Friday, October 14, 2011

Hooray! My treadmill broke. Time to loaf and invite my soul

My morning routine when I'm home has been the same for years: wake up about 5:15, hop on the treadmill, and watch BBC and Morning Joe. The treadmill has been a little sickly for some time. I have to limit myself to 1 1/4 miles at a moderate pace but it gets the blood flowing and the mind ready for the day...or so I've been telling myself.

On the road (where I spend a lot of time) I often look for a place to take a good brisk, long walk. If there are other colleagues around, all the better. One client became a favorite walking partner and we hit the trail every morning in Kuala Lumpur and Divonne, France...memorable walks and talks in fascinating environments.

Back home? Not as exciting but a comfortable rut.

Monday, that all changed. The machine, which had been stopping after less than a half mile for a few days, just stopped and that was that. What to do?

I headed out the door. It was 7 a.m. the sun was lighting up the eastern horizon and the great walking path along Snake Creek was beckoning. Why had I given it up so many years ago? Who knows or cares. I've rediscovered it.

Last week I tweeted the following quote from Walt Whitman “I loaf and invite my soul.” I must have been sending a message to my own soul.

Walking along Snake Creek, the distant roar of I 95 becomes a barely heard continuo. The bird symphony starts up - boat tailed grackles, parrots, Muscovy ducks, finches, and so many more complemented by the periodic heroic leap of mullet grabbing insects and splashing back into the placid water. Ibis, great white herons, baba yaga footed moor hens, night herons, anhinga, and kingfishers search for breakfast among the reeds.

Why did I ever stop this wonderful morning walk; Listening to the sounds of the natural world and the greetings of fellow walkers as we pass; Watching the sky turn every color as the sun slowly makes its way up over to my left; A full moon dominating the sky and then slowly fading?

Why? It's easy to drift into a routine and tune out what's really important. It's so easy to forget to "loaf and invite my soul."

What does this have to do with my usual topics of the founding fathers and leadership? A lot actually. You see, they knew how to loaf and find their souls. They took daily walks and rides or fishing and botanizing trips. Even the framers in Philadelphia didn't neglect their loafing time and in addition to physical activity they went to plays, concerts, lectures, and visited museums and interesting places. They understood they needed to make time to think, to dream, and to restore their creative juices.

Most of the successful executives I interviewed for Conventional Wisdom understood there was more to life than running their companies or cities. They cherished time to loaf and renew their souls.

Here are 3 lessons I started re-learning this week as I walk that delightful 5K circuit.
  1. Creativity requires loafing. You need to create time and space to let your mind do more than attack the problems at hand. In fact, if you want to come up with innovative and creative solutions you must get the endorphins flowing and the mind floating along unconstrained paths.
  2. Nature is everywhere waiting to inspire you. In London last week, I wandered down a crooked alley and suddenly ended up in one of those marvelous little squares - quiet, tree shaded, no sounds from The Strand penetrating. I sat for a while just letting my mind drift. Later that day I came up with some surprising new ideas - no coincidence.
  3. You have to quiet your own mind so you can listen to your soul. When you allow yourself to be quite, fully present in the moment, and without conscious thought, the most amazing things happen. I'm not talking about the soul in a religious or even spiritual sense...I'm talking about that core of our being that gets drowned out amid the clacking of the computer keys, the endless meetings, and jangling phones, not to mention the babble of other people's conversations, road noise, and TV.
Smart people loaf...and invite their souls.

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(c) Rebecca Staton-Reinstein, President, Advantage Leadership, Inc.

Learn more about the framers of the US Constitution and modern leaders: Conventional Wisdom: How Today's Leaders Plan, Perform, and Progress Like the Founding Fathers.

Want to learn more about harnessing the creativity of your team and using your mission to assure your success, join me in my new webinar adventure "Get People on a Mission: Strategic Decision Making Drives Daily Action"


Alicia Blain said...

Rebecca. What a great post. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. This came at a perfect time for me and has reminded me that I have not been loafing at all for quite some months. I need to start again so that I can kick start my creative juices. Here's to loafing and connecting with your soul... Alicia

Mace said...

Thanks for reminding me to consciously loaf! I often feel guilty for sitting and doing nothing but contemplating whatever comes to mind at some moment. You have reaffirmed that it is needed, necessary and beneficial. "Seinfeld" was a show about "nothing," and it was a big hit. Nothing, or loafing, works. I commit to spending some time each day doing "nothing" but "loafing." We should teach this!

Ken Okel said...

You are so right about the need to remove ourselves from a daily routine in order to recharge.

Too often we think that working harder will produce better results. Instead, honoring yourself with some downtime will boost productivity. It's also a lot more fun.