On Being

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When I began my formal coaching journey, my trainers and colleagues kept telling me that I had to create space “to be.” They told me to meditate, do yoga, and even listen to a podcast called “On Being.” I did all of those things.   But I wasn’t really sure why.

I’d end up falling asleep during meditation (though I love Headspace’s UI/UX!), farting during yoga, and while I enjoyed some of the podcast stories, I wasn’t sure what the point really was (and mostly wanted to get back to Start Up).

It wasn’t the first time I’ve been told to be. And it wasn’t the first time I really didn’t understand it. I’ve been told to take time, to really just take time, for me.  And then take that time to just be. That’s a fun thought when your husband is a surgery resident, you have two kids under the age of three, and you’re trying to start a side business in addition to your full-time job where you hold a leadership position. Yeah, I’ll just make some time to be. As long as that being involves a babysitter, wine, and a mani/pedi.

But, I kept hearing about the idea of being, and lots of people who I respect kept telling me that I needed to do it. And then one day, in the middle of my very busy doing (probably trolling Facebook), I came across a Harvard Business School study that concluded that the best way to get shit done is to reflect.  

It turns out that once you’ve accumulated enough experience, the most powerful way to improve your performance is to reflect on the experience and “articulate and codify” what you’ve learned. The HBS study found that this is true for 2 reasons:

  1. Reflection increases our belief in our ability to do what is necessary to achieve a goal. When we take the time to identify what went well and what didn’t go as well, it’s our way of giving ourself feedback, and that feedback makes us more capable and able to do a task and enhance our performance.
  2. Reflection also increases our understanding and knowledge of how we did what we did - it’s the way our brain sees causal relationship between our actions and the results.

Reflection boosts performance and makes the learning sticky, according to HBS. And it made total sense. This wasn’t about sitting in a room, trying to relax and clear my head while my son was drawing on the walls, the kitchen was a mess, and my boss was waiting on a PowerPoint deck; this was about deeper thinking to ensure more intentional action

To this day, I’m not sure if that’s what everyone meant when they told me to be, but this idea of reflection really resonated. And I knew this was something I could and needed to do.  

I don’t think I’m that different from many others in the sense that taking the time to reflect is just not natural when you have a ton of responsibilities and very little free time. If someone gives me the option of doing something or thinking about it, most often, I’m going straight for the doing. Would you rather go for a run or think about what that run might be like? Would you rather tackle a new project at work or think about how best to approach it? Would you rather go to the park with your son or reflect on what value you might be honoring by doing so? Sure, reflecting would probably lead to a better run, a more strategic project plan, and a deeper experience with my son, but it just doesn’t feel intuitive to choose the thinking over the doing.

As a recovering frantic do-er, I now know that to stop doing busywork and begin working toward my best self and best outcome, I have to actually schedule in regular time for reflection. Yes, I’m that anal. But I’m guessing a lot of you might be as well.

My calendar is crazy - and maybe this makes it worse - but I do find that making a point of scheduling in regular reflection time allows me to celebrate, appreciate, and even analyze what I’ve done that day or that week. It helps me to figure out what I learned from my actions - what enabled me to achieve my goal and what took me further away. I use that time to figure out not only what I’ll do differently, but to think about what might be coming up in the not-too-distant future that could lead me to repeat past mistakes. I brainstorm how I’ll prevent that from happening and what I’ll do differently.

To be clear, I don’t think this is the being that everyone pushed me toward; this is my own thing. I have given it the very uncreative name of reflective movement. There’s action and reflection all tied in one, and I love it. It mostly takes the form of journaling, though occasionally, I’ll actually have to put something into my calendar or leave a post it note on my work bag. I’m serious about it now - I do it everyday, almost religiously. Except for when I drink too much. But sometimes when I drink too much.

This reflective movement has made such a difference in how I approach my day, the people with whom I interact, and the decisions I make. I mess up all the time; I claim that I will or won’t do something, only to go and do just that. And while I want to hide it away, at the end of the day, I’m always honest about what I screwed up, what I’m super proud of, and what I’m still puzzling over.  

Some days I still meditate or listen to On Being (it’s a good podcast!). I don’t do yoga because, well, it’s just too embarrassing. But, claiming my own way of being has helped me gain a new perspective and a way to slow down, reflect on and learn from my actions, and still keep moving.