Is “Why?” Really Just A Crooked Letter?

Feb 14

It was a chilly fall day and a familiar scene was playing at the town soccer fields. A dad and his young son were walking back to the car after the match. The son was peppering his dad with question after question. Every well-crafted answer the dad gave was met with a single question: Why? At one point it was clear that the dad reached the limit of his patience, and in one last attempt to end the series of why questions he said, “Because ‘Y’ is a crooked letter.”

With a puzzled look on his face, his son smiled and replied: “Why?”

The point in sharing this story is to emphasize that as adults we’ve become so jaded, self-focused, and frustrated with those who ask us “Why?”— even when it comes from our children.

When did inquisitiveness, curiosity, and asking Why become defiance, or a challenge to our thinking, ideas, and who we are?

Is it that we’ve grown accustomed to seeing the Why as extraneous — a waste of time when just doing seems more imperative and expedient? Is it that as adults we don’t believe that why leads to something better and only serves to drag us down a rabbit hole of excuses?

I don’t think our world is not a better place because we don’t ask “Why?”. A life without knowing why keeps us focused in the moment and doing things by rote. It disconnects us from our own sense of purpose and that of those around us. Without knowing why, we fail to see context, solve problems, and fall prey to our natural biases and assumptions. As each day passes, we lose the capacity to dream, to sway others to act without bias and to ask, “Why not?”.

But it isn’t too late for us all to reconnect to our personal Why? — that wonder and curiosity that leads us to better understand the context of the world around us, the potential of what could be and why we are an integral part of all of it. Embodying curiosity in action generates the energy, enthusiasm, and connection to our internal guidance systems that infuses our passion with a purpose, spurs novel thinking, disruption of what is, and sends us in new directions. Isn’t it time to start bringing asking “Why?” back into favor?

Here’s what you need to know to discover your Why and start asking others about theirs:

Embrace A New Paradigm: Knowing Your Why Is A Requisite

We all have a personal brand—that spider’s web of beliefs, principles, values, and knowledge that is the glue that makes us uniquely us. Knowing your Why starts with focusing on a few key things:

Writing A Statement Of Your Why – A phrase that captures the crux of the commitment, principles, values, and set of beliefs that lead you to do what you do.

  • Start by writing the story of how you arrived where you are and how you plan to get where you’re going.
  • Look for the common values, themes, and strengths in the story of your life: why you were empowered to take action, why they influenced your thoughts and behaviors, which experiences did you impact and which experiences impacted you, and how are you different and unique? What created your map of the world? How did your beliefs translate into the action that came to be the way of your life? Ask yourself “Why?” if you didn’t do something you know wanted to.
  • Identify the core values that you want others to connect with you, and write a personal credo that expresses that in a clear and concise way.
  • Be inquisitive and reach out to key stakeholders—those who know you best and are impacted by your actions. Ask them to define what they think your Why is? This is a good check to see if you need to do more alignment.

Focus On Living Your Why – Let your Why infuse everything you do. It should become the source of your purpose and passion—after all, it is the authentic you. Rely on it as a powerbase to spur thinking, cut through extraneous details, and rouse you to action. The Why of your life forms the internal guidance system that supports your decision-making and goal attainment.

Share Your Why, Ask Others Why, Answer Why Questions At Every Opening

Make it your unwritten rule to share your Why, ask others theirs, and ask and answer Why questions at every opening. Here’s how this fosters the transparency that others need to have so they can know you on an authentic level:

Sharing Your Why – Gives others the information that they need to understand and gives witness to your consistent adherence to your core values and principles. This dovetails with their ability to trust and find you to be authentic. Sharing your Why at every opening is at the heart of the loyalty people bestow on you. It is through that loyalty and trust that you can influence, lead, and align varied Whys to impact the larger world.

Ask Others Why – Asking someone else their Why is the first step in knowing the crux of what lies at the heart of their personal brand. Understanding the purpose, principles, values, and set of beliefs that lead them to do what they do helps you tap into what stirs their passions, rouses them to act, and helps you sway them to act with you. Asking someone about their why supports you as you test what you believe about them to be true, discard assumptions, take the emotional temperature of the other person, and build genuine rapport and trust.

