The Contemplative Catalyst
Special Bonus Episode - #221
The Contemplative Catalyst
The word Catalyst generally brings to mind action, movement and impact. The very definition of a Catalyst involves creating positive change. But there’s a second – and very important – aspect to what defines a catalyst – it isn’t used up in the process of helping create that change.
Did you catch that? A catalyst does help create movement in a positive direction. However – it doesn’t get depleted in the process of doing so. With that in mind, we are considering introducing an occasional new feature to the podcast schedule – The Contemplative Catalyst. But we need you to tell us if you want it or not.
If you’ve been a part of the Catalyst Community for long, you probably tuned in expecting to hear this song along with our traditional in-depth, action-oriented, evidence-based interviews with some of the top authors, researchers, athletes and coaches on the planet. In contrast, this special episode will encourage you to – I hope – step back and ponder… to pause, reflect and contemplate. It’ll be shorter – but it’s our hope that you’ll consider building these shorter episodes into a larger block of time… A bigger window in your day that allows you the space to think them through – to digest and ponder a bit rather than quickly moving onto the next episode or “to do” item on your list. Whether it’s your commute, morning walk, sitting quietly with a cup of coffee before launching into your day… or maybe a break in the midst of, or end of your day, we hope this provides some nourishing food for thought and an excuse to hit the pause button on “what’s next”… to instead simply “be” with your thoughts and reflections we hope this special episode might spark.
I’m Dr. Brad Cooper, co-founder of the Catalyst Coaching Institute and I’m just going to admit up front the integration of time for contemplation or reflection has never been much of a strong suit of mine. For most of my life, the chatter inside my head has been a constant. From a young age, I’ve digested time management books and attempted to apply them at 2x speed. I’ve made it a goal to “optimize” everything, which can be good at times but unfortunately can also become another word for “rushing.” Sit and ponder? Contemplate? Reflect? Are you kidding me? Who’s got time for that?? Good talk – now what’s next?
So I’m coming to you today, not as an expert on this subject but rather asking if you’d like to walk alongside me as I explore this in my own life. And maybe in some small way, our doing so together will help make this world a better place.
Where should we start? How about if we look for ways to modify our autopilot settings in our lives?
When Wilbur Wright made the first successful flight in 1903, he laid on his stomach, pushing and pulling levers to control the plane. 9 years later, Lawrence Sperry invented the initial rendition of autopilot, reducing the role of the pilot, a trend that has continued over the past century in flight and now is transitioning over to the automobile as well.
In our everyday lives, a similar pattern emerges. Learning to walk or throw a ball initially involves a sort of clunkiness and a concentrated effort. Over time, we grow to perform these extremely complex tasks without even thinking. That’s autopilot. Mentally the process of finding a friend’s house for the first time without the help of a GPS may be confusing. But after a few trips, we no longer pay attention to street signs – we just arrive. That’s autopilot. Both of those, when applied to automating routines around healthy eating, exercise, sleep patterns and other areas, are obviously valuable. If we had to pause and ponder every single one of these each day, we’d barely make it out our front door. Once dialed in, we WANT to shift many aspects of life to autopilot so we can then turn our focus toward other important elements.
But what happens when the autopilot takes over and we no longer stop to contemplate or reflect on what we really think or what really matters? I’m afraid that’s what’s happening in our world and is, frankly, the reason I decided to try to explore it here with you. EVERYTHING has seemingly shifted to autopilot. We wake up to the same alarm at the same time, follow the same morning routine, drive the same way to/from work, sit in same spot to do the same work and fill any and all potential space in our day with algorithm-driven social media posts, music, podcasts and Netflix shows. Rinse and repeat, day after day… after day. Doggone it’s efficient, but is it meaningful? Have I outsourced my thinking to politicians, church leaders, algorithms and charismatic promoters of the latest life hack?
Creating space seems to be a key step. I’m not sure it’s the “first” step, but it is certainly up there toward the top. No space? Contemplation won’t have a chance to blossom.
Easy to say Brad – but how do I create space? Life is so ridiculously busy I barely have time to breath – let alone create this thing you’re calling “space” in my life.
I get it. And I don’t have some magical answer as it’s something I’m struggling to create in my own life. However, here are a couple questions to consider about space to get you started along with a bonus question. Maybe the first two will help you set the scene to give contemplation the opportunity. The bonus questions might just spark a desire to do more of it in the first place.
1. #1 – What am I spending time doing that might be outdated for the life I’m living today?
a. Obviously there may be some technology opportunities here like automating my grocery shopping so it takes 15 min to simply click and then pick up vs. my historical 90 minute grocery store routine of drive/shop/checkout. But that’s not really what I’m talking about here. I mean what things am I spending time doing that might have been important in the past but don’t apply to who I am today? You’ve likely heard the statement “You never step in the same river twice” meaning the river is ever changing so even the same geographical spot in the river is different each time. Friends – you and I are that river.
b. Many of you know I was pretty dialed in on endurance racing in the past. 11 Ironmans, numerous marathons, the Race Across America cycling event. You get the picture. But it’s been years since I’ve raced seriously. Routines that were critically important back then like heading to the pool at 5 AM, avoiding caffeine, reviewing the little details of my workout splits and keeping my bike in top working condition have little to no value to the person I am – the life I’m living today. What about you? Have your life and priorities changed but your habits remained the same?
c. So that’s the first question I’ve been wrestling with and I invite you to wrestle along with me: Where might I be investing time on outdated activities?
