This is the Too Many Trees newsletter, where I share what I’ve been writing and reading in the realm of leadership and personal development. My executive coaching practice is centered around the idea that we are more effective in moving towards our goals when we become more conscious and intentional in focusing our time and attention, and learn how our unconscious patterns are holding us back. If you know somebody that could benefit from my perspective, please forward this to them or let them know they can set up a free intro chat with me.

Slowing down to be present

February 18, 2024
Last week, I had a remarkable experience. I spent three days in person with other people, mostly without screens, as part of a New Ventures West coaching workshop.

Because I had made that my only commitment for those days, the productivity voice in my head was mostly quiet and I was able to just be present. It was a reminder of the expansiveness of time; I slowed down into a more reflective and powerful state, one where I felt I got to know others deeply in a couple days of being in their presence.

The contrast to this week is sobering. Even though I had intended to hold onto that slow presence, I'm back to my habit of picking up my phone at every free moment, which immediately triggers my nervous system to be anxious about all the things I'm not doing, then mindlessly distracting myself from the anxiety with the endless stream. Even though I spend time with other people on Zoom calls each day, it's not as nourishing or connecting as spending intentional time with others in the physical world.

I'm writing this to remind myself to spend less time in my head and staring at screens, and more time in my body and with others. And not just a few minutes here and there - it took a full day at the workshop before I actually started to slow down and my nervous system started to relax. Perhaps I should start the practice of a "digital detox" of spending time off screens on a weekly basis.

If nothing else, I want to spend more time with other people in person. Moments of connection is my intention for 2024, and this experience reminded me how powerful those moments can be if I allow myself to slow down for them. If you're based in the Bay Area and want to hang out, let me know!

What's the last time you spent extended time without screens and with other people? What was that like for you?
And now for the normal personal development content…

Book-related content:
LinkedIn: These are ideas that have helped my clients (or myself), and that I share via LinkedIn to help a wider audience, and archive here.
  • What is your integrity worth to you? It can take years to build trust with somebody, and one moment to lose that trust. Don't take shortcuts to earn an extra buck. Don't work with people whose values don't align with yours. Invest in building a win-win reputation where everybody feels they got more than fair value from the interaction. Read the comments on this one, as it's important to realize that you can't keep everybody happy so part of keeping your integrity is choosing the people whose opinion matters to you, and ignoring the noise from others.
Here are a few articles about the value of being present and connecting.

    • An Atlantic article describing the Harvard Study of Adult Development, a research study started in 1938 to track how people's wellbeing evolves over their lives, "the longest in-depth longitudinal study on human life ever done". The conclusion? "Relationships keep us happier and healthier throughout our life spans. We neglect our connections with others at our peril. Investing in our social fitness is possible each day, each week of our lives. Even small investments today in our relationships with others can create long-term ripples of well-being."
    • Another Atlantic article on why Americans stopped hanging out by Derek Thompson (which linked to the article above). Just like our physical environments have led to a crisis of obesity and lack of physical fitness because we drive or get things delivered and our foods have an excess of calories, Thompson suggests that our social environments have led to a crisis of social fitness: "Face-to-face rituals and customs are pulling on our time less, and face-to-screen technologies are pulling on our attention more. The inevitable result is a hang-out depression."
    • One way to connect is to give, so I appreciated Chris Anderson's article 6 ways to give that aren't about money, an excerpt from his book Infectious Generosity. He suggests shifting attention, building bridges, sharing knowledge, enabling connections, extending hospitality, and creating enchantment. Each of these is an example that sometimes the most generous gift we can offer is to be present and connect with other humans.
    • And one political post from Anand Giridharadas at The Ink, where he makes the case that progressives have made such progress that it's caused a backlash and the way through is the hard work of connection and presence, "to be deeply, persistently engaged in the psychological process through which millions of Americans are trying to figure out these changes, figure out the era, find new identities in a changing country, and ultimately come to see themselves in a way they like to see on the far side of change."
    Thanks for reading! See you in a couple weeks!
    Sometimes all it takes to be present is looking up at the sky.
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