Most of us are more exhausted than normal. If we try to bypass this fact of exhaustion and try to carry on with business as usual, we risk burning out or spiraling into self-recrimination or depression.
What these past few years of domino large-scale travesties and crises are reminding me of in a not-so-subtle way is this:
You need to live and work, love and make at a different pace. “Different” as in more spacious and richer, more deliberate and more present. Spacious Pacing counters the outdated hustle message of “Move Fast and Break Things.”– Jeffrey Davis | TRACKING WONDER
Instead, let’s replace that Silicon Valley motto of excess, waste, and meta-destruction with “Move Spaciously and Make Things – Well.”
Isn’t that idea humming in the back of your foggy mind these days? Maybe you feel as if you’re moving more deliberately (okay, slowly) anyway, as if your mind seems to be processing a bit more, uh, deeply, too. So, why not honor that fact and fashion spacious pacing and pausing into an art?
I’m wondering if the art of pausing could become a habit for more of us leaders and workers, creatives and entrepreneurs could test out. The art of pausing could include putting on hiatus certain activities either for an extended period or making a regular habit of creating more inner spaciousness in your daily life and work.
What if your organization paused holding meetings for a week – or certain meetings for a week?
What if you ceased scrolling social media for a week?
What if you turned off all Internet access for one day?
What if nearly every day you claimed – instead of waited for – thirty minutes to an hour to roam and wander in your mind or on a sidewalk?
What if such collective pausing truly led to a large-scale questioning about the nature of work and working?
Spacious Pacing and the Art of Pausing is not a comfortable habit for those of us born and raised in a culture of hyper-productivity. After all, since the 17th century, much of Western culture equated idleness with evil, and hard work with a ticket to grace.
In 1852, in “bustling” Massachusetts, Henry David Thoreau wrote this in his journal: “This world is a place of business, What an infinite bustle! I am awaked almost every night by the panting of the steam-engine. It interrupts my dreams. There is no sabbath. It would be glorious to see mankind in leisure for once.”
Glorious, indeed. Human beings have been bustling long before you arrived.
So, the art of radical pausing and spacious pacing is not an easy habit to foster in a world wired by tech corporations that have misused the psychology of attraction and addiction to get you, unconsciously, to hang out on their platforms for longer and longer.
But it’s an invitation.
When the pandemic took root in March, 2020, I felt the collective cultural pace slow down, whereas my serving heart amped up. From March to June, we served the Tracking Wonder Community and beyond through free masterclasses and online events and resources, and I launched a new course on Focus & Flow for Insight Timer, the world’s largest meditation app. Yet I got a little frazzled.
By late June, I read the somatic signals. I was depleted and edgy. Sleep came in sputters. My book writing felt flat. People read exhaustion in my face. So for most of July and August, I paused a lot. I said “No” to more and “Yes” to less.
The experiment culminated by taking 7 days tent camping with my two girls and wife on an island in Maine where we had no Internet or cell reception. I lost track of the hours and the day of the week. I felt deeply connected to – not escaping from – what is true and real, beautiful and possible.
Hillary, my wife, asked me one morning what I was journaling and thinking about. “Not-thinking” I said. “I’ve not had many thoughts. I’m not constantly feeding my mind with news and other people’s ideas. There’s more space inside. And it’s weird. Uncomfortable.”
“Uncomfortable” because even while tracking wonder my mind is accustomed to being “on,” to serving, to generating new ideas and solutions to problems. I’m not the only one. Many of my clients – some of them leading municipal departments, university departments, or ever-shifting businesses – have had to find a different pace of working, thinking, and leading.
On the Tracking Wonder Podcast Mike Erwin (author of Lead Yourself First and CEO of the Character & Leadership Center) spoke about leaders who dared to be courageous and ethical in trying times. All of them he studied – from Martin Luther King, Jr. to Jane Goodall to Winston Churchill – took extended periods of pausing in solitude. Doing so strengthened their intuition, their capacity to generate novel solutions, and their ability to make difficult decisions wisely. And they did so when times were tough, not easy.
Listen to your somatic signals.
If you’re feeling distressed or if your mind is running a bit more “thickly” than normal, you might judge yourself for being lazy or lackadaisical. But maybe that ache in your neck or those sleepless nights or your uncharacteristic boredom or your brain fog are signaling you to shift your pace. Your body might be craving more care than to be your personal working machine.
