Tragedy in the chicken coop. In the early morning darkness, cries of alarm from the chickens and a furtive, tailless, feline form seen jumping the fence and fleeing the scene. At dawn the wreckage was clear; one chicken dead, another barely alive. The task of finishing the job begun by the bobcat fell to me.
Beyond a few trips to the petting zoo, my suburban upbringing provided no opportunities to experience the realities of rural life. Since moving to the country (wine country that is!) and acquiring our flock of laying hens - all seven of them - it's been great fun watching them demonstrate the behaviors behind many of our popular catch phrases: Flying the coop, hen-pecked, pecking order, home to roost. I have seen them all in action. I was, however, hoping to avoid the need to witness the reality behind the phrase "running around like a chicken with its head cut off." Our friendly neighborhood bobcat provided me with that opportunity.
It is truly surreal to watch a headless chicken jump and flap around as if in search of its lost head. Each time she appeared to be running out of juice I would take a breath, thinking it was over only to be dismayed when the chaotic flapping began again. A part of me wanted to run away, but I found myself transfixed by the bizarre scene. If the chicken still had its head I would have shouted STOP, although I've discovered while attempting to round up escaped birds, that even chickens with their heads still attached are not known for their willingness to obey commands.
As I continued to watch the chicken, I felt a disconcerting sense of familiarity which I attributed to the bizarre nature of the scene. But later that day, I caught myself spinning as I tried to get a handle on a project. When I stopped and sat with the feeling I realized that I was acting just like that headless chicken. I had entered Headless Chicken Syndrome without realizing it. My head was buzzing happily along, creating to-do lists and task completion plans, adding more projects on a daily basis, while my body was slowly and silently slipping into overwhelm. There was a disconnect between my head's desire to get things done and my body's ability to do them; it was as if my head was, indeed, detached from my body. I realized that just as I had wanted to shout stop to the chicken, I needed someone to shout STOP to me!
While not quite a shout, there is a technique that Timothy Gallwey describes in his book, The Inner Game of Work. The STOP technique is perfect for times when you feel overwhelmed, confused or other symptoms of Headless Chicken Syndrome. STOP stands for: Stop, Think, Organize your thoughts, Proceed. This is a great tool to restore clarity, focus, and effectiveness.
There is one additional step from time management courses that I have found to be beneficial: breathe. It doesn't quite fit into the mnemonic - SBTOP - but that added step helps to bring a sense of calm to the moment. If you stop and immediately begin to think, you may end up thinking while your head is still detached from your body. Breathing brings your head and body back together so that you can think from a whole body/being perspective. You are able to then balance the analytical processes of the mind with the emotional and physical intelligence of the body.
The mind is a wonderful thing but, left to its own devices, it has a certain perspective that would place a high priority on everything. Have you ever attempted to prioritize your "to-do" list only to discover that everything is the highest priority? This is your mind speaking, and it can only lead you into trouble.
The intelligence we carry in our body has a much different perspective. The priorities for my body are exercise, relaxation, time in nature and cooking good food. Compare that to the priorities of my head: returning phone calls, checking email, paying bills . . . You get the picture. Both perspectives are equally valid and equally important to our well being. Finding the balance between the priorities of the head and of the body is a crucial step in achieving a life of health and joy.Here's an idea that may help you balance those needs. The next time you prioritize your tasks, try this: Close your eyes and take five slow deep breaths. Let the breath reconnect your head and body, and imagine that you are balancing your intellect and emotions, your needs and desires. When you complete the breathing, speak this intention, or something similar:
"Today I intend to create a to do list which supports the well being of my body, mind and spirit. This to do list balances the needs of my head, the desires of my body, and the purpose of my soul. In creating this list I acknowledge that my wants are as important as my responsibilities and that by balancing play and work, self care with responsibility, I enhance my well being and my ability to contribute to the world in a more meaningful way."
When you have stated your intention, open your eyes, review your tasks and create a balanced, life- affirming to do list.
The next time you find yourself in or entering Headless Chicken Syndrome, remember SBTOP: Stop, Breathe, Think, Organize your thoughts, Proceed.