Manage stress by living in the present

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Manage stress by living in the present

By default, we are all in the present, but not necessarily present, if that makes sense. This is where much of our stress rears its gnarly head.

We’re burdened with the constant pressure of what’s to come in a world that is almost exclusively forward focused. 

  • Create your own future!
  • Prepare for retirement!
  • Get ahead at work!
  • Develop a life plan!
  • Raise healthy and productive children!
  • Become the ____ you know you can be!
  • Get stuff done!
  • Be happy!
  • Change the world!

No pressure. 😳

What’s cool is that we have more opportunity now than at any other time in human history to actually accomplish these noble tasks. 

Previous generations didn’t have access to the technology and freedom that living today can bring. This particular age would have blown their minds.

To accomplish any one of these noble tasks would have been enough for them, let alone all of them at the same time.

We are in uncharted territory.

We scoot around, sometimes mindlessly, to try to take advantage of it all. We are so anxious to “get there.”

But once we get there, how then do we appreciate who we are in that moment and what we’ve already become?

Where are the master classes for that?

We just keep going to the next task, the next forward motion. ⏩

So many of our anxious and depressive thoughts stem from this constant focus on an ambiguous future moment.

These future moments can feel like a moving target. As we grow, change and develop new abilities, we decide we may want different things. 

So we may change and pivot.

Our future feels like it’s always “out there” because it is.

And even if you achieve all that you want, that future moment you aspire to will — one day — become your present moment.

Ah, the irony.

How will you even appreciate that moment? Have you thought about how you will mark and celebrate it?

Here are a couple of things that work for me:

Enjoy a “Done” list

There are a million and one ways to keep a to-do list. You can track it in a sweet little app that classifies, tags and whatnot. Or write out a list on a steno pad and keep it on the fridge (old school, I know, but it works).

But what about a list that captures what you ACTUALLY did?

Do you feel anxious and annoyed when you see how many things are still left on your list at the end of the day? Where did the time go?

You immediately start plotting those things for tomorrow, giving short shrift to your little worker bee 🐝 tasks that buzzed around so hard for you today.

The things you did get done you relegate to a checkmark or a strikethrough. Or worse, tag them as “Completed” and watch them disappear from your list completely.

Don’t just look at the checkmarks or the line throughs on your list. Separate them and give them their own list. They deserve it!

Those are the things you got done! ☑️

The present moments that you engaged.

So now you know you have the ability to take advantage of your present moments!

Master today

Today is here, and you are apparently already awake and moving around. Nice job! 😎

What are the things you can do TODAY that will move you toward those future goals?

Focus on just those things, and shove the rest aside for now.

Don’t let the future steps, which don’t matter right now, encroach on your present.

If this day is particularly challenging, maybe you can just focus on what you need to do in the next HOUR.

What is the literal next step on your list? 👟

Don’t worry about this afternoon or where you’d still like to be at the end of this day.

Muster your energy and focus toward just this present moment and see where it goes.

Stop moving

Sounds simple, but in order to focus on the present, you may have to stop moving for a minute.

Do you have to go right on to that next thing? 🏃 Or can you take a minute to enjoy a little self-imposed buffer zone?

I like to daydream in these moments. It gives my brain a frickin’ break from all that analyzing and planning and lets me imagine myself doing something ridiculously fun.

Do this when it’s super inconvenient and you feel like you just can’t spare the time.

This is probably when you are feeling most stressed about the future.

The present IS your life. 

Right now, as it’s happening. 

Enjoying the present isn’t hard but it does require intention. There will always be something in the future calling you out of it.

Learn to engage it on your terms.

How do you enjoy your present moments?

 

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Answers from the trail

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Road lined with trees

One of the advantages of having a few professional years under your belt is following the trail of your own actions and decisions.

Sometimes it can be validating to see where your head was in the right place.

Other times, it leaves you scratching your head, wondering how you missed so much that was so obvious.