What can you pause and for how long? What timeline could you pace more spaciously? What work could you pare back?
Check the Urgency with Spacious Pacing. If you’re placing pressure on yourself or your team to launch an initiative next week, next month, or next quarter, check that urgency. Is that necessary? At Tracking Wonder, we typically take a 4-quarter cycle minimum to launch an endeavor. A year.
We do so we can lay out the phase, milestones, and steps we need to take way before going public. We do so so we don’t drive ourselves and each other nuts in the process.
Study after study shows that we’re less flexible, creatively minded, or connected when we’re distressed. So, why create those conditions with an unnecessary urgency?
Pare back with a timeline. One client is paring back how many patients she sees per week by 25% for the next six weeks. Doing so will free up certain hours for her to experiment. Whereas she does want to focus her attention on a particular dream endeavor, the extra space also gives her room to question her assumptions about how many patients she truly needs to see. It also gives her room to daydream about other possibilities. The six-week period gives her psychological security.
Shift your schedule for more personal space. Another client is rising early for herself – before her family and before she shows up to lead her own team. Each morning for the next four weeks she is giving herself two hours to herself to wander, roam, and play. It’s a way to help her keep clear boundaries, not grow resentful, and not become burned out. But the time also is allowing her also to question some assumptions about work that have gone unchecked for years.
She stands for many of us.
It’s in idleness that we make space for the questions we often bypass.
What are you called to? What are you devoted to?
When you pause, you step out of some of the daily responsibilities you set yourself up for. You respond less to urgent needs that you likely have created to make yourself feel needed and relevant. And you ask yourself, repeatedly, What am I really called to?
One client in New York City – by necessity – has paused her commute and closed her office rental agreement. The newfound space has birthed numerous insights into what she is and is not called to outside of her practice.
During my pause experiment, I had no big revelations but gentle affirmations. My deep gladness comes from teaching, training, strategizing, and having deep conversations latent with surprise and insight. I remain devoted to changing the way we work and live with more wonder, more wisdom, more courage.
But here is the modifier: I am committed to doing so in a way that creates eu-stress (good challenge) not distress in me, my family, or anyone I work with.
When you pause, don’t place pressure on yourself, but check in with your own thoughts and inner voice.
Pausing for many of us is not about ignoring responsibilities to other people. The opposite. During the first six months of the pandemic in 2020, some clients reclaimed their families as a priority. I randomly called friends and clients at times. Like on the phone. Very 20th century. But this practice also is affirmed by new research published in The Journal of Experimental Psychology that phone calls create more bonding than text messages. My relationships with my clients run deep.
Before 2020, we had a Belonging Gap – something I write more about in my book. That gap a few years later could be a chasm if we’re not watchful. When you pause, reflect upon and remember the people in your life and work who matter. Make them a priority, too. Connect genuinely.
All the more reason for us to “Design for Healthy Relationships in the Age of WFH.”
Coda: Lazy Boy
Listen, the paradox here is this: We also have a lot of Work to do.
I’m thinking of a story among an indigenous people of the Southwestern United States called “Lazy Boy.” The boy slept all of the time. People would be working and working. But he slept. Great floods came. He’d awaken, go out, rearrange some trees to redirect the water away from the people, and go back to bed. Finally, after some years, the boy got up for good. Why? Because his grandfather had died, and it was the boy’s turn to take his place.
What was this lazy boy’s job? Holding the world on a big pole. That job required considerable strength, stamina, and centeredness.
You feel as if you have inherited that job sometimes, I bet. We all have. Together. We do have work to do.
But here’s also why we need to pause more. Bolder imaginations can find new ways to cool our planet. Deeper and slower thinkers can discover new ways to redesign broken workplaces. Restored spirits can stand strong for the long arc of social justice. A rested father can handle his child’s quirky schooling situation with more grace and less frustration.
In any case, it is very important to be idle with confidence, with devotion, possibly even with joy.– Rainer Maria Rilke
Pause this week. Just experiment
Drop me a note. I try to reply to everyone.
Be well, and thanks for running with me,
P.S. If you like this article, share it with someone you care about – and consider getting The Wonder Dispatch in your inbox each Sunday. It’d be cool to stay connected. – JD