Remove Drama to Reduce Stress and Increase Energy

“Because we celebrating no more drama in our lives”

 Mary J Blige, Family Affair

I have a confession.  I love drama.

I suppose that isn’t surprising since I have a bachelor’s degree in drama and spent years in various stage productions.  There is nothing quite like the thrill of developing a character and getting caught up in all the story lines as they unfold around you.  It’s a great feeling to be a part of it and part of a group of people creating an imaginary world where problems arise and play out as directed.

It’s a great feeling unless it happens at work.

actorA friend of mine was talking about the dynamics in his office recently.  He works in an office with a small staff, all in relatively close quarters.  These people have worked together for years and know each other pretty well.  Unfortunately from time to time there are some personality issues and these issues tend blossom into fireworks in relatively short periods of time.  It even seems like some of the staff enjoys the drama and feeds the fire to keep people on edge and uncomfortable.

This isn’t an unusual situation.  I have worked in both large and small offices and regardless of size there always seemed to be some sort of Tony Award worthy production going on.  Some people call it office politics but it really comes down to drama.  People who feel threatened tend to create situations to discredit the person who is threatening them.   Then they try to enlist other members of the community.  They create entire story lines that have no basis in reality.  The result is an unhealthy working environment, higher levels of stress, and decreased productivity and job satisfaction.

Drama takes up a lot of time and energy.  Not only in the workplace but in personal arena as well.  Oftentimes people create their own drama in order to avoid dealing with issues that challenge them or make them uncomfortable.  After all, if you are have a major problem demanding your attention or you allow someone else to upset you then you don’t really have the time or energy to focus on what is important to you.  And the truth of the matter is that most drama is our own creation.  It ebbs and flows, and in the long run it only matters if we allow it to.

At one point in my corporate career I was hired to fix a  large dysfunctional accounting department.  I was relatively new to management at that point, but it quickly became clear to me that there were so many factions in this group that is was like being in a corporate version of “Survivor”.   No one was working with a common purpose in mind, nor was anyone working in conjunction with their core values.  So much energy was wasted in the daily soap opera that was office life it was no wonder that the bills weren’t being paid on time.  It wasn’t until they could identify what was important to them about their jobs (not just a paycheck) that they could focus on getting the job done and feeling good about it.  It was not a popular management theory at the time, but it got results.  And I got an efficient department that was actually an enjoyable place to work so it was a double win for me.

Drama is a great indication that someone is not connected to their purpose or working in conjunction with their own values.  This holds true in both personal and professional life.  Coach and author Brendon Burchard states that “people on a path of purpose don’t have time for drama.”   I’ve been part of management teams who lived for drama and also part of teams that got things done.   When I was part of Team Drama I was stressed and exhausted at the end of each day–and not from the work.  It wasn’t until I was able to separate myself from the distractions and focus instead on what I found meaningful about my job that I felt I was successful in my job.  Working with Team Value was exciting and exhilarating.  Recognizing common goals and working in conjunction with complimentary core values made the projects easier to accomplish, the time fly by, and enough energy left at the end of the day to enjoy a personal life.

So I still love drama.  Now I just love watching it, not being in it.  These days I know when drama starts to creep back into my life I am losing sight of my chosen purpose.  I would rather use my energy to create a life filled with things that matter to me than waste that energy caught up in someone else’s story or distracting myself from my own.

After all, this life is not a dress rehearsal.  We don’t get a lot of do-overs, so we should do our best to make this performance count.

Do you let drama sap your energy or do you think the best place for drama is on the big or small screen, but not your living room?  I’d love to know what you think.  

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A Time-Out for the Mind

monkeyHow many times have you been in a meeting at work and suddenly realized  you have no idea what has just been said?  Or you have a deadline looming but every time you sit down to finish up the project  something else suddenly seems more important?   It happens time and time again.  As soon as we try to concentrate on one particular issue, our mind is flooded with a thousand other things we could or should be doing.   It’s as if  our mind is purposely trying to sabotage us and distract us from what we need to do.

