5 Things To Do to Outsmart the Unexpected

Sep 23
2017

Carefully plan and you’ll avoid the unexpected, right? But, life doesn’t work that way. Don’t underestimate life’s ability to surprise you, the unexpected happens every day.

You can’t possibly know what unknowns tomorrow will bring. Increasing your ability to cope demands that you make decisions quickly and with limited information.

Here are 5 things you need to do each day to outsmart the unexpected.

1. Practice Purposeful Distraction

Physical and mental exercise alter your body’s responses to heightened stress. Spend 5 to 10 minutes a day practicing things like deep breathing, acupressure and “purposeful” distraction techniques like doodling or thinking of words that start with the letter “a”. Practiced daily these become habits that you intuitively call upon in a crisis to calm you enough to decide, act, focus and survive.

2. Go Toward Problems

Think counterintuitively – don’t retreat, go directly toward solving problems. Break things down – solve smaller problems within the larger ones first. Savor the small wins and use them to formulate your plan B.

3. Add Humor to the Mix

Give yourself the fuel and tenacity you need to get back in the zone of optimal performance – find humor in the situation. Levity lessens the tension and anxiety so you can reframe the situation and win the contest of determination over fear.

4. Don’t Be a Risk Denier

Don’t be blindly in denial about the risk of failure – it guarantees you’ll take unnecessary risks and make failure a certainty. Create solutions that you can test against what is real versus what you feel is real in the moment. Even if these experiments aren’t successful you’ll learn what you need to keep moving forward. 

5. Get Out of the Tunnel

Get out of the tunnel where you’re susceptible to being blindsided by the biases that won’t serve you in an unexpected situation. Find, outside your sphere of interests, people who are trusted advisors, mentors, and resources willing to share their knowledge and expertise with you. Reaching outside your inner circle increases the resources you have to draw upon outside of your own knowledge base when unfamiliar situations arise.

Avoid the all-consuming anxiety that comes from the unexpected and see opportunity in the world of the unforeseen by being ready for the unexpected before it comes.

3 Foolproof Steps to Banish Stress

Jun 06
2017

You’re juggling an endless series of escalating demands, struggling to keep up—and blaming everyone and everything for your stress. But blame is an energy-wasting trap: you can’t purge these tasks and people from your life. Where does your stress really come from?

The answer is, you. Consciously or not, you’re choosing to get overwhelmed by conflicting emotions as you grapple with competing demands, deadlines, and pressure to deliver.

Stress is a choice, and that’s powerful knowledge. It means that stress is not inevitable. Defuse the building blocks of stress — worry, agonizing, and ruminating – to gain perspective and make room for optimism.

Stop Chewing Things Over

Instead, list the tasks that are weighing you down and brainstorm outrageous ways to resolve them. Try the “Fairy Godmother” approach: if I had a magic wand, how would I wish away this problem?  Write your “wishes” down, no matter how impossible. Once you have some ideas, focus on one or two of the most practical and ponder how to make them work. Free your imagination to open the door for ingenious new strategies.

Exchange Certainty (It’s a Myth) for Curiosity

“No battle plan survives contact with the enemy,” as Helmuth von Moltke astutely noted. Replace your need for certainty with a sense of curiosity. This requires acceptance of three basic truths: a) absolute certainty can’t ever happen b) setbacks are only temporary c) your curious mind gives you the tools to emerge from your stressed-out rut. Use your natural sense of curiosity to flex your mental maps, and you won’t feel destined to experience disaster if things don’t go as planned.

Test Feared Outcomes and Potential Solutions

Design experiments to confront your concerns. Test for the veracity of the feared outcome and try out a possible solution simultaneously in a low-risk situation. You’ll learn what you need to know without risking much if things go dramatically wrong.

