magic!