Planning events and trying to bring people together, I’m often in the middle of high-stress, high-demand situations. When everyone else is busy reacting to all the small things that haven’t been done yet or things that are going wrong, I have to be the calm in the middle of the madness. When everyone is flustered, I have to be centered. When everyone has resorted to playing Connect 4, I have to be the sane one that still remembers we are playing a strategic game of chess. I don’t intend this in an egotistical way, but few people can keep their calm in the face of constantly-changing circumstances.
Even in off-peak times, tranquility and stillness in the mind are much more enjoyable than the alternative. You have to practice valuing your headspace in off-peak times so that same clarity translates and extends into peak times.
Why is this clarity important? I like to arrive at my own decisions. I refuse to be like Jesse Pinkman from Breaking Bad. Just because someone thinks this is the way you should feel and can craft a strong argument or narrative to subtly manipulate you into feeling that way, doesn’t mean that is the truth. I’m sure you feel the same way, but you don’t realize the subtle manipulation that’s around you all day. I’m not just talking about advertisements and marketing. There are people in each of our lives that we have never objectively evaluated. We have placed them in our inner circle of trusted individuals and those are often the people who don’t respect our headspace.
So just like I value my time, I started valuing my headspace – my thoughts basically. This space has become sacred to me. I like to make it a safe place for all the thoughts I’ve accumulated to interact with each other and formulate something deeper and more meaningful than the surface level connections I form initially. I process everything. This is why I can’t stand hearing babies crying, children whining, people arguing, or one side of a conversation (our brains work overtime trying to make up the other half of the conversation if we can’t hear it) and any negativity or gossip in general.
Be utterly unapologetic about controlling your inputs
Know when you’re in control of a situation
Everyone likes to go with the flow and be non-confrontational. The problem is when leaders don’t realize they are leaders and that they are in control of the situation just by being present there.
There are some situations we can control and others we can’t. We have to know which is which. A simple litmus test is to ask if I walk away right now, would anyone notice or mind terribly?
If the answer is no, the group wouldn’t notice, then you have no control over the situation. Your presence isn’t vital there. So if what they are discussing isn’t worth sacrificing your time or thought space for, just walk away. They won’t mind.
If the answer is yes, the group would notice, then you have control over that situation. You wield influence over that group. So then use that influence. The group won’t mind, believe me. Change the course of the conversation. There are others there thinking the same thing as you but due to pluralistic ignorance, nobody will say anything because they don’t want to be the odd one out. The funny thing is the majority of them are thinking the same thing, but think they are the only one. It takes one leader to voice their concern. And if they have looked up to you enough to give you that influence over the group, it is your duty to respect that trust placed in you by speaking up and course-correcting the conversation subtly, or drastically, depending on what the situation requires. The funny thing about this influence is that it is given to you, along with the expectation that you will do the right thing in these sorts of situations. Every time you choose not to wield it, they take it back from you, little by little.
Choose who you give your time to
Again, in the most humble way possible, people ask for my time often but I can’t afford to give everyone unfettered access to my headspace unless I know you’re going to respect the rules. So I build a small sandbox for everyone in my first interaction with them. I see what kinds of things they have to say, their outlook on issues in their lives, and those people who impress me and that I feel I could genuinely learn from or benefit from by interacting further with, I take them out of the sandbox and give them a key into my fenced-off private garden of thoughts.
The other people who don’t impress me in their sandbox time, I decide which ones are worth mentoring, but I keep them in a sandbox lest they infect me with their negativity and bitter outlook.
Soundtrack to life
When I’m alone, I walk around with headphones on. This way, I get to decide who gets to enter my headspace. Otherwise if I decide not to take the headphones out, my life just has an amazing dubstep soundtrack to it. I like to people-watch or think in public places like this, surrounded by people but not connecting to any of them.
Some people may say this sounds incredibly lonely. I would argue that I’d rather have fewer, but deeper relationships where I can afford to give all my thought-space and attention to these few individuals rather than connect with everyone and not do anyone justice.
Respect the resulting ideas of that sacred headspace
If I have spent 5 minutes thinking about something, I will respect those 5 minutes of my time and thought.
This is the concept behind GTD (Getting Things Done), where you’re only supposed to read the same email once. If you’ve spent 2 minutes reading an email, you’ve already decided what you need to do with it – do it, delegate it, or delete it. Once you read it and decide, don’t just leave it there in your inbox. That’s disrespecting your time and thoughts. Either put it on your to-do list, forward it to the right person, or delete it right then and there.
If you’ve brainstormed something for 5 minutes, that’s 5 more minutes than your team has. Share your thoughts. It’ll give your team members a better starting point to springboard off your thoughts rather than having to start from scratch. Respect those 5 minutes of your time; your thoughts are good enough to share. And let your team build upon them and iterate.
Even if you have formed a connection between two disparate thoughts, respect your headspace by writing down that witty connection to explore further later, or to present to others so they can help you polish that thought.
Anything that comes out of your headspace is sacred. Control what you put in and then value what comes out of it because you are good enough to have high standards and demand the same of those around you. They won’t take it personally; they usually know when they shouldn’t be gossiping or speaking negatively.There just isn’t anyone to stop them. And if they do take it personally, do you really want to hang around a group of toxic people like that for extended periods of time?