“Especially Set Aside” (An 80-second reading on creating space for conversations that matter.)

February 19, 2012
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car radioThe music is pumped up on the car radio, you’re driving to a somewhat familiar place, but then suddenly you realize you’re lost.

What’s the first thing you do?

You turn down your radio.

Why?

Because you need to create cognitive space for the task of reorienting yourself.  Like a collection of jewels in a box, our thoughts consume space in our brain.  Music and noise also consume this valuable space.  When it gets crowded in there, concentration becomes dull—or impossible.

We have all left a pleasant dinner party, and reflected on how nice it was to “just sit and talk.”

Why?  Because space was made—especially set aside—for a conversation that mattered.

Space.

Often we must take deliberate steps to create these spaces—both cognitive and physical.

Turn the TV off.  Switch off the iPhones.

Have the kids put their toys away.  Honor your children’s needs by putting them to bed at the right time.  (Kids require 10 to 11 hours of sleep per day.  This means that if they get up at 6am, they should be in bed by 7pm.)

Dim the lights.  (Research shows that dimmed lights heighten our capacities for creative thinking1.)

Use the good tablecloth and your favorite dishes.  They wash up just the same.

Or go for a long walk in the park or through the woods.

And remember that the need to create space has not only to do with the physical, but also the cognitive.  Make space in your brain to allow thoughts to be nourished and to grow.  “For your thoughts become your words… your words become your actions… your actions become your habits… your habits become your character… [and] your character becomes your destiny2.”

Conversations that matter often must be orchestrated and directed.  The stage must be set and the right characters invited if a grand life performance is to be created.

Space must be especially set aside.

References:  1) Steidle, A., Hanke, E., & Werth, L. 2011.  Bright logic and creative shots in the dark: Illumination affects thinking styles and cognitive performance.  Chemnitz University of Technology, Chemnitz, Germany.  2) Author unknown.  I most recently heard Meryl Streep recite it as Margaret Thatcher in “The Iron Lady.”

4 Responses to “Especially Set Aside” (An 80-second reading on creating space for conversations that matter.)

  1. February 19, 2012 at 12:41 pm

    I have been thinking similar thoughts recently as my brain is just TOO FULL these days and needing to make space for solitude and time to create.

    • February 19, 2012 at 7:09 pm

      This notion of being TOO FULL reminds me of one of my aunt’s favorite stories. A new missionary in Latin America, she was an invited guest at an elegant home. Once she had finished what she had been served, the server asked her, in Spanish, if she would like more. She answered, “Bastante,” meaning “Plenty!” What she meant to say was “Es bastante,” or “No, this was plenty.” But her actual answer prompted them to bring her another FULL plate. She labored through it, and then again they asked if she would like more… And the scene repeated itself. = ) In other words, we not only have to know how to sense our fullness, but also how to express that fact to those who would otherwise feed us that which we don’t want, don’t need, and that which they–at the end of the day–don’t actually care if we consume or not.

  2. February 20, 2012 at 7:03 am

    LOVE this story. I will remember it with a smile as I enter this full week of wedding planning, teaching, pastoring, leading, parenting, smelling the orange blossoms and taking time to plant spring flowers.

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Nathaniel is CEO of AidChild.org. He holds a Master's Degree in Human Development and Psychology from Harvard University where he was a Reynolds Fellow in Social Entrepreneurship, and winner of the 2010 Harvard HDP Marshal Award. He also holds a PhD in Leadership Studies from the University of San Diego where he was the Dammeyer Fellow in Global Education Leadership, and a Cordes Fellow at Opportunity Collaboration. Nathaniel is author of "We Are Not Mahogany: Three stories about the male African life." Prior to his move to Uganda in 2000, Nathaniel was Deputy Director of the Office of the Governor of Arizona, and Director of Education at Leadership, Inc.

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