Have you ever had a garden or hedgerow that grew so many unwieldy branches and weeds that it eventually began to kill itself off? The important new growth was choked out while the branches and weeds continued to expand, moving across the landscape like a botanical amoeba from an early sci-fi thriller? You know what I’m talking about. The new growth underneath is stunted; it can’t see the light. Eventually, because it has no connection to the world outside the tangled mess of undergrowth, it slowly begins to shed itself, one small leaf at a time, and dies.
So it is with our lives filled with meetings, traffic, noise, chaos, conflict, hype, disappointment, and fatigue. It’s a metaphor. You probably won’t die because you spend all your time in meetings and conflict, but…..maybe you will. Like the overgrown garden, it happens gradually, subtly. You see the garden every day and you don’t notice. It’s there and you appreciate the robust life you see in it; growing, blooming, full of color and life. You ignore the signs below the growth – the slow browning and low thinning of the body of your garden, the new invasive weeds that, against all odds, pop up through the thick mass and simultaneously send deep tangled roots below that constrict the nourishment that your garden desperately needs.
Think about the metaphor for a moment. How have you engineered your life? Unknowingly have you allowed the invasive weeds with deep gnarly roots to take over? Are you overcome with stress? Do you lack motivation and movement; instead you watch and curse as your midsection stretches and morphs into something you swore you’d never be? Do you walk around in a fog? Or, like me, do you cry after a long day of meetings that led nowhere.
If so, try what I recently did. In March, I attended a yoga leadership retreat in Mexico. Yes, you should do that too, but that’s not the focus of this article. In Mexico, my coach led me and a cadre of yoga health coaches through an exercise she called pruning. It’s so simple – it takes only 4 steps.
Step one: think about who you want to be. Write it down. Be specific – I mean, really specific, and write this with no judgment, assumptions, and do not allow upper-limiting beliefs to hold you back? What does that mean? It means that you can be whoever you want to be. You can have the traits and behaviors you’ve dreamed of regardless of the limits you’ve put on yourself. Stop reading and write down who you want to be and the attributes and behaviors you want to cultivate.
Step two: make a list of the things that are holding you back? Write them down. For example, I dream of being a completely calm, steady, and organized human being who approaches most situations and people with grace, wisdom, and integrity. For those of you who are laughing, stop it. I’m trying. I’m trying really hard…now back to pruning, and back to my example. Actually, stop reading and make your list of what is holding you back.
In order for me to be this calm, steady and organized person with the attributes listed above, I needed to cut back on my commitments (because I’m overcommitted in a serious way), and stop doing stupid things that bring no value to members of this community (like Powerpoint – seriously, who needs a Powerpoint presentation).
Step three: learn to say NO. For me, I needed to say no to subbing a yoga class when I already promised my husband I would actually join him for a dinner for once, no to attending a weekend workshop when I really want to go to Milwaukee for grandbaby snuggles, and no to meetings with no agenda or established outcome. So stop right here and make your list of no’s that you’ll stick with.
Step four: now that you’ve made time and space in your life to become the person you dream of being, you need to start adding in the new habits that will get you to that dream. So for me, I made space during my week by dropping two of my regular yoga classes. This made me very sad in the beginning, but at the same time, I’m thrilled because now I’ll have time to attend yoga classes and begin to focus on my own practice, which in turn will help me become a better teacher. I did simple math to figure out the value of this particular pruning exercise. The two classes I’m no longer teaching equate to 5 hours a week (planning, travel time to the studio, teaching the class, and closing up the studio). 5 hours X 52 weeks a year = 260 hours per year/ 24 hour in a day = 10.8 full days. If you had 260 extra hours or 10 days to use at your discretion, how would you use those hours?
One more example before I finish up this blog post. No more meetings without an agenda or an expected outcome. This one is tough. It’s less quantitative and more qualitative. If you go to a meeting with no agenda and you have not identified a specific outcome that you need, your meeting with go long, will be unwieldy, and you’ll end up scheduling a follow-up meeting….again, and again, and again. For my colleagues reading this, you may be rolling your eyes right now. I admit to the world that I am a work-in-progress. This meeting-adjustment thing takes structure, time, and persistence. It won’t happen overnight, and the results might not be obvious or immediately appreciated. The changes for me have been subtle. I’m not driving as much, I have more time to stay focused on my list of tasks that need to be done, and I feel better as a leader for not robbing others of their valuable time.
So I’ve pruned my garden and I feel better. I cut back the branches – it wasn’t easy because they are all beautiful and full of life. In pruning the branches, though, I’ve allowed space for new growth and now I can see the invasive weeds that have been growing. I can remove the weeds, all the way down to their gnarly roots, allowing my own roots the freedom they need to pull nutrients and nourish me as a person, a mom, a wife, a grandma, a leader, and a teacher. I am doing better staying calm and being steady, and yes, I still have moments of chaos and lack of integrity in my approach, but it’s getting better with each branch that I prune and with every weed that I pull. So prune and weed your garden and let me know how you feel once your roots have the space they need to grow and nourish you.