When the inevitable failure happens, and we know it will (after all, no plan survives the enemy), avoid suspecting yourself as the culprit. Self-blame is a counterproductive thought that only stresses you out. Instead, examine all the plausible alternatives that may have taken you off course. Seek out objective evidence to guide your next steps. Put the brakes on negative thoughts by writing them down as they happen. Set a time to deal with them later, or even the next day. At that later point, they won’t carry the emotions of the moment with them, and you can more easily discern whether they remain relevant.

Out With The Old And In With The New: Getting Unstuck

Mar 14
2017

You’ve invested a great deal of time and determination in pursuing the plan you, or perhaps someone else, wrote for your life. Though you don’t totally despise what you’ve been doing, you wake up each morning with the nagging feeling that you’re not moving in the right direction either. As the days tick by, the nagging turns to unease, and unease into discontent. The pressure mounts, and you’re unable to find the connection between who you are, what you’re certain of, and what you’re doing with your life. Simply said: you’re stuck.

You probably took a stab at trying to get unstuck by doing what most people in that circumstance do—you decried that you weren’t stuck, and to prove it you began taking action. You set out to either add things to the plan or subtract things from the plan: trying everything and anything to make it work. But the more you focused on making it work, the more the sense of discontent grew. Today turned into tomorrow, and tomorrow into next month, and you still didn’t know what would work and what wouldn’t. You were more disheartened and even more stuck.

But getting unstuck isn’t about continuing to do what you’ve always done plus or minus a few things. After all, where’s it written that you have to stay on the path you’re currently on? And yes, I know it isn’t easy to think about giving up on a plan that you’ve dedicated years to pursuing—yet you have to accept that being stuck is your first and best signal that you’re ready for an important realignment in your life.

Being stuck is a great puzzle to solve, and it isn’t as difficult as you think once you accept that being stuck can lead to that start of something new. Digging out of the hole starts when stuck becomes the springboard for understanding what might be within your grasp. Knowing what we want starts with knowing what we might want and then figuring out what we what we need to pull it off.

There are many paths to living an incredible life, and many chances in our lifetime to reinvent ourselves—you won’t be stuck for long if you accept where you are, get over being stuck quickly, and start getting about the business of discovering what you might want to do next.

Expanding your possibilities gets simpler when you follow these four steps:

1. Realign Your Compass

Feeling stuck often leaves you questioning everything: your past, your present, and your future. Before you can even begin to find out where you want to go, you have to take a moment and figure out where you are in relation to your true north. Spend the time you need getting back in touch with the things that honor your values, interests, and core beliefs. Take the time to really ask yourself questions that shed light on what you really want to do with the work you do each day, and then ask yourself questions about what you want your life to be about. There are many great tools and exercises to help you do this (shameless plug: many of them you can find posts about on the Leadership Compound blog—check some out and give them a try). Find and ask the questions that most resonate with you, or the tools that work best for you, and if you don’t see any you can create your own. There really are no rules other than to write things down—it really does help you bring them into reality. The key is to begin.

2. You Have To Generate Ideas And Quantity Is King

Once you’ve realigned your compass and know your true north, you can begin to explore new ideas, preferences, and capabilities. In certain things quality does matter more than quantity, except when you’re trying to dig yourself out of the roadblock known as being stuck. Getting on with your life starts when you consciously engage in activities that spike your creativity and idea generation to the levels where ideas, options, and possibilities begin to flow freely and without judgment. The key is to begin free-associating, imagining, and coming up with lots of outrageous, enticing, and electrifying probable and improbable ideas that spark your interest or intrigue you. Zeroing in too quickly and/or attempting to think up a handful of high quality ideas in the early stages of idea formation is totally counterproductive to becoming unstuck. It only serves to intensify the pressure and indecision, stymie your creativity, and block any forward progress. Options—and lots of them—are what eventually lead to better quality ideas. They magnify our thinking, and energize and help us give thought to things we might have previously dismissed as impractical or outlandish. Quantity then leads to more choices, which result in better options and eventually a few quality ideas, which are optimal to implement. Some of my favorite tips for doing this are creating mind maps, journaling, word association, vision boards, and writing ideas on post it notes—find something that is creative and works best for you.