There’s good data there if you allow yourself to mine it.

We leave breadcrumbs behind with every project, interaction and new venture.

We can go back and discover clues about how we view our work and how we really feel about our work.

That trail usually leads back to our early days in schooling, how we interacted with our classmates or early friends.

And how our parents or caregivers modeled authority to us.

  • Does your boss remind you of a parent? Consider how you respond to them.
  • Does your work environment mimic the playgrounds of your youth? You may see some familiar patterns and behaviors.
  • Maybe you look at your work as a challenge to be conquered, like a science project. Or just a problem to be solved and dealt with, like a math test.

Many of us move through the day in reactive mode, putting out fires we didn’t cause. We’re out of gas at the end of the day, but not sure exactly why.

How can you even think about changing the way you think about your work if you’re just trying to keep the embers from catching again?

You have to be the one to chart your new course.

Document your actions and decisions at work for a month.

Don’t judge it. Just write it down, warts and all.

At the end of the month, go back and read it. See what reveals itself. 

  • What worked?
  • What didn’t work?
  • What worked but singed your eyebrows in the process?
  • How did you respond to all of it?
  • How do you wish you had responded to some of it?

Patterns will jump out at you when you are removed from the immediacy and urgency of a specific circumstance or situation.

Now you know what to work on.

How to weather change at work without stressing out

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How to weather change at work without stressing out

Change has always been a part of the workplace.

But in the last five to eight years it seems it has reached a fever pitch in many organizations. You can expect something big to change every two or so years, sometimes even way less.

Have you experienced this lately? Change can be one of the biggest causes of stress at work.

Reorganizations, leadership changes, new regulations and legislation that require big changes to workflows and processes, automation that makes cherished roles redundant.

Don’t get me wrong. Change isn’t necessarily bad. New developments and innovations can take an organization in a new and exciting direction.

But it’s still an adjustment because motion creates friction. (Hey, look who was paying attention in Mr. Rieger’s 10th grade physics class.)

The catalyst for change runs the gamut but the results can be the same:

  • What’s going to happen to me?
  • When will I know what’s going to happen?
  • What if I’m not comfortable with the changes?
  • Will I have to take on even more?
  • Am I still needed?
  • If I don’t like the change, should I stay and wait it out or get out now?
  • This isn’t what I signed up for.
  • This isn’t fair.

Emotions like fear, uncertainty, anger, and frustration can drown you and your coworkers in times of change.

You may feel powerless, which can cause you to think and act in ways outside of your character.

That certainly won’t help.

And you may lash out at leadership, even as they may be experiencing the same emotions and fears.

Many organizations haven’t mastered how to effectively coach their employees through change. 

So developing a healthy attitude and adaptive responses to changes at work largely falls on your shoulders.

To thrive in today’s work environments, you have to expect that change will come knocking on your door.

And part of that expectation is being prepared ahead of time. You can decide now how you will engage so when the change occurs, you can remain flexible and productive.

Here are a few things to consider as the winds of change start blowing at work.

1. Don’t take change personally.

Reframe your perspective. Don’t be paranoid. It’s not about you.

It really is “just business.”

Change or die is kind of a very real thing now facing organizations (Blockbuster, anyone?).

Change can result from new industry advancements, higher expectations from technology, excitement about the future, or a desperate attempt to salvage something that’s just not going well.

And this would probably happen whether or not you were sitting in your cheerily-decorated space.

Do this instead: 

Choose to view yourself as a business. While “just business” is still “kinda personal” — because, after all, business changes can affect your livelihood — you can decide to use the power you do have to make your own change.

The change door swings both ways.

While your organization is assessing, hypothesizing and consulting, you get to do the same thing.

  • What’s working for you?
  • What’s not working?
  • What skills would you like to continue to develop or deepen?
  • What other levers could you pull to achieve your career goals?
  • What do you want to do?

