Today’s blog is hitting on a topic near and dear to my heart.  It reminds me of the proverbial phrase, “Idle hands are the devil’s workshop.”  If you grew up in the South like I did, you’ve probably heard a version of this in your formative years.  And if you didn’t – welcome to my world, filled with many such sayings like this one and “There are a million ways to skin a dead armadillo.”  (the latter of which we won’t be focusing on today just in case you were wondering…)

Idle hands aren’t the problem

But we do live in this way – idle hands are to be avoided at all costs.  I’ve often wondered why. Maybe, deep down, we’re afraid of calm.  Fearful of it even.  Silence can be terrifying if we’re not used to it.  When I first started practicing mindfulness and meditation, I heard horrible stories about adverse reactions folks were having upon trying a few minutes of meditation.  It scared me as a facilitator.  Panic attacks.  Participants reporting they felt their skin was crawling.  And when I’ve felt forced to sit for a long time at a meditation retreat, I’ve often experienced similar sensations.  Feelings like boredom can be unbearable, especially if we always have the constant companion of the smartphone and scrolling to keep us company.  That’s the annoying problem with mindfulness practices like meditation.  They’re difficult only because we must sit with ourselves.  We are finally alone with ourselves.  And when you’re alone and have nothing to distract you, you have no choice but to feel what you’re feeling.  Human beings are masters at avoiding feeling the difficult things.  We become workaholics, alcoholics, shopoholics, foodoholics instead.  I’ve even seen working out become an obsession.

I have a friend who manages this dance better than anything I’ve ever seen.  She runs a successful business, she’s always on the go.  She stays in perpetual motion.  We have a party and she’s on her phone responding to a text, in-between bouncing around from guest to guest engaging them in banter, then running to the kitchen to straighten things, helping with the dishes (which I greatly appreciate by the way!).  I don’t think I’ve ever seen her sit still.  There’s a look in her eyes that I’ve picked up on, she’s scanning the room looking for the next thing she can do, straighten, clean, or put away.  I get this compulsion all too well because quite often I’ve been this person.  If you look hard enough in those moments, you’ll notice what’s sitting underneath the surface is a restlessness.  An emptiness.

The restlessness is a clue – We’re really running on empty

I’ve been feeling quite a bit of this myself lately, so I know.  The difference is I’ve finally learned it’s not a sign that I need to speed up.  That’s how I used to handle it.  I would find ways to occupy myself, anything I could do to keep that empty, restless, grasping, sticky feeling at bay.  When it comes on now, it’s a sign that I need to slow down and lean into the discomfort.  And it is uncomfortable at first.  And then I remember that the only way out is through.

Because if I leaned into it then I might feel the fear and anxiety coming up related to a couple of projects of mine finishing.  And what if I don’t get more business to replace them? 

Or I might feel the sadness and humiliation of a couple of conversations I’ve had recently that didn’t go as well as they could have.  Where I’ve left the conversation feeling ashamed of my performance, my incapacity to advocate for myself, feeling weak and powerless.  Wondering if I’ve really managed to escape the dreaded curse of needing validation from others.  Exasperated because I’m wondering when I’ll ever feel like I’ve mastered this skill.

Or I might feel the loneliness on the horizon of my husband preparing to go back to work and consult in Brazil.  Knowing he’ll be gone for a month.  Or longer.  And instead, I look at my calendar and look for ways to fill every square inch of space, so I don’t have to think about it.  Who can I go see?  What trip can I take?  What event can I book myself into?  But I know from experience that the more I try to fill, the more I try to do, the intention comes from the wrong place.  A restless place of grasping and attachment to fill the empty well.  And the less I enjoy it.

Sometimes it’s the calm within the storm that is the most terrifying.  But that is also an invitation to lean into the discomfort.  By doing so, we finally find peace.

Coaching questions for thought

  • What feelings are you trying to avoid right now?
  • How do you distract yourself from feeling the things that scare you?
  • What’s the cost of constantly kicking the can down the road, rather than leaning in?

Shelley Pernot is a career and leadership coach who is passionate about helping her clients discover their talents and step into their greatness.  Reach out to me here for a free consultation to learn more about the coaching process and how it may benefit you!