A quick plug: Starting next Tuesday, I'll be teaching Developing Mindful Habits, a 4-week online course that helps you have less stress and worry and be more productive and creative at work.
Take a look and see if it's right for you, and please share it with others!
Take it easy. There will always be another hard project, hard job, difficult coworker, tough situation or some other thing you'll have to deal with. These difficult things will make you difficult if you let them.
Instead, approach them easily, with grace. Lightly work through them, not necessarily protecting yourself, but rather being part of it to the degree you don't hurt yourself.
That means not giving yourself a hard time too.
Dealing with hard things easily lets you know when "enough" approaches. Going past "enough" is not bad in and of itself, but it's something many of us do unconsciously. Choosing to do it puts you back in the driver seat.
You become easy-going because you accomplish things easily.
Don't cut corners though. This isn't about half-assed work or not trying hard. That's just another form of protecting yourself and will make things even harder as time goes on. You're only doing less now to do more later.
Start simply by looking at how you walk, talk, and sit. How much effort do you put in these activities you do all the time?
A good question to ask yourself is:
Are you walking, talking or sitting with your mind?
What would it be like if it were just your body? Be light with yourself first and soon you'll be lighter with others and your work too. Smile and others will smile too.
And things may just be a little easier for everyone...
What do you do to take it easy while working hard? Are you aware when you've gone past whatever "enough" means for you?
Share your thoughts with me over email.
A Simple Habit To Stay Level-Headed
Take 5 deep breaths during transitions in your day.
What are transitions? Every time you go from home to work, work to home, lunch to work, work to lunch, meeting to office, meeting to meeting, and other moments when you shift from one mindset to another represents a transition.
In fact, an even simpler way to define transitions is when you're "on the go" or when you feel like you are.
Our go-go-go mentality rarely lets our attentive mind take a break. Rather, it's wired to look for even more things to pay attention to, like checking email, social media, news etc. And most of us operate on the belief that we're more productive because we complete tasks on the go.
That may be true, but how do you feel at the end of the day? How energized or exhausted are you? How much caffeine do you need to maintain that level of alertness? And how much of a crash do you feel later?
Mindfulness is about balanced productivity
Taking those 5 deep breaths during transitions is a simple start.
Mindfulness, especially when it's used in the work setting, can have phenomenal benefits:
An Online Course on Developing Mindful Habits
I'm teaching a 4-week online course in mid-January on Developing Mindful Habits.
You'll learn mindful habits that will actually keep you calm, cool, and collected.
The early bird discount ends tomorrow so take a look today.
Don't do whatever you were going to do next.
Close your eyes and center yourself. Breathe easily. Stay like that for as long as you want. Forget time.
Don't worry, you won't be here long. There will be a point when your mind will call you out of this short reverie.
That's when you'll want to do the next thing. That's when you'll truly be ready to do it. When you want to.
Not because it's the next thing to do. Not because you were looking for something to occupy your time. Not out of a nervous habit to keep going.
Wait for originality, creativity, ingenuity to strike you. Claude Debussy said: "music is the space between the notes."
Stopping allows you to create the space for your music to enter. Otherwise, you just keep playing without taking a breath.
Try this now. Collect yourself before you do the next thing, so you act as a whole person. Not partially attentive, but fully there.
Based on the number of direct emails I got on my last post, I'm closing comments and asking that you email me your thoughts. I've found the dialog to be very rich this way, and hope you do too.
How do you avoid losing your mind during a busy week? There is so much going on, it can be easy to lose control of time and priorities.
The constant stress of your phone buzzing you about another meeting, text, tweet, or phone call. The anticipation of presenting what you've been working on to your colleagues or bosses. Traveling off site to a client's office or a conference, wondering whether there's going to be parking, or if they'll have coffee or should you get it beforehand. That's just work.
Then, there's your personal life bleeding into your day. The reminder to pick up your dry cleaning, move money to another account, get a birthday card for a friend, set your alarm to leave early the next day, call your doctor's office to renew your prescription, read the bios of the people at tomorrow's networking event.
And no to-do list item stands alone, rather it has multiple parts to it that vie for your limited attention.
I had one of these weeks not too long ago and what resonated with me was the mindful approach of "naming meditation." I don't mean formal meditation, where you sit on a cushion in a quiet room for 20 minutes. I mean that as the day passes, you start naming different parts of it "busy", "necessary", "essential", "boring" or whatever word best fits the situation.