Answer Why Questions – A willingness to answer why questions shows your innate sense of curiosity, that you embrace listening, that you don’t respond reflexively, that there is no judgment, and you’re open to testing your thoughts and assumptions. Being open to explaining why means that you are willing to share the Why you believe the way you do, and encourages others to do likewise. Why in action spurs the creative thinking that leads to novel ideas, new directions, and keeps things rooted and connected to more than just what serves the immediate need.

Why is the crux of what guides our lives, and it delineates who we are from each other. It shapes the clarity of our mindset and is the powerbase from which we build the impact and inspiration needed to call others to action and live to the utmost of their potential. Why may just be three letters, but its power to unite people on a common journey or to do the unimaginable for the mutual benefit of all is not to be underestimated.

My Why is to help others (including myself) make a difference, no matter how minor it might seem, and to fill their heart and mind with a sense of gratitude and their life with an enduring purpose.

I’d love to know your Why. Please share it with me in the comments below.


The Year’s End: Life Changing Connection For 2017

Dec 20

The Year's End - New BeginningOver the past few weeks I’ve been trying—without much success, I’ll admit—to come up with a novel way to start my end of year post. After numerous false starts, piles of crumpled sheets of paper filling the wastebasket—yes I still do handwrite my first draft—I decided to take a well-needed break and bolster my spirits by reading through my quote journal. And there to my surprise was the solution to my writer’s block. On one of the well-worn pages I’d written the following quote, “Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.” –Seneca.

As the quote reverberated in my mind, I realized that a shift in my thinking was also taking place. Traditionally, I’d always viewed the end of the year as a concrete ending point and the start of a new year as a beginning. The more I thought about the quote, however, the more I realized that how I saw this was based on how I chose to define and describe it, and by extension I realized that much of the way in which we describe, define, and assign meaning to things in our lives is based solely on our perspective, beliefs about ourselves, and our choices at the time we decide what something means. In essence, the things in our lives only have the meaning and power they do because we impart it to them. It was then that it dawned on me there was a better way for all of us to begin 2017, and it certainly didn’t involve making another set of the same old tired resolutions that we all know will never work.

Every new beginning doesn’t have to start with a complete overhaul of the past—it just has to start with some other beginning’s end. Overcoming the inertia of what has become comfortable for us in 2016, and replacing it with what is less so in 2017, is a great place to start. Knowing where endings have to begin in order for new beginnings to emerge starts when you rethink what you have the capability to do, and contest the habits, rationalizations, and meanings that you’ve assigned to things that are keeping you stuck and not seeing the potential in yourself and in others.

I hope that you’re willing to begin to end something so that you find your new beginning in 2017. The beginning that sees you connect to your passions in new ways, build connections with others more deeply, and accept that all is possible—if you know how to connect what you’re capable of with what you pursue.

With perseverance, intention, and commitment, 2017 will be a great new beginning!


My Favorite Books Of 2016

Dec 14

My Favorite Books of 2016No one person is ever the same, and yet I’ve noticed that the amazing leaders I work with have all have one thing in common: they have a relentless passion for learning. Whether it’s reading books, newspapers, blogs, journals, or anything else they can get their hands on, they’re always seeking out information about how to acquire and enhance the tangible and intangible skills essential to becoming the kind of leader they want to become.

What is it that these leaders know about the importance of a great book?

They know that reading great books imparts a depth of knowledge, set of behaviors, emotional intelligence skills, and insights that enhance their value to the organizations they lead.

As a passionate reader myself, I can’t wait to get my hands on a new book. In fact, my Kindle wish list is now up to 25 titles just waiting for me to download them. Making time for reading something great doesn’t mean giving up hours—although I’ve definitely been know to get lost in a great book and finish it in one sitting—it just means setting it as an intention and making reading part of your plan each day. It can be as simple as listening to a chapter of a great book on the commute into work, waiting in line for breakfast, or reading just a chapter a day before bed.

