Who needs time to think? I do!
Today is the day I am called to write this blog. It’s been running round my mind for a while now. I have been cogitating, contemplating, considering and sensing into what thinking means for a while. What it is, what it brings and why time to think is so important.
The spur was an article I picked up in The Times by James Marriott this week.
He began by telling us that he does his best thinking between 8pm and midnight, pacing in his flat or lying on the floor at the end of his bed. I am one of those people who get inspiration in the shower! There are other good spaces for thinking – more of that later. He reminds us that almost all of history’s great thinkers have demanded three things: silence, solitude, and physical exercise of some sort. Marriott’s point is that our culture does not value thinking, and our workplaces can positively work against effective, high-quality thinking and we are all losing out on the associated benefits such as innovation, creativity, problem-solving and I would add, calmness.
So, as it’s stress awareness month, it seems a good moment to reflect on the power of thinking in relation to our own sense of ease as we continue to live in a turbulent and uncertain world.
Sometimes when I feel anxious, I find myself saying – I need time to think! Give me some space! I want to mull things over. And that is a good thing. It always leads to more calm, positive decisions, effective action. I resonate with Nancy Kline when she says:
“In fact, to take time to think is to gain time to live”
What do we mean by thinking?
The Thinker sculpture by Rodin tells us something about what thinking represents. Apparently, the thinker is contemplating the realities of life, dreaming in deep thought. It is about being free of distractions that pull on our attention and surrendering to whatever emerges at a more profound level.
Thinking is vital
Virginia Woolf famously said that
“A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction”
Well, I’m not a budding novelist, but the message here is about having space and time to enable us to tap into our creativity. We need to create our own version. I take refuge in my home study, or outside when I am out walking. Oh, and the shower!
When I create time and space for thinking it offers opportunity to be creative, see what emerges, as well as finding solutions to specific problems, or working through an issue or topic that has provoked me in some way. Some people assume that thinking only involves the rational mind, but for me it includes feelings and intuition. These are inseparable from the mind. Thinking gives me time to listen to everything within.
To those who say that thinking defers action, wastes time, is self-indulgent or that there isn’t enough time, I say they are wrong. We don’t have to sit naked on a stone or even shut ourselves away in a room for hours – even a few seconds, or minutes of thought can help in any situation. To quote Nancy Kline again:
“The quality of everything we do depends on the quality of the thinking we do first.”
Thinking, in the sense I mean it, can be something we do alone, in silence, or, as I sometimes find myself doing, talking to myself. It can also be thinking out loud in partnership with someone else. Someone who can truly listen and allow space for my independent thoughts to emerge without trying to second guess me, or guide me to their solutions, which may not be my own. That’s the key thing, allowing our own, original and independent thoughts to emerge and develop. Rachel from Chrysalis Retreats and my husband Nick, as well as my daughters and close friends are great listening partners for me.
I would want to make a distinction here between thinking and ruminating. Ruminating is when we dwell on troubling thoughts or worries that we can’t seem to get rid of. It is very unhelpful and can add to stress. The approaches below can decrease rumination and move into some stimulate higher quality thinking. Find out what works for you.
Making time to think – suggestions to help the process
Meditation is well known as a means of tuning in to what is real for us and is a great way to pay attention to your thoughts. You can find thousands of free meditations on the internet. I like Insight Timer as it offers so much choice – short or long, with or without music, with or without guidance.
Here’s a meditation exercise you can do on your own:
Close your eyes. Think of your thoughts like a film you are watching. The film is on the big screen. You can see it, but you have no control over it. Just sit there with your popcorn and drink and watch the film for 5-10 minutes. Then spend a bit of time reflecting on what came up for you in this experience.
Another way I concentrate my thoughts is to focus on an object in the room. Usually my paperweight. I love this ball of coloured glass. It was a gift from colleagues from over 20 years ago at Wigan Social Services, and I still cherish it. Focusing on this for a few minutes takes me away from distractions and into a different zone. Have you got a favourite thing you can use as your focus to stimulate your thinking?
I love to take a question for a walk. There is something about being outside, being aware of nature and taking mindful steps, one after the other, just holding my question lightly. It doesn’t have to be a long hike in the country – I have a regular 30 minute walk from the house I did during lockdown and beyond that I love. It takes in the canal, a green lane, and an opportunity to garden gaze as I walk on the streets. By the end of the walk, I always feel lighter, maybe my question has an answer, or my perspective has shifted. Give it a go, you may surprise yourself with the quality of your thinking. Of course, we would love you to join us on our Chrysalis Mini-retreats Mindful walks – we have two coming up in April. See here for more details:
Prompts for powerful thinking
Consider your values. How can you align your response to an issue or emergent ideas with these?
Consider your longer-term healthy aspirations as well as short term priorities. How can your response support you in the future as well?
Weigh up your options and perspective as objectively as possible. If you held a different view or took a different course of action – even if it seems way out – what would that look like? Stretch your idea of what is possible. You won’t want all the options, but you might come up with something surprising you hadn’t thought of before.
So, my (almost) final question to you is – how can you make time to think?
And on a lighter note, what is your best thinking pose?
Time to Think - The Book…
You may have noticed that I have made several references to Nancy Kline, author of Time to Think and other books. She has certainly inspired my thinking and coaching. Both Rachel and I are trained practitioners as Thinking Partners and Facilitators in the Thinking Environment, and we bring this philosophy to everything we do at Chrysalis Retreats. Her books are not just for coaches, and I would recommend them to anyone who wants to explore thinking further and how this can change your life.
You can find out more here:
I will leave you with a quote from her to inspire you:
Here at Chrysalis Retreats our vision is to support women to take a pause and reflect at key moments in our lives and clarify what’s important as we move forward. We recognize that women face specific challenges in life and in work that show up in times of transition or uncertainty, and we are here to guide and support women on their personal journey. Our retreats are designed to allow spacious time for reflection, to learn from each other and experience the joy of being in nature.
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