Honestly, you should always be on the hunt for answering these questions, even if everything is perfect at work.

Exploring these questions can help you feel a little less powerless because you can generate some tangible options for yourself.

You don’t have to act on those options necessarily. But it’s a real mood booster to know you have options, like finding that surprise $20 bill in your jeans on laundry day.

Plus, assessing your skills and experiences is a huge validator. Sometimes in the day-to-day we forget how awesome we are.

2. Don’t ruminate about all the negative possibilities.

Rumination is a dastardly thinking habit that’ll take you right down the road to depression and anxiety. If you only have the mental budget to stop doing one thing, pick this one, please.

When you entertain distressing and negative thoughts over and over and over, without challenging them, stewing over them at your desk and casting blame on others like Thor’s hammer, guess what?

Your mood totally tanks. Your mental state spirals down into a mess of obsession over every little comment, side glance or email.

Now you feel hopeless.

You may look up and realize a half hour has gone by and you haven’t done anything.

So, in a time of great change, you’re not getting your work done.

(If you prefer a description of rumination that involves cows, and really, who doesn’t?, click here.)

Do this instead:

Rumination is a habit and one you can absolutely change. It’s easy.

Instead of fuming, write down your most distressing thoughts, right there at your desk. Then, under each thought, write a possible explanation you may not have considered.

Be a detective. What else could be going on that you haven’t considered, Sherlock?

It can be completely plausible or involve aliens. As long as you’re generating ideas.

Bonus: Now you have distracted yourself, probably made yourself laugh because we all know how funny you are when it comes to aliens, and interrupted the aforementioned dastardly rumination.

You have also considered a different perspective on your experience, which is gold. You get 10 points!

3. Don’t get caught up in the rumors and the riff raff.

Note: If you don’t know what riff raff is, you’re probably part of it.

This one is really, really hard. I know your mother and all the career literature says, “Thou shouldst not partaketh in gossip-eth.”

But in an organizational change vacuum, where reliable information may be like finding a free restroom in Manhattan, sometimes gossip feels like all you have.

However, priming the rumor pump is a nifty way to keep anxiety and fear constantly churned up — for everyone.

Of course, you naturally want to share and process your feelings and fears with others who are going through the same experience. This is normal and healthy, to a degree.

But there’s a point where it becomes damaging and counterproductive. Sharing information that you heard from someone else is one thing.

Fortune-telling and mud-slinging from that information (which may or may not be accurate, usually not) is a whole other enchilada.

And in many cases, your predictions are way off anyway.

Do this instead:

Decide to be a safe person for your coworkers. Determine ahead of time how you will engage with new information that presents itself from unofficial channels.

If you are uncomfortable with something, say so. If a group discussion starts going askew and you start getting that icky feeling, excuse yourself and walk away.

You may not nail this 100% of the time because some conversations just evolve. But do your best.

Most importantly, find simple ways every day to encourage your coworkers who may be struggling even more than you.

Make this your “shtick” as your organization progresses through the change. People do appreciate it, and it will help keep you encouraged as much as it helps them.

4. Don’t abandon your self care regimen.

Now is not the time to stop exercising, eating right or sleeping.

Focusing on these three tools in your toolkit is the key to building resilience for everything life throws your way.

Stress at work takes its toll on you physically by jacking up your adrenal system. When you’re under stress, your blood pressure goes up, your heart rate increases, your muscles constrict, and your pupils dilate.

The hormone cortisol becomes the general who barks orders in your body as it prepares you for the “danger” ahead.

Staying in this constant state of “fight or flight,” though, is too much wear and tear on your adrenal and cardiovascular systems.

This is why at the end of the day you have headaches, heart palpitations, indigestion, irritability and difficulty sleeping.

Do this instead:  

Intentional self care is the foolproof antidote to stress at work. It won’t change your stress but it can change your outlook on it and how you respond.

