A Coaching Power Tool By Amanda Norwood, Change Coach, UNITED STATES
Which Do You Prefer: Stillness vs. Running?
A great deal of my life has been measured by distance and time. The question that persisted in my mind was always: “How much can I achieve in the least amount of time”?
As a child, I was blessed with a natural ability to swim fast, so I began swimming competitively. I quickly learned that when you beat the people you’re racing against, you focus on racing the clock.
When I switched to running in high school, I wanted to be fast because I knew fast led to winning. I paid my way through college by running and continued to accumulate rewards for moving faster in less time.
After college, I embarked on a triathlon career. From the beginning, I was faster than most of the women I raced against. I was winning a lot. The result: more rewards, more recognition, and more positive affirmation for being fast and doing more in less time.
I started my professional career in television news. The work was deadline-driven and fast-paced. I thrived on the payoffs and accolades for being first on the scene…the fastest with the story.
My life continued to be a cycle of doing more, doing it faster, performing better, and being recognized for doing so. My career involved constant urgency, deadlines, and competition. And my sport demanded more speed and constant motion.
Before I knew it, my life wasn’t fun anymore. But I didn’t know how to do it any differently. I was on a treadmill that was moving so fast it was too scary to jump off. But it was also becoming impossible to stay on and keep running. I was hurtling at warp speed toward something, and I didn’t even know what it was anymore.
It wasn’t until I became pregnant unexpectedly at 40 years old that I had to slam on the brakes and listen to the voice inside my head that had been crying out to be heard. The most profound personal growth of my life began when the treadmill came to a screeching halt.
There’s a song by The Killers that describes how it feels when you’re rushing too fast to listen to your inner voice. It’s called “My Own Soul’s Warning”:
I tried going against my own soul’s warning
But in the end, something just didn’t feel right
Oh, I tried diving even though the sky was storming
Thunderheads were forming
I just wanted to get back to where you* are.
During coaching sessions, I have seen a lot of the same rushing and
urgency. It is a trait of many performance-driven people because the behavior serves them well and helps propel them forward to success.
However, this is not sustainable because the whole self is not being nourished; the soul is going hungry. Many people I’ve coached know they desperately need to take the time for self-care but very few have the intent or a concrete plan for when and how to do it.
For many such people, it is more painful to stop and listen to their “soul’s warning” than it is to keep driving and pushing. However, it is only in this pause and intention to listen to that emotional intelligence can be gained.
One client I coached described having lots of balls in the air. (That was an understatement). She was pursuing her coaching certification, an Executive MBA, and an acupuncture license all while working a full-time job. She admitted it was getting to be too much. She said she kept getting into a pattern of what she described as “busyness” and would find herself exhausted– mentally and physically.
I learned from Mary that there was a lot of running going on in her life. She was rushing and running towards something, but it was not exactly clear what. However, she believed that she had to be in motion to be worthwhile.
When I asked Mary about her values and what was important to her at the moment, she realized she needed to slow down, relax, and take time for self-care. In this more centered space, she recognized she had been neglecting her family and she needed to focus more attention on them.
By slowing down and questioning her constant movement, Mary saw she was ignoring two of her most important values: family and self-care. She described feeling an overwhelming sense of relief at the idea of taking some time away from the constant motion.
At the end of our session, Mary was taking away a much more balanced and peaceful state of mind. Without being a victim of the urgency, she was able to reveal a part of herself she had been neglecting.
Questions Used During the Session:
- “When you describe all of these responsibilities, how does it make you feel”?
- “You talked about being in a constant state of ‘busyness’. What does this ‘busyness’ feel like”?
- “What is important to you today about slowing down this ‘busyness’ cycle”?
- “You mentioned feeling like you are rushing and running towards something. What do you think that something is”?
- “How is it serving you to be in constant motion”?
- “What is most important to you right now”? “What do you value at this moment”?
- “When you think about and describe taking the time for self-care and spending more time with family, what comes up for you”?
- “How will you move forward with this new sense of peace and balance you are feeling”?
