Is It Time to Be Sub-Optimal? A Little Less Willpower & a Little More Curiosity

“I feel unfocused and untethered,” he began in our Zoom call. “How do I slow down when the world is on fire?”

 Good question, yes?

 How do we manage our well-being with the pressure cooker on high? It’s a hot topic in my work these days.

 As the Buddhist expression goes: The mind is an excellent servant but a terrible master. It needs our vigilant supervision and the invaluable input from our body and gut.

Otherwise, it’s like revving the engine with no place to go.

And just like my clients, that’s what happened to me last week.

Your Body Has A Mind of Its Own

I started writing this last Wednesday morning before my oral certification exam with the Co-Active Training Institute to complete an intensive, year-long training.

But I was struggling to focus, and then my stomach started cramping. Ridiculous, I thought. I’m grown-up. I don’t get nervous. So, I ignored the pain and willfully pressed forward with my willpower.

However, the body has a mind of its own, too, yes?

And the creative process doesn’t respond well to a chastising mind.

Finally, feeling physically miserable and drained, I put this piece aside and went for a drive in the sparkling snow. (Too icy to walk.) In a very short time, I found myself pleasantly distracted, and a bit more grounded, as well.

It reminded me that while we may be attuned to our body in our personal lives, we tend to disregard its information in our professional lives.

Your Gut Needs Time to Weigh In, Too

Your gut needs attention, too, and is an additional resonance-dissonance detector. It’s your second brain, part of the vagal nerve and the ENS nervous system.

In my executive coaching, we always explore gut reactions to expand the perspective. Our Western society devalues the gut, yet it offers us wisdom as noted in this HBR article, How to Stop Overthinking and Start Trusting Your Gut:

When you approach a decision intuitively, your brain works in tandem with your gut to quickly assess all your memories, past learnings, personal needs, and preferences and then makes the wisest decision given the context. In this way, intuition is a form of emotional and experiential data that leaders need to value.”

But how do we get to the gut when we stubbornly ignore everything except the endlessly repeating mantras of the mind?

Perspective Shifting: Even If It Feels Sub-Optimal

That’s when a little perspective shifting helps us access more of our internal resources. Often, it’s as simple as a word, a walk, (a car drive), a favorite piece of music.

Or this article, Embracing the Power of Suboptimization, that popped up in my feed. The author posits that our drive and busyness distract us from the deeper work of listening and picking up on the rich subtleties. She encourages leaders to embrace strategic suboptimization.

Excuse me. Suboptimization?

Like below par? Less than the best? Not as good as possible?

Well, there’s a polar plunge of a mindset. The word strikes terror (in my mind) – and relief (in my gut).

The author lists many casualties of the chronic drive for efficiency and perfectionism. If this sounds like you, I’m sure you have a list as well.

 However, opportunities await when we shift from optimization to what feels sub-optimal, from willfully using our willpower to treading more lightly. The author continues:

It requires a quieter and more attentive mind, free of distractions (including what needs to get done next). It involves curiosity, looking at the work with less judgment and more wonder. And it demands refining what success looks like – moving beyond busyness to wholeness as the yardstick of effective and hard work.”

Less Judgment, More Wonder

A deadline is a deadline for me whether internally or externally imposed. And I didn’t make my deadline for last week. But I passed my exam and came out the other end feeling a bit more relaxed, and even some joy.

Less judgment. More wonder.

Here’s to a little less willful-willpower and a little more spacious curiosity.

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