Stress Out or Not–Your Choice

Waiting in LineToday is a beautiful day in the Napa valley.   The sun is out, the rain is over, the air is clean, and we are breaking 70 degrees.  I am in short sleeves for the first time in weeks.  It really is a perfect Northern California January day.   Even during cold spells, which we have had a lot of lately, I always consider myself lucky to live here.  So I was quite surprised to hear people make themselves miserable today.  Perhaps I should explain.

During lunch I ran an errand up to my HMO pharmacy to pick up a couple of prescriptions.  Nothing major, just a regular thing for me.  I had re-ordered them online, and had gotten a call that they were ready so it seemed like a good idea to pick them up.  When I got there, after waiting in line to get to the counter, I found out that only one of the prescriptions had been filled.  No particular reason–it just didn’t get done.  The woman helping me was apologetic and asked if I would like to wait if they could rush it.  Although it was inconvenient, it was just one of those things so I took a seat to wait for my name–again.

I was sitting near the entrance to the pharmacy, so I couldn’t help but hear people as they queued up behind my chair.   As I sat, I was amazed at the reaction as people entered the pharmacy on a Friday afternoon.  The line was actually not too long, maybe ten people at a time.  But as each person came to pick up their prescription it seemed as though they were surprised that anyone else needed to do the same thing that they did.  I heard more than one expletive, and several conversations about how poorly the pharmacy was run.  As these people talked,  they seemed to feed on the negative energy, making the wait balloon into one of worst things that could possibly be happening in their lives.   The rising stress levels in the line were almost palpable.

Now, I have to say that people are not usually at their best when in a pharmacy.  They are probably there because they are ill and less than their best.  However, in today’s world standing in line to buy anything is not really a surprise.  And getting angry about having to do it is neither productive nor healthy.  I couldn’t help but think that this was a classic example of choice and picking your battles.

When we are faced with situations that are unpleasant we have to make a decision.  Can we do something about it, or is the situation out of our control?  And if it is out of our control, how do we choose to react to it?  These are fundamental questions but our world moves at warp speed these days and we don’t always have time to think about them.  The result is a lot of frustration and unnecessary stress.

In this example, the situation is out of our control but we do have a choice in our reaction.  We can wait or we can come back later.  Both are probably inconvenient, but getting angry about the inconvenience will only make us feel worse.  Perhaps a better way of dealing with the situation is to make a choice and take responsibility for it.   Wait or come back–our choice.  Getting angry and blaming the pharmacy, or worse the person behind the counter, will not change anything.  It will only raise blood pressure and most likely put a damper on the rest of the afternoon.   And that doesn’t seem like the best choice to me.

I’m not naive.  I know people are busy, and most are over-scheduled.  But letting situations over which you have no control upset you will do nothing but stress you out unnecessarily.  I know this because  I used to be the first to stress out if I had to wait for something.  I was busy, tired, and certainly didn’t have time to stand around and wait–I had a schedule to keep.  That was several years ago in my corporate life.

Flash forward to now.  I’m still busy (although I sleep better these days so I’m not really tired much), and don’t really have time to wait around for something.  I still have a schedule.  But I have a different perspective now. Indignation caused by inconvenience does no one any good.  I know that I can’t control everything and I take responsibility for my reactions.  By doing so, I still get my prescriptions, although it took a bit longer than expected.  The world did not end because I had to wait.  I also get a beautiful sunny afternoon, smiling conversations with people behind the counter,  and the ability to let the inconvenience go and get on with my day.  Because of it I have a lot more energy, a lot less stress, and a lot more enjoyment of my day.

Seems like the better choice to me.

How do you deal with inconvenience?  Do you let it stress you out or does your reaction let you enjoy your day?   


Creating a Perfect Year

With Halloween right around the corner, it will only be a second before we are all ringing in the New Year.  It is amazing how much more quickly this happens each and every year.  I may be mistaken, but I am pretty sure that I was just writing down my resolutions for 2012 about a week ago instead of  a year ago.

I know it may be a little early to start thinking about this since there are always daily fires to put out, but have you started to think about changes you would like to make in 2013?  A lot of people make their resolutions on December 31st.  These are also the people who usually drop those resolutions about January 7th.  Sometimes when you want to make changes, it helps to take some time and really think about it.

