Are You As Important As Your Work?

Businessman Stretching at WorkThere is no denying that work is a vital part of our lives.  We work to support ourselves and our families, establish a desired lifestyle, and plan for a future.  We spend forty hours a week (at least) on the job, and in today’s economy some of us need more than one job just to make ends meet.  For most of us, work is our main priority and our main focus.  Not only do our occupations support us, many of us use them to define a sense of self.  We strive to do our best at work for the rewards that are important to us.  Some are monetary, some involve status and prestige,  some come from the joy of following our passion.  We give a lot to our jobs, and hopefully they give a lot to us in return.

Unfortunately, there is a growing number of people who put their work above themselves.  It is usually a slow process, starting first with email after work.  Then it is staying an hour or so after closing, or coming in an hour before everyone else.  Lunch hours become a time to catch up on voicemail while scarfing a sandwich, or worse, a burger from that joint on the corner.   There just isn’t time for a healthy meal with all the management deadlines coupled with staff reductions.  Sometimes it is just a desire to move ahead that narrows our focus to occupational tunnel vision.  After all, there will be time to relax after that promotion, or product launch, or once the ad campaign is up and running.

Of course, there is a problem with that whole scenario.  As work starts to take over every waking second we tend to lose ourselves.  As the job takes more and more time and energy, there is less and less to devote to our personal health and well-being.  We  don’t get enough sleep,  we don’t eat properly, and exercise goes out the window.  There is little time to pursue leisure or spiritual activities. Self improvement or personal development goals fall by the wayside.  Stress levels can’t help but skyrocket, and we eventually compromise our own ability to perform well on the job.

More and more employers today are beginning to realize the overall health of their company  is tied to the overall health and well-being of their employees.  There are even provisions in the new health care laws in the United States for wellness programs in the workplace.  However, sometimes I think the hardest thing to do is convince the Type-A overachiever of the importance of  personal health and well-being as it relates to job performance.   After all, when you have been putting your job first for years, it is no easy feat to start focusing on yourself as the primary concern.

What are a few ways to treat yourself with the same respect you show to your work?  One of the most basic but most important things you can do is to reframe the way you view the relationship between your health and your job. You cannot separate the two; they are intertwined.  If you are in poor health, there is no way you can perform to desired standards.  Realize that focusing on your own health is not selfish–it is vital to success in life, both personally and professionally.

Make time to exercise.   Take a walk at lunch, or take the stairs.  Park in the farthest stall from the building, or get off one subway stop before you usually do.  There are lots of ways to incorporate movement into your day.  It doesn’t have to involve changing clothes or going to a gym.  Even taking a couple of minutes a few times a day to stretch is a great way to tone your body and reduce stress.

Take a lunch–literally.  Bringing your own lunch gives you control of what you eat, and helps reduce the chances of hitting the vending machines or eating nothing at all.  I know people who fall into both categories,  and both camps have trouble functioning in the afternoon.   And when you take a lunch–take it away from your desk.  Eating at the desk does nothing to promote a sense of downtime.  By leaving your work area and removing distractions such as phone and email, you will be able to recharge more easily for the rest of the day.

Establish boundaries.  Just as you do not bring your personal life to work, do not bring your work life to your home.  Leave email at work.  Since that may not be possible in today’s economy, set a time that you will stop reading and responding to it.  Let coworkers know what that cutoff time is, and not to expect a response until the next day  if they haven’t heard by the cutoff.

Make time for  family and friends.  Maintaining a support network takes effort, but it is one the best tools for dealing with stress.

For mental conditioning, spend ten minutes a day in silence.  Use the time for meditation, prayer, or reflection–but be quiet.  Turn down the noise in your head and around you, turn inward for a few minutes, and be still.  You’ll be amazed at how much more energy and concentration comes out the other side.

Work is important, no question.  But if doing your best at work is really important to you, than it is crucial that you give your own health equal time.  Even if you love your work and can’t imagine a life without it,  you won’t receive the full benefit if you are not contributing at full capacity.   Take your health as seriously as you take your job.  Both are important, but if you neglect the former, at some point you may lose the latter.   And that, in a nutshell, is why you as a person are more important than your work.

So how about you?  I would love to hear how you focus on your health and keep the demands of your work in perspective.  

 

 

 

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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.


New Year’s Resolutions–One Step at a Time


Around this time of year,  many people begin to think about starting some sort of wellness program as part of their New Year’s resolutions.  Find a way to get healthy, lose weight, reduce stress, and improve overall well-being.  Seems like a pretty simple laundry list, really.  It’s also true that this is the same list that gets repeated every New Year’s Eve.  Why?   Because multi-tasking is a way of life and we are used to focusing on a million things at once.  We  live in a society of instant gratification.  We want  immediate results. Many of us are Type-A personalities and we expect to check off everything our list as soon as it goes on.  Unfortunately, that type of mindset often turns that exciting new list of resolutions into a recipe for failure.

New years toastAs a  wellness coach, I have a question about planning New Year’s  resolutions.  What would happen if you focused on only one resolution at a time?   Would you be able to give that goal your complete attention and thereby increase the possibility of success?  And if you are successful in one area, might there be a ripple effect in other areas of your life you would like to change?  After that one change becomes a habit, would your self-efficacy improve so other changes don’t seem quite as improbable?

If you truly want to keep your resolutions this year, try tackling one item at a time.  Instead of declaring you will become an icon of healthy living in January, break the project down into pieces, and decide which piece seems to be the most important to you.  For example, we know that wellness is defined as the integration of mind, body, and spirit.  Which piece of that equation seems to be the most out-of-balance when you look at your life?

List the areas where you would like to see change,  then prioritize which of those changes is most important to you.  If you want to have a healthier body, is changing your diet the most important, or do you feel there would be more benefit to starting an exercise program?  You can tackle both, but if you focus on one item at a time so that each change becomes a habit, your odds of accomplishing both items increases.  Both are important to reach the overall goal of a healthier body, but let’s be real–we are busy.  There are only so many hours in a day and only so much energy we can dedicate to making changes.  If you get a regular, moderate exercise program in your wheelhouse,  you can use that as a base and turn your attention to making healthier eating choices.   Put the two together and you get a healthier body.

The truth is if we focus on making too many changes at once, we can easily become overwhelmed.   Trying to accomplish too much at one time only leads to frustration.  Remember, you can do it all–you just can’t do it all at one time.

The other half of this formula is to allow enough time for the change to become a habit.  As a rule, changes take about twelve weeks to become solidified in our minds.  Once that happens, they become fixed in our psyches and are no longer considered changes, simply new habits.   Since habits take less mental energy to maintain, at this point you can turn your focus to the next priority on your list.  Lather, rinse, repeat, all the while building on the success of your first accomplishment.   Before you know it, you will have managed a series of changes that not only support your resolutions, but create a new lifestyle as well.

This method can help you conquer any change, whether it be physical health, financial health, career issues, or relationship goals.  So why not give it a try for 2013?

Just be careful.  You may find that you have to find new resolutions for 2014 instead of recycling the familiar ones.  But is that really such a bad problem to have?  I’m guessing not.

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

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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.

 


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!