Here are a few of the great books I’ve finished since my earlier list of books I’d recommend. See if there’s one here that just might give you the incentive to start your new reading habit.

  • The Engaged Leader: A Strategy for Your Digital Transformation by Charlene Li
  • Made to Stick by Chip and Dan Heath
  • Designing Your Life: How to Build A Well-Lived Joyful Life by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans
  • Compelling People: The Hidden Qualities that Make Us Influential by John Neffinger and Matthew Kohut
  • Never Eat Alone by Keith Ferrazzi
  • Together Is Better by Simon Sinek
  • Resonate: Present Visual Stories that Transform Audiences by Nancy Duarte
  • The Happiness Track by Emma Seppala
  • The Ideal Team Player: How to Cultivate The Three Essential Virtues by Patrick Lencioni
  • Pre-suasion by Robert Cialdini

These are only a few of the books that I’ve read since my last list. For more of my favorites, and to read my interviews with leading authors, please take a look at Leadership Compound’s Resources by simply clicking here.


Give Less Advice And Listen More

Oct 19

Give Less Advice And Listen MoreIn the early 1970’s there were a series of commercials on TV that featured a “know-it-all” spokesman for a brand of wine called The Answer Grape. He had a very stately demeanor and would answer any question posed to him. Why is it that like the Answer Grape, we feel compelled to impart our advice to others, even when we’re not quite sure what to say?

Perhaps it’s because over a lifetime we’ve learned and believe that giving advice, sharing our viewpoint, and telling others exactly what they should do—even when we aren’t quite sure ourselves—demonstrates credibility, adds value, and builds trust. But does it really?

Of course sharing your ideas and giving advice can be valuable to others—I’m just suggesting that when it becomes our fallback response to every request, it can have unintended consequences for both the advice seeker and giver. When people unduly rely on you, it disempowers them and wears you down.

I’m not suggesting that you abandon sharing your ideas and giving advice completely. Instead, I’m suggesting that it not be your default position when the matter at hand doesn’t require a practical or more expedient answer. There is another alternative, and it is simple yet exceedingly powerful: to give less advice and listen more.

Listening more starts when you can:

Resist The Urge To Answer The First, Second, Or Even Third Time

Jonas Salk is quoted as saying, “What people think of as the moment of discovery is really the discovery of the question.” Instead of diving in with an answer, ask a question that will trigger a dialogue and uncover what the true question is. Then listen without an agenda to the answer and experience the power in that moment. Questions open the door for the other person to take time to actually think and sort things out for themselves. In all likelihood, answering your question is probably the first time they have heard themselves verbalize what they’ve been thinking aloud. Resist the urge to jump in after your first, second, or even third question. Keep asking questions that help both you and the other person focus on what the challenge is, what they need to resolve it, and what they can do, and when you’ve finally gotten to that point you can then ask them, “What do they need from you?” And then you listen again.

Don’t Disguise Advice As A Question

Preparation is key in asking questions that support dialogue rather than advice that masquerades as a question. Choose a few all-purpose, open-ended questions that you can pull out whenever you need them. They can be as simple as: “What’s on your mind?” or “Under the present circumstances, what might you find helpful?” And one of my favorites: “And what else?” Keep them handy at first until they become second nature to you.

Banish the following questions, which are really a wolf’s advice in sheep’s clothing: “Have you thought of…?”, “Did you consider…?”, ”And have you tried…?” Always opt for the questions that curb your desire to give advice and lead to more opportunities for the other person to go deeper and explore their thinking. Remember too that this isn’t an interrogation, so asking one question at a time is key. Complex multi-part questions qualify as more than one, so also avoid asking those.