Every good business coach will tell you that no business will succeed without a clear business plan.  It just won’t happen.   And while we may like to believe that running a business is different from running a life,   I have to say that there are more similarities than differences.  And that is why taking time to write down changes you would like to make for yourself in 2013 can be a great first step in achieving those changes.

Do you feel like need to make some changes but are a little foggy on what those changes need to be?  Here is an idea that can help bring things into focus.

Take some time and write down what your idea of a perfect year would like.  How would you spend each month?  What would you be doing for a living?  Remember, this is what you see as a perfect year, so it doesn’t have to be what you are currently doing, or where you are currently living.  Maybe you have always wanted to be an artist.  What kind of art would you produce, and when would you do it?  Maybe you have a vision of a simpler lifestyle, without as much “stuff” as you have now.  How would that make you feel?  What would you do with the extra time that would allow you?  Would you exercise more?  What kind of exercise would you do, and when would you do it.  Maybe you would go back to school and study something to enhance your career or change directions completely.

Have some fun with this exercise and don’t rush through it.  Actually, it is best to work on it over a few days.   Get as specific as you can on the first draft, then let it go for a day or so.  Come back to it and read it again, than make any additions or changes that come to mind.  Most likely things will pop up that you didn’t even consider the first time through.  If you do this a couple of times, your picture of what a perfect year in your life looks like will become pretty crystal clear.

Once you do that, you can compare your idea with current life, and see where there might be gaps between the two.   You will have created a roadmap of changes that you would like to make in order to get to a  more fulfilling lifestyle.   This can become the basis for that dreaded New Year’s resolution list, but it will be one that is filled with changes you would really like to see happen, rather than just a recycled list of the same items every year.

If you really paint a vivid picture of how you would like to live, the next step is identifying the changes you need to make to get there.  After that, you need an action plan of how to make those changes.   That plan will be based on your resolutions, and will become your own personal business plan.   Once you write this down, it becomes much easier to chart your progress and stay on track to create the live you really want to live.

So if you are serious about making positive change in 2013, take a little time and really think about what a perfect year would like for you.  You may find that you are closer than you think.  You might have some serious work to do to get there.  In either case,  painting a picture of that perfect year is a great start.

After all, it’s pretty hard to get to your destination if you don’t really know where you want to go.

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





Positive Attitude as a Choice

I had lunch last week with a friend from what I affectionately refer to as my old life, more commonly known as the corporate world.   Not only is she a friend, but she consistently reads my blog.  At one point she mentioned that my posts were full of positive energy and that it must be so nice to have such a positive lifestyle.   While I was flattered by her comments, I was also amused that she thought I had found the secret to banishing all things negative from my life.   It’s a great idea, and if anyone knows how to do that, I would love to hear it.

The truth is, being positive does not eliminate bad things from happening in life.   Bad things happen, and bad situations exist in everyone’s life at one time or another.   The good news is that these things don’t have to make you negative or unhappy.   The fact is, sometimes life just sucks, but how you decide to react to that is your responsibility.   And once you make the connection, an amazing thing can happen.   Being responsible for your actions and your reactions creates a real sense of empowerment.   And empowerment leads to choice.  Choice leads to growth. Growth leads to positivity.

For example, consider being “stuck” in a job you hate.  Everyday it takes all your energy just to get up and get to work.  That is a very debilitating  environment, and it would be very easy to begin to see yourself as a victim of a bad situation.  However, once you accept that you chose the job, and more importantly that you choose to continue in the job, you become responsible for the situation.  That gives you control of the situation, and suddenly the power to make a change does not seem that far out of reach.  It is a generally accepted fact that people who feel in control or empowered tend to be more positive, and that those who are more positive are more likely to focus on personal development and growth.

In addition to accepting responsibility, there is another sure-fire way achieve a positive outlook when faced with life’s challenges.  So often we find ourselves reacting to emotional triggers in difficult situations.   That is  more or less a natural reaction–a knee jerk response caused by a previous scenario or imagined danger.   Immediate reaction tends to cloud judgement.  It is so easy to get caught up in the heat of the moment,  but in doing so we lose perspective and our choices may not have the most benefit for all involved.