3. Choose What Fits—And First Isn’t Always Best

Despite our best intentions, our biases can often work against our best interests, especially when we lose sight that they exist. Failing to recognize and take into account their impact on our decision-making can prove disastrous. In highly charged emotional situations, like overcoming being stuck, we can sometimes forget that biology outmaneuvers rationality. The high and rush that we get from generating new ideas and seeing possibilities again can cause us to view more favorably our first idea and consider it “the one,” even though we’ve given it little scrutiny. Our desire to do this is more related to the chemical response of the brain’s positive hormones than a rational validation of the solution. Getting moored to a solution just because it seems good enough might right the ship, but it also closes down the exploration of many other really good and often beneficial options. Many times, what we first come up with is the safe or familiar choice. In the long term, choosing what is safe or comfortable could lead to being anchored in another sandbar: stuck again with some familiar issues. Learning how to keep working beyond the first quality idea and coming up with several other options helps us overcome the natural inclination to settle for the first thing we arrive at. Once we’ve uncovered, walked around in, and reviewed in depth several really solid options, we have the information we need to begin to draw the contrasts and weigh the advantages of each choice. The process of learning in depth about several high quality choices by asking questions and getting additional data and facts reduces the fear of uncertainty and increases our clarity about our choice and the outcome.

4. Don’t Critique, Sabotage, Or Stifle Your Forward Progress

The more ideas we have, the more choices that are open to us. If we are to imagine things in ways that we haven’t before, and think about things more broadly than ever before, we can’t sabotage ourselves along the way. Our brains are designed to be critical, find problems to solve, and make spur-of-the-moment judgments—nothing could be more detrimental to free-associating for creativity and inside-out thinking. Knowing this is how our minds work is the first step toward quieting the inner voice that, if left unattended, can impede our ability to do the two steps outlined above. You have to be mindful as you embark on this journey. Prepare yourself by first spending some time becoming aware of your own destructive self-talk: the messages you give yourself that say you can’t do something. Keep a journal as you start this process and make note of every time you think, “You can’t do that,” or “This idea is too crazy.” Put a plan in place to stop yourself from making that judgment and reward yourself for banishing the inner voice that says no and choosing to do things differently. Enjoy the benefits and the stress relief from knowing that this isn’t about getting it right the first time—it is about experimenting, learning, and small steps. With practice, you’ll see the fog will lift and you’ll be less stuck and more willing to push the door open to consider what once seemed unimaginable.

If you’re feeling stuck today, I encourage you to embrace it, accept it as the great puzzle it is to solve, and figure out what path will lead you back to your true north. If you’ve solved the puzzle before, I’d love to hear about your journey and what worked best for you.

 

Don’t Settle For Mediocrity, Instead, Stay Hungry

Mar 01
2017

Don’t Settle For Mediocrity Instead Stay HungryThrough an incredible feat of will and an ability to stay hungry, you’ve kept your edge, kept the naysayers at bay, overcome the competition, and attained all you’ve ever imagined possible. You’re now sitting where you always wanted to be: revered and sought after for your knowledge and expertise, getting all you’ve driven yourself so hard for, and sitting atop the pinnacle of your career. Fulfillment is certainly worthy of celebration and reflection, but it can also be a perilous time if you linger too long while riding the wave of success.

Living on your pedigree, reputation, adulation, and preserving the status quo only gets you so far, and it certainly won’t keep you atop the field forever. Riding the wave of your success is a surefire formula for being lulled into a sense of complacency that dulls your edge, makes you risk averse, and means you’re playing a prevent defense strategy. You stop pushing the envelope, fail to shake up the status quo, and won’t risk doing anything that might reflect poorly on your standing, image, or advance in the game if it means you might not triumph.