Recap And Ask Them If This Was Helpful

When the time comes and the person has really had the chance to explore and talk about what’s on their mind, you now have a great opportunity to guide the conversation toward a natural conclusion that may or may not include sharing your viewpoint. Recapping the highlights of the conversation and asking the other person what they found most helpful to them is a good way to gauge where they are and if they still need something from you—namely advice or perspective. You can simply ask them, “What might you need from me so that you can take the next steps?” If they ask you for your thoughts, now is the time to share them, and because you’ve listened intently you can better craft your advice to meet their needs. Remember it should be in the form of future-focused advice and things that they can absolutely take action on themselves. You can close out by offering your support and willingness to be an accountability partner too.

Asking questions doesn’t make you unsure, lack confidence, or even lack expertise. In fact, it’s just the opposite. Empowering others to discover their expertise, talents, and solutions guides them towards self-reliance and builds momentum in a powerful and personal way. It creates an enduring cycle of discovery and learning that breaks through bottlenecks and motivates all involved. What are you going to do to listen more and give less advice?


How To Own A Compliment

Sep 27

How To Own A ComplimentWe set high expectations for ourselves and strive to meet those expectations, but when someone notices and offers us a well-earned compliment, many of us in a quavering voice quickly launch into a stream of self-deprecating comments, denials, and deflections. Perhaps you can empathize, because someone simply giving you a compliment disarms and dissembles you so completely that you immediately shift the focus, talk down, or cast off the compliment entirely.

Answering a compliment with anything other than gratitude and a sincere thank you has only one lasting effect—it creates awkwardness for both the person extending the compliment and you. Failing to acknowledge the gift of that compliment can help you be seen as ungrateful, lacking confidence, and worst of all unappreciative. From your vantage point, how confident can you really feel about yourself when you second-guess, deflect, or deny what you’ve done well to the point where you can’t even concede that you were able to achieve something?

Here are four surefire ways that you can own a compliment the next time someone is gracious enough to offer one.

Let Your Body Language Speak For You

A smile and a nod go a long way in conveying that you appreciate what someone is saying to you. Before even your words express your sense of gratitude, your body language can be your best ally. Smiling and looking the other person directly in the eye not only indicates agreement, but it also goes a long way in building and reinforcing the trust and connection between you and the other person. If you’re feeling comfortable in your own skin, you’ll be less likely to walk down the road of shifting the focus, deflecting, or not accepting the compliment as it is intended and given.

Simply Say Thank You

You can simply express your gratitude by saying thank you, and then either adding a short personal anecdote about the thing the person complimented, or how you feel about what they complimented. A thank you can express so much in so few words, it’s really easy to learn to say, and it can be practiced beforehand. Saying thank you to others and watching how they respond can really help you become comfortable with saying thank you to others because you understand firsthand how powerful those words really are.

Don’t Trade Compliments

When someone gives you a compliment, your first feeling might be to offer him or her a compliment in exchange. No matter how well-intended and honest your compliment may be, in truth this is really another form of deflecting the focus from you and the compliment you were given. Trading compliments isn’t going to help you learn to accept a compliment any better. If you truly feel a compliment is merited for something they’ve done, save it for a time where they have the chance to be the focus and shine.

Be Humble Not Boastful

Sometimes we lean toward diminishing what we contributed or what we’ve done when others pay us a compliment because we’ve been taught that focusing on our accomplishments is boastful. There is a real difference in boasting and being overly focused on what you do, and being humble and accepting praise for what you rightly have earned. Knowing the difference will help you own a compliment without deflecting or attributing the good expressed to someone or something else. Not recognizing your abilities and strengths in an honest way—especially when someone else does—isn’t strength of character. It is false modesty. Being humble is about knowing what you know and what you don’t, and it doesn’t preclude being pleased that someone else notices.

The next time someone takes the time to offer you a compliment, I hope you own it with all the grace and gratitude you have. It will be the best thing you can do for yourself and the other person.


I Want My Life To Be About…

Sep 20

What Do You Want Your Life To Be AboutOur plates are overflowing: more demanding schedules, daunting to-do lists, and having to do more with less. We wrestle daily with balancing the ever-increasing load on our plates, and we’ve become accustomed to squeezing every last ounce of productivity out of each hour. Time spirals away, and you feel like a slave to the schedule: overworked, out of touch, and disconnected from what you ultimately want your life to be about. The truth is that you’re probably too busy to be reading this post, and yet that is exactly why you need to.