Exercise: Find time every day for some form of movement. Go for a run or walk, ride your bike, do yoga, play a quick game of basketball with your kids, pull some weeds in your yard, whatever. Just move.

When things get hot at work, take a break and go for a 10-minute walk. You’re allowed.

This is a great way to let off steam in the moment and has the added advantage of reducing your blood pressure on the spot. (I know this because I’m now in that phase of life where taking my blood pressure has become a sport.)

Eat right: Make a planned and deliberate effort to nourish your body with healthy foods. It doesn’t matter if you are doing keto, paleo, Weight Watchers, you’re a vegan or you just eat when you’re hungry (is that a thing?).

Simply focus on making healthier choices every day and staying away from the processed junk and sugars that we all know by now are bad for us.

Don’t make your marvelously adaptable body have to work harder to keep you all together.

Sleep: Sleep is a discipline. It’s not something that happens upon you like bonus fries at the bottom of the bag. You may have to work for it to get it to fall in place.

Make bedtime the main event and focus of your evening. Anything that distracts you from getting to bed on time shouldn’t make the cut. This won’t make you a hit at the parties you’re not going to, but the results will make you feel like a rockstar.

Do we not do this with our kids when they’re young? If you were like me, your whole nighttime schedule revolved around getting your kids to bed on time. Woe be unto any person or activity who tried to impede that.

Make that same commitment to yourself. Maybe your evening should involve more snuggling and someone reading you a bedtime story.

For more grown-up tactics on how to get better sleep, Google “sleep hygiene” and “bedtime rituals.”

Stay flexible, my friends

None of these things will keep changes at work from affecting you. But the secret sauce of weathering change, at work or at home, is giving yourself the best shot at staying flexible.

What doesn’t bend will break. You’re not helpful to yourself or anyone else if you’re broken.

You can’t be adaptable by being paranoid about the future, letting your emotions run amok, giving others room to determine your perspective and allowing your body to get overwhelmed.

You have more power than you know to not just survive change, but to thrive beyond it.

What about you?

What are some ways you have dealt with change at work? What has worked for you? Do share!

 

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Consistency wins the game

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Consistency is doing the same thing over and over again, expecting different results.

Wait, isn’t that the definition of insanity?

Walk with me.

Everyone chases results. You can get fired from your job if you don’t get results. Your doctor shakes her head when she sees the results of your annual exam. You’re on thin ice with your spouse if they’re not happy with your contributions to the marriage.

But few people chase the actual work day in and day out.

Why?

  • Because consistent effort, regardless of the result, is hard.
  • It’s frustrating when there’s little to show for your time.
  • And it can get boring.

As modern westerners, we don’t like hard, frustrating or boring.

And consistency is an exercise in humility. We lose our minds over big wins. We golf clap incremental milestones. So we gravitate to those grandiose efforts.

But here’s the rub: In order to see change in your life, you have to get in a rhythm with the consistent work that will get you where you want to be.

There’s no other way.

  • Do the work no one may notice to thrive in your job.
  • Make the hard dietary changes to lower your cholesterol and keep your heart healthy.
  • Serve your spouse’s needs every day to keep your marriage alive.

It’s Monday. Show up and punch the bag.

What do you want?

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What do you want? Seems like an easy enough question.

We want a new job or that great new boat we saw last weekend. But look past the stuff.

What do you really want?

I heard author Bob Goff speak a few weeks ago, and he asked the audience this question with effervescent conviction (to be fair, though, that’s kind of his thing). If you’re familiar with Bob, you’ll know he’s got a lock on what he wants.

His question threw me as I grabbed the arm of the person next to me and said to them, “I don’t know! I don’t think I know what I want!” 😱

This is a terrific way to free up a seat next to you. More armrest for me, just sayin.

“What do you really want” is a hard question if you haven’t really thought about what’s important to you. It’s still a hard question if you have thought about it.

When you know what you value in life you work hard to make reality match your vision.

