My friend Nick doesn’t talk like other people. Over the years, I’ve become used to the way he leaves long pauses in conversation – last week, I counted a full 11 seconds – as he thinks about what he’s going to say next. It can be unnerving, yet when he does eventually speak, what he says is sound, wise and invariably a smart solution.

Step one to chilling out: get herbal

I thought of Nick a couple of weeks ago, when Kevin Rudd went on ABC’s Q&A and confessed he’d been wrong in ditching the emissions trading scheme. In the ensuing hoopla over whether he was out to nix the PM, his most sentient comment was overlooked.

During his leadership, Rudd told the audience, he had neglected sound advice to “leave yourself time to think, to reflect and to plan”.

Of course we all think (where did I leave the bloody car keys?), reflect (does this season’s camel suit me?) and plan (if I make spag bol tonight, it might stretch to a shepherd’s pie tomorrow and tacos on Tuesday).

But how many of us actually think deeply about the lives we lead and the values that underpin them? Who has time to ponder in our crazy-busy, constantly connected, mouse-click-driven lives? We’ve become human doings, not human beings.

I promise I’m not turning all self-helpy on you, but surely reflection is essential for a meaningful life, and all the more important for those in positions of power – as Rudd ignored to his peril. The sultans of spin shine briefly, but when the words fade away, the enduring figures in history are the deep thinkers – Gandhi, Mandela, Gorbachev.

So how do we, a generation playwright Richard Foreman has likened to “pancake people” because we’re spread so wide and thin, lure ourselves away from our iPads, iPods and iPhones to, heaven forbid, develop our iPerson?

Ironically, it’s the purveyors of the very technology that gobbles up our time that are the greatest exponents of reflection. Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg all take “think weeks” (though probably at some five-star, Wi-Fi connected log cabin).

But it doesn’t have to be that long. A year ago, I felt my life was running me rather than me running my life, so I went to see a personal coach.

Michael Howorth comes from a business background and he made me answer three questions: What are your top five accomplishments? What do you want to make sure you do in this lifetime? What are a few goals you want to achieve in the next 120 days? Then he added: “Remember, thinking is an action, too.”

This week, I had a peek back and here’s what I wrote for my short-term goals:

1. Play a team sport
2. Own a bike (preferably a yellow one with a front basket)
3. Start a herb garden
4. Read more books
5. Spend more time on the sofa cuddling my kids, before they turn into teenagers and loathe me
6. Take half a day, once a month, just to ‘be’, not to ‘do’.

Aside from the yellow bike (which I just know is going to be my next birthday present) and some bedraggled basil, I’ve achieved them all. And that half-day has become both precious and productive. Now when I talk to Nick, I’m the one pausing for thought.

Catch Angela Mollard on Weekend Today, Sundays at 7am on the Nine Network. Email angelamollard@sundaymagazine.com.au.

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33 comments

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    • Erick says:

      07:25am | 24/04/11

      Thinking is a habit, and usually a good one. It’s not always necessary to set aside special times - for instance, many people spend an hour or more getting to and from work, and this time can be profitably devoted to ‘being’ and contemplation. Likewise, the time between going to bed and falling asleep, and that between waking up and rising, can be devoted to quiet thought.

      Some Australians think a lot, with good results. Scientists at the University of Technology, Sydney, have created a new carbon material with some structural properties far better than steel. I only hope that Australian business and industry can take advantage of our deep thinkers.

    • acotrel says:

      08:18am | 24/04/11

      The scientists at the University of Technology, Sydney should find themselves more useful employment in service industries!  All this R&D serves no purpose in Australia.  We no longer have aircraft or weapons manufacture, and we’re never likely to build racing cars or motorcycles.  Their work will only help the opportunistic entrepreneurs of other countries. Why is the Australian government funding their activities?

    • St. Michael says:

      07:07pm | 24/04/11

      ...aaaaaand acotrel demonstrates the point of the article.

    • chungo mung says:

      11:55pm | 24/04/11

      think you missed the point on the essence of the thinking that is being talked about in this article.

    • acotrel says:

      08:22am | 24/04/11

      When I worked as a scientist, I did my best thinking under the shower, or when I woke up at 4 a.m. with a problem on my mind.  Should I have been paid overtine for that, the company ended up owning the intellectual property?