Why? Because our lives and legacies are not based on the sum total of all the items we check off an overloaded to-do list, or how successful we are at squeezing every last ounce of productivity out of every day. Creating a lasting legacy lies in living your life with passion, and committing your time, energy, and resources to something you believe in that will make a difference in your life and the lives of others. It isn’t easy—doing the right thing rarely is.

If you’re willing to reverse the trend of doing just what has to be done, you can start here and now by answering one question: What is it you, at the end of the day, want your life to be about?

When you can clearly and unequivocally state the approach that drives all your choices, actions, and decisions, you gain a level of clarity and focus that transcends what you want to get done today, this month, or even this year.

Finding the answer to the statement I want my life to be about… starts with:

Exploration Is The Key To Figuring Things Out

You can start by each day, for the next 30 days or so, purposely leaving open spaces in your schedule, or planning a few less tasks each day so that you can commit that time to exploring, developing, and defining well what it is that you will strive to attain—no matter how long it takes, no matter how many obstacles must be overcome, and what ultimately, at the end of the day, your life is about.

At this point your focus isn’t about creating milestones, accomplishing goals, or even the to-dos that you believe will take you there. It is about investing time in yourself, learning what you need to know, connecting with yourself in ways that help you see things through a different lens, being creative, and connecting with who you are at your core. Make sure you balance learning, thinking, and doing, and build connections with others who can help you hone in on what matters most.

Tweaking It Brings It To Reality

Now that you know roughly what your dream is—that thing that you want your life ultimately to be about. You need to begin the process of aligning and bringing together the daily tasks, goals, and milestones that when taken in conjunction with each other keep you on track. When you build your daily to-do list, it needs to be tweaked to make sure that the low level tasks / goals and mid-level tasks / goals that make your list move you closer in some way toward that all-important ideal outcome for your life. Be ruthless, and ask yourself each time you think about adding a task, meeting etc. to your list—Does it distract you, take away time and energy from a goal that matters more? If yes, even if it is only a low-level goal, then it should be avoided and not added to the list.

Visualize Success

There is real power in seeing your future in the present moment. Seek out and save inspirational quotes, photos, images, or anything else that will help you link what you are doing in the present moment to where you ultimately see yourself ending up. These everyday reminders can help you refocus, reset, and stay present when outside forces try to pull you off task and off track.

Appoint A Wing Person

Choose someone with whom you can share and discuss your dreams, plans, and challenges. Make sure you share with them your biggest aspirations and your biggest concerns about getting to where you want to be. This person should be a trusted advisor who is willing to ask you where you are on your plan at various intervals, share with you when they notice you’re off track, and offer you the kind of suggestion that will help you get focused on the future and reset yourself.

Whether you want to be the newest start-up CEO sensation, or help others fulfill their potential clearly and unequivocally knowing the approach that drives all your choices, actions, and decisions is what gives you clarity of purpose. It is this clarity that gives you the energy, passion, and perseverance to live your life in the way that best creates what you want your life to be about. I’d like to hear what you want your lives to be about and how you plan on obtaining it.


Concentrating On Your Best Intentions

Aug 23

Concentrating on Your Best Intentions“Tumble outta bed and I stumble to the kitchen. Pour myself a cup of ambition. Yawn and stretch and try to come to life.” — Who among us doesn’t identify with the sentiment expressed in this Dolly Parton lyric? It resonates with us because we begin many of our days looking for the get-up-and-go approach to the upcoming day with a positive outlook and plan. We have way too many things on our plate, limited time and attention to devote to them, and too many other distractions vying for our attention that we never originally planned on. Woefully, at days end, we realize that we were on autopilot addressing other people’s concerns, priorities, and unexpected situations. Our mood decayed throughout the day, and opportunities to influence others were overlooked. In the end, instead of taking the reins, we let the world around us dictate our priorities and direction for the day.

