sunday life: try a “think week”

Posted on October 18th, 2009

This week I had myself a “think week”.

I read in the Wall Street Journal that every six months Microsoft’s Bill Gates extracts himself from his chino-wearing Silicon Valley brethren and heads to a wee cabin on a hill for a “think week”. He removes all distractions and armed with (I’m imagining) a bunch of Enya downloads, some butchers’ paper and coloured textas, nuts out ideas and new directions. I can see it now. Scrawled in big letters and taped to the wall next to the mounted moose head, “Portals? Doorways? Euraka!!! Windows!”.

Yes, yes, I think I need a think week! Oh, how I long to unhinge this little caboose from the great train called life as it hurtles along its rutted tracks. To plonk myself somewhere elevated and view where I’m actually heading. To get perspective. Like you I’m sure, I can get carried along by my daily routines, my endless to-do list, and wish I could press “pause”. Long enough to get my head above the frenzy, have a good hard think and check I’m on the right tracks. Before hurtling off again.

I’m not sure what your thoughts are on signs, but I’ve received a few lately suggesting it’s time I took my own think week. In one week I ran into three people (and signs, you’ll find, often come in threes) who’d taken, or were about to take, time off. Alone. Somewhere of no import to…simply ponder.

Then my laptop carked it. Another sign. The IT dude with the bolt of wood through his ear tells me the hard drive was too cluttered, like it’d become too bamboozled by my multi-downloading and constant toggling between eight screens at a time. It needed to be shut down, wiped and reinstalled.

The irony and synchronicity was too delicious to ignore. I booked a cheap ticket to Bali (warm, easy) and 32 hours later was in Ubud (elevated, spiritual) to reboot my hard drive with …a hearty think.

OK, to the chase. My little think week didn’t go quite as…thought.

Gates had his butcher’s paper. I arrived armed with the earnest travel accoutrements of Those Seeking Perspective – a crisp new journal and a really nice glide-y pen. Well, I stared at that first page. For three days. I got as far as writing, “What I really want out of life” at the top. And then blank.

There were thoughts. A deluge of them. But they were all drearily uninspired, the kind of plan-making, jittery hyper-chatter every over-thinker is subjected to 24/7 (dammit, forgot to water pot-plants; wonder who actually buys a batik toilet roll holder?). Perspective was suffocated under a blanketing of cross-wired synapses.

The thoughts wouldn’t stop. And in the silence of the Balinese jungle they got louder, naggier, drearier. I’m a clusterf*ck of beige thinking, and it’s giving me a headache.

Of course the problem is I think too much in general. Everyone tells me so. It goes like this. I’m rambling about traffic light logic or the evolutionary biological basis for eyebrows on a first date. Silence from across the table. Then, “Sarah, you think too much.” It’s a curse. And I’ve been trying to shake it for years.

But as a seasoned thinker, I probably should’ve known better than to try glean perspective from thinking for a week. Back to the train analogy: it’s like changing tracks without first stopping the train. And to the computer metaphor: before you reboot, the hard drive must be wiped.

So I did what Anyone Seeking Perspective would do under the circumstances (just ask Eat Pray Love’s Elizabeth Gilbert) – I had an ayurvedic cleanse and visited a Shaman. At the end of their treatments both healers prescribed, among other things, thinking less*. I knew they would. These prophets I sought were self-fulfilling.

To stop thinking is impossible. The trick, I’ve found, from 15 years of mediation and yoga (both ayurvedic in origin), is to allow the thinking, but to also create pockets or space between thoughts (again, an ayurvedic technique). It’s in these pockets that inspired perspective spontaneously erupts. Not from pie charts scribbled on butchers paper. But from nowhere. From space. For me they’re shower thoughts and driving-to-work-listening-to-inane-radio thoughts. My favourite kind. They bubble to the surface with pure joy.

So for the rest of my think week I let my thoughts unfurl and created vacant pockets by reading trashy novels poolside. And perspective bubbled forth. Bill Gates’ Think Week is an over-thinker’s holiday.

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  • I reflected on the need for thinking time in my blog how can slow cup of tea do more for you then a health spa. I find it difficult to sit in silence without breaking out in hives (I am serious, each week after the breathing exercises at yoga where I sit still for less than 15 minutes …I break out in body itches) I believe that ‘time out’ provides the vital space needed for new understandings and insights to emerge but I struggle to find the time (& desire) to sit in stillness. I’ve found that the most ordinary moments in my day can be very useful for thinking time. The trick for me is to have a question or issue that is clear in my head to think on that way when I am running or getting the kids back to sleep or driving and listening to the radio my thoughts have somewhere to start and where they end up is quiet extraordinary.

    [Reply]

  • Christen

    Sarah I too have been engaged in a serious think-tank – doing a post mortem of my 10 year marriage break-up…sigh… There’s nothing like a good ol’ brain dump to refresh the spirit and reinvigorate the soul. I LOVE lists – re-examining life and setting new goals is seriously therapeutic.

    I’d rather be in Bali, but I’ve discovered the next best thing is to wake up really early before anyone else wakens to run a bath. Bubbles and scented candles are a must. Relaxing in the solitude of the early morning, it’s amazing how your mind can achieve both perfect stillness and clarity of vision. Having previously been a late-riser and shower person this is a revelation to me.

    I had to laugh about your ‘crisp new journal’ – yep that will freeze me up EVERY SINGLE time. No perfect bound journals for me – it’s either laptop or looseleaf diary – I like to change things around!

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  • every1 needs a think week or day. just to reflect or just reboot 1 self and c if you r happy with what u r doing. what ive found though is not to b cluttered by the thoughts from other ppl and follow what the space and and body tells u. most of the time it will b correct and if it isnt its an opportunity for a lesson to b learned.

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  • Hello Sarah,

    The Bill Gates think week is a great idea. Not necessarily the idea that we should go for week in woods and read good books and come up with multi-billion dollar world changing thoughts; just that every now and then stepping out of our own reality inertia to get a glimpse at where things might be going could be a smart thing to do. I seemed to work for Bill!

    What is also worth noting about Bill is that for a good part of the rest of his life he worked and executed his ideas like a zealot.

    When he retired as MS CEO to focus among other things on his mission to cure the world of Malaria

    see http://www.ted.com/talks/bill_gates_unplugged.html

    One has to wonder if it wasn’t in one of those weeks he scrawled on his butchers paper:

    – Cure Malaria

    Cheers

    Mike

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  • I did something similar last month. I booked a last minute trip to Broome with my best friend with the intention of having no reception for a week (my phone reception never works ANYWHERE) but unfortunately, Broome wasn’t one of those places! haha but I still left my phone on flight mode all day, only checking emails/text messages/tweets a few times a day & oh boy did it feel good! & refreshing!

    I’m with you with this ‘think week’ idea!

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