2. #2 – What PLACE will create the Space for more Uni-tasking?
a. Since we moved to the Catalyst Ranch in Ft. Collins, Colorado last fall, I’ve been trying out a new routine. I’ve set up a chair in my office that looks out at the rising sun, with my journal and my current pile of books placed within arm’s reach. Our dog Sky and I start each morning there and while it still requires a conscious choice to do so, it’s gradually becoming a pattern that clears space from all other distractions and sets the stage for reading and reflection in the early morning hours. It’s my uni-tasking space – the place where the only available multi-tasking involves balancing my coffee cup while journaling. Contemplation comes much more easily in this setting.
b. Maybe your uni-tasking space place is in your car on your commute… or an evening walk with your dog… or sitting on a bench outside your office… a window seat at your favorite coffee shop… or in front of a fire with a glass of wine… We’re all different, but if we can dial in a place that allows for space without the noise of technology, people and interruptions, we’ll have the space to make contemplation possible.
c. So question 2 – where’s my place that creates the space that contemplation requires?
3. And then for the bonus question: To whom am I outsourcing my thinking?
a. This question is at the heart of why we’re doing this episode – and potential future episodes – on contemplation. Nature abhors a vacuum and when we stop reflecting, when we stop contemplating, we still fill the void – but it’s often with words from those who live on the loud extremes rather than the thoughtful middle. I love this advice from last week’s podcast guest, Steve Magness: “Trying a keto diet may be worthwhile, but being part of the Keto diet diehard community is probably a recipe for disaster. Having a sense of community in your church may be fantastic, but if the entire congregation starts screaming political aimed rhetoric instead of the values on which your beliefs are based, it’s a good sign to leave.”
b. Unfortunately such outsourced thinking becomes so much easier to do today. A handful of decades ago, if I stated something clearly ridiculous, you or someone in my community would point it out. They’d question it. The ensuing discussion would then drive me to reflect on my thoughts, perhaps do some additional reading or speaking with others with varying opinions to explore the realities of the situation. Now, however, thanks to social media – and by the way, I do see positives to social media – this just isn’t one of them – if I come up with a ridiculous claim, I can easily find plenty of people sitting in the “extreme” position on the subject who will reinforce my extreme position and then the algorithms expand it even further. So I “connect” with them, have my position encouraged and build trenches around this thought with the help of these “friends.” Why do any reflection? All these people agree with me!
c. I’m not suggesting we spend our days questioning every little thing. That would be exhausting – and counterproductive. I’m saying to consider there are valid reasons for differences of opinion. For example, here in Colorado, 41% of people identify as Republican, 42% Democrat and the remaining 17% independent. Rather than automatically writing off the credibility of anything said by someone outside of my chosen party, it’s probably worth considering that about half the people with whom I work, pass in the street or wave to in our neighborhood have a different opinion than me. Clearly they likely have good reasons for their position. Maybe if we all would take time to listen and reflect, we’d find most of us hold much more of a middle ground and that the only extremists are those standing behind the megaphone. Maybe if we stopped to really think, the “party line” could fade into a dotted line and we could come together as a community once again? Afterall, it’s called the “thoughtful middle” for a reason.
d. Here’s a tip that might help put this into action. A good friend of mine has a habit that turns this concept into reality. More often than not, he responds to any new information with a single word: “Interesting.” Can you hear it? It’s a curious “Interesting” – not a callous “no way” or a sarcastic “uh-huh” or a positive “absolutely.” It’s a word of reflection. A word that creates a pause in our thinking – a pause that ALLOWS us – even encourages us to do just that: think.
e. So our final question to ponder today is simply “to whom am I outsourcing my thinking?”
Was this helpful? Did it provide a bit of a catalyst for thinking? Reflecting? Contemplating? We need your input on this one. This podcast is here to serve you. If you’d like to occasionally have us include a Contemplative Catalyst episode like this one, we need to know you see it as beneficial. We’ll be watching the downloads on this episode carefully. If they match/exceed our traditional episodes, we’ll bring it back occasionally. If not, we’ll stop with this one. So if you’d like more of these, please pass it along to your friends, peers, clients and others and we’ll take the hint and work these into the schedule in the future too!
Thanks for tuning into the #1 podcast for health, wellness & performance coaching. Speaking of contemplation, if you’re a coach and you haven’t yet registered for the Rocky Mountain Coaching Retreat & Symposium in glorious Estes Park, Colorado this September, please don’t wait as it will fill early. All the details under the Retreat tab at CatalystCoachingInstitute.com or reach out to us anytime with questions – [email protected]
Now it’s time to be a catalyst – maybe a bit more of a contemplative catalyst – for a world very much in need. This is Dr. Brad Cooper. I’ll speak with you soon on another episode of the Catalyst Health, Wellness & Performance Coaching Podcast or maybe over at the YouTube Coaching Channel.