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One of the greatest gifts my profession gives me is the opportunity to observe and learn from others. Without fail, one of the most consistent pieces of feedback I get from coachees is the value they get from taking time out to think. It creates the space for reflection, learning and growth.

Information overload, constant change, multiple roles, competing priorities and the rapid pace with which we live our lives mean that unless we intentionally slow down, we are at risk of living unconsciously. It’s certainly not a new idea, but in our complex, uncertain world it’s become more important to slow down to achieve more.

Research tells us the ‘24/7, always on’ world in which we live overloads our neural circuits. It tells us that creative thinking gives way to process and that our empathy and connection to others decreases. (See this great article in the Harvard Business Review)

So I’m taking time out.

It started as a conversation with my sons, as we idly day dreamed around how fantastic it would be for me to be home with them as they prepared for and wrote their final school exams. Idle day dreaming turned into a simple ‘why not?’ and a few conversations later, I find myself typing this as I am about to take time out for 30 days.

Yes, I have a few work things to do whilst I’m away from the office. And a new house to look for. But I’ve zealously guarded and protected the next few weeks because I know how meaningful and valuable this time is. It’s time for me to connect, to think, to support, to breathe, to reflect … and to just be. It’s probably also the last time that my ‘almost men’ will need me for a lengthy period of time.

I can’t wait. I’m off to sit. And possibly bake some cookies.

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So there I was, quietly working in my study, when my 11 year old sons came in, proudly bearing a breakfast tray for me. They had been away on camp for a week, and as my friends will tell you, I had missed them terribly whilst they were away. And clearly, whilst they were at said camp, they had learnt how to make omelettes. There on my tray, was a perfectly cooked omelette filled with mushrooms and cheese, and a glass of delicious fruit juice all beautifully presented.

While my sons were learning those fundamental cooking skills, I was busy doing my own learning. For years, I have been fascinated by the brain, and have studied it as extensively as I can. This interest has served me well in my coaching career as I help people to fulfil their potential by understanding how the human brain functions. And I learnt last week that new learning results in the secretion of the neurotransmitters dopamine (involved in newness, pleasure, performance) and oxytocin (bonding and safe connectivity). This explains why learning new information or skills is so stimulating and why group learning is so connecting.

A landmark study reported on in the Journal of Neuroscience (Jan 24 issue) reveals that learning slows cognitive decline, and keeps our brains functioning at a level associated with a younger chronological age. And a younger brain means a younger body.

Which I have to say is the best argument I’ve ever heard for lifelong learning.

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