The bad news is that it’s true–our minds continually try to distract us.  The good news is that we can control that.  To some degree  we learn to control our thought processes as we age.  It is a natural progression.  But like any skill set, concentration can be improved and strengthened with use and training.  After all, an olympic runner may naturally be pretty fast and beat the other local runners, but she isn’t going to make it to the top of podium without major practice and training.

What are some of the benefits of enhanced concentration?  One of the most popular benefits is improved work performance.  When you can focus on one topic and give it your full and undivided attention, the resulting product will undoubtedly be of a higher quality, completed in less time.

Another benefit of concentration is peace of mind.   If we can train our minds to remain on the situation in the present moment,  there is less chance to let our minds wander to the future and the “what if” possible scenarios.   These scenarios are the basis for a lot manufactured stress in today’s world.  We spend too much time thinking about what may happen, or what could happen.   These thoughts tend to generate anxiety  about situations that may not even occur.

Improving concentration and focus in the present moment is a great way reduce stress, but many people are at a loss when asked just how to do that.  Some feel they have no problem concentrating.  Here is an exercise to see just how distracted your mind may be.   Set a timer for three or five minutes.  Without a given subject in mind, begin to write down whatever comes into your head.  Don’t worry about spelling, punctuation, or grammar.  Don’t even think about what you are writing, just let it flow as a stream of consciousness.  When the timer goes off, take a look at what you’ve written.  Chances are that you will see a variety of subjects, and many thoughts or ideas which are only half-finished before switching to another topic.  It is a fascinating exercise to see how quickly the mind can jump from subject to subject.

In mindfulness circles, this behavior is often referred to as monkey-mind.  Swinging from one idea to another, the mind is like a monkey in the trees swinging from vine to vine.  This is the monkey that worries about the future and keeps us up at night.  Even when we are enjoying ourselves, that monkey is swinging around and trying to distract us.  I also like to think of it as the squirrel syndrome.  Picture  a cartoon dog who stops mid-sentence because he is more interested in the squirrel or  shiny object that just saw rushed by.   Not only is it hard to concentrate or enjoy any activities at hand,  quite frankly chasing those squirrels can be downright exhausting.

So when the mind is misbehaving and running amuck, treat it like the preschooler that it is and give it a time out.  For just a few minutes, stop what you are doing and concentrate on nothing.  Now, most people will find when they try to clear their minds, it only allows space for more thoughts to rush in, so finding a starting point is good.   Instead of nothing, concentrate on your breath.  Breathe in, count for three counts and out for five counts.  Think about how it feels as you breath in and out through your nose.   Here’s a tip–you will probably think about other things as you do this.  That’s perfectly normal.  Just acknowledge the thought and move on.  Let  it go out as easily as it came in.  Like the writing exercise, try this for three to five minutes.

The good thing is that you can do this anywhere (except possibly behind the wheel).  Steal a few minutes at work and give yourself a mini-vacation.  Try it while taking a bath and create a spa-like experience.   Like any exercise, the more you do it, the better you will become at it.  You will be able to focus for longer periods of time.  You may start to see improved concentration in areas you didn’t expect.  Anxiety levels may decrease.  Enjoyment of the present moment may increase.

Just like a monkey or a toddler, training  the mind to behave is never easy.  However,  you can train your mind to focus  on one item at a time (or nothing at all).   When you do that, you eliminate trips into the past or the future and thus reduce feelings of regret or anxiety.   Aside from boosting self-confidence from mastering a new skill, you can’t help but improve your quality of life.  And that, I think, is definitely worth the effort.

So when the monkey is swinging in the trees,  give your mind a time out.  Put it in a corner and let it rest.  You’ll be glad you did.

 

 


A Christmas Wish

OWe have entered the countdown for the Christmas holiday.  Shopping for last-minute gifts, coughing up the overnight delivery charges, getting the house ready for guests.  The list goes on and on.  By the time Christmas gets here, we are exhausted and have no energy left to savor the joys of the holiday.

