Clearing the Space. How to Do Your Best Thinking.

One of the first tenets from the Neuro-leadership Group in my training as a Results Based Coach is to clear the space before starting any coaching session. It is clearing your prefrontal cortex so that you can prepare to do your best thinking. When I was working with a client this week she said, “Oh so it’s like Lakshmi-ing your brain.” So you might be asking who or what is Lakshmi? Well, apparently it is the Hindu goddess of wealth, love, prosperity and fortune. It is believed that you need to clear out the space and sweep before you can begin to bring wealth and prosperity in. Hmmm. Nice metaphor. Sweep out your brain before you start bringing in the innovative ideas.Clearing the Space

The prefrontal cortex is the part of your brain that is in charge of executive function. This means that it’s the problem solving area. It brings all the current perceptions and past memories together to make decisions. The problem is that, especially in our technological environment of constant interruptions and distractions, we really don’t “make space” in our prefrontal cortex to do our best thinking; and often don’t even review anything before making a decision We are all on one giant squirrel hunt or chasing shiny objects and never focusing on our true path.

So here we go, my thoughts on how to clear the space:

1. Turn off. First of all, you need to turn everything off. This probably means you need to turn off or place your phone in another room in silent mode. The first squirrel that will interrupt your best thinking is a buzz, bell or other notification from your phone. You can live without your latest social media update for an hour. If you are on your computer, make sure all of your email and social media are shut down. I have a little piece of a post-it note to cover up the little envelope that shows up in Outlook indicating I have a new email.

2. Close the door. Make a space that is free from interruptions from the outside (or inside) world. I close my door so that my dog, or my husband or the noise from the stereo in the other room are out of my space. When I work with clients in person, we sit in a room at a table and the door is closed. The only thing in the room besides paper and pen is a clock so that I know what time it is. Physically create the space to think, that is private.

3. Breathe. I recently learned something called 4-7-8 breathing by Dr. Weil. Basically, you breathe in for 4 counts, hold your breath for 7 counts and exhale for 8 counts. You do this cycle for 4 times. It might take 3 minutes and more likely less time. But doing so really is relaxing and centering. Focus on the breathing, and for me, this comes naturally because I am counting in my head and noticing what is going on in my body. I’m sure there are other breathing exercises out there or you may already have a practice that you use in meditation or yoga. Use what you have or give one of them a shot or try this one. The point is to relax, be present and be centered.

4. One word. When I coach clients, we each disclose one word that encapsulates what is in the “background” for them. This could be the “boss”, “reviews”, “wedding”, “bills” or “graduation”. We then metaphorically place that word on the table or floor or chair or garbage can, so that, if we want to, we can pick up that item at the end of the coaching session. This removes whatever concern, issue or event that might be rattling around in your prefrontal cortex. It physically removes it, so that we can start doing our best work.

5. Basics. I always make sure that I have a glass of water, paper and pen when I am coaching or being coached. When I do a lot of talking, I want to make sure I can replenish. I want to be able to take notes as well. It’s the same if you are trying to work out the logistics of a problem or writing an essay. Make sure you have the essentials so that once you have cleared the space, you are ready to go. When I write, I only have my word processing program open. Make sure you have the basics before you start your best thinking, and make sure you’ve set yourself up for success

Now you are ready to do your best thinking. Your prefrontal cortex is ready to go. It’s like a clean, well swept stage ready for Hamlet’s soliloquy to stand in the center and deliver each beautifully spoken line to the balcony. How do you clear the space?

5 Steps to Hitting the Pause Button

I find that the holidays are a time of Absolute Overwhelm.  Making sure I have purchased gifts for the family equitably (like we all sit there with a calculator on Christmas morning), prepared joyful cards and letters for delivery before year end, made sure the holiday menu includes all the family traditions (Caramel Bubble is a Christmas morning must have), arranged travel home and back to college for my kids, arranged for a tree and getting it decorated by said children before they head back to college after Thanksgiving… is overwhelming.  Having one less week between Thanksgiving and Christmas makes me feel like I’ll still have turkey leftovers on New Year’s Eve.  Whew.  Time to hit the pause button. 5 Steps to Hitting the Pause Button 1

In Tara Brach‘s book Radical Acceptance, she recommends the “Sacred Pause”.  This is a break from constant striving.  Isn’t that the American way?  To constantly strive.  Who has time for a pause?  You do;  especially this time of year.  Have you ever woken up on New Year’s Day and wondered where the holidays went?  That means you never paused.  Take in the moment.  Drink it up.  Take a break and be present.

Here some ways to hit the pause button:

1. Stop. Stop what you are doing. Put down the dishes.  Stop liking on Facebook.  Get out of your inbox.  Put your phone on the charger and walk away.  Close out all the windows on your desk top.  Turn off the TV.  Don’t try this while driving, unless of course, you are not the driver.  Just stop.

2. Space.  Find a space to be.  Sit in your favorite chair.  Stand at the window.  Lay down on the couch.  Go for a walk outside.  Sometimes a complete change in environment or temperature can help break the spell.  If you are outside raking leaves, you might want to go inside.  If you are inside and have been sitting at your desk for two hours straight, you might want to go outside (this may require a jacket and gloves…use your best judgment).  Be in your space.

3. Eyes. Close your eyes.  When our eyes are shut, it’s so much easier to reconnect with ourselves.  It turns on our other senses.  You smell the coffee.  You hear the wind outside or the hum of the light bulb.  You feel the temperature of the room or the gravity of your feet against the floor. You taste the sourness of the orange juice.  Shutting your eyes turns off the constant barrage of information.

4. Breathe.  Take some deep breaths.  Feel your chest rise and fall.  Feel the air come in and out of your nostrils.  Feel your body soften as the air leaves your body.  When I find my breath, I become centered.  Present.  There is no grocery-list-making when you are focused on your breath.  Just breathe.

5. Inhabit. Tara recommends inhabiting the pause.  I love that image.  Inhabiting the pause.  Living in yourself.  Being yourself.  I invariably feel tension in my shoulders.  I concentrate on letting go.  Release the tension.  Let go and inhabit the pause.

Find a time to hit the pause button.  Before you take a shower, head into that meeting, decorate the tree or bake your sugar cookies, find a time to just pause.  Don’t wait till New Year’s Day and find the holidays are gone and you never just connected with the moment.  Do it NOW.