How to be proactive with grace

Big decisions need time, reflection, and space, and this requires patience and grace.

How to be proactive with grace

It’s Day 2 of a major life change and I’m already headlong down the rabbit hole of creative questioning.

The dust from previous projects has yet to settle and here I sit, feverishly planning where to pour concrete for life’s next phase.

Sound proactive? Sure. Wise? Not really.

Finding one’s direction doesn’t just happen because we arbitrarily decide we’ll arrive at the perfect life plan by 2:00 pm next Wednesday. Big decisions need time, reflection, and space, and this requires patience and grace. My desire to be proactive comes from a good place but it overlooks a deeper need to process what has been so I may plan for what could be.

So how does one move ahead proactively while creating (and maintaining) space to process, reflect, and grow with patience and grace? Here are some mindfulness tips I’m working to incorporate into my own daily routine. I hope some (or all) of these ideas help you in your journey, too.

Allow the silt to settle.

“Do you have the patience to wait. Till your mud settles and the water is clear? Can you remain unmoving. Till the right action arises by itself?” ― Lao Tzu

This quote from the Tao Te Ching reminds us of the importance of patience during turbulent times. Imagine you have a jar of silt and water. When you shake the jar (assuming of course the lid is on the jar) the contents become muddy and you can no longer see clearly through the water. It is only when we have allowed the contents to settle that we can see clearly through the water once more.

This concept applies to our ability to make important decisions during difficult moments. When we’re in the midst of a stressful situation, our thoughts can become clouded by our emotions and impair our ability to think objectively.

Taking some time to step away when we feel our emotions have been stirred up allows us to let a muddy moment settle so we can approach it with clarity and a fresh set of eyes.

Write it out.

I’m a big advocate of keeping a (mostly) private journal and I dedicate time to write and sketch in mine each day. Devoting time to write out your unfiltered stream of consciousness with no objective other than to get your thoughts out of your head and onto a sheet of paper can do wonders for sorting through your thoughts and feelings. I’ve found the practice of journaling to be surprisingly helpful at identifying what’s nagging at my subconscious so I can address my feelings more intentionally.

If you’re familiar with the practice of Morning Pages—the process of writing three, long-form stream of consciousness pages each morning—my journaling routine has a similar objective but without the three pages requirement. Here are my tips for keeping a journal:

  1. There’s no wrong way to write in your journal.
  2. There’s no right way to write in your journal.
  3. Remembering Points #1 and #2, write whatever you think as it comes to you with no judgment and no second-guessing.
  4. Repeat when desired. Some journaling is better than no journaling. Don’t let the pressure of feeling like you have to keep a journal every day get in the way of keeping a journal at all.
  5. Trust the process. Your journal doesn’t even need to be a journal per se. It’s the act of writing that matters. Use whatever you wish: copy paper, steno books, old scraps of paper lying around the house, you name it: just write.

Look for recurring themes.

Once you’ve taken some time to reflect and examine your thoughts and feelings, look for common themes. Some ideas to reflect upon are:

  • What matters most to you?
  • What’s going well?
  • What are some challenges you’re experiencing?
  • How are you treating yourself during this process?
  • What is your self-talk like? Are you patient with yourself or are you perhaps being critical of yourself?
  • Are you treating yourself with the same grace and compassion you would treat a friend?

The goal here is not to place judgment but to use your insights to gain a deeper understanding of how you personally approach and overcome obstacles. Becoming aware of a tendency toward negative self-talk can help you identify when this trait is emerging and ease up on the inner critic to create space for compassion.

Create space for flow.

Flow can be described as reaching a level of focus where you become fully immersed in whatever you are doing. It induces both positive feelings and heightened levels of attention, helping you filter out distractions. Think of flow as your brain’s way of getting into the zone.

Flow states help us become more aware of what our mind and body need and help us strengthen our emotional regulation. The voice of our inner critic fades as our focus sharpens. The more easily you can enter a state of flow, the more readily you can connect with your needs.

Carve out some dedicated time with the intention of reaching a flow state. The better you become at getting into a flow state, the better you become at getting into a flow state. Activities such as meditation and drawing can be particularly helpful in helping achieve a flow state as they’ve both been shown to create a sense of stillness as the chatter of the mind is quieted. If you’re interested in learning more about flow, Headspace has a helpful guide regarding what a flow state is, what it means to be in a flow state, and how to achieve a flow state.

Remember: the Golden Rule also applies to how you treat yourself.

Have you heard of the Golden Rule? At its core, the Golden Rule means to treat others as you would like to be treated. It’s a great rule (it’s golden!) for all of us to live by, however, many of us don’t seem to be so good at treating ourselves nearly as well as we treat others.

We might have a terrible inner critic or be our own worst enemy, but just like anyone else, we too need patience and grace. Think about a recent situation where you were maybe a little hard on yourself. Were you holding yourself to an unreasonable standard? Were you as patient and kind to yourself as you would have been to a close friend?

Our thoughts become us, so take care to be mindful of how you’re treating yourself. Be patient and kind and approach your thoughts and feelings with grace, not judgment. Give yourself space to process your discoveries and the time to develop the tools your mind needs to reflect and grow.

Finally, as always, be kind. Tap into your inner Mister Rogers and try to help someone feel special today.