There is no doubt that the holidays are a stressful time.   There is usually too much to do and not enough time in a regular day, so adding holiday expectations into the mix can really throw some people over the edge.  For them, the holidays are not a time to celebrate and reflect with family and friends.  The holidays become just another series of check-marks on a to-do list.

So for them, and for all of us, here is my Christmas wish.  I wish everyone the joy of simply slowing down and savoring the moment.  There really aren’t a lot of opportunities where society pretty much stops for a day, so we should take advantage of that when we can.   We spend almost every other day of the year racing in high-speed, so hitting the brakes may not be easy, but it is certainly worth it.

Take the time to enjoy the holidays.   If you are a Type A personality, this can be difficult since we tend to try to control things and make them perfect.  Here is a suggestion that might make things easier.  Don’t judge.   It takes too much energy.  Santa can decide what is naughty or nice–all we have to do is enjoy what is.

We all have ideas of what the perfect Christmas is, but that vision is just that–an idea.  Don’t worry if the dinner isn’t perfect, or the gifts aren’t wrapped like a Martha Stewart holiday ad.   Trying to live up to self-imposed ideals  creates unnecessary stress and robs us of the joy of simply sharing the moment with others.

If we let go of the way things should be, we may find that the way things really are is better than we could have imagined.  It’s not always an easy thing to do, but is worth the effort.

So give it a try.  Slow down and live in the moment.  We can all rev up  to speed again on the 26th.

But if we slow down, we may just find that the moments we are actually present for become the memories we cherish the most.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to All.

Check out my new group coaching program beginning  January 15, 2013.   Transform your life  From Surviving to Thriving in Six Weeks or Less!   Participation is limited so don’t be disappointed.   Reserve your space today.


Are You Doing What You Love?

happypigeonsHere is a stress-test scenario for you.  Are you doing what you love to do?  Whether at work or at home, are you engaged in activities that bring you joy and fulfillment?  Simple questions, really.  Unfortunately, when I ask these questions many people respond with a negative answer.  Most people say they are doing what they have to do to make a living, pay the mortgage and the bills, and work toward retirement.  Or they have to make dinner because the kids have to eat and if they don’t do it everyone starves.   Very few people say they are following their dream and that they find satisfaction and happiness in their daily activities.

Doing something that you do not want to do is one of the major ways to increase stress in your daily life.  It can lead to feelings of frustration and helplessness, especially if the act is continually repeated.  A good example is going to a job you hate everyday  because you need to pay the bills.  If you do it long enough, you may not even notice that your stress symptoms are off the charts.  After a while, we just accept it as a part of life.

So here is one way to fix that and lower the stress levels.  If you are doing something you do not want to do–don’t do it.  Seriously, it is that simple.   Think of the old joke about the man who goes to the doctor  because it hurts when he raises his arm.  The doctor’s answer is also simple–if it hurts, don’t do it.

Of course, there is a catch.  It may be a simple fix, but no one said that simple was easy.   I am not advocating that you walk away from your job and responsibilities because you don’t like going to office.  What I am suggesting is that you have a choice.   You may choose to  do something or not, but you need to be clear on why you are doing it if you want to lower stress and increase happiness.   In most cases, we do things we don’t like to do because we are not clear on what is motivating our actions.

Very often we do things because we think we should.  We chase the high paying job because we should–it proves we are successful.  We marry and have children because it is what we are supposed to do–everyone else does it.   We need to go to work everyday to pay for the car, the house, and all the stuff we have acquired.  We use that stuff to define ourselves and we need to maintain the definition.

Ultimately, motivation for our actions falls into three  categories:  want to, have to, or should.   Not surprisingly, stress levels increase across each category.    Doing something because we love it involves almost no stress at all.  We do it because it is in alignment with our core values, it feels right, and it is inspiring and fulfilling.  At the opposite end of the spectrum is doing something because we feel we should.  It usually has something to do with self-image, but is not in alignment with values, and doesn’t sit right with us when we do it.   Acting out of “should” can only increase stress levels correspondingly.  In the middle is doing things because we have to.  This is a means to an end or necessary to achieve something.   Feeling that we have to do something increases pressure and stress. The good news is that we have the choice to find other means to that end we are looking for.  We can always do something else to get where we want to go.

