The pressure of today’s world is intense and causes many people to suffer. Our suffering only increases when we try to solve our problems with the same kind of thinking that got us into this mess in the first place (to paraphrase Einstein). It’s time we adapted our style of thinking to respond to the complexity of the challenges we face, in order to have the best chance of flourishing in our work and lives.
At first, I didn’t realize that my own thinking was too simplistic for our current environment. A blast from the past helped me identify this pattern that keeps getting in my way; while cleaning up some files, I found an old story I’d written for grade nine English – the only one I kept from then, and I’m glad I did.
The story was about a soldier in a war that was taking place in an unspecified country. In the story, we follow the soldier as he walks down a deserted street and visits the bombed-out wreckage of a church. It is the siesta time of day where there is actually a daily ceasefire – not unlike when soldiers put down their weapons to observe Christmas during WWI. The war in my story stops for approximately two hours a day, giving both the locals and the soldiers a chance to rest. The end of the ceasefire is announced each day by the chimes from a local clock tower – as the clock hand reaches the top of a particular hour, the battle resumes.
On this day in the story, our soldier walks up to the clock tower just before it is set to strike and he shoots at the clock with his rifle, blowing it to pieces. Time stands still, and the war is finally over.
I wish there was a clock somewhere in this world, or in my life, that I could blow up (or nonviolently dismantle), thus putting an end to my battle with time. Time has always been an uncomfortable source of tension for me, and it’s only getting worse as the pressure to do more in each day increases: as I receive more emails, text messages and social media reach-outs that demand my attention and my response. As the holiday season begins earlier and earlier, and the malls get fuller, and shelves empty sooner. As inflation outpaces earned income, and the cost of living becomes unbearably high, warranting more work to keep up. As minimum education requirements rise, and staying relevant in a career means constant, ongoing learning while the day still only contains 24 hours.
Some people thrive on this kind of pressure. I can get excited about certain projects and lean in where necessary, but if the pressure is relentless and the battle to meet expectations is unceasing, you lose me. I lose myself. This is not how I want to be, and this is not how I wish to engage with my one and only life. My war story helped me become aware of how my thinking style contributes to the quality of my relationship with time and pressure, and how I can adapt it for better results. Here’s what I’m learning:
#1) Evolution, not revolution: My grade nine idea of fixing a complex problem like war was a revolutionary act – a lone hero identifies a single, albeit innovative, solution to a multifaceted challenge. It’s a lovely idea but entirely unrealistic, yet my mind still defaults to trying to figure out how to deal with pressure of this world by pursuing a simple fix (and I’m a long way from grade nine). I try to figure out the one way of looking at things that will make everything better. I try to identify one practice or habit that will bring me back to thriving every time. I neglect to appreciate how many different factors impact my mood and each moment, and that there is lots to be learned from the cognitive and emotional wrestling that happens when a change in circumstances causes new stress or tension.
We can’t evolve in life or as humans if we keep rushing back to one way of thinking or being that may actually constrain our potential. We need to embrace the sometimes uncomfortable and disruptive process of evolving over time, and recognize when we’re defaulting to wishing for a hero-led revolution in our lives.
#2) Shifting from convergent (logical) to divergent (emergent) thinking: My problem-solving, convergent thinking (logical, rational, deductive) mind can only help me so much with such complex challenges as dealing with today’s pressures. Complexity calls for divergent thinking (spontaneous, free-flowing, emergent) yet I often default to approaching challenges as if they were simply a matter of figuring out the answer and acting on it – as if I could blow up (or dismantle) a clock and actually stop a war as a result.
Inspired by the work of Dr. Danny Penman (Mindfulness for Creativity) and Otto Scharmer (Theory U), I developed a way to help myself become aware of my convergent thinking trap and intentionally choose to engage my divergent mind instead. It’s helped me become more patient with creating positive change in my life, perceive more options and opportunities to improve the quality of my experience, and appreciate an actual sense of progress in addressing increased pressure instead of endless spinning in my head. Here’s how it works:
- If you ask yourself a big question like “how I do reduce the pressure in my work/life?” or “how do I make more time for myself?” you may notice that your mind rushes towards trying to figure out the answer to that problem. It focuses in, and narrows your vision. Imagine bringing the tips of your fingers together in front of your eyes, in a V. All of a sudden, you’re no longer able to see beyond your fingers and hands – your scope has become limited by focusing your attention in this way.
- By letting go of needing to know the answer to those big questions, we free our attention to become more aware of and open to all of the possibilities that are around us – to see opportunities we couldn’t see before, to make new connections, to witness new ideas emerging. I call this practice, “Unknowing” and it’s one of the seven practices I elaborate on in my guide Listen, Sense, Grow: 7 Practices to Create the Work You Desire (contact me here to get your free copy).
The world keeps changing and so far the pressure to do more in less time continues to increase for many. How we think about that pressure and our relationship to our own thoughts can impact our suffering, for better or for worse. Recognizing the complexity in our situation can be a first step towards bringing more fruitful, divergent thinking to the challenges at hand, and ultimately support us to evolve in the best ways needed.
Maggie DiStasi, PCC helps people develop their leadership skills and career opportunities through trauma-informed and mindfulness-based coaching and coach training. Please visit www.maggiedistasicoaching.com to learn more, or connect with her here to arrange a consultation.