But turning off the autopilot and flying under our own power means understanding how important our perceptions, assumptions, and intentions are in creating and shaping our experiences.

Intentionally determining what deserves, demands, and drives our focus means adopting some essential strategies that leverage the power of the brain’s automatic systems to our advantage. We don’t have unlimited attention to give the world, and as such our automatic systems are very adept at prioritizing what seems most relevant to our stated intentions, and filters out input that isn’t as important. Tapping in to them is just what we need to regain control and accomplish what we want to achieve.

After you’ve poured yourself that cup of ambition, you can do these few essential things below to help set your intention for the day, and tell your brain what you’d like it to pay more attention to.

1.  Pave The Way And Prime The Pump

Determine what your intentions are for the upcoming day. Think about the task(s) for the day, what needs to be accomplished, and what really matters most. Consciously ask yourself what needs to happen for those goals to be achieved. This will help you define your real goal(s) for the day. The conscious focus on the task(s) helps you prime the pump and pave the way for your mind to recognize them as priorities, and attune your brain to look for things related to achieving that outcome as relevant and not off topic.

2.  Adopting The Right Attitude Is Everything

Once you’ve focused your brain’s energy on the tasks that are important, it’s time to ensure that your attitude supports your success. It should be no surprise that a happier, more positive attitude strongly influences our frame of mind and how we approach the day. Our brain looks for resonance between our intentions and our attitude about them as a way of confirming that they are indeed our priorities. If you have concerns about the upcoming task and they are really driving your mood in a less than positive direction, you have to determine if they help or impede your achieving the desired outcome. If they don’t have merit or a factual basis, and come from a place of unfounded fear or emotion, set them aside and redirect your thinking to the positive aspects of what you are setting out to do.

3.  We Get What We Focus On So Lock In Your Intentions

Now that you’ve primed the pump and synced your attitude, the only remaining task is to firmly set your sights and lock your attention on your priorities. Attuning your focus with your priorities helps you identify what you want to see more of—especially those things that support achieving your goal. You will become more aware of and vigilant for the things that will help you get there, traps that must be avoided, and yes, even potential opportunities to adjust and re-calibrate. Once you know what you’re looking for or what to avoid, you’ve engaged a level of awareness that will help you make sure that you focus on what you want to achieve. You might even want to capture them on an index card or memo on your phone so that you can look at it before you go into that big meeting, or consider what comes next—especially when the day gets challenging.

Establishing a process that carves out some time for personal reflection and intentional thinking in our complex world doesn’t mean giving up vast amounts of time—it means taking a few minutes, perhaps as long as it takes to make and drink your coffee. The investment of a few minutes each morning, however, returns vast rewards. The next time you tumble outta bed and stumble to the kitchen to pour yourself that cup of ambition, set your intentions for the day, and let me know how it goes.


Are You On The Right Road?

Aug 16

 There is a difference between being happy and being fulfilled. How many people do you know—and maybe you are one of them—who believe the road to fulfillment is by becoming famous, having more money, being super healthy, and being liked by others…? In other words: achieving what makes you happy. Being famous, having money, being liked, and even good health can all make you happy, but happiness is only part of being fulfilled. Things that make us happy can be lost despite our best efforts and attention. Being fulfilled, however, comes from a life well lived—one focused on making the world in which you live, and the people you know, better for your having been present. Devoting your life to making a difference, no matter how minor it might seem, helps you become a better person, and fills your heart and mind with a sense of gratitude and your life with an enduring purpose.

When we come to the end of the journey, we won’t measure the success of our lives by how many Twitter followers or Facebook likes we have, the prestigious connections or titles we’ve held, or the amount of fame and money we’ve accumulated. Our legacy lies in the smiles we shared, the polite gestures we’ve given and received, and the concern we displayed for others. It can be found in those moments where despite our best efforts to help someone we walked away without feeling like we accomplished anything—only to learn later that that person went on to do something significant with his or her life that impacted many others.