Acting mindfully is one way to choose a more positive reaction to a situation.  Instead of reacting immediately to a situation, take a breath and simply observe what is going on without engaging in it.  This isn’t necessarily an easy thing to do, but often it will slow us down enough so that we can choose a reaction that is more compassionate and in keeping with our core values.  When our choices coincide with the values  we hold as important, it is much easier to remain positive.  And sometimes, when the actions themselves we choose are difficult, knowing that we are not acting against our own beliefs makes those choices a little easier.

Finally, one other way to maintain a positive outlook is to look for lessons.  When you stop to observe a situation, also think about what you can learn from it.  We can learn something from all events–good or bad.  Whether we choose to take advantage of that is up to us.  But if  we do open ourselves to the concept that we can learn from all events, we are bound to enrich ourselves.  And that enrichment leads to change, which leads to growth.  And growth can’t help but foster a positive outlook.

So if you think that you must have an easy life to have a positive attitude, think again.  Having a strife-free life does not guarantee happiness, even if such a thing were possible.  Rather,  how we deal with adversity and setbacks plays a major role in determining our level of positivity.   Taking responsibility , observing before engaging, and learning from every opportunity are all ways to build on a positive attitude.  And that is something we can happily share with the world.

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.

The Power (and danger) of Should

I believe  the word should is one of the most deceptive words in the English language.  Not by definition,  but because so many of us live our lives by what we feel we should do.  I’m not saying that there is never a reason to feel like you should do a particular thing.  For example, you should say thank you when someone does something nice for you.  That is part of social code that is in place to make life easier among us humans.  There are things we should do to keep us safe and healthy.  That is another part of the good side of should.

Should becomes a problem when we begin to act in ways that are contrary to our core values or beliefs simply because we feel we should.  Because it follows the norm, or what we feel is expected of us.  There are so many people today in jobs that they don’t enjoy simply because they feel that the position fit what they felt they should be doing.  A friend recently told me she took her first job because she felt she should–she didn’t like the company but that wasn’t really important at the time.  It was one of the first jobs offered to her, and she had always been told she should accept a job offer since they were few and far between.   The result?  Years spent in a job that left her unfulfilled and uninspired.

One of the reasons so many of us feel that there is something missing in our lives is that we have crafted lives that reflect what others feel we should be rather than what we believe is important.  We may choose a career path that fits what we feel we should do, even if it has nothing to do with what we want to do.  Climbing the ladder may be fine for a while, but eventually there comes a point when we realize that the Senior Vice President title isn’t as satisfying as it was supposed to be.  If the title and position that seemed so important doesn’t capitalize on our own strengths and beliefs, it will ultimately be very difficult to be truly happy.

Sometimes we do what we think we should because it is actually the easier path.  For example,  I know a man who had started his own business  doing work he found meaningful but was offered a new job in the corporate world.  The problem is  while he loves what he does, it doesn’t have the same prestige, perks, or security of his previous position.  So which is more important–the sense of satisfaction from doing something meaningful or the benefits that come with a more traditional position?  It would be easier to accept the corporate position because it fits with the general idea of what he should do, and the type of job that he should be pursuing.  The fact that it has nothing to do with what he finds important is almost secondary.  It is a question of following the should rather than the want.  A question of a life created from passion or one created by expectation.

That is why should is a very powerful–and dangerous–word.  We can easily end up doing things that we don’t believe in or necessarily agree with because we feel we should.  A life filled with proper rather than passionate actions will most likely end in a rather empty existence.   The challenge is more to blend want we need to do with what we want to do.  By eliminating the idea of should , or acting solely out of expectation when making decisions, we are more likely to live a life in balance with what we find significant and important.

And  that would definitely knock the danger out of should.




This job is killin’ me

In today’s economy, a lot of us have had to learn to do more with less.  We’ve had to make a dollar stretch farther when someone loses a job.  We’ve had to learn to make the hours mean more at work when we are the ones remaining after the job loss.  No way around it, it is not an easy time.

