I was in my early teens when I first learned about author Henry David Thoreau’s 19th century experience living in a modest cabin in the woods for 2 years, 2 months and 2 days. I was captivated by the idyllic concept of having the time to attend to daily living, even then, before I formally entered the hamster wheel world of “busy” and overwhelm.
I read Walden in high school, in the last century! And as I’m now settling into my own new home in the woods, experiencing lots of firsts on a steep learning curve, I began to re-read my browned and beaten copy of Thoreau’s famous manual for self-reliance.
I laughed at my younger self as I glimpsed my observations in the margins of the pages, as well as the copious definitions of words I looked up. I was struck by the density and richness of Thoreau’s thoughts, and by how much I found important enough to highlight.
It was in the very first pages that I stumbled upon one of Thoreau’s most famous assertions. As I read, I found myself wanting to rewrite the sentiment that I’ve heard a thousand times, that “most men live a life of quiet desperation”.
That itch to reframe makes sense, as I chose to believe that we have the choice to live a life of joy and fulfillment, or we can choose to play into Thoreau’s estimation of how “man” lives life. Your mindset is the juncture upon which you determine your attitude toward life.
And mindset has a primal programming toward negativity. The good news is that our mindset can realistically be reconditioned.
So, I invite you to ask yourself these questions:
–Do you spend your time scrolling through social media, comparing yourself to others, asking yourself what’s wrong with you? Do you wonder why everyone else is doing such great things, looking so happy, and getting along so well with their families and multiple friends?
–Have you been frustrated that “things” look easy, and are supposed to be easy, but invariably turn out to be difficult, time-consuming and unfulfilling?
–Are you perpetually reminded of and distracted by the graphic details of this era of fear of domestic terror, inflation and climate catastrophe presenting themselves daily?
If you’re nodding your head in the affirmative, I can see how Thoreau’s statement would seem true to you.
It’s a relief that Thoreau has also given us guidance and permission to live a life of quiet celebration. He would have been a great coach, as many of his observations and conclusions correlate to my favorite coaching tools.
Here are three for you to try on:
An early morning walk is a blessing for the whole day.
Not only is exercise the most important thing you can do for your health and well-being, but a daily walk allows your mind to expand. Somehow moving the legs allows for perspective— the ability to zoom out1.
I find that a walk grounds me for the day. And a walk outdoors is a double blessing. “There are moments when all anxiety and stated toil are becalmed by the infinite luxury and repose of nature”, wrote Thoreau.
And others agree! Invariably when I ask the question, “When do you find yourself most at peace, Zen, in flow?”, the answer involves nature. During a time when anxiety is as common as ants at a picnic, I invite you to experiment with a daily walk. Early morning is best, as is the stillness of the early evening.
Speaking of ants, here’s another:
It’s not enough to be busy. So are the ants. The question is, what are we busy about?
I’ve ranted about the destructive word “busy” for years. And yet, Thoreau helped me recognize the power of another method I use in coaching.
As you may imagine, clients share how busy they are, and how that leads to stress and overwhelm. If you understand this, ask yourself what you can eliminate. If your reflex response is, “Nothing. Everything I do is essential”, here’s an experiment:
-Look back over your past week.
-Ask yourself what you did that, upon reflection, wasn’t a good use of your time?
-Consider why this is the conclusion.
–Brainstorm some ideas to preclude this type of “wasted time” in the future.
This bridges nicely to a noteworthy third Thoreau quote:
“Many men go fishing for their whole lives without knowing it’s not fish they’re after.”
It may be helpful to ask yourself, “What is the point of the activities that vie for my time and attention?”, as you consider what you may be able to eliminate from your schedule, your to-do list, or even your bucket list.
If your first inclination is, “They’re part of my job” or “Because I’m a parent” or “Because that’s what I’m supposed to do” or “Because that’s what it takes to keep up with my peers”, pause for a moment and consider your values. What are you reflexively doing without questioning? How do your actions align with your values?
Have you ever explored your values deeply? If not, here’s a place to begin. And if you are intrigued, you may be interested in exploring values more deeply for yourself, your spousal relationship, your family, and most certainly, your team at work.
Here’s the thing: Once we’re connected to our values, our decisions about where to spend our time and energy become apparent. And when we align our activities to our values, by default, we cannot live in desperation, because we’re working toward a self-defined aspiration!
Ready for a meaningfully rich activity? Close down your social media, turn off your TV, take a walk or make a cup of tea, and consider that “the world is but a canvas to your imagination.” What will your simple masterpiece look like?
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