Then Bob threw me over the edge with this one:

Decide what you want, then point the rest of your life, all the other stuff, toward that.

Genius!

Simplicity.

I had the whole seating section to myself at this point.

We don’t always do what we really want.

We can’t always articulate what we want in a way that drives us to make real changes. So when our lives get out of balance, our ability to tolerate incongruity overwhelms us.

It’s frustrating.

But if you let it, this discomfort can at least get you going.

You may have heard the story of the old dog and the farmer. It’s been rewritten more than a few times. This version comes from author Amanda Palmer.

“A farmer is sitting on his porch in a chair, hanging out.
A friend walks up to the porch to say hello, and hears an awful yelping, squealing sound coming from inside the house.
“What’s that terrifyin’ sound?” asks the friend.
“It’s my dog,” said the farmer. “He’s sittin’ on a nail.”
“Why doesn’t he just sit up and get off it?” asks the friend.
The farmer deliberates on this and replies:
“Doesn’t hurt enough yet.”

Getting up and moving your life toward your vision takes the discomfort out of focus and lets you lock in on what you need to do to change your life.

So how do you know what you want?

For starters, what you want isn’t what you don’t want.

Don’t define your values in terms of “A life where I don’t have to…

The goal is to move toward a tangible vision of what you want. No one ever got where they wanted to go by heading somewhere they didn’t want to go. Well, maybe Christopher Columbus, but whatever…

And your values are about you. Not what you’d like to see other people do.

A life where my brother…” No. Mind your own business. Your brother can tussle with his own values. This is about you.

Frame your values in ways that help you discover that picture of your life you’ve seen in your head since you were eight.

Picture it

This is the best part. Use all of your six senses (I’m assuming , of course, you can see dead people) to visualize yourself living and moving inside that picture.

Who do you talk to? Where do you go?

What does it feel like when you win at that thing? Who’s with you when you do?

What do you look like? What are you wearing (not in a creepy way)?

This is the movie version of your life where no one can tell you, “You can’t have that.”

Maybe you want your life to center on community, creativity, joy, spirituality, or simplicity. Or all of them.

There are no qualifiers or prerequisites. You get it all.

There’s sweet data there for you. Go get it.

Are you getting what you want?

Be your own change agent

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Is it just me or does everything about the world seem to be changing constantly? If you are maintaining vital signs on a regular basis, you may feel this, too.

Adapting to change and flexing with the times seems like a requirement anymore.

Status quo went the way of great Cold War movies and calling cereal a balanced breakfast.

Change happens. 

We put change in a negative light.

  • Relationships end badly.
  • We lose our jobs or our company reorganizes.
  • Our kids grow and change and leave childhood innocence behind.
  • Middle age prompts lifestyle changes for emerging health issues.
  • Aging eyes suddenly require readers from Walgreens.

But change also can be a wicked catalyst for growth if you know where to look.

Change creates movement and friction that uncovers new possibilities.

I live on Florida’s Treasure Coast, so named because of ships in the 1600s and 1700s carrying gold and jewels that sunk during hurricanes.

A gazillion dollars of treasure lays buried on the ocean floor, much of it unrecovered and undisturbed.

During a hurricane, the force of the storm surge creates erosion on the beach and just offshore.

Erosion is violent and destructive. It tears away at foundations, destroys delicate reefs, and closes your favorite beach for a year.

And it moves stuff, like gold coins, for example. Treasure hunters trip over themselves to be the first to hit those waters after a storm to see what treasures have emerged.

Finding loot worth possibly millions in the newly-stirred up environment motivates these modern-day mateys to keep looking.

Got gold?

Churning up your own change is the secret to staying engaged in your life and work.

There’s no moving forward without something changing. Get comfortable being the instigator of change in your life.

Stir it up and move things around.

But don’t shoot for total erosion. Just change one small thing that’s not working for you.

Then look for the opportunities in the discomfort you create.

What are some ways you can create your own personal “change culture?”