“I’m exhausted,” Marci Shimoff told me [Janet], her best friend.
“You just can’t keep going like this, Marci,” I responded. “Why don’t you join me on a seven-day silent retreat? It’s exactly what you need.”
For years Shimoff had traveled from city to city to teach communication courses at Fortune 500 companies. In doing so, she encountered many people suffering from low self-esteem and sought a way to help them. So she scoured the country and discovered a trainer named Jack Canfield, who held highly respected self-esteem seminars. (This was 1989, four years before Canfield and his co-author published Chicken Soup for the Soul.)
Shimoff took Canfield’s courses, adopted him as her mentor and led self-esteem workshops, a career more aligned with what she loved—but it was practically killing her. The schedule left no personal time for Shimoff, who kept asking herself, Is this all there is? She needed a positive change in her career, but a week of silence?
“Jani, are you insane?” Shimoff responded to my suggestion. She was a speaker, and speakers speak. Why should she give it up for seven days?
“Marce,” I said, “You need to create a vacuum for something new to come into your life. You need to totally let go. What better way than silence? You’ll be on an electronic vacation—no computers, no phones, no anything. This just might be the thing you need for the next great phase in your life. C’mon, it’ll be perfect!”
Shimoff was a master at making things happen, of taking action, of being in control. The thought of not talking for a whole seven days terrified her. What if something happened while she was gone?
Desperate for a miracle, Shimoff agreed to go.
At first silence was excruciating. Writing notes helped, but she counted the hours until she could talk again.
Then on Day Four, in the middle of a meditation, inspiration struck—and it was almost unbearable. Shimoff knew she had come up with a million-dollar idea, and there wasn’t a thing she could do about it... at least for the time being. She would stick with her promise to be silent for the entire seven days.
On the morning of the eighth day, Shimoff sprinted from her room like a roadrunner on steroids and pounced on the nearest pay phone. She called Canfield and exclaimed, “Jack, I’ve got it! Chicken Soup for the Woman’s Soul.”
“What a brilliant idea!” he replied, and in that moment the best-selling nonfiction book series of all time was born. Until that point, Canfield and his partner, Mark Victor Hansen, had no plans for a series of specialty titles.
Shimoff’s idea has led to almost 200 titles in the Chicken Soup for the Soul series. The idea that would make her the woman’s face of the series was born when she relaxed, took time off and stepped out of her busy life. (She also wrote Happy for No Reason and Love For No Reason. Her books have spent more than 100 weeks on the New York Times best-seller list.)
By observing experiences like Shimoff’s, we developed the three-part Passion Test Formula for creating anything you choose to have in your life:
3. No tension.
Perhaps the most important part of that formula is “no tension.” Shimoff wanted to be a transformational leader; she did everything she could think of to reach that goal... and it had exhausted her. Only when she took a break and stopped trying to solve her problem did inspiration strike.
The break can be incredibly scary. Most businesspeople are skilled at being in control. If you’ve enjoyed success, then you probably cover all your bases and consider how to react to every possible outcome; you work on multiple projects at once to make sure at least one really works; and you wear yourself out. Then you try to push on through because you think you don’t have any choice.
That’s because our culture encourages the idea that you must “push through” to get breakthroughs, that you have to “go the extra mile” to succeed. You end up like one of those wind-up toy cars that races into a wall and keeps spinning its wheels in an effort to push through the wall.
But when you are aligned with what you love, with what you care most about—your passions—you don’t have to try. You can’t help yourself. When obstacles arise, they may set you back briefly, but then you adjust and get back on track.
That’s because an irresistible force drives you onward. You have a unique purpose for being alive, and the things that matter most to you are the ones guiding you to fulfill that purpose. We wrote a book called The Passion Test that helps you zero in on the five things that are most meaningful to you so you can make decisions that align you with those things.
And it’s in the third part of The Passion Test Formula, “No Tension,” in which the real magic happens. When you relax and stop trying to figure out how to follow the passions you’ve identified, your reticular activating system (that’s the brain function responsible for arousal and sleep-awake transitions) remains active, mediating impulses between your unconscious and conscious mind. So even though you may not be actively thinking about the solution to your challenge or problem, your unconscious mind is still seeking it.
Slowing down, relaxing and taking time for silence and reflection allow your unconscious mind to process the millions of bits of data your experience has exposed it to—just as Shimoff’s brain processed all the data she had been exposed to and gave rise to an idea that transformed her career.
The Circle of Enjoyment
It seems ironic that the secret to creating the outcomes you want in your life and your business results from letting go. But in reality, letting go allows you to pay attention to the constant guidance—which comes in waves of expansion and contraction—that will lead you to fulfill your unique purpose for being alive.
