A little reflection makes a big difference

EVER seen that billboard ad with the aged barefoot water skier blasting along, holding the bar with his foot? I love that ad. The funeral home advertising it has a simple, yet powerful message: “Live life to the full”.

Our culture seems to have interpreted this message in an interesting way. “Live life to the full” means “live life flat out, no stops, go hard or go home”.

The evidence is everywhere. Check out the advertisements on TV – especially those for four-wheel drives. The message seems to be that we should get away from the rat race, but keep the adrenaline pumping while we’re away by barrelling through muddy creeks, climbing impossible verticals and spraying some gravel, dude.

The assertion is that you’re not living if you don’t experience at least one adrenaline rush per day.

Whatever happened to quiet reflection?

I don’t blame the ad companies, or the people who pay them. They’re just fuelling the fire. We’re caught up in doing, doing, doing anyway. Wake. Exercise. Commute. Work. Work. Work. Commute. Exercise at night if you didn’t in morning. Eat. TV. Sleep. Wake, and so it goes on.

It’s a non-stop cycle of doing. What happened to just being? After all, we’re human beings, not human doings.

And what happened to the promise of more leisure time, predicted so boldly decades ago? Here’s a prediction. When we do get more leisure time, I’ll bet we find something active to fill it with.

There’s something vitally important missing in this interpretation of “live life to the full”. You might be living life to the full, but what’s it full of?

We don’t often stop and have a good look at where we’re going, or if where we’re going is really where we want to be going.

As author Steven Covey says: “It’s no use climbing up the ladder of life, only to find it’s leaning against the wrong wall.”

I suspect most of us know that stopping to reflect every now and then is a good thing. But the only time we have a good look at the quality of our lives is either when crisis hits or when we realise we are nearing the end of our time on this planet.

It is at these times when we tend to make often significant, if not drastic, changes. We can admit, at last, that we have been living out of integrity with what is really important to us.

Most people report that they should have made the changes years ago. So why do we wait until crisis hits? What stops us from reflecting more often?

Answer: Reflection is hard work. It can make us squirm.

It’s uncomfortable spending time alone with our inner demons. Demons that remind us that we might not really be that happy with our work, our relationships, or our lives.

We find it easier to sweep our demons under the carpet in the backs of our minds, reminding ourselves that we’ll do something about them when we get the time.

Yeah, right.

There’s so much to do these days to distract us from just being.

Even if we want to just stop for a while, it’s hard to resist the lure of everything we might be missing out on if we dare spend some time alone with our thoughts. And who wants to do that? Especially if we might find that we don’t like what we see.

If you have an inkling that you could be performing at a higher level, follow these lessons from the world of elite sport.

Elite athletes take regular time out to reflect on how they are currently performing versus how they want to be performing.

What keeps them moving forward is first and foremost a clear vision of their desired performance. The gap in performance levels provides the tension, the gestalt, for focused action.

Athletes also know that taking time to visualise and reflect can be a difficult and challenging process. They have a strong support system in place, including coaches and sports psychologists who act as sounding boards and focal points to help them stay on track.

The wider world is embracing this concept through the emergence of executive coaches to work with elite performers in the workplace, and life coaches to help people who want more out of their lives.

Athletes also provide us with a valuable lesson: while they are as busy as the rest of us doing things (mostly training), all of their actions have real purpose. Do yours?

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