When I recently visited a local church, I saw an acquaintance seated a few pews ahead of me. I thought of catching up with him later in the church premises, but could not see him anywhere after the church service was over. When I called him a few minutes later, and complained that I could not spot him, he shared an interesting perspective. He said that once in a while, he likes to get away immediately after church to spend time meditating on the sermon while walking home all by himself. This helps him reconnect with himself and internalize the take-away from the sermon. His perspective led me to mull on the power of deep thought.
Studies show that our musings, if we allow them to, have the power to transform us and the way we work. However, this is easier said than done. Most of us spend our days in a mad rush of activity. We live in a world that encourages the person of action over the person of thought. This often relegates contemplative thought to a corner of our daily lives, meant to be visited once in a while- maybe as a commoditized offering in a therapy center or as a lesson from the Zen masters.
In the organizational context, the power of contemplation can be gainfully harnessed. Susan Cain in her book “Quiet” talks about the importance of letting people unplug from things around and spend some time in deep immersive thought. This is especially important for employees who tend to be more introverted as they recharge their minds, in most cases, by spending some quality time alone.
Most employees may squirm at the thought of spending reflective time, when the organization around them is rushing by, for fear of missing out on something. But there is a case for contemplation.
Amidst the flurry of emails, calls, meetings, rushed hellos and goodbyes, lie opportunities and benefits, which are often lost:
Opportunity to revive ourselves: Science tells us that silence can rejuvenate our neurons to learn, register, and remember better. A quiet walk and time spent in nature can be a great way to rejuvenate both the body and mind. In fact, the Attention Restorative Theory highlights how connecting with nature helps increase concentration. Time spent in reflecting on the work done in the past days or months could prime it for further thought and action. One of my managers would always tell me to reflect on the year gone by and gather my professional lessons from it. Needless to say, this suggestion really helped me change the way I approached my work in the following year.
Understanding Emotions: Daniel Siegel in his book Mindsight suggests how neurons get activated when we pay attention. This increases the neuroplasticity of the brain and in turn helps us manage our emotions. Hence, contemplation nudges us into acknowledging emotions that we may not want to face- that deep- seated distrust of a colleague or the fear of not being recognized.
Innovation and Productivity: Most modern workplaces such as have the concept of a Silent hour or a quiet corner where employees are encouraged to unplug from their phones, emails, conversations and meetings and stay with their thoughts. This enables employees to recharge themselves.
While the benefits of reflective thinking may be obvious, many would cite a lack of time and the constant buzz of technology as reasons for not harnessing its power. It is ironic that the very technology which is supposed to make our lives easier and save our time seems to be a roadblock to our making connections at deeper levels.
At the end of the day, reflective thought is a function of deliberate choice and will. One does it because one wants to, regardless of distractions. An organization too just like an individual can achieve considerable breakthroughs by encouraging its employees to introspect.
While the merits are evident, a caveat is also in order. Reflective thinking is not navel gazing. Excessive dwelling on oneself or on a single issue is not healthy. One of the objectives of deep thought is to increase self-awareness, not to promote self-obsession and day dreaming.
Having stated the above, the case for conscious deliberation is evident. The German philosopher Meister Eckhart said “What we plant in the soil of Contemplation, we shall reap in the harvest of action.” Let’s started sowing, for there is power in the mind and magic in thought! Find your time to muse.
(The views expressed in this article are that of the author and the employer does not subscribe to the substance or veracity of my views)