The "naming" separates you from the experience for a brief moment so you can observe it objectively. You're still doing the work, talking in a meeting, listening attentively, but you're removed from all the ego-based thinking: "This is too much for me," "Why do I have to sit through this?" "I have so much work to do!"
That kind of "stinking thinking," as one of my clients calls it, gets absorbed in the name you've given to the situation. Here's how it works:
All of this will take 30-60 seconds in your mind, perhaps longer in the beginning simply because you're practicing the method. You will now be separate from that which has been taking control of you. You will be able to point to it in your mind and know it for what it is, and what it may continue to be, and go back to what you were doing.
The quote that comes to mind to best describe this is:
"Detachment is not that you should own nothing, but that nothing should own you"
— Ali ibn abi Talib
If you're saying to yourself, "Isn't the naming itself judgmental?", then take a second and think about the thoughts and perceptions that are getting the better of you. The thoughts are already judgments of the experience you're having.
"Naming" is just a way to recognize the judgmental thinking, call it out in a single word, and go back to the task at hand.
Try this out and leave a comment or email me about your experience! I'm curious about how it works for you personally.
Getting Things Done
It's great to be an achiever, to get things done, until it becomes OVER-achieving and the process becomes stressful and loses its flare.
The irony is that achievement begets a desire for greater achievement. It requires you to set the bar higher, to do more and do it better. You lose track of what you were achieving in the race to get things done. The reward becomes a slave driver instead of a challenge. The process becomes a chore instead of a high.
Anyone who comes from a demanding family, went to a tough school or worked in a fast-paced job knows this inherently. What leads to success also lead to stress. No pain, no gain right? Sound familiar?
How do you stop the "over" and keep the "achieving"?
More Input ≠ More Output
The old adage of work smarter, not harder applies here. How? Achievement acts like any addictive behavior in that it reinforces itself. Once you have achieved a goal, the reward for the next goal must provide a greater sense of achievement. This upward trend is not sustainable though. When have you achieved enough to stop? When can you take a break?
Redirecting Your Energy
Recognizing when the marginal change for a given project becomes negative allows you to shift your energy to a project where the marginal change is much more positive. A leisure activity to break the routine, another fun project like getting in shape for a 5K or learning to play an instrument or reading David McCollough's 752-pg biography of John Adams are but a few ideas.
A break creates eustress opportunities that keep you fresh for the original task that became stale due to over-doing. No need to reset, but rather redirect focus to another area that lights you up. Interests you and moves you. Excitement is contagious and will spread not only to others but also to yourself and your other projects or the original project you put off.
Try it out and share your thoughts!
The Supermarket Cart
David Foster Wallace noted something interesting in a commencement speech about the daily rigamarole of our lives:
"You will go to the supermarket. At the supermarket you will get a cart. The cart will have three functional wheels, and one wheel that spins out all curvy in a weird direction. That wheel - and thus the cart - will drive you mad. If you let it."
There are many supermarket cart experiences in our lives:
The things out of our control can take control of us very easily. The rhetoric is "If only". If only I had sat in another chair, if only I had been 10 seconds faster, if only I decided to go in a different lane earlier.
The relative past haunts us. If only you had made a different decision before you knew what was going to happen. Doesn't that sound odd? How could you have known? You're here now. You didn't make those decisions. And isn't it true that if you did, you may not even think twice about it? You might just let it pass?
What matters is what you're going to do now, in the reality you find yourself in. Will you let the supermarket cart wheel bother you the whole time? Isn't it funny how you sometimes think you "deserve" the bad cart because of something else you did that day? How you bring karma in to justify our bad luck?
You could just as easily get another cart. But maybe it'll be too small or too big or missing the grip. These mundane, random events are a part of your day-to-day life. They make up the tedium that annoy you, bother you, change your mood, affect your state of mind, and sometimes translate to a larger part of your day.
Being A Witness
This is a perfect opportunity to watch your mind work itself into a frenzy. Just observe how it thinks through all the bad. How it justifies. How it rationalizes what is happening. As you watch your mind, you'll see yourself removed from the emotionality of the situation but still a part of your surroundings. Still pushing the cart. The annoyance will melt away.
The more attentive you are to these simple parts of your life that have the power to drive you mad, the better you'll get at being a witness and not an actor and taking away that power. The quicker the negative emotions will melt away. The more sane and at peace you'll find yourself with the dumb luck you had. You might even laugh.
Please share your thoughts!