A lot of people don’t like their jobs, but stay because they are afraid to make a change.  But there are a lot of people who love their jobs.  They enjoy them, and savor the challenges they present.  You could even say they live to work.  Only one small problem.  Their jobs are killing them.

There is a myth out there about something called work/life balance.  That at some point we are supposed to give equal time to both personal and professional aspects of our lives as well as everything in between. As a wellness coach, I am all for that—if that is something that you strive for.   Sometimes that is just not a realistic goal.

Over the years the workday has shifted from 9:00 to 5:00, to 8:00 to 5:00.  Then the start of the day blurred a bit to 7:00 as the end started to push out toward 6:00.  Now it is not unusual for a workday to run twelve hours or longer. Depending on your career, keeping these types of hours can be a choice or an expectation.  Either way, it leaves people little time to devote to anything other than the job.

There are by-products that come with keeping this type of schedule.  One is a higher burnout rate.  It’s very difficult to maintain a sprinter’s pace if you are in it for the marathon. Stress levels skyrocket, and health can’t help but suffer.  So literally, your work can be killing you.  There are certain professions  where the average life span extends only six years past retirement.  It’s not a lot of time  to enjoy the golden years.

Relief is possible, however.  When I was hunting in the corporate jungle, I would walk at lunch.  It’s a simple thing, and doesn’t really fit into the corporate expectation, but I did it anyway.  I walked almost everyday, usually for about 30 minutes.  I used it as a time to decompress.  My colleagues thought it odd that I took this time rather than just grabbing a bite at my desk and working through lunch. I even earned the title of exercise freak—just for walking for thirty minutes.

But I had a secret.  This time was vital in preparation  for the rest of the day.  I could clear my mind of the morning’s events and move on to the afternoon’s agenda feeling much more refreshed.  An added benefit was the fact that although I didn’t set out to find solutions to problems during my walks, I often returned to the office with new ideas on ways to tackle the thorny issues of the day.  In a sense, for me it served almost as a walking meditation.

A man on my staff used his breaks in a similar way.  He would meditate during his morning and afternoon fifteen minutes breaks.  Now, at the time, meditation was not as widely practiced so he did have a bit of a reputation as an odd duck, but it worked for him.  He remained calm during the daily tsunamis when everyone else was running for higher ground.  His co-worker’s opinions of his meditation practices didn’t bother him at all.  He was practicing self-care.

Unfortunately, as we rise in the food chain, it often feels like we have less control of our time, not more.  I know several people who don’t even take the time to eat during the day because they don’t have time to take a break.  They grab something on the run, or snack on nuts during meetings.  By the time they do get home, they are starving   They raid the pantry for anything they can find before dinner. Obviously, they can make great professional decisions, but they don’t give themselves the same consideration as their latest projects at work.

This lack of self-care is a catalyst for a myriad of other health problems.  Friends of mine complain that they can’t lose weight, no matter what diet they try.  When we review their daily routines, they realize they spend hours at a time sitting before the computer screen, forgetting to get up and even stretch.  They end up eating dinner an hour before bed.  Not a real good prescription for weight loss.  Interestingly, when they make conscious decisions to change this behavior, not only do they lose the weight, they gain energy and focus.  This additional energy capital can be shared at work as well at home, so it becomes a win-win situation for all involved.

Corporations and businesses of all types are beginning to understand the benefits to  be had when individuals take a proactive role in their own well-being.  It can lower healthcare costs and increase productivity due to reduced absenteeism, to name just a couple.  Many corporations are introducing wellness programs that encourage employees to take an active role in their own preventative healthcare.

Like any change, this will take time.  But again, as with any change, it starts with the smallest steps.  It’s a great thing to have a job you love.  It gives you a great sense of satisfaction and accomplishment.  But if you really love it, or even just like it a lot, don’t forget yourself.  The examples above are just a couple of ideas.  There isThan endless number of ways you can take care of yourself during the day. It’s up to you.

Engage in a little self-care during the day–without any guilt.  You’ll be surprised at how much better you feel, and how much more you can contribute, both personally and professionally.  It’s truly a win-win situation for all, and hopefully the wave of the future.