You know what it feels like when you’re contracted:
Unhappy | Discouraged | Frustrated | Exhausted | Upset | Worried | Angry | Tense
And you know what it feels like when you’re expanded:
Open | Happy | Passionate | On Fire | Excited | Fully Engaged | Caring | Compassionate | Generous
We used to think contraction was bad and expansion was good. Contraction meant something needed “fixing,” so we wouldn’t feel bad anymore.
Then we noticed that no matter what we did, sometimes we felt expanded and sometimes we felt contracted—regardless of how well we ate, how much we exercised or how rested we were.
Then we realized that in times of contraction, everyone’s natural inclination is to go within, to be quiet—to be more reflective. During times of expansion, our natural inclination is to go full steam ahead, get things done, move forward.
This realization helped us see that contraction and expansion are just like breathing. What will happen if you only breathe in? You’ll pass out. What will happen if you only breathe out? You’ll pass out. Both in and out are necessary—just as both expansion and contraction are necessary for your growth, progress and success in life.
Contraction is simply a signal, a sign that it is time to stop, take a break and gain more clarity, just as Shimoff needed to do to take a big step forward in her career. She had to step out of her busy life before the inspiration for that next step appeared.
The Circle of Enjoyment, a key observation in the ebook we wrote with Jimmy Moore, From Sad to Glad: 7 Steps to Facing Change with Love and Power, is based on this principle. All of life exists for your enjoyment, but you are the one who has to choose: Are you going to enjoy your life or not? When you understand the Circle of Enjoyment, you can choose to enjoy every moment of your day, no matter how hard you work or how much you have to do.
When you’re working on a project with a deadline, no matter how passionate you are about that project, no matter how much you may enjoy working on that project and no matter how important it may be to your business, you will eventually become tired and the project will stop being enjoyable.
This is the first phase in the Circle of Enjoyment. The first step is to notice that what you are doing is no longer enjoyable. At this point, you have a choice: You can continue working (enjoying it less with each passing moment) or you can make a change. For many of us, if we face a crucial deadline, we’ll want to push through and get it done. Yet have you ever noticed that you do not create your best work when you are tired and your goal is just to finish? Your best work comes when you feel fresh and excited.
What to do?
You may have to return to your work or meeting, but first you need a “state change.” Here’s what we mean by that: All of us have four major states during our daily lives: physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. The key for moving from contraction to expansion—from not enjoying to enjoying—is to change your state, at least for a few minutes. You can then return to your work feeling refreshed and ready for the next phase.
So “state change” is the next step in the Circle of Enjoyment. To know what state to change to, you must notice what state you’re not enjoying. If you’re writing or calculating, you’re doing mental work; if you’re upset with someone, you’re in an emotional state; if you’re physically exhausted, that’s a physical state; and if you feel like life has no meaning, that’s a spiritual state.
For example, if you’re working on a spreadsheet or writing a report, you’re engaged in mental work. When you stop enjoying those activities, it’s time to shift to something physical (take a walk or run, go swimming, work out, ride a bike), or emotional (listen to relaxing music, talk with a friend, watch an inspiring video), or spiritual (pray, meditate, read devotional literature, spend time in nature). These are state changes.
When you’re contracted, everything gets cramped up. Creativity is stymied, and your results will suffer.
A state change is like a reset button. It puts you back in a state of openness. When you are open, then you are ready to accept “the gift.” What’s that? Shimoff’s was the idea that created the next step in her career. The gift, then, is that next step toward your goal and it completes the circle of enjoyment. It’s the “Aha!” that comes when you relax, let go and open yourself to whatever follows.
And this is what we mean by “resigning as general manager of the universe.” You don’t have to control everything in your life. You just have to make sure that you are enjoying each moment—trusting that when you pay attention, you are being guided to the next step of progress.
When you begin to feel contracted, take time out. Create a state change and then see what happens.
To the extent you have the freedom to do things and others won’t judge you or you’re not disturbing others, the crazier the state change, the better. When you can laugh and relax, you will return to your work that much clearer.
For example, as the three of us wrote From Sad to Glad, we’d be intensely focused at times. Whenever one of us noticed that the project had stopped being fun, he or she would say, “Airplane!” That was the signal for a state change.
We’d take turns lying on a bed with our feet in the air and balance one of the others, whose job it was to put their arms out and make like an airplane. Silly? Absolutely. Effective? Completely. The three of us always ended up laughing, so this state-change tactic provided a foolproof return to enjoyment mode.
A state change creates relief and the foundation for the next step of progress. We call that the gift.