    • stephen says:

      09:02am | 24/04/11

      Thinking in the shower, heh ?
      (Now lets see, where did I put that soap?)

    • Jason Todd says:

      08:09pm | 24/04/11

      Snap Acotrel. I can’t tell you the number of solutions I have come up with either under the shower first thing in the morning or late at night when my brain won’t cycle down.

      If it is a particularly perplexing problem, (alliteration ftw), I used to go for a walk late at night, and walk until I came up with a solution. There is a strange meditative quality to roaming the streets at 3am…

    • acotrel says:

      08:27am | 24/04/11

      These days I have a major problem.  It involves getting the gearing right on my Seeley Norton 850 racing motorcycle, so I can go and have a practice session at Winton Motor Raceway with a few other old idiots with classic motorcycles.  My advice to anyone who has a problem finding time to think is ‘GET A LIFE’!

    • Seano says:

      08:31am | 24/04/11

      “Spend more time on the sofa cuddling my kids, before they turn into teenagers and loathe me “

      Is that mandatory? I mean the loathing part? I know you were joking but it seems to me that a lot of parents (and friends of mine who don’t ever want to be parents) have a default expectation that when kids hit puberty they’ll hate their parents for a few years. And that this will hopefully be resolved sometime in their early twenties, but no guarantees.

      As a parent of two little girls I’ve been thinking a lot about this and how it can be avoided or at least mitigated. I know that I don’t have a golden bullet but some of the strategies I have in mind are to build good relationships with them now and get involved with the things they’re interested in (e.g. help out with their sporting teams), to be open and honest with them as much as I can, to talk to them about puberty, rebellion and establishing your own identity and to relate my own experiences, to never close the door and never take it personally, to be clear, consistent and firm about the rules and expectations, to make sure they always know that I love them and to tell them as often as I can, to be encouraging but in a meaningful and realistic way.

      It could be that no matter what I do I’ll just have to ride it out and keep that door open but I’m hoping not. I get a chance to practice my patience this afternoon anyway as the full effect of this morning’s chocolate indulgences should have kicked in by then.

    • Chris L says:

      11:00am | 24/04/11

      From my own experience as a teenager (decades ago) I believe the “hatred” can be mitigated by avoiding hypocrisy. When you know your parents got up to some crazy stuff (and who didn’t) it comes across as a double standard when they criticise you for doing the same. Of course everyone wants their kids to avoid making the same mistake, but when you think about it you know it has to happen.

      I was fortunate in that my mother did not judge my actions. She even told me if I were to engage in certain, socially unacceptable activities she would rather I do so at home where she could at least know I was safe. As a consequence all the fun was taken out of it and I didn’t end up getting into drugs or orgies or whatever else parents fear their child will do (at least, not until I was older and better prepared).

    • SueB says:

      12:58pm | 24/04/11

      I think you are doing all the right things.  However, adolescence is a time for drawing away from parents, and often it takes a form of loathing, sometimes contempt, by the young ones for the parental figures. I’ve been there with 6, Seano.  It seems to be a stage they all go through.  I can also tell you that once they realize you are still their loving parent who is happy they have matured into adults themselves they develop a new kind of love and respect.

      Enjoy your time with your young children.  The time just flies by, and all of a sudden you are 50 and they are away at university.

    • Seano says:

      03:57pm | 24/04/11

      Wow Sue, 6! You deserve a medal. I will enjoy them as much as I can Sue, thanks for that lovely thought.

      And I agree Chris, one of the worst things a parent can do is be a hypocrite so I’ll keep that in minde too.

    • Robert Smissen, rural SA, God's own country says:

      06:21pm | 24/04/11

      If your teenage kids hate/loathe you it probably means you let them down when they were younger, kids remember being lied to, hypocrisy etc. The credo that i’ve lived by is to trust your kids totally, show them yo have great expectations of them, kids will usually live up to your expectations, the reverse is also true

    • persephone says:

      08:17am | 25/04/11

      Seano

      my teenagers adore me. So do most of their friends. It’s very nice.

      I’ve never treated them as ‘other’ - I explain the reasoning behind my decisions to them, encourage them to justify their thinking to me, and talk through situations.

      Oh and lots of cuddles.

      Nice when my sixteen year old voluntarily takes my hand when we’re walking, or gives me a goodbye kiss in front of his school mates - both things I thought would be well and truly outgrown years ago!