Once we define motivation and realize that we have a choice in all our actions, it becomes easier to change those actions–if we want to.

Another option is changing perspective.  Perhaps the job isn’t perfect  but we go because we love our family and want to provide for them.   Working then becomes a positive action with a positive outcome.  Some of the stress is automatically lessened when we view the situation in that light. The job may not be perfect, but it is better.   Again, the viewpoint is our choice.

One final thought on this simple fix:  not doing what you don’t want to do is not easy.  Especially if society and your inner critic is telling you that you should be doing exactly that.  However, it is worth the effort.   Remember, choices have consequences. If you can align your actions with your core values and draw motivation from there,  it doesn’t matter what others say.   Doing what you love can only increase your happiness and reduce stress.

And that is a pretty delicious way to live.

Check out my new group coaching program beginning  January 15, 2013.   Transform your life  From Surviving to Thriving in Six Weeks or Less!   Participation is limited so don’t be disappointed.   Reserve your space today.


Stress and the Pursuit of Happiness

Sunflower 1It is one of the founding principles of the United States.  We are entitled to the pursuit of happiness.  It is what we are put on this earth to do.  And if it is a right, it should be a pretty easy thing to do, right?  Define happiness,  get set, pursue, achieve.  Simple.

So why do so many people in today’s society feel like they are on a never-ending chase to find that elusive state?  And we all know that when we don’t seem to be able to achieve a goal, we find frustration and stress instead.   The harder we try to be happy, the harder it is to be happy.  Just when we figure out what will get us there, someone moves the finish line.  What we thought would be the end of the race turns out to be only another hurdle.

Finding happiness is important.  Why?  Because on a basic level, we equate happiness with well-being.  If we are to live a full and optimal life, we need to be happy.   We need to enjoy life and find the things that contribute to our happiness.   We need to be active in pursing happiness.

There is only one little fundamental flaw in this theory.  Most of us are pursing the wrong things.   Somewhere in our personal development, we decided what was important to each of us.  Subconsciously we designed a matrix that determined how we could be happy and what would be necessary to achieve it.  Sometimes we modeled that on early environmental factors, such as a stable home life.  Sometimes the opposite is true.  There was no stable home life and there was unhappiness.  Therefore, a stable home would be a requirement for happiness.

Many people equate financial success with happiness.  After all, we are bombarded with media images of wealthy, successful people all the time–and they certainly look happy.  Wealthy people don’t worry about money, so they have to be happy.  The goal becomes to have enough money to not have to worry about it ( which in itself is not possible, but that’s a different subject).  Of course, the problem here is deciding when enough is enough.   The reality is that when you allow money to determine happiness, you will almost always feel that there is never enough.  Kind of a self-defeating cycle.

The bad news for those of us who are goal-oriented, Type-A driven personalities,  is that we should stop the pursuit.  It is one of the hardest things to do–especially when we find value in action–but we have to stop taking the easy way out.

Here’s the issue.  It is much easier to assign responsibility to external factors as a basis for creating happiness.  We pursue these conditions, or goals, in hopes that they will make us happy.  A good relationship, a better job,  a bigger house.   It seems that we have been conditioned to believe that things, or conditions, will make us happy.  It is much more difficult, and more frightening, to accept responsibility for our own happiness.

The truth is that each of us has the ability to be happy at any given time.   If you think about a time when you considered yourself happy, you probably weren’t actually thinking about being happy.  You simply were.  You were in the moment, and that moment was all that mattered.  The problem is that most of us don’t realize those moments matter.

There was a time I was walking my dogs (I have four, so walking them is no easy feat),  and  in spite of the tugging on the leashes or whatever problems, I was incredibly happy.  There was nothing special about the day but for some reason  I was actually aware of what I was doing, not just performing a task on autopilot.  I was completely in moment and it was a very peaceful, happy experience.   In the midst of a not-so-particularly great day I was happy.   When I stopped looking for it, I discovered happiness was there if I wanted it.

