Saturday, September 5, 2009

Your Einstein Time

One of my coaching clients wrote to me this week about the issue she finds most challenging in her life. She is the mother of a 2 year-old spirited child and the effort of meeting his needs, her husband’s, her own and those of the household often leaves her exhausted. She asked for some suggestions to address her situation.

She is a devoted mother and experiences great joy in caring for her son. The thing is, she also wants to carve out more time for herself and other pursuits, particularly meaningful and lucrative work. I think there are many mamas who are in the same boat. I know I was. Fortunately I successfully navigated those choppy waters and found my way to my own Lake Placid. From my current vantage point, I can happily offer suggestions.

But first a little backstory: When my son, Finn, was 7 months old I was at the end of my rope. I was juggling work as a nurse-midwife, the needs of my still-nursing-through-the-night child (who, in fact, would never sleep unless he was literally attached), and all the other aspects of my full life. I felt like I was not even on the list.

I knew this couldn’t go on. So I set the intention of finding someone to help me and my husband care for our child, believing that would help me get my needs met. I wanted to find that proverbial “village” that would help me raise our child, and I was especially interested in someone who could care for him and love him like a grandmother. We found exactly what we were looking for—more on that in a minute—and I know I became happier and more productive as a result.

So my suggestion to my client (based on what had worked for me) was to find someone who can help care for her child for a couple of hours most days of the week. This someone could be a student who comes after school or even a neighbor. Will this cost money? Probably. But even when money was tight in our household, we never questioned the value of paying someone to care for Finn so that we were able to get a break from his care and attend to our own needs. In fact, we sometimes skimped in other areas (beans and rice, anyone?) so that we had the money to pay for childcare. And that is what I suggested to my client, and would recommend to anyone in the same situation.

Even if you are not doing "work for money" during this time, this will be your creative time, your “Einstein time.” I call it “Einstein time” because Albert Einstein appreciated the value of “soft” thinking. He would, of course, spend hours poring over calculations and theorizing over problems. But he would also sometimes set aside the problem and redirect his attention to something enjoyable and relaxing. He found that during these pleasurable pursuits his unconscious mind would go on thinking about the challenge and surprise him with a breakthrough insight or innovation at the time when he least expected it.

So in the case of my client, who wants to have work that is fulfilling and lucrative in addition to being a mama, I suggested that she start by carving out time for herself to do that work (even though she doesn’t have it yet).But even having this free time only leaves my client’s problems half-solved. Fortunately, though, we can turn to Einstein again for advice on how to make it the rest of the way.

So how can she find lucrative work that she can fit in around all the other demands on her time? Well, as Einstein once said, You can’t solve a problem with the same thinking that created it.” I always act from the belief that everyone can get their needs met if they allow themselves to be open to novel ways of thinking. If, even after you’ve set aside not-thinking-about-the-problem-la-la-la-la time, your unconscious mind seems to be moving at a glacial pace to solve it, there is another route you can take: simply asking a variety of other people for ideas allows myriad solutions to present themselves quite easily.

This is actually how my husband and I found our childcare provider. Shortly after I set the intention to find the best one I could, my husband and I were sitting in a local bakery. I saw a woman filling out a job application, so I turned to my husband and said, "She obviously wants a job. Maybe she could take care of Finn. Do you think it would be strange if I went up to her and asked her if she could help us?" My husband said, "Yes it would be strange, but I’m sure you’ll do it anyway." I did and - four years later - she has been Finn's beloved "abuela" (Spanish for grandmother) ever since.

You see, like Einstein, you are looking for “different thinking” that will help solve your problem. And researchers at the University of Zurich have developed a technique that will help you structure the process of turning to others for advice when you’re stumped by a challenge. They call this technique “the idea basket,” and it can be a powerful way to solve your problems. Here’s what you do: Imagine that there is a basket in front of you and that you are going to fill it with suggestions from your friends, family members, even acquaintances - basically anyone with whom you could possibly strike up a conversation.

Begin by making a list of the situations, circumstances and triggers which are challenging you at the moment. Then ask as many people as you can to come up with for ways to respond. Try to get ideas from people in as many different social groups as possible. Ask your favorite co-worker, but also approach your hair stylist, your child’s soccer coach, your 20-year-old babysitter—even complete strangers at your local bakery!

This week I'm rejoicing in novel solutions to sticky issues - and everyone getting their needs met!


colleen said...

I am excited to try this!

Stacey said...

Great, Colleen! Thanks for letting me know! By the way, Ruthie is here and we just spent a wonderful evening together at another friend's home. Wish you were here! I'd love to meet you in the "real" world sometime. :-)