I first heard this phrase watching the movie ” The Human Stain” based on the book by Philip Roth. Faunia Farley is one of the main characters and she had many odd jobs. When someone asked her why she had so many jobs she replied “Action is the enemy of thought”. What a truism! If we just stay busy doing this then we don’t have to think about that. “That” may be something as simple as a chore we don’t want to do around the house or it may be something much worse; something that distresses us so much that we seek to occupy every minute of the day to distract us from thinking about it.
Faunia kept herself busy to distracted herself from her innermost thoughts. But the reverse can also happen. For example, we can find ourselves so busy at work that we don’t even take a lunch break never mind concentrate on how, or perhaps even why we’re conducting our daily routine. I too found myself in those situations where things were just too busy; with all the driving around, seeing clinicians, documenting the activities completed, etc. And though I was getting work done, I also had a strong sense that I could be doing better work. The opportunity was there to thoughtfully improve on my productivity, but as long as I was running around at such a hectic pace there was no way I was going to improve on my results. My actions, or rather my activities were the enemy of my thoughts. In those instances, I reached a decision point; I needed to change my approach if I wanted to see different results. But what choices did I have?
It turns out there is research and experience that suggests if you take a period of time to take no action at all, your outcomes may be better. One example is a study Eckhart Tolle cited examining the goal scoring performance of soccer players during a penalty shoot-out. The study reported that those players taking immediate action after the referee blew the whistle actually performed much less well than those who took a period of time between the whistle blow and when they attempted to score a goal. (1)
Another example is described in an interview with Ray Scott, the founder of B.A.S.S. ( the Bass Anglers Sportsman Society). Ray spoke of a day in March 1967 when his fishing plans were cancelled due to rain and he had quite a bit of free time on his hands. Being forced to go back to his hotel room, “his brain was freed, and it kind of opened up.” And it was then when he had his “Brainstorm in the Rainstorm” and the concept of tournament bass fishing was born! Today B.A.S.S. enjoys a membership of more than a half-million fishing enthusiasts! In both examples we see that the benefit was not truly in “not doing anything”. Instead, these two examples demonstrate that when we’re not distracted in an activity, we give our minds the opportunity to be creative and the freedom to contribute to what we are trying to accomplish.
Activity can be the enemy of thought. When you feel you’re not in control of things and/or you have an opportunity to improve on your performance, one option is to clear a half day, maybe even a full day in your calendar and dedicate it to no specific activity other than to sit and clear your mind. Give yourself the time to relax, taking your mind off of everything and letting your thoughts come freely. Ideas and solutions will come almost of their own accord. You’ll then find yourself prioritizing your commitments, redefining your strategies and reallocating your resources. In the end you will see better results and gain more personal satisfaction no matter what it is you’re working on.
As my good friend from Nigeria often said: “There are many roads to market”. Do you have an example(s) from home or work when too much activity interfered with your goals and you developed tried and true techniques that have produced better results? It would be nice to hear what has worked (or what has not) . Please share your comments. There are many roads to market. It would be great if we could all learn from the fruits of our labors. Thank you in advance for sharing.
(1) The Wisdom of Compassion. Stories of Remarkable Encounters and Timeless Insights . His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Victor Chan. Riverhead Books. 2012
(2) S.Rushin. Up to Your Ass in BASS. Sports Illustrated, March 17,2014