Preventing your fall from grace isn’t an effective strategy to keep those hungry up-and-comers from nipping at your heels. In fact, it’s just the opposite—it means that you’ve positioned yourself to be quickly overtaken. You have only one choice to keep your edge and stay atop the crowd: don’t settle for mediocrity – you have got to stay hungry!

Reigniting your hunger and staying that way is within your control. All it takes is watching for opportunities to learn more, do more, and step beyond what you know that’s safe and expected. You have to behave as if you have everything to gain and nothing to lose, stay persistent, not slack off, and without a doubt, not settle for the success you’ve already attained.

Here are some surefire ideas to keep you hungry and set yourself apart from your competition.

Embrace Hunger By Always Challenging The Status Quo

Never think or behave as if you have something to lose. You need to embody the idea of going above and beyond no matter how much success you have already realized. Have enough conviction in yourself that you don’t let the fear of losing your status or others silence your inner voice. Have the same willingness that you did before you were successful, revered and sought after to push the boundaries of what was comfortable, ask why with humility, and use your people smarts to uncover previously unaddressed concerns. Embrace the idea of experimenting and learning through unpredictable failures. Seek to learn from those who are nipping at your heels, and challenge yourself to put yourself in situations that make you uncomfortable or force you to learn something that you wouldn’t ordinarily have done before. Remember that you’re always a work in progress, and you have to change with the world and those around you.

Find New Ways To Connect What You’re Fanatical About To New Tasks

As you introduce new tasks, technologies, and ideas, you need to find ways to connect them to the things that you’re fanatical about or your motivation for doing what you do. Solicit different perspectives on what you’re doing and what might be outdated. Seek out a mentor who is younger and has a skill set that you don’t have—be open to learning from people who don’t share your frame of reference or experiences. Review the things your passionate about—notice if they still inspire you to go above and beyond to pursue them, and if not, let them go. Try new things and see what resonates with you. Do something that you’ve always aspired to try but were afraid to do or thought others might think wasn’t in line with your character.

Set Straightforward Expectations

Commit to taking a balanced approach to looking around corners and pushing forward to achieve what you want by balancing doing a job well with not plowing over others to accomplish something. Make sure your goals are straightforward and clearly articulated. Make them easy to measure with points along the way that you can measure, while noting your progress. Hold yourself accountable and ask others to do that as well by sharing your objectives. Reward yourself for your diligence, keeping focus on what is just around the corner, and keeping your eye on the future. Act with clarity when choosing where to focus your attention, whether it is on near-term or longer-term goals.

Our past success doesn’t entitle nor guarantee future success. We advance based on what we do moment by moment, opportunity by opportunity, and based on how we deliver and how hungry we stay. The key to separating ourselves from the crowd over the long term and keeping our edge means being intentional about taking risks, being bold, and staying hungry.

Are you willing to stay hungry? If so, let me know what you do to keep yourself striving for the things that give you the edge.

 

I Want My Life To Be About…

Sep 20
2016

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
2016

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.

 

Take A Real Break

Jul 26
2016

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
2016

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.

 

Happiness Boosters

Apr 19
2016

Happiness BoostersLucille Ball is quoted as saying, “It’s a helluva start, being able to recognize what makes you happy.” Figuring out what makes us happy isn’t a priority for most of us. The modern world demands our time, attention, and focus on a constant basis, resulting in a happiness gap. Connecting to what is truly important and infusing our lives with more passion, hope, and commitment all starts with being able to recognize what makes us happy, and then closing that gap. Boosting your happiness level is not only fun, but can also be life changing. There is no perfect time to begin and no one-size-fits-all method. But there is one common starting point: recognizing what makes us happy starts where happiness always resides and always will—inside of us.

Here are some suggestions that can go a long way in helping you recognize what puts a smile on your face and how to put happiness back at the center of your life.