This is not to say that pursuing goals is a bad thing.  Far from it.  However, using the completion of a goal as a benchmark for happiness is an exercise in futility.  There will always be another goal, so if you attach your ideal of happiness to attaining a goal, you will set yourself up for an endless search.  And that search only leads to stress and dissatisfaction.  So create goals, but create them for the sake improving your situation, not for the expectation of how that achievement will make you feel.   How you feel about any situation at any time is completely up to you.   Enjoying a sense of satisfaction due to an achievement is not the same as expecting an achievement to satisfy you.   A subtle difference, but an important one.

We do have the right to be happy and to thrive to the best of our abilities in whatever environment we find ourselves.  Once we accept that we don’t have to search for happiness–that happiness can already be an integral part of our world if we just allow it– interesting things happen.  Stress levels drop, we have more energy to put toward positive pursuits,we find a sense of peace, and our health can actually improve.   Now that certainly seems like something worth pursuing.

Are you ready to discover how the power of one-on-one coaching can help you break down self-imposed barriers and reach your Personal Best?  Click  here to schedule a complimentary strategic coaching session and see if wellness coaching is right for you.

Check out my free teleclass for Your Best Year Ever and give yourself a head start to a great 2013!


Need a Change? Try Your Perspective

S

Let’s face it–change is hard.  It doesn’t matter if it is a change for the better, such as committing to a healthier eating plan, or coping with  change caused by external sources, such as  a layoff.   Adjusting to change is just not something we humans tend to do well.  And initiating or maintaining change, especially self-change, can be even more difficult.   It doesn’t matter if we understand the changes could be beneficial.  Creating new habits and patterns is just not something that comes easily to most of us.

So what can we do if we are considering a positive change?  The first way to attempt a change is to make an external change.  A great example is deciding to go on a diet.  We alter our eating habits, thinking that this will help us lose weight and feel healthier.  And it works–for a while.  But the change doesn’t last.  We slowly revert to our old habits, and the weight returns.  Why is it so hard to maintain healthy changes?  Because so often we change the behavior, but do not  make a corresponding change in how we view our world.  We just don’t change our perspective.

One of the best ways to create lasting change in our lives is to change our perspective.  When we can change the way we see ourselves and the world around us, changing behavior becomes much less difficult.   Changing eating habits is a great strategy for weight loss, but deciding that a healthy lifestyle is more reflective of who you really are gives you a much greater chance of lasting success at achieving your goal.  If you believe that you are a healthy person, it will be easier to make healthy changes that complement that perception.

One of the best ways to change our perspective is to realize that we are responsible for our own reality.  Of course there are external factors that shape our world, but we are responsible for how we react to those factors.  When we make that connection, a very subtle but important shift happens within.   We are no longer victims of circumstance.  We become the creators of the type of life we want to live.  Our perception of our own worth and power changes in a very positive way.  And that is a very powerful tool.

Have you ever noticed that things you worry about tend to happen?  When we worry we fixate on the negative, and expending all that energy on negative thoughts tends to create a negative environment.  It is true that we see what we want to see.  If we shift our perception to focus on more positive aspects of our realities, we can create a more positive environment for growth and change.  Glass half full or glass half empty–you decide.

Here’s a little coaching exercise to help change your perspective and make your world a more positive place.  Complaining is a very negative habit, and it takes a lot of energy away from creating a positive lifestyle.  So here’s the deal.  Try not to complain about anything for one week.  This doesn’t mean that if you receive  the wrong order from Amazon you shouldn’t send it back, but don’t rant on about how awful and ineffectual the company is.  Just return it and move on.    Most importantly, don’t complain about the traffic, or the weather, or anything.  Don’t expend that energy.  It’s not easy, but you can really change your perception of yourself and your world  when you become mindful of how much energy is focused on  negative issues.

When you stop complaining, you can’t help but begin to see the world in a more positive light.  And that more positive light is a great tool to help change your overall perspective as well.