      I have really lovely relationships with my teenagers, built on mutual respect and understanding.

    • Sue says:

      09:59am | 25/04/11

      Robert Smissen, rural SA, from my experience, being hated by a teenager often means that we’ve said ‘no’ to something they want or want to do that is clearly not good for them. Many parents make the mistake of putting too much focus on being friends with their kids, and not making hard decisions and giving into whatever the kid wants. As my husband has often said, he sooner have one of the kids say ‘I hate you Dad’ because he’s said no, and have them respect him later for being a real father and making the tough decisions based on their welfare. I have a 16yo stepdaughter (lives with mother) who is best described as the nightmare scenario teenager. Rebellious, obstinate and doing all the things a 16yo should NOT be doing. Dangerous stupid stuff.  She knows she is doing the wrong thing, but some kind of crazy monster has taken over her brain. Once she hit puberty, all she cared about was ‘boys’ and pushing the limits. In a hurry to grow up. To Seano, I say good luck with your girls, because my stepdaughter was once a sweet, good natured girl, who was given all the right examples to follow and is still asked to ‘make good choices’. There was always good open communication. She just continues to make bad choices. She can’t be locked up like a prisoner to protect her from herself. All we can hope is that she makes it through to the other side unscathed and doesn’t have to learn lessons the hard way. Though sadly we think that’s what will happen. She says one thing, usually to please Dad and stay in favour, then goes out and does exactly the opposite.

    • Seano says:

      10:35am | 25/04/11

      Thanks perse, that was really nice to hear and I think something I will aspire to too. I do like the idea of explaining my reasoning, I see so many parents generating unnecessary resentment with “because”. Oh and of course lots of cuddles is always a great idea and a great way to let them know how important they are.

      Also one of my favourite things to do is to go to the movies. My eldest and I have already been to about a dozen she’s only just 4) and I look forward to the day when both girls are off making their way in the world and I get a call from one saying “Dad, would you like to go to the movies?”

    • persephone says:

      01:12pm | 25/04/11

      Oh, and one last thing:

      don’t forget what it was like when you were their age, and don’t expect them to live up to standards which would have been impossible for you to do then.

      My hubbie tends to get tetchy about what he sees as the boys’ wasteful spending (on games, collecting cards, etc), even though they’re spending money they’ve earnt themselves. I have to remind him of the kind of rubbish he bought at the same age.

      This doesn’t preclude discussions about wasteful spending, btw - just means not getting all judgemental when they make the decision that its worth it to them!

      The same in other areas: if you lied to your parents, why did you do it? If you understand the reasons behind your own behaviour at the same age, you’ll be able to avoid placing your kid in that situation to start with - and you’ll be more understanding if they end up there.

      And watch your assumptions. My mother assumed we’d lie to her. Thus, when we were honest, she assumed we were keeping something back. It became far simpler just not to tell her things!

    • Seano says:

      05:43pm | 25/04/11

      @Sue - sound pretty tough. I hope it all works out.

      @Perse - thanks again, more good advice.

    • A different Rosie says:

      09:33am | 26/04/11

      I had a similar philosophy when my daughter was growing up.  She became a ‘monster’ for two years in her early teens, during which time I was accused of being;  too rational, too peace-loving and no fun to argue with!

    • Seano says:

      04:59pm | 26/04/11

      No fun to argue with, that’s pretty funny. I’ve certainly been accused of that…

    • acotrel says:

      08:33am | 24/04/11

      The ‘Broadford Bonanza’ is on the the Motorcycling VIctoria circuit at Broadford today (Easter Sunday).  it’s 80Km north of Melbourne.  Come along and see the old farts race.  All the stars of yesteryear will be there, with some really exotic machinery. Straight up the Hume Highway, and follow the signs.

    • Sam Chowder says:

      09:26am | 24/04/11

      I sorted this one years ago, and I have a life of contemplation, meandering within, acknowledging my reasonable health and my short visit on a most beautiful planet.
      My wife thinks I’m just a lazy waster.

    • CJ Morgan says:

      09:51am | 24/04/11

      @ Seano:

      From experience of my 3 kids in their teens, they don’t actually loathe you - they just behave as if they do.

    • Seano says:

      11:12am | 24/04/11

      lol….I’ll remember that.

