On finding stillness in chaos


“The grass isn’t greener on the other side – it’s greener where you water it.”

I woke up to this WhatsApp message from a friend. At first I thought it’s a forwarded message, one of those that frictionlessly float around without any context or intent. But then I re-read the message –and smiled. 

I texted my friend, asked her what made her forward this message to me. She replied- “Nothing as such. I was talking to my therapist today and she spoke these lines to me on our video call. After I disconnected, I just couldn’t let them go. So, I forwarded it to people whom I thought would appreciate..”

Thank you. I really needed to hear it today”, I wrote back.

And I truly meant it.

Before this exchange, I was in an emotionally constipated state for the last 4 weeks. Every morning, I would get up with an urge to shut myself out from the world. I didn’t want to see or talk to anyone, get ready for work (home?), or deal with anything that required my attention. 

The reason for my misery was self-doubt that arose out of my drooping performance at work. No matter how hard I tried, every day ended with self-criticism, doubt, and fear of failure for tomorrow.

This unpleasant emotion of self-doubt robbed me of every joy, confidence and hope that I used to get from my work. It sent me into a deep-spiral of despair and uncertainty. 

That’s when I read Stillness is the Key by Ryan Holiday. It’s hard to imagine a 250-page book healing you, and bringing you back from the darkest corners of despair, but it truly did. It helped me sail through the noise — and find my calm.

If your head is full of gloom, like mine was, then, I have some useful advice for you. Personal, tried-and-tested, and you can even borrow it because it’s virus-free.

Get into a routine

Get into a routine

I read about the power of routine from the famous Japanese writer Haruki Murakami. In his book ‘What I talk about when I talk about running’, he says- “To keep on going, you have to keep up the rhythm.”

Building a routine sounds like cliche advice. But who said cliche isn’t meaningful? Getting into a routine is an opportunity to establish order in an otherwise chaotic day. It helps you define what you’ll start with, how much time you’ll devote to each task, when you’ll end, and what you’ll pick next. The purpose of routine, as Ryan Holiday says in his book, is to settle our body (and mind) and make our day more fun, less exhausting.

It helps you define your priorities and channel your inner Sun Tzu. Without a routine, you’re putting out fires as and when they catch your attention. It’s up to you to decide how you like to deal with your day– in firefighter mode or clean and focussed like a monk?

Find some alone time

Find some alone time

I understood the importance of this advice after experiencing it. It happened on the day when all my family members were out for some work and I was home-alone. My productivity sky-rocketed and my creativity surprised me. With them, I had no boundaries and was constantly interrupted for some or the other work. 

I am not suggesting that you block them for the whole day. Help them when they need you. My suggestion is to seek solitude actively where you’ve undivided attention on your task. It’s effective and even Bill Gates has been doing it since the 1980’s by taking out time for ‘think weeks’ in a cabin in the woods.

Read and write your heart out

Read and write your heart out

This was the only advice that I had been ardently following even before reading it in Ryan’s book. And that’s why I must emphasize upon building this habit even more. Books are a treasure trove of stories that you can access anywhere, anytime. I haven’t come across anything more therapeutic than reading books. When you read a book (fiction or nonfiction) you gain an access to the writer’s world and you learn so much from their experiences. When you read a story, you experience a whole new perspective of what others humans feel and how they deal with life.

Similarly, writing about your experiences is liberating and gives you a feeling of empowerment. It’s as if you’ve gained something that you wish to tell others about. It’s the same feeling that I’m going through. And trust me, it’s calming and serene.

So read as much as you can, and write your heart out.

Limit your media exposure

Limit your media exposure

The problem with us is that we’re always tuned in to the gloom and doom of the world. We want to hear what’s creating buzz on TV, trending on Twitter, and going viral on YouTube. All this has reduced our capacity to sit with our own thoughts. Our minds are always ‘on the top of things’ and never free for tasks that require deep thinking. 

As Herbert Simon says– “A wealth of information creates a poverty of attention”. So if you want to give attention to tasks that are important, disconnect yourself from the world. The age old platitude, ignorance is a bliss, is true. 

Think of information as you think about your food. There is only so much you can take in. Just like excess of food can make you feel bloated, excess of information can make you feel overwhelmed. 

The book, Stillness Is The Key, has many more ideas that can help you get past obstacles you face and find calm- at work or in life. I highly recommend reading this book. Because only when we have experienced stillness, we can seek what we truly want.

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