Are you ready to discover how the power of one-on-one coaching can help you break down self-imposed barriers and reach your Personal Best?  Click  here to schedule a complimentary strategic coaching session and see if wellness coaching is right for you.

Check out my free teleclass for Your Best Year Ever and give yourself a head start to a great 2013!


The Dangers of the To-Do List

If you are like me, and a lot of other people as well, you probably rely on your to-do list to keep your life sane and orderly.   Using the list to keep track of projects and daily issues is a way to stay in control of everything on your plate.  And it feels great to cross an item off the list after it has been accomplished.

That is the up-side of a to-do list.  The downside of maintaining that list is that it can begin to look eerily similar day after day, and week after week.  The same items go on the list, the same items get crossed off, some of them never seem to get touched.  Suddenly a month goes by, and then a year.  At some point that to-do list changes from a tool for measuring progress and becomes a roadmap of routine.

Routine is not altogether a bad thing.  Certain repetitive routines help us get through mundane tasks with minimal mental energy. Brushing your teeth, for example, takes no thought on your part, and is a necessary part of the day.  It is a routine, and because it takes very little thought, it doesn’t tax your mental energy.  Daily exercise habits and healthy eating patterns are other examples of good routines.

The danger of routine occurs when we no longer  think about what we are doing throughout the day.  Most of us have certain actions that expected of us on a daily basis.  We perform the same functions at work, pick up the kids after school,  get dinner on the table,  find some way to relax for a while (hopefully) in the evening, then get ready to do it all again tomorrow.  Whatever fills our days, chances are there is a lot of repetition required just to keep all the wheels turning.   It’s not surprising that one day starts to look like the next, and slowly we lose energy and creativity.  It is as if checking off the same items week after week is enough to give us a sense of satisfaction.  After all, we are accomplishing something, right?

The other problem with to-do lists is that most are focused on short-term goals.  Nothing wrong with that, of course.  But when we fill our days with easily attainable goals, or items that seem important but in the long run are actually trivial, we crowd out any time for focusing on long-term goals and dreams.  In a perverse sort of way, we can feel more satisfaction in cleaning up after dinner than spending an hour brainstorming ways to start a new project.  It is more immediate and tangible, something to crossed off the list, at least for the night.   It is almost impossible to successfully bring about long-term change or growth when we condition ourselves to only accept the satisfaction of short-term goals.

One way to break out the daily grind is to become aware  of it.   Try to recognize when you are running on autopilot.  Routines are not always a bad thing, but they always become a better thing when they are done mindfully.  Is there a different way to do something?  Can it be done better or more efficiently?  Does it have to be done at all?  Sometimes we continue to do things because we are comfortable with them, but they no longer serve us and we just don’t notice it.  If you awaken your mind to your actions, chances are  that you will become more conscious of aspects in your life you tend to overlook or no longer need to hang onto.

Another way to overcome mind numbing effects of to-lists and routines is to carve out some time each week to focus on a long-term goal.  Maybe it is a half an hour a day, or possibly just an hour a week.  But if you live by a list, make sure that block of time is on the list.  Design a plan to accomplish the goal, and determine what steps need are needed to get you there.   Establish interim benchmarks to mark your progress so you can celebrate along the way.  Also be ready to make alterations to the plan as you go along.   After all, very few things in life happen exactly as we expect them to.

By making a conscious effort to find time to focus on a long-term goal rather than simply filling the days checking off short-term goals, you may find something interesting happens.  So many people are frustrated at the end of the day because they aren’t sure where all the time went.  Suddenly the day is over and they don’t feel as if they accomplished much, even though they did hit all the required routines.   If you allow yourself to consciously address a dream or a goal that is going to take much longer than just an afternoon, a week, a month–or maybe even a year–to become a reality, you will give yourself the gift of long-term satisfaction.  And that satisfaction is much deeper and richer than the type that comes from crossing the same item off the to-do list time and time again.  It is the type of satisfaction that can give real meaning and joy to your life.

And that, in my opinion, is certainly something worth adding to your to-do list.