    • Kathy says:

      02:09pm | 24/04/11

      Careful of the birthday bike, I fell off mine today & am very sad & sorry for myself :-((  Landed in a prickle bush too, how cliched!! & no doubt hilarious to watch.  I definitely agree with the shower though, as a thinking place…second best is on the couch with a glass of wine & favourite classical music playing.

    • Bikinis on Top says:

      03:37pm | 24/04/11

      The seventh way to do or to be human.
      Write a comment on the Punch Website.
      The eighth way to do or to be human.
      Vote Labor at all elections.

    • Robert Smissen, rural SA, God's own country says:

      06:23pm | 24/04/11

      Surely you jest! ! ! ! ! To vote Labor at any time would be to sell out my kids’ & grandkids’ futures

    • acotrel says:

      01:09am | 25/04/11

      @Robert Smissen ‘To vote Labor at any time would be to sell out my kids’ & grandkids’ futures ‘
      Over the years I’ve litstened to the conservatives and come to believe Gough Whitlam was a dill.  But the other night watching the old clips used in the story about Ita Buttrose, I came to realise how much he actually achieved.  I also remembered the bleak Liberal governments which went before him! If you want governments which do nothing but sit on their hands and hold the purse strings tightly, vote Liberal.  If you want governments which initiate infrastructure projects, and have a vision for the future of Australian industry which doesn’t involve screwing the workers, vote Labor! Jack Lang built the Sydney Harbour Bridge.  John Curtain won WW2. Ben Chifley built the Snowy Scheme.  Rudd/Gillard are building the NBN.  What has the Liberal Party ever done for your kid’s futures? Bob Menzies ruled at a time when the whole world was rebuilding, yet did little constructive in his whole term in office! What did Howard really achieve, even when he had the resources boom at his disposal?  The Liberal Party doesn’t know the first rule of business - you’ve got to spend a dollar, to make a dollar! They’re just a mob of negative thinking luddites!  Do you really believe they represent you or your interests?

    • kirt says:

      03:56pm | 25/04/11

      Acotrel Hmmmm. What has the current Labor government delivered?? The following: Roof insullation scheme failure, BER failure, Mining Tax failure, Boat people failure, National health failure, Carbon tax failure and NBN will most certainly be a failure. The only thing my children and their children will be left with is an enormous debt and the worst government in our countries history.

    • Chris L says:

      10:14pm | 25/04/11

      Try to add a bit of truth to your comment Kirt.

      BER : Success (a view taken by both the ANAO report and the Orgill report).

      Roof Insulation :Labor MPs weren’t the ones installing insulation, the failure in this area were lazy business owners who did not follow the regulations set up by Labor. Regulations that have vastly reduced injuries and deaths in those businesses that follow the rules.

      Mining Tax : a good idea undermined by a bizzare sense of altruism and charity toward struggling billionaires.

      Carbon Tax : yet to be declared success or failure. Do you consult a crystal ball for your information or the entrails of oxen?

      NBN : again, yet to be declared a success or failure, but at least someone has the gumption to start such an ambitious infrastructure program on behalf of our country.

    • Al Chunk says:

      11:50pm | 25/04/11

      @acotrel and @kirt are both correct, one lot are idealistic fools making attempts at nation building with little or no business sense and the only other choice is a bunch of mean spirited bean counters who never left their private school playgrounds.  As voters we have little option to put one lot in and then the other, which is what we do.  I am constantly amazed that normally intelligent folks seem to be mesmerised by one group of these t0ssers and cannot see the stupid reality of party politics which is limiting the damage the party in power does.  So the pointless bickering continues.

    • A different Rosie says:

      10:29am | 26/04/11

      I often pause to think about how wonderful it would be to hear a political leader say ‘this is what I believe and this is how my party and I are going to tackle it.  If we fail we will loose office but our integrity will be intact and in the process people may become less cynical about politicians.  If we succeed it will prove that we can be honest and effective instead of pandering to the frightened and uninformed.

      This super government could begin by;

      consulting with Aboriginal leaders about the best way to help indigenous people,

      no longer jailing people who flee torture and death in their own countries,

      no longer blaming the disabled and unemplyed for all of society’s ills,

      etcetera etcetera.

    • Thommo says:

      11:08am | 26/04/11

      It’s a pity all the global warming sheep can’t take a few minutes to really think about it…..

 

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