If you want to live a life of fulfillment, and in turn find happiness along the way, ask yourself one simple question: If I were to come to the end of my life today, what would I regret not having done?

I’m sure the answer isn’t getting that next deal, having a post go viral, or even having that corner office. If you’re not doing what the answer to the question is, I have only one question for you: What’s stopping you?

If you can’t come up with a great answer then follow Nike’s advice and Just Do It. Start your journey on the road to fulfillment, and you’ll also find happiness along the way.


Take A Real Break

Jul 26

Take A Real BreakWhile waiting at the airport to pick up family who were returning from a recent vacation, I couldn’t help but overhear the couple sitting next to me in the international arrivals area talking about their upcoming plans. They were waiting for their daughter to return from her year studying abroad and were excited that once she’d arrived they would then be heading off on a family cruise. The woman of the couple chided her husband, who had not looked up from his phone the entire time, saying, “I just want this vacation to be a ‘real’ vacation this year.” To which he annoyingly replied, “What does that mean?” and she simply sighed and said, “No checking emails, answering work emergencies, no phones—no work! I want it to be a real vacation: just the three of us spending time together and enjoying ourselves.”

When was the last time you had a “real” vacation? One that gave you the chance to take a break from the chronic state of being overworked and overwhelmed that most of us experience on a daily basis, and just enjoy being away? If you’re like most people, it’s probably been way too long.

Without a break from the daily bombardment we experience each and every day, our mind and body have no time to recover from the high levels of constant stress hormones that drive our fight-or-flight response. Being in a chronic state of stress impacts our physical and mental well-being, disrupts our overall life balance, and leaves us feeling like one day is no different from another. The negative impacts are long lasting to our overall health, relationships, and productivity in the long term.

Isn’t it time you considered taking the time for a real vacation this year, even if it’s only a “staycation” or a weekend away? It doesn’t matter if you indulge in a long trip to a wonderful faraway destination, a short weekend away pursuing a passion, or spending the day on the beach. What is important is that you do things that calm your mind, decrease your stress level, and enable you to relax so that when you return you have a more well-balanced approach to work and life.

Here are 3 tips that will help you carve out the time to relax and completely unplug from the work world.

1. Select An Understudy

Great actors have them so why not you? Select someone to be your understudy and go on in your place while you’re away. This isn’t only a great idea for vacation—you should always have someone who you’ve got standing in the wings for you and is prepared to step in should you need them. Be sure to brief them before you leave, however, and let others know that while you’re away they will be covering your meetings, calls, and any critical situations that come up. Your understudy should be the only one who knows how to reach you in the event that there is a real emergency—if they really need you they’ll call, and my hunch is that they won’t.

2. Use Your Out-Of-Office Message

Out-of-office messages help those you care about know that you haven’t fallen off the face of the earth, and have decided to take a well-deserved break, so use it. Make sure that you say in your message that you don’t have access to email during this time frame, and don’t answer any emails while away—it only confuses other people. Include your understudy’s contact information, the dates you’ll be away, and what others will handle while you’re away. If you really want to push the limits, you can create some email rules that send certain emails directly to your understudy and others to a folder called “upon my return.” This way when you get back in the office on day one, you won’t be faced with 800-plus emails in your inbox, have a panic attack, and undo all the gains from your vacation. Once you’re back in the groove, you can scan at your own pace what’s already been handled and what might need a response, and to be honest, what you’ll find is that most of what’s there can be just deleted wholesale—either because it’s been handled or isn’t relevant.

3. Airplane Mode Is A Life Saver

The goal of the vacation is to disconnect from the technology and reconnect with yourself, others, and your surroundings. If going cold turkey, turning off the phone, and not checking email is going to cause major withdrawal symptoms—the kind that will make you anxious without a fix of email—then start off slowly by committing to only checking email once a day late in the afternoon, and only for 30 minutes, and when you’ve got to be somewhere else at the end of the timeframe. Leave the phone and other devices in airplane mode, and turn off all notifications at all other times. Avoid checking in the morning—it’s too much like being at work, and the familiarity will trigger your existing patterns of behavior, roping you back in.

