By giving the brain ‘downtime’ we can improve mental health and allow ideas to incubate.
“Learning without reflection is a waste, reflection without learning is dangerous” – Confucius
In today’s networked society we are at risk of becoming victims of information overload. Introspection and reflection have become lost arts as the temptation to ‘just finish this’ or ‘find out that’ is often too great to resist. But working harder is not necessarily working smarter. In fact slacking off and setting aside regular periods of ‘doing nothing’ may be the best thing we can do to induce states of mind that nurture our imagination and improve our mental health.
Busyness vs productive occupation
Our lives have become defined by busyness. Look around you at the train station, in cafes, out on the street, people are glued to their mobile handset or tablet.
I recently asked an executive I once coached how many emails she received a day. “Five hundred,” she told me. “But I don’t read any of them. If I did, I wouldn’t be doing my job.”
Read more at http://knowledge.insead.edu/talent-management/the-importance-of-doing-nothing-3422#6EYTTe4ojVmCXTu4.99
The challenge, she said wasn’t attaining information but “pushing it away so I don’t suffer from information overload. I need time to think.”
Helen, as I’ll call her, has an assistant who goes through all her emails and she spends a few hours every week discussing problematic ones with him. “I’m not paid to do that kind of work,” she explained “if I’m so busy doing what people expect me to do there will be no time left for what I ought to do. You can’t do creative work at a cyber-pace.”
Helen has a point and I have learnt from experience that many people would be better off if they did less and reflected more.
But doing nothing has never really been acceptable. We associate it with irresponsibility, wasting our life. Most of us feel guilty if we don’t have something to do. On the other hand we get a buzz when we feel really busy. Distraction-inducing behaviours like constantly checking email stimulate the brain to shoot dopamine into the bloodstream giving us a rush that can make stopping so much harder.
The danger is we may lose our connections, not just with one another but with ourselves. If we don’t allow ourselves periods of uninterrupted, freely associated thought then personal growth, insight and creativity are less likely to emerge.
The benefits of boredom
Doing nothing and boredom are closely intertwined, as noted in my recent paper Doing Nothing and Nothing To Do: The Hidden value of Empty Time and Boredom. While most of us find it hard to tolerate in many instances boredom can be a prelude to something. It can trigger our imagination and creativity. In a sense, boredom can be seen as a liminal space, a critical resource that pushes us to seek the unfamiliar.
But in the cyber age, where we have an almost limitless selection of entertainment and distraction to hand, it’s easier to find ourselves in a state of constant busyness than it is to do nothing. Our frenetic activities in cyberspace – a world of multitasking and hyperactivity – help us to delude ourselves that we are productive. The reality is that social media is very reactive but not very original. It contracts creativity and can impact mental health. If we don’t know how to calibrate the balance between action and reflection we may become a casualty of psychological burnout.
Unfortunately in contemporary organisations work addicts are highly encouraged, supported and even rewarded. The insidious development of the manic defence is difficult to counter because such behaviour is useful to organisations. And there is an element of control. There’s the attitude, “I’m paying that person a good wage, why aren’t they at their desk working?”
But there isn’t necessarily a relationship between working hard and working smart. In fact a workaholic environment may contribute to serious personal and mental health problems including low morale, depression, substance abuse, workplace harassment, relationship breakdown and above average absenteeism.
The most effective executives are those who can both act and reflect, which means unplugging themselves from the compulsion to keep busy.
Three ways to make time for doing nothing1. Maintain relationships
We need meaningful contact with people to feel fully alive. Maintaining our relationships needs interaction, engagement and time out.
2. Saying No
Being able to say no is one of the most useful skills we can develop. Saying no is not necessarily selfish and saying yes to every request is not healthy. Saying no to unimportant requests can free up time for more important things.
3. Managing sleep habits
In a perfect world we should all sleep eight hours a night. Sleep is essential for personal growth and creativity. Poor sleeping habits are proof we haven’t stepped off the treadmill of busyness.
Incubating ideas through subconscious thought
Doing nothing or having nothing to do, are valuable opportunities for stimulating unconscious thought processes. Unconscious thought excels at integrating and associating information, by subconsciously carrying out associative searches across our broad database of knowledge. In this region of the mind we are less constrained by conventional associations and more likely to generate novel ideas than when we consciously focus on problem solving.
The outcome of these processes might not always enter our consciousness immediately. They may need time to incubate. The suggestion here is that as well as being the best thing for our mental health, doing nothing – or slacking off – may turn out to be the best way to resolve complex issues.
A good problem solver continues to work unconsciously on a problem after abandoning the conscious work. Creative solutions can be found by working intermittently on the problem while attending to mundane activities, such as taking a walk, driving, reading or playing with children.
