On Reflection.

On Reflection.

Like a dog waiting for its master to come home, in the last few minutes of a long day, trapped inside with nothing more than a bowl of water, as the garage door opens and excitement oozes out of the furry little creature, each trip I take on this bright blue and green ball around the sun beckons me, towards the end of the year, to forget every challenge I’ve survived in the preceding 11 months and to look eagerly toward “what’s next.” 

This is precisely when I force myself to slow down and reflect.

No one tells the dog, unless it’s a weekend, that the same process of waiting for its master to return home simply repeats itself tomorrow morning. You and I know better. We’ve evolved a rather large mass of gray matter between our ears that allows for contemplative reflection. We’re the only species on the planet that can step back from the world and examine our place in it. 

As I’ll share in a forthcoming Burleson Box Podcast interview early next year with the world’s leading researcher on controlling the conscious mind, there is a tremendous potential for our brains to create great things, write symphonies, create medicines that save lives, build cities and new technologies, improve civilization and our quality of life, but the voice in our heads can be incredibly destructive if we fail to control it.

There are many tools to harness the “chatter” going on between our ears and to make sure we’re being a supportive coach to ourselves and not a horrible critic. 

Two of my favorites are “zooming out” and spending time in nature. Many people plan travel around the holidays to a warm climate. The restorative effect doesn’t simply come from getting away, unplugging and relaxing, but also from the powerful calming effect nature has on our minds. Research shows even a few minutes spent looking at photos of nature landscapes, greenery or listening to nature sounds can have the same affect on our mindset. 

If you can’t get away from the office right now or your holidays are as busy as ever, please make sure you take some time to engage with nature, even if it’s freezing cold outside. There are cross-country ski trips, hot springs and nature retreats that are open year round, even as temperatures drop and the restorative effects on our minds is no less powerful in winter than in summer or spring.

I’ve noticed when I have time to slow down, I subconsciously ignore the news cycle and re-engage with books that are often out-of-print and haven’t been on a best-seller list for half a century or more. If the books stands the test of time, with more principle than tactic or popular anecdote, it’s interesting that these books are often just as relevant today than they were when they were written.

I’m doing some work for a large DSO, helping their members set and track their goals and while preparing some lectures for these doctors, I tore through all of my notes and books on Stoicism and was delighted to see they hold up in the present as well as they did thousands of years ago. I strongly encourage you to do the same. Go through your library or to a public or university library on your break, send an assistant if you have a book or journal in particular that you’d like to read, and slow down with an idea or concept that hasn’t changed in decades or centuries.

One such out-of-print book, from 1979, that I’ve been re-reading is Profound Simplicity by Will Schutz. In the final chapter, “Endarkment,” he begins with the observation, “Sometimes my striving toward growth becomes the object of amusement to the part of me that is watching me.” Schutz would occasionally tire of all the striving and rebel. During those times, he came to a startling discovery. He became more aware of the human condition, that he could chose what he did and that he could make other choices and this often got him right back “on track” in the pursuit of the next goal. 

You and I are not dissimilar, regardless of how much we might resist the innate tendency to rebel, pull back, stop striving and reassess. It’s the ebb and flow that I’ve discussed often throughout the last year. Entire economies and world powers go through the same life cycle and progression. You can’t simply be on, on, on and in growth, growth, growth mode 100% of the time. If you don’t hit a wall or face debilitating burnout, you’ll find it impossible to avoid laughing, from time to time, at all the striving. The part of you watching you is a powerful force.

Successful people in all walks of life demonstrate this trait. They can suddenly switch from talking about themselves in the first person to the third. If one does this too often, it can be a sign of narcissism or a psychological problem, but great politicians, actors, playwrights, athletes and scholars do it over and over again without fail. 

When LeBron James made the decision to leave the Cleveland Cavaliers, the hometown team that had made huge investments in him and his brand, for Miami, he spoke about his decision process saying things like “This process has been everything I’ve thought and more. And that’s what I did a few years ago; I put myself in a position to have this process where I can hear teams’ pitches and figure out what was the best possible chance for me to ultimately win and to ultimately be happy.” 

And then he would immediately switch into the third person, “I wanted to do what’s best for LeBron James and what would have made LeBron James happy.”

This is a powerful lesson in zooming out and, often humorously, looking at uncertainty and big decisions from a third-person perspective. Like a dog zooming out and one day being able to speak, who might say to its master, “You know, one day I just stopped getting so worked up and excited about you coming home.” 

Yes, you and I have big things we want to accomplish and yes, you deserve everything your heart desires in pursuit of your dreams, so that everyone thrives. My plea this holiday season is simply that you take some time to step back and realize how amusing some of the striving is and to assess what’s best for you from a third-party perspective.

If you do this, research shows, you’ll be more likely to achieve those goals and to live a life of joy, fulfillment and happiness. 

Happy Holidays!

Worked at Burleson Orthodontics. Attended University of Missouri–Kansas City. Lives in Kansas City, Missouri.