I hope you’ll consider taking a “real” break from the daily grind when you go away this summer, and spend the time doing things that enliven your spirit and build your relationship with yourself and others. Trying this might be a bit challenging at first, but I think you’ll find that it is really worth the effort. I have to admit that I find this challenging myself, so this year I’ve decided to take my own advice and go cold turkey. Wish me luck.

Maintaining Stress Resilience

Jul 19

Maintaining Stress ResilienceAt a recent barbeque, I couldn’t help but notice that despite the beautiful summer day and time spent with friends, everyone seemed to be talking about how overwhelmed they were trying to make all the pieces of their lives work together with some measure of sense and sanity.

Whether it was friends preparing to send children off to college, others starting a new business, or simply trying to manage taking a vacation and not falling behind at work, they all seemed to be struggling to keep balance in their hectic yet successful lives. The more successful we become, the more people need our time. However, the time we have remains static. What does it take to make it all work and continue to be successful without feeling burned out and overextended?

Finding the balance to make it all work without feeling overwhelmed and overextended doesn’t have to involve time-consuming strategies. Here are 4 simple tips that can help you manage your life and become resilient in the face of daily stress.

1. Reacquaint Yourself With The Power Of No

When others ask us for things we often respond out of habit and impulse rather than intention and purpose. We often feel compelled to say “yes” to others’ demands on our time and meet others needs on their schedules, leaving us feeling overextended and disconnected with our short and long-term priorities. We somehow feel that responding with a simple “no” or simply suggesting that we respond later will unsettle the universe. Simply saying “no” or asking to respond at a later time to a request is often met with the reply, “That’s OK, thanks.” Being comfortable responding intentionally and thoughtfully is what creates the fine line between being intentionally and purposefully busy and being overextended.

2. Carve Out Open Space In Your Day

Without even thinking, our calendars and schedules can easily become filled up with back-to-back meetings tasks, and we find ourselves scheduled at least 100% of the day—perhaps even more. We leave ourselves little time for breaks, connecting with others, moments to gather our thoughts, do heavy thinking, or even to react to unexpected situations that arise. This intense pressure leads to frustration, energy drain, and burn out. By simply planning our schedules to include open space, we can better manage the pace and speed of our day and build in the time to sustain our energy. Try not to schedule more than 60% of your day with meetings, appointments, and structured tasks. Use the other 40% of the time throughout the day to create open blocks of time where you can connect with others, take a well-needed mental break, pursue a creative endeavor, or even deal with an emerging and unanticipated situation. Open space leaves you in control of your day and not the other way around.

3. Have A Do-Not-Discuss List

We often waste hours, days, and months discussing, rehashing, and re-visiting situations and past events, while either ignoring or not choosing to focus on implementing the strategies for taking action. Once you’ve gathered the right resources, fully vetted and discussed the root cause of the challenge, and identified and formulated a plan for moving forward, don’t talk about the situation in terms of the past again. Commit to creating a do-not-discuss list for those situations, and only talk about new developments or forward movement. Focusing and rehashing the past, or ruminating over what actions one could take, doesn’t benefit anyone in your life—especially you.

4. Definitely Delegate When Needed

Even if you’re not a perfectionist, mastering the art of delegating requires some intentional effort to get it right. Be selective about what you delegate—choose things that are better accomplished by someone else spending the time and energy on doing it, even if it is something you know you could do. Choose to delegate things that you know you can’t do, are not worth the time to learn, or you’re not interested in learning how to do. Beyond what types of things to delegate mastering the art of delegation requires choosing well whom to delegate to: a trusted resource, while giving them clear direction, setting expectations and outcomes, and the full authority to take action to implement and achieve the outcome. Masterful delegation pays dividends in many surprising ways—you often learn that some tasks are done better than if you’d done them yourself.

Building your resilience doesn’t have to be complicated or time-intensive. Simply implementing any one of the tips starting today can improve your resilience in a measurable way. If you have others, please share them with me.