Waiting is the hardest part. Waiting 24 hours can feel like an eternity. In a fast paced world where responses via email, text, or social media are expected around the clock, pausing, contemplating, and allowing the situation to settle is one of the most difficult things to do. There is a pressure, a tension nagging in the back of the mind, a compression within the chest compelling a response- any kind of response.
Alarms for one patient in the intensive care unit were going off. The patient was incredibly ill and had many drips and machines supporting multiple organ systems together attempting to correct the radical imbalances which he had developed. With multiple alarms sounding and staff members nervously moving around the room, the temptation was to go into the room, become overwhelmed by how ill the patient was, panic, and make a large number of changes to the drips, ventilator settings, and other machines in hopes that something would change. After making one change to the ventilator, with alarms still going off, the attending simply said, “Let the patient settle”. The team walked out of the room and allowed the patient to settle, while intermittently checking back in throughout the day to ensure that the changes were ameliorating, not exacerbating his overall condition. An important change was made and the patient required time to equilibrate to this new adjustment. Valuable information could be obtained from observing the patient’s response to the change. That said, no information would be gained if many changes were made simultaneously as it would remain entirely unclear what changes resulted in improvement and which changes resulted in decline.
There is often the feeling that something must be done, more often that multiple things must be done all at once. There is a pressure to act. Whether it is an email, a phone call, something we read in the news, or an in person meeting, there is a pressure to generate a prompt response. There are many times when this first response is not the correct response, and can do much to worsen a situation, even more than doing nothing at all. Instead of the reflexual flail making a deliberate change and then allowing time to settle is often the only way to make meaningful forward progress.
In basketball there is the principle of letting the game come to you. The default is often to feel the tension and importance of the game and then to begin to attempt to push. This results in forced plays, turnovers, poor shot selection, and a frenetic sense of anxiety amongst teammates- the opposite of a flow state. Letting the game come to you means waiting for the open shots, practicing the fundamentals while looking for opportunities, slips by your opponent. Letting the game come to you means biding your time, observing the court, and then acting deliberately when the time is right.
Constant reaction is replaced with deliberate action.
Variable emotion is replaced by intentional motion.
Haphazard flailing is replaced by purposeful work. Let it settle.
Sleep on it.
Your time will come.