The benefits of tuning out and focusing on the present is gaining in popularity in the corporate world with many executives now turning to mindfulness meditation to assist their decision making and problem solving. This can be a band-aid solution if an executive works manically for nine hours then attends a mindfulness session at the end. Ideally time should be taken during the day. A walk around outside or time spent with your feet on the desk, can be more productive than working through a lunch-break.
Italian painter Giorgio Vasari summed it up well when he said “Men of genius sometimes accomplish most when they work least”.
There are many well-known examples of brilliant ideas that came to people “out of nowhere”, from Archimedes in his bath, to Newton in his Lincolnshire garden and Paul McCartney who woke one morning having composed the tune for “Yesterday” in his sleep.
Incubation time can be introduced in many ways. Companies such as 3M, Pixar, Google, Twitter and Facebook have made ‘disconnected time’ key aspects of their workplace.
Recognising the need to work smarter
Often the give-away that we are working too hard (and not smart enough) is when we find ourselves in a place where there’s always more to do. We fool ourselves into thinking that if we do just one more thing we will be able to relax. This thinking is delusional; either our to-do list will continue to lengthen or we feel we could do things a little bit better. If we get stuck in this mindset it’s time to get off the treadmill and take a break. And surprisingly, often after a period of disconnection the problem will look quite different and we might find the answer was right there all along, staring us in the face.
Manfred Kets De Vries is the Distinguished Professor of Leadership Development & Organisational Change at INSEAD and the Programme Director of The Challenge of Leadership, one of INSEAD’s Executive Development Programmes.
“The Permission Paradox” – You can’t get the job without the experience but you can’t get the experience without the job – is one of the great career Catch-22s. This challenge will confront you over the lifetime of your career, whether you’re trying to break into the work force or you’re to become a CEO for the first time. While the phenomenon can be frustrating no matter what your level, the Permission Paradox is especially challenging for today’s aspiring young professional and recent graduates.
Overcoming this conundrum is fundamental both to launching your career successfully and thriving over the long term. You are confident in your abilities if only you’re given the chance. The hard part is getting the shot to show what you can do.
The Permission Paradox can be a paralyzing obstacle and can often be a self-fulfilling prophecy. A distinguishing characteristic of the most successful professionals – at every stage – is that they find ways to gain access to attractive opportunities. And when they do, they deliver and make good on that leap of faith that someone took on them. One of the keys to overcoming the Permission Paradox is recognizing that when you apply for any job you will be evaluated along two different dimensions: your potential to add value in the future and your track record in the area most central to the job. Depending on the seniority of the position, these two sources of value – your potential and your experience – will be weighted in different proportions, like the scales of justice. As a general rule, the earlier you are in your career, the greater the importance of your potential value.
Your potential value is best demonstrated by your attitude, enthusiasm, work ethic, communications skills, curiosity/quality of your questions, willingness to learn, and your knowledge of the company and role. Beyond showing your potential, however, here are five specific strategies you can deploy to overcome the Permission Paradox in the early days of your career.
Five Permission Strategies
- Get Credentials. One of the most logical ways to gain permission is to obtain relevant credentials. This can be in the form of a specialized degree or targeted training. One of the hottest areas in the economy right now, no surprise, is computer programming. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that by 2020, there will be a gigantic demand-supply gap, with one million computer programming jobs going unfilled. Traditional computer science programs will not be able to meet this need. It turns out that many companies seeking programmers actually don’t require degrees in computer science to get a job. At Google, for example, according to The Wall Street Journal, nearly 15 percent of the team members who work in programming don’t have a college degree. With training at places such as Codeacademy, which reportedly has had 24 million people around the world take one or more of its courses, you can develop proficiency in a period of months. With this credential, you’ll have enough experience to break in for a first job and then you’ll be in the same position as other entry-level programmers to perform and thrive. So go ahead, pick your field of interest, whether it be coding, finance, aviation, or the business of art, and find a respected credential-granting school or organization and pursue it. One effective finance program that promises to deliver “knowledge, experience, and opportunity” over the course of a summer, for example, is the Tuck Business Bridge Program at Dartmouth College. If you want to break into a career in art, check out Christie’s Education, which offers degree and non-degree programs in both the business of art and art itself. And if you dream of flying airplanes for a living, take a look at ATP Flight School’s Airline Career Pilot Program, which provides airline-oriented flight training at a fixed cost in the shortest time frame.
