One of my many previous jobs was set amongst the dramatic mountains and sparkling waters of Lake Como. I lived on the side of a mountain in Lezzeno and used to walk a staggering 8km to and from my workplace.
The one bus that went this route, operated on the ‘Italian-time’ schedule, i.e. one bus an hour, if they felt like working that day. The bloody schedule meant I was waiting like a lemon at the bus stop for over an hour on numerous occasions, with no bus in sight. This frustration forced me to attempt the 8km roadside walk.
I initially began this long walk every day under the presumption it was going to steal valuable time in my day; time I could scarcely afford. For the first week, I walked with speed and determination, trying to beat my journey time of the previous day. After a week, to my surprise, I slowed down and used this roadside walk as a transformative experience. As I meandered along the winding path that bends and curves at the command of Lake Como, my mind began to wonder, making connections, drawing insights, and developing ideas.
This is when I realised, in our fast-paced, productivity-focused lives and workplaces, we are losing our gardens — literally and figuratively. We need to reclaim them.
I have no time to think.
Possibly the six scariest words a 23-year-old can utter. When I told this to my Father he seemed unfazed, not scared at all because they are so commonplace.
It’s not that we’re unproductive; we’re astoundingly productive. We produce deliverables. We make decisions. We create and spend budgets. We direct our teams. We write proposals.
Actually, in some ways, our productivity is the problem. Something’s lost in an environment of manic productivity: learning.
These busy days, we rarely analyse our experiences thoughtfully, contemplate the views of others carefully, or evaluate how the outcomes of our decisions should affect our future choices. Those things take time. They require us to slow down. And who has the time for that? So we reflect less and limit our growth.
Often, it’s only when our lives are forcibly disrupted that we slow down long enough to learn. An illness, a job loss, the death of a loved one — they all compel us to stop and think and evaluate things. But those are unwelcome disruptions and, hopefully, they don’t occur often.
Wouldn’t it be great if we could learn continuously without forced disruptions? If we could disrupt ourselves for a few moments every day in order to think and learn?
What we need is a few minutes to walk in a metaphorical garden.
Think about where you do your best thinking and make it a habit to go there daily. I have made it a practice to take a variety of garden walks daily.
One ‘garden walk’ is exercise. If I go to the gym and challenge my body, it’s practically guaranteed that I’ll figure something out and come back with a better perspective. Working on my body inevitably allows me to work on my mind and has proved to be one of the most dependable ‘garden walks’ for creative ideas.
Another is writing. As I write, my ideas develop and my experiences gently nudge me towards my continuously developing worldview. There’s no need to share the writing — a private journal works well — and it doesn’t have to take more than a few minutes.
Conversations with close friends is a refreshing opportunity, like a breath of fresh air. I’m careful not to abuse the generosity of those around me with issues that I inherently need to work on myself. But I like to use deep conversations and late nights to question my view, rather than seek confirmation of it.
Last but not least is sketching. Art’s ability to flex our imaginations may be one of the reasons why we’ve been making art since we were cave-dwellers. When you make art, you’re making a series of decisions — what kind of drawing utensil to use, what colour, how to translate what you’re seeing onto the paper. And ultimately, interpreting the image. This liberty my mind has is invaluable and gives you the rare opportunity to think and live in the moment.