Downshifting: How to Move From Tasks to Connection

“I want to connect with people, but I’ve spent the last 40 years building walls. I don’t even know where to start.” Maybe you feel the same way as one of our leaders, who had just articulated his vision for what he wanted to be able to say about his relationships in the end. He wanted to still be married to his wife, have a close relationship with his kids, and have meaningful relationships with his parents, siblings, and friends. But then reality hit. Where he wanted to end up and where he was headed were completely in the opposite directions. His question was, “Where do I even start to turn this ship around?” I don’t think he’s the only one asking this question.

 
 

There are many reasons why we struggle to develop deep, meaningful relationships. Some of us get focused on our career, there may be trust issues from past hurts, there may be insecurities or pride that gets in the way of us truly connecting with people. I don’t know where you’re at, so what is it for you?

I will tell you that in my experiences with people at the end of life, more often than any other subject, people offer more regrets over their relationships with family and friends (or lack thereof). We were built to connect with people and when we don’t, we miss out on the richness of life that God intends for us to live.

We all have our comfort zones. For some of us it’s work. As long as I can focus on a task or project, I’m good. For others, it is being alone or it might be always being around people. All of these are not bad or evil things, but when we stay in these gears and never shift out of them, we can get stuck.

“In retreating to your comfortable space you might actually make it harder for yourself, not easier. When this happens you are actually losing influence: people not wanting to know you or connect with you. In time, it is like you’ve painted yourself into a corner.”


We’ve been going through Jeremie Kubicek’s book, “5 Gears” the last few weeks. Let me remind you quick what he suggests the 5 Gears are:

5th Gear - Focus Mode: Task-Centered, fully focused and moving quickly in the zone

4th Gear - Task Mode: Multitasking; working hard in various ways

3rd Gear - Social Mode: Present with people and can shift up or down easily

2nd Gear - Connect Mode: Being present with family or friends without work

1st Gear - Recharge Mode: Personal recharge, completely unplugged


He gives some great insights again on how to downshift out of 4th and 5th gear (Work) into 2nd or 3rd (Relationships)

  • Learn to be ‘for’ people. People can sense if you are for them, against them, or for yourself. One way to get to 3rd gear is to simply engage with them. Show that you are interested in them to some level.

  • Be curious. If you are an idea person trapped in a 3rd gear setting with ‘people and things’ people or vice versa, try your best to be curious. Develop discipline here. Move around if you need to, but at least show your interest.

  • Give people the opportunity to surprise you. You never know where this might lead, but someone could surprise you with a fact or an idea that might blow you away. Judging people before you meet is a recipe for boredom and snobbery.

  • Get off your phone. Put your phone away so that you are not tempted to pull it out and get into 4th or 5th gear.

Warning Signs: You know you have an unhealthy 2nd or 3rd gear if you…

  • Procrastinate and miss doing real 4th gear work.

  • Need a part at all times.

  • Have a lack of discipline and professionalism.

  • Never go deep enough and remain superficial.

  • Double-book relationships and miss the depth.

  • Your colleagues think you're lazy or that work is a minor inconvenience.

  • Feel like you have a mask, you never want to go deeper.

  • Try so hard not to miss out that you actually miss out.

2nd gear is similar to 3rd, in that it involves relationships. We shift into 2nd gear when we enter into connect mode and become present with someone.

Here are some examples of 2nd Gear experiences that leaders have given:

  • “Spending time with my son. Doing things that he and I love to do.”

  • “Going to lunch with a co-worker who understands me and allows me to vent.”

  • “Being with our kids and playing games without cell phones or TV.”

  • “Taking my wife out on a date. Spending time just being together.”

  • “Stopping by my employee’s desk and checking in - spending more time than I normally would.”

  • “Being with my father who is sick, and not nagging, but instead connecting.”

  • “Making a fire pit and trading funny stories with my family.”

  • “Getting quality time with my key leaders. Listening and then challenging them as they become better leaders.”

I’ve talked about my own challenges in the past (See blog post, “Where is Your Finish Line?”). When I get into 4th or 5th gear, it is really difficult for me to downshift. In fact, I am terrible at it. I am trying to work on my clutch skills and I am learning to be more graceful in how I downshift. The times that I struggle with most are when I am interrupted in the middle of a project or thought, and when I am transitioning from work to family. The last few weeks I have had to literally picture in my mind downshifting and mentally deciding which gear I need to be in at that moment. It has been pretty cool to see the change. I haven’t gotten it right every time, but I can tell that it is making a difference.


Maybe you are reading this as someone who would admit that you have a difficult time truly connecting with people. You are friendly and people like being around you, but you can count on one hand the number of significant conversations you’ve had over the past year. Here are some tips from “5 Gears” that I would encourage you to try out:

Take the time.

When you sense that there is an opportunity to connect, go for it. Make time to connect. Add connect time to your calendar or space your appointments out to add an extra 15 minutes or so, if and when you have a meeting.

Listen.

The way to connect comes through your ears, not your mouth. When you listen, you give respect and gain perspective. Listening to others by hearing what is really going on is the start to connecting well and being present.

Don't force it.

People know if you are forcing something. You can’t fake connecting. It is a two-way street. Inauthenticity leads to disconnection. Be you, be present, and be patient. Connection will happen if you will be present.

Give yourself away.

Giving yourself away seems risky to some, especially to those who have been burned. However, when you risk by going deep and giving yourself away to help the other person, you increase your chances to receive far more than you imagined. When you invest well you normally get a return on that investment.

Cut what binds.

This is easier said than done, but you may have habits in your life that are keeping you from your best or from key relationships. Surely solitaire or apps or TV can be prioritized for better times. Consider moving things to a different time of the day if they are having an adverse effect on your relationships.


The challenge to all of this is that we live in a 4th gear culture, but we were created to have 2nd gear connections with others. The key is to understanding and being reflexive when it comes to the rhythms and flows of your day.

As I have been going through this process, I have been intentionally looking at my calendar and assessing which gear was going to be required of me. These are the things I know are going to happen and I can be proactive. Then there are the surprises, interruptions and emergencies that can come up at any given time. I have tried to mentally prepare myself for when they happen (and they will), so that I will have already decided how I am going to respond. Not with anxiety or frustration, but a simple change of gears and let’s deal with the issue.

As I look ahead, I am also looking for times in the day that I can downshift to 1st gear to recharge. If I am making a hospital visit and I know if could be a difficult one, I park at the back of the parking lot. The walk gives me some 1st gear time to prepare my mind and pray for what is ahead, and I know that I will get the same opportunity on my way out. What I know about myself is exercise and being in the outdoors charges my batteries up, and I give myself that gift as often as I can. It not only benefits me, but I walk into these situations with energy and I’m able to be in 2nd gear with them and to connect and listen deeply.

I want to encourage you this week as we head into Thanksgiving to take this chance to begin to live out some of these principles that we have talked about the last few weeks. I dare you to downshift. Give yourself a gift and get out of 4th and 5th gear, and downshift to recharge, rest, and intentionally connect with someone during this break.

Go back to last week’s blog and recognize the things that you do that recharge your batteries. Pick one or two and take time to do them.

Think about the people that will be around your table on Thanksgiving. Who is one person that you would like to get to know just a little bit better? Make an effort to connect with them, listen to them, and find out something about. Be intentional about what gear you are in and try it out this week.

Next week, we will talk about what it looks like to be in 4th and 5th gear, and how we can be more effective in our work and ability to get things done!

Have a great Thanksgiving!