When Life Gives You Lemons, Make Lemonade

The next time you’re waiting in a long line at Starbucks, sitting in another endless traffic jam, or in any of the myriad situations that cause all of us stress, try to divert your attention away from the negative to something positive. It could be cranking up a favorite song on the radio, guessing what the people ahead of you in line are ordering—rewarding yourself with a brownie bar even if you don’t guess any order right—or just starting a conversation with someone in line. You can also spend the time recalling some happy memories, as this will help you re-experience the feelings of joy in the present moment. The goal is to find a way to shift your focus and make lemonade out of the lemons.

See If You Can Make Other People Smile

Happiness is contagious; so see if you can bring a smile to someone else’s face. Make a concerted effort to do something nice for someone else—either in word or deed. Connecting in a real way with others helps you feel better about yourself, puts positive energy into the world, and encourages others to pay it forward. Decide to let go of old hurts or grudges and forgive someone. Showing compassion for others helps enhance social connections, builds a sense of inner peace, and frees up time to think about what is next.

Journal And / Or Meditate

There are many ways people keep journals, meditate, or even combine the two activities. Find what works best for you and practice it routinely. Journaling and meditation help you become more aware of repeated patterns and mindful about what takes place in your mind, body, and thinking. Both techniques help calm our minds and focus our attention inward and to the present moment. Quieting our mind helps us see the connection between seemingly disconnected events, clarify and reframe our perspective, and shape better outcomes.

There are many other ways to begin recognizing what makes you the happiest, and you’ll know you’re on the right path as you begin to feel more optimistic, energized, and confident. I’m always on the lookout for new boosters, so feel free to share one that you use and isn’t on the list above.

 

Information Overload

Apr 13
2016

Information OverloadWe are bombarded daily with texts, emails, and endless choices about what to order from the multitude of choices on the average menu board. It never ceases to amaze me how vast amounts of information can transform seemingly easy choices—like ordering a cup of coffee at Starbucks—into amazingly befuddling moments for people. There is a simple explanation for this phenomenon: we are trying process more information than our brain is designed to handle at any given time. When our brain is over-stimulated and our nervous system engages, we get what is more commonly known as “analysis paralysis.”

At most, our conscious mind can focus and retain three or four things simultaneously. Beyond that point, exposure to more information than the brain can process at one time rapidly diminishes our ability to focus, increases our stress levels, and reduces our ability to make choices. Ultimately, when we cannot endure any longer, they overwhelm us and we choose things that are less than ideal.

What approach works best when we are experiencing this type of overwhelming situation? Is it to exploit what we already know to make the choice, or step out of our routine and explore new possibilities? Let’s take a look a both strategies.

Exploiting What We Already Know

Taking advantage of what we already know can optimize our performance with respect to the current task at hand. The sections of the brain used in optimizing current performance and reward seeking are triggered, narrowing the field of choices to what we know best as a means of being efficient in the pursuit of a reward (the choice). Taking advantage of what we know can also be valuable as a means of making more routine and less complicated choices, as it pushes us toward maintaining balance as the best means of making a choice while seeing the world through a familiar lens. The downside is that we miss seeing what could be over the horizon—trying something new, and what might be hidden, leading to rash judgments made with familiar biases when the choice is more complicated.

Exploration Beyond What We Already Know

Opening up our minds and engaging in a process of exploration gives us the chance to “psychologically distance” ourselves from the quagmire of details surrounding the choice and consider it in a more abstract way. The process of exploration and abstraction triggers the parts of the brain that are responsible for our attention control features, and the executive functioning areas of our brain that are tasked with managing new situations. Distancing ourselves and beginning the process of exploring beyond what we already know sharpens our focus, and allows us to disengage from routine thinking and take a needed pause to discover something that we didn’t know we wanted, or come up with an innovative way of solving a problem. We become more flexible, adaptable, and less risk averse.

Both strategies can combat information overload—in varying degrees and under certain circumstances—and are highly dependent on the outcome being sought. Figuring out which way you need to go will depend on what the choice is. Regardless of which one you decide to try, realize that any choice to reduce the bombardment will help you reduce stress, anxiety, and make better choices.