Marissa came to coaching overwhelmed with a list of things she was trying to manage. In addition to pursuing her Advanced Coaching accreditation, she ran a small consulting business which was growing more quickly than she could keep up with. She was also doing renovations to her home and struggling with a child who suffered from severe mental illness.
When I asked questions about how she felt while describing these responsibilities she said she was exhausted and burned out from constantly putting others’ needs before her own.
I asked what *her* needs were, and she said she felt a strong pull to slow down and do some things she had been ignoring for a long time: yoga, wine tasting, creating art, and hiking. When asked how she felt while thinking about these things, she described a sense of relief, calm, and happiness. Taking this pause in her busy action-packed life led her to the realization that she needed to take the time for self-care by putting herself first from time to time. Only then could she offer her best self to others.
Questions Used During the Session:
- “You talked about being overwhelmed with all the things you are trying to manage, what other emotions do you feel”?
- “I noticed your energy changed from being a bit more energetic at the start of our session to now seeming very deflated and low. What comes up when I reflect that back to you”?
- “I hear you describing taking care of the needs of others. What are your needs that are not being cared for”?
- “When you talk about these things that give you energy what else is important about making time for them”?
- “How do you think it could change the way you serve others when you’re taking time for self-care like doing yoga, creating art, and hiking”?
- “How are you going to move forward with this new sense of awareness that you are at your best when you are taking the time for self-care”?
Power Tool: Stillness vs. Running
This concept is based on the advice a running coach once offered to me when I was battling frustration and burnout with my training. He said, “Sometimes you have to slow down to speed up”. This is a similar concept to one referenced in Peter Senge’s famous book “The Fifth Discipline” in which he says, “Faster is slower”.
Senge says, “For most American businesspeople the best rate of growth is fast, faster, fastest. Yet virtually all natural systems, from ecosystems to animals to organizations, have intrinsically optimal rates of growth. The optimal rate is far less than the fastest possible growth”.
The words of my coach stuck with me because I’ve always equated slowing down to losing ground, giving up, and being less productive, much like Mary, the client I described earlier. But, as Senge describes, optimal growth cannot be achieved when one is moving too fast.
Although slowing down is the hardest thing to do for someone who values high performance, goal achievement, and speed, it is usually the place where you can see the most gains. It is only in stillness that introspection and personal wisdom can be achieved.
Senge adds, “The systems viewpoint is generally oriented toward the long-term view. That’s why delays and feedback loops are so important. In the short term, you can often ignore them; they’re inconsequential. They only come back to haunt you in the long term”.
In my case, I didn’t choose to delay or slow down and listen to the feedback of my subconscious mind because I was too scared to stop moving. The unknown that lay behind the constant motion terrified me, so I kept ignoring the feedback repeatedly. When the long-term effects of this neglect finally came back to haunt me, there were years of emotional and spiritual “catch-up” to do.
In Pico Iyer’s TED Talk, “The Art of Stillness” he says, “In the age of accelerating, nothing can be more exhilarating than going slow. Nothing is so urgent as sitting still.”
He describes his own struggle with the busyness of a fast-paced life and career and said, “I could never separate enough from my life long enough to hear myself think or to understand if I was truly happy”.
To counteract this feeling, he recommends “going nowhere”.
He says the time he has spent going nowhere sustains him more than the time he has spent rushing around and being in constant motion. Iyer says “If you sit still long enough you will be able to recall where your true happiness lies”.
Finding this place of stillness is similar to the concept of “Lightness” described in ICA’s fourth Power Tool, “Lightness vs. Significance”. The module states, “Lightness creates a space of a different emotional state, and with that may come to rest creative thinking or mindful acceptance”.
With driven, goal-oriented clients, the tendency is to ignore the need to slow down in favor of continuing to drive, strive and achieve. The client can sustain this behavior for a time. But inevitably, they reach a roadblock where only the act of sitting with themselves and listening to their “soul’s warning” can bring them peace and mental and spiritual health.
*My personal interpretation is that the “you” the song refers to is your true self.
**Not their real names.
The Fifth Discipline, 1990- Peter Senge
“My Own Soul’s Warning”, 2020- The Killers
“The Art of Stillness” Ted Talk, 2014- Pico Iyer
International Coach Academy 2021, Power Tools