The power of ‘not doing’

Wednesday, 10 February 2016 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

 55dfBy regularly devoting a few minutes a day to develop the skill of bringing the mind constantly back to the present moment, one can reach that inner silence or calmness. It may appear to be ‘doing nothing’ from the traditional business perspective but it is like sharpening the axe when you have to cut a tree


A friend of mine who moved to an East Asian country in charge of a factory found that the workers of Chinese origin taking a short nap immediately after the lunch break. First he was surprised by this habit but later discovered how that simple practice contributes to their higher level of productivity. Similarly if one can have a few minutes of mindfulness practice during the day, it can have an even a better effect.6

We are so used to being busy sometimes most of us even feel guilty if we spend some time doing nothing productive. We want to watch news channels while exercising in the gym. Finish some of the calls while doing the morning walk. Try to finish some e mails while at meals. Take work even when we go on holiday because we do not want to waste time. Time is so precious.

This kind of constant ‘doing’ gives us a sense of productivity but sometimes it can be counterproductive. Just like machines need regular servicing our mind too needs regular servicing if it were to function better. To most of the knowledge workers it is the mind that works more than the body. We are very punctual in taking our vehicle for regular service but not so regular with the physical health check of the body and hardly any attention is paid to mental health. 

In reality, the importance should be in the reverse order. Business executives must not only look after their physical health, (which is a good habit that is growing positively) they should take care of their mental health even more since mental alertness is critical for better performance.

Executives of today have to focus intently on different issues and topics in close succession during the day. Soon after getting an earful from an angry customer he may have to motivate a team about to start a new project. But he cannot bring in the negative emotions at that time. Such contrasting emotional moments are very common with the need to be able to shift gears swiftly and completely. 

Similarly, there can be demanding personal circumstances that need so much time and attention, yet it becomes impossible not to be at work because of professional commitments. Such contrasting and opposing demands can exert so much emotional pressure on the executive. 

Another capability the executive of today needs is the ability to be innovative and creative in solving problems and come up with winning solutions. In doing so there are two critical steps: Observing in a non- interfering mind as to what happens at the moment, and to frame questions in different ways asking “what is the problem here”? 

These two functions – observation and questioning – do not happen easily. It is very much the ability of the subconscious mind of the executive that needs to be tapped. It can activate only when there is sufficient silence of the mind. That is why some of the best solutions pop up in our mind when we least expect them. Mostly in moments of relaxation such as walking or taking a shower.

When there is much to be accomplished we get tensed. In such a mental state there is very little that can be accomplished since it is an agitated mind that we have at that moment. The agitated mind cannot distinguish between ‘important’ and ‘not so important’ activities. It cannot focus on the most important issue at hand. We then tend to either worry about what has to be done without doing or planning to do anything. Thus ultimately exacerbating the situation. 

There are many moments executives have to balance various relationships within and outside the organisation. These need careful reflection and understanding the underlying concerns and issues and develop empathy towards the stakeholders. This needs a state of mind that is clear and focused.

These are only a few of the challenging situations the modern executive is confronted with on a regular basis. Whether it is to accomplish a lot in a day, to switch from one emotionally stressed moment to a completely different moment, balancing conflicting demands between work and life, or balancing relationships, the executive obviously needs a higher level of mental alertness, preparedness and command of the moment.

One common fact in all these circumstances is that all of them happen NOW, at this very moment. It may have brought about owing to past actions or it may have consequences into the future but the challenge is really at this very moment. Here and Now. If one can realise this reality then that is the beginning of mastering the moment.

The ability to bring the mind to the present moment gained by developing mindfulness gives that power to the practitioner. As discussed in the previous articles, by regularly devoting a few minutes a day to develop the skill of bringing the mind constantly back to the present moment by way of watching the breath, or observing the physical sensations, or listening to the sounds heard at the moment one can reach that inner silence or calmness. 

For instance, if the executive starts to observe the breath when faced in a daunting challenge in a situation given above he will observe the different ways the breath behaves. It may be warmer than normal, shorter, shallow, fast or any other variation. This observation brings a new level of awareness of the breath.

Breath is available all the time hence it is a very easy object to observe. Once you start observing the breath it too will change from that disturbed nature slowly to a smoother form. Along with that calmness the mind too will settle down and be calm. Allow that calmness to stay but don’t hope for it, sometimes the very moment you realise “Oh! Now I am calm” you disturb the calmness, so let it happen. When that happens, you will reach that inner calmness and the strength that is always with you. 

Now approach the challenge with that calm full inner strength. In order to gain this ability, spend few minutes developing the practice. It may appear to be ‘doing nothing’ from the traditional business perspective but it is like sharpening the axe when you have to cut a tree.

In fact, ‘Doing nothing’ in short bursts but to observe the moment and what happens is far better than being busy all the time so that you can deliver better when you are really DOING.

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