Last year I worked out something pretty important.  In my fourth year of being self employed (and the fourth year of the recession, as it happens), I finally realised that I was allowing myself to chase any piece of viable business that moved.  I had set myself targets for how much work I wanted to do, and how much I wanted to earn, but unfortunately those targets had turned into a game for me.  The game had become “how much can you beat the target by?”  Instead of helping me realise when to stop, the target had become a motivator to never stop.  It wasn’t until my wife pointed out to me that I did not appear to have any sense of what the ceiling was, and that logically I should have shut up shop months earlier based on our financial needs, that I took stock and came up with a new plan.

Clean Energy HamsterSo my targets this year have new meaning for me:  my measure of success is not how much I can beat them by, but how precisely I can achieve them.  Over delivering is now as bad as under delivering.  New game, new rules.

I wonder if you can guess what has happened now that I have taken my foot off the accelerator – in fact now that I have in effect relaxed?  You got it:  because I now have more thinking time, I am able to put more into what I do, to target interesting work and new approaches, and to be more proactive in developing new opportunities.  I am spending less time ‘delivering’ and away from home, whilst earning more.  I am exploring new ways of generating income, finding more time to read and research and develop new materials.  It is all so much more viable and sustainable.

I’ve been reflecting on other times of my life when I have made a conscious effort to relax (sounds like a contradiction in terms, doesn’t it?).  Here are a few that spring to mind:

  • When I finally twigged that saying less in meetings and listening more gave me more options and reduced the pressure I was putting myself under
  • When I video’d myself at the start of a training course and saw the startled look on people’s faces: the energy mismatch was evident, and I immediately resorted to sitting down for the start of the course, building rapport and then bringing the energy up gradually
  • When I recognised that certain styles of thinker need longer than I do to come to conclusions, and used this to bring in the biggest deal of my life by shutting up and letting the client talk himself there over the period of one hour.

I used to train graduates at a major technical company, who were brought in to be developed into salespeople.  I remember saying to so many of them:  “Relax, slow down, get off your agenda and your plan and go with the flow,” and for many of them this was a small but significant breakthrough.

Healthy workplaceThe trouble is you can’t tell someone to relax, just as you can’t tell them not to be nervous. I think what I have learnt, and am still learning, is that you can provide yourself with structures that encourage you to relax (in my case redefining what my measure of success was and imposing a rule not to exceed the target).  Relaxing doesn’t in some ways sit too well with a tough economic environment where businesses are failing all around us.  It does require a degree of nerve, and is probably easier to do if, like me, you are working alone and are prepared to take some risk.  If people are worried about keeping their job, being seen to work hard (whatever that means), work fast, be constantly available, say yes to everything, might be what they think is required of them.

I read yesterday that according to recent research by Nokia we check our hand held device every 6.5 minutes.   That doesn’t sound very relaxing.  I remember some other research which showed that managers typically get 30 minutes of uninterrupted thinking time every 3 days.  What does that do for the quality of thought?

What examples have you got of where you relaxed and found a real benefit from doing it?

If you enjoyed this article and haven’t yet done so, feel free to hit the button so that I can let you know when I have written a new article (normally fortnightly).  And if you want to spread the word about relaxing, please feel free to share with others!

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