- Get Creative. Laura Chambers has run University Programs at eBay where her team of 40 was responsible for setting and hitting aggressive recruitment goals, and ensuring that the interns and new college graduates have high-quality experiences. She therefore speaks with expertise and practical experience on the topic of breaking into companies after college. Laura’s advice, especially if you don’t have a technical or specialized degree, is to get creative so that you can stand out from the crowd. “Volunteer at a start-up,” she suggests and “get your hands dirty. You will have the opportunity to do a wide variety of activities which will help you find what you love and build some skills at the same time.” This will also enable you to talk about your experience, not just your potential. She also advises to develop a customized approach for companies you target. “If you want to work at eBay, Inc., for example,” she says, “start a small business buying and selling on eBay or using PayPal, and be prepared to talk about the pros and cons of that experience.” It doesn’t cost have to cost too much, other than your time and initiative, to create a few video or blog posts about your experience. Maybe these can get picked up by media. At the very least they will give you something to show to complement your resume.
- Be Willing to Start at the Bottom. If you are a college graduate, you may feel (and frankly be) overqualified for many entry-level jobs. But you have to start somewhere. Or, as Lao Tzu famously said, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step”.* Chad Dickerson, CEO of the rapidly growing online marketplace, Etsy.com, suggests that the best positions to “get a foot in the door” are often as a member of a company’s support team. “A number of Etsy support people have learned our business really well and turned into very capable product managers,” he said. Chad also admits to having a special place in his heart for this approach because it worked for him personally. “I took the lowest-paid clerical job at a newspaper in Raleigh, North Carolina in 1993 and it happened to be the first daily newspaper on the web in the United States. I ended up learning how to build websites just by being there!” Whether it’s in the Internet industry, financial services, retail, hospitality, or any other business that touches large numbers of people, starting at the point of customer interface, whether in customer support, behind the cash register, on the sales floor, or at the concierge desk, will give you a valuable opportunity to learn what’s really going on in the market. You’ll be able to use this when you seek to work your way up the ladder internally or interview elsewhere.
- Barter. You may not yet have a job. But if you don’t, by definition you have something else of enormous value, which you may not be fully considering. Time. Treat your time as the precious asset it is. If you are creative and package your time with energy, enthusiasm, and initiative, you can barter your way to opportunity and break the Permission Paradox. Earlier this summer, a new college graduate networked her way into an informational interview with a real estate brokerage firm. She had a degree in history. As she was talking to the executive, who seemed overwhelmingly busy, a light bulb went off. “You seem incredibly stretched right now,” she observed and then asked the $64,000 question. “What would you do to grow your business if you had an extra day in your week?” He paused and said he’d do a market research study for the young urban rental market. She offered to do that for free and was able to communicate quickly how her analysis and writing skills developed for her thesis would give her the ability to execute the project. He took her up on her offer and paid her $10 an hour for her work. After a few weeks, she presented her findings. The real estate executive was blown away by the quality of her report, the clarity of her thinking, and the creativity with which she packaged her analysis. She was offered and has now accepted an entry-level job as a market researcher in the firm.
- Re-imagine Your Experience. You’ve decided the general direction you’d like to take and have built up a target list of companies to research and pursue. You’ve followed your target list rigorously by visiting the career pages for each company to see what jobs are actually available. All good. But, at this point in the process, you may find that you just don’t have the experience sought for a position you’d like to pursue. You can either exit the website then and there and move on to the next company. Or you can try to re-imagine your experience and pursue this very opening. Here’s how one aspiring young professional did just that. For an entry-level position in a food company, it listed “project management” experience as a critical requirement. Initially this put off the energetic, enthusiastic graduate who was otherwise a great fit with the company and who resonated with the mission of providing customers with only the highest-quality organic food. In discussing the dilemma, we walked through this individual’s experiences and were able to find something that fit the bill – when thought of and described in a different way. A geography major who loves travel, he told how he worked with a group of his friends to “project manage” their recent three week trip across Eastern Europe – doing research into itineraries, finding the lowest fares and cheapest hostels, executing the reservations and bookings, collecting the money from his friends, and acting as “treasurer” for the journey. In so doing, he was able to demonstrate the capabilities that the company was looking for – even though he was drawing on a completely non-professional experience. The key lesson is that you may actually have more-relevant experience than you think.
Photo: Ollyy / shutterstock
One of the wives, Anne Njeri, who witnessed the incident on Friday, told the radio station: ‘We are happy with the move to have such men cut because uncircumcised men are dirty and do not perform well in bed and thus we are sure their wives will now enjoy their marriages.’
A dozen men were seized and stripped naked before they were forced to undergo circumcisions in western Kenya as part of a ‘ceremony’, it has been reported.
The 12 men, from the Luo, Turkana, Iteso and Luhyia communities, were reportedly subjected to the procedure after their wives revealed they had not had it done previously.
A number of women in the town of Moi’s Bridge, in western Kenya, where the incident took place, said they were pleased the men went through the procedure because it made them cleaner and perform better in bed.
According to Kenyan radio station West FM, the men who underwent the procedure had either previously avoided having it done or had come from a Luhyia sub-tribe which did not carry it out.
A crowd reportedly sung circumcision songs as they gathered the men up before taking them to a nearby medical centre where the operations were carried out.
