November 14, 2011

Managing the Off Switch

“Live in the moment to create and celebrate the time you are given to do what you love and become who you have been called to be.”

A few weeks ago I had a great conversation with someone who asked me how I was able to turn the switch off in my head. Their challenge, primarily as it related to their work, was they found themselves constantly churning thoughts in their head about all the things they need to do, should do, have to do, etc.  The result of all this perpetual, non-stop thought is exhaustion.  They were trying to understand how I managed the challenges of running my business and all the pressures I face on a regular basis without letting this head chatter devour me.

The answer I offered seems almost too simple – I focus solely on where I am and what I am doing at that time.  Essentially, I live in the moment.  When I am relaxing and watching football on TV that is what I focus on.  When I ride my bike, I leave my work behind.  When I am with my family, they get all my attention.  And, when I am alone with my thoughts, I focus on what I have decided I want and need to zone in on.  If it is work, then that is what I zero in on.  If not, then I don’t.  And, if I am having trouble turning off the switch, I go to the gym and physically push myself to a limit that breaks me out of the “on” mode and leaves me too exhausted or tired to even get my brain in gear.

It has become pretty easy for me to turn off my switch.  When given the opportunity or the responsibility to engage in an activity other than our work, our business, or our jobs, we have an obligation to ourselves and others to do so.  Taking a break from the perpetual cycle of stress, thought, pressure, and urgency is a gift that we owe to ourselves.  Without a break, we cannot reload, recharge, or break clear enough to get creative or innovative.  It is that break which enables us to connect with those people and activities that are most essential to our overall health, happiness, and well being.  Turning off the switch is not an option – it is required.

Over fifteen years ago, I entered an Executive MBA program that demanded an extra 20 hours a week of my time.  Already unbalanced and obsessed in my career, the additional hours simply meant more time away from my family – something I was easily ready to do.  When I started missing out on more and more family events, my youngest son, Brandon, started acting out in school because his dad was never home – he was right.  Although I did make a token effort to spend more time with him, I am certain I didn’t commit much as I was very focused in my career.  Although I defended my right to focus on what I did, the expectation that I evaluate my time allocations didn’t go away.

During this same period, the company I was working for was going through a very difficult period, as well.  The demands on my time and energy in that area were significant.  Despite the distractions of school, I was able to accomplish a great deal at work.   Upon completion of my MBA, I discovered that despite the demands of 20 hours of my time away from work, neither the business nor my performance there had suffered – in fact, I engineered and executed an incredible turnaround strategy while in school.

That is when I realized that success comes through a focused effort, not an obsessively unbalanced one.  I gave the 20 hours of my MBA life back to me and my family and have never looked back.  I have continued to be professionally successful, have an incredible relationship with my children, and have fun doing whatever it is I committee to, and am able to be remarkably creative, intense, and innovative without much effort.

Being the person you have been called to be requires the ability to focus on what is most important, when it is most important.  Enjoy where you are when you are there, celebrate the moment, and focus only on what matters at that time.   It is from this balance that you develop and sharpen your whole being.

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About Dave Cooke

Dave Cooke is a dad on a mission. His mission is to help parents get control of their lives over the powerful, destructive influences of a child's addiction. As the father of a son in a ten year heroin battle, Dave knows all to well the challenges parents and families face. He also knows there is a way to find peace in the chaos. It is his mission to help parents discover their path to a healthier, balanced life even if a child's active addiction is still part of their daily journey.