Nasir Siddiki with shingles in October 1987 (left) and present day.
The blisters were growing beyond an inch in diameter, spreading from the side of his face, down his neck and onto his shoulder. His ear was so deformed it was hanging down to his shoulder. And the thermometer reading screamed 107.6. He was .4 degrees from death. It was October 1987 when he was diagnosed with what Canada’s Toronto General Hospital called the worst case of shingles in the hospital’s history. There was no cure. His first million dollars in business profits could offer him little hope now. At age 34, Muslim businessman Nasir Siddiki lay on his deathbed. Doctors were ready to report his death come morning. Nearly 24 years later, Siddiki sits across from me in Charisma Media’s editorial library, teal eyes shining with passion, as he recalls the night he cried out to Muhammad—and the only answer was silence. “I knew what was on the other side of death was fearful, but I didn’t know what it was,” recalls Siddiki. In the midst of silence and fear, Siddiki remembered the numerous healing stories of the prophet Jesus. “In desperation I cried out, ‘God if you’re real, don’t let me die.’” When it seemed as though the night couldn’t get any darker, a light entered the hospital room. “It was the outline of a person. I couldn’t see the facial features because there was so much light shining from this person,” describes Siddiki. “This person spoke without opening their mouth … He said, ‘I am the God of the Christians.’ and He said, ‘I am the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.’” Hailing from the line of Ismael, Muslims recognize Abraham as the father, but do not recognize the line of Isaac. When the figure spoke, claiming to be the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Siddiki was able to identify the glow. “It was Jesus Christ,” affirms Siddiki, undoubtedly. Siddiki holds up a photo showing the intensity of the shingles he endured. He has clearly been healed. The differences are evident. The blisters are gone. His ear is perfectly formed. His complexion is olive, smooth and scar-less. His hair has grayed. But there is more. The most significant difference is not physical, yet it is exceptionally visible. Siddiki is now a Christian. His new heart in Christ is obvious through his glowing smile and his gracious words. It is clear that this man, who had followed seven generations of Sunni Muslims, beginning with Abu Bakr Siddiq, Muhammad’s closest friend and Islam’s first Caliph, has been made new by the healing power of Jesus Christ. Doctors searched for the answer as to why this man with a battered immune system had inch-wide blisters that, overnight, had entered a remissive state. “I tried to tell them His name was Jesus but of course they didn’t believe me … And this big question I had is, ‘Is this Jesus really the Son of God the way the Christians claim or is He just a prophet the way I was brought up all my life?’” Siddiki was released from the hospital the next day. The following morning another miracle occurred—one Siddiki says proves the deep love and mercy of Jesus Christ. “I remember Sunday morning I woke up at 6 o’clock in the morning, walked over to the television—I don’t know why I did that—turned on the television and right on the screen it said, ‘Is Jesus the Son of God?’ Coincidence? I don’t think so … Alone in my living room … in front of the television set in tears I asked Jesus to be the Lord of my life … The fact that He would heal a Muslim on a Friday and save him on a Sunday talks about how great His love and His mercy is.” “He does love the Muslims and He did die for the Muslims,” Siddiki continues. “God so loved the world and that includes everybody and Jesus died for everybody.” Siddiki looks to his personal testimony to find hope for those involved in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict within the Middle East. He says those in battle are blinded, they are being misguided, and they are being deceived. Siddiki himself spent 34 years in a blind state, walked an ungodly path and was continually deceived by worldviews. Yet, God sought Siddiki to be a worker in His field. And he says God is seeking out more laborers. “The Muslim nations are his harvest. These are people Jesus died for.” Siddiki feels Christians are called to help in the current circumstances within the Middle East. “We need to love all Muslims,” he adds. “They really are good people, they just are misled. They are just deceived. We have the greatest weapon on planet earth and the universe—it’s called the weapon of love. The Bible says love actually never fails and that’s an incredible statement that means that love has to win in every situation. “We don’t win Muslims by debating with them, by arguing with them … none of that will win Muslims over to Christ,” Siddiki explains. “But we will win them with that love of Jesus. And even when they persecute us and we respond with love they have a very difficult time understanding that response. ‘How can we persecute you and you love us?’ And that’s what will break down the barriers and the walls.” Though Christian love will win in every situation, Siddiki says prayer will have dominant influence, for prayer literally gives God legal entry into any situation. “The Muslims, radicals, the terrorists have been blinded by the god of this world … and because they have been blinded, they don’t really see the truth. And so the first thing we need to do is to pray for those scales to come down. Three times the apostle Paul prayed for wisdom for other people. So we pray for wisdom for those in leadership in these Islamic nations, that they will make the right choice. The Bible says the king’s heart is in the hand of the Father and He can turn it which way He pleases.”