How to simplify your week to reduce stress

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“Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.” Steve Jobs

I’m not one to quote Steve Jobs too much. He was brilliant, no question. But I’m not sure he’s the model to follow for a low-stress life in the workplace.

He seemed to ooze complexity. At least that’s what it looked like from my judg-ey overstuffed reading chair and ottoman.

I think he was onto something here, though, in understanding how we can simplify one of our real stressors at work — our workload.

Simplifying your work helps you do work that matters

If we think about the Apple products we use, they are dead simple.

My iPhone requires almost no instruction. The apps on it reduce complicated processes down to one or two steps I can do while I’m in the bathroom. (Don’t judge me, you do it too. 🙃)

In spite of the challenges the smartphone era has brought us, it’s also made so many things in life easier.

  • Don’t you remember what it was like trying to find answers to life’s big questions on Yahoo using your two-inch-thick Compaq laptop?
  • Remember scribbling tasks in your Monticello-themed, double-binded Franklin Planner?
  • Have you forgotten just how complicated it was to take your own pulse by using two fingers on one hand?

This was the crazy world the iPhone entered back in that dark age.

Apples’ development team started with the simplest version of what they thought could work and built on it from there. I’m sure they had a veritable scroll of features they probably could have included in that first phone (known then sweetly as “iPhone”).

But we’d probably still be waiting for that first iPhone, clumsily walking around with two fingers on our carotids and using hash marks to count our 10,000 steps.

The ensuing versions of the iPhone — all the way to today’s iPhone XR — came about once humans started actually using the phone.

I mean, who knew one day we would rarely even use these things as a phone? Who saw that one coming? 🤷

Use an MVP to simplify your work

You business-minded folks may recognize this process as a principle called “Minimum Viable Product,” or MVP.

(Bear with me. The therapist is using a business principle to make a point here.)

Entrepreneur Eric Ries was the first to toss this definition of MVP around in his book, “The Lean Startup:”

A Minimum Viable Product is that version of a new product which allows a team to collect the maximum amount of validated learning about customers with the least effort.

In regular-people speak:

  • Build the simplest version of your product that will let you learn how people use it,
  • Gather feedback from them while they’re using it, then
  • Add new features from what you learned.
  • And so on, and so on….

This can save you time and energy because you’re not trying to build the best product ever by just guessing what might work. That’s so old school.

  • MVP gives you a real-life lab to build a product that helps people solve the annoying problems in their lives.
  • MVP helps you see what really helps people, not just stuff you and your team think is cool.
  • People tend to celebrate and buy stuff that helps them solve problems.

Maybe you don’t build a tangible product per se.

(Actually you do! Your work is your product. Make work your product!)

Apply the MVP principle on this Monday to simplify the rest of this week

This frees you up to do the work that solves real problems and creates forward momentum.

I don’t know about you, but nothing stresses me out more than doing work that doesn’t matter.

Here’s a little MVP roadmap I made for you:

1. Create and plan a wicked simple baseline for what you want to accomplish this week

I’m showing my INFJ skin a bit here, but planning is essential to reduce stress at work. Sorry.

You have to create some buckets, even leaky ones, to capture your important work or you’ll just end up with a messy pile of pointless doo-doo on Friday.

I know that may fly in the face of your possibly more spontaneous nature, but spontaneity and joy are not mutually exclusive.

Don’t go crazy and overplan (see also: procrastination).

But do plan, please.

Give some thought ahead of time about how you want this week to end up.

  • What do you want to hold in your hand on Friday (besides a cold beer)?
  • What MVP product can you produce this week that you can then build on next week?
  • Put everything else on a “next release” list of some kind.

Be honest about what you can really do. This is an area where we create a lot of our own stress.

Our work eyes are sometimes bigger than our work stomachs, if you will. 😋

Create a workable plan that is do-able with the time and resources you have this week and focus the week on that.

2. Protect your plan by establishing boundaries around your work

I know what you’re thinking. That’s great and all, but what about when my boss runs in with a little project on fire, and I’m the one who’s supposed to put it out? 📝🔥

What happens to my well-crafted plan then, sister girlfriend?

In many cases, you can give your boss some options on how you put that fire out.

“Sorry this project is on fire, Susie. Take a deep breath. Here are a couple of things we could do. Which one do you like?”

  1. Use the fire extinguisher. This will put the fire out immediately but it will also trash everything around us. It will resolve the problem immediately but we’ll spend two days cleaning up. This will delay all our other projects.
  2. Use the sweater slung over the back of my office chair to put out the fire. This will suffocate the fire and ruin my sweater, but it will most likely resolve the problem and preserve the working environment. We’ll need a minute to regroup, and I’ll need a long lunch to go buy another sweater. But we can get back on track today.

(Fire people are going to kill me on this one. It’s an analogy. If there’s an actual fire in your office, please be safe and follow your company’s fire safety plan.)

Of course there are plenty of unexpected things that pop up in the work week. But they don’t have to completely derail your work.

Unless they truly have to.

The best part about having a plan is how you can adjust it to meet changing needs.

But you can also protect it by offering other options besides you always having to set everything else aside.

And you still have a shot at maintaining momentum with your plan while getting credit for helping put out a fire, too.

3. Capture feedback to build your next version

In building an MVP, capturing feedback is what drives the best new version of the product.

Thoughtful and engaging feedback makes your work better.

If you work in a team format, you absolutely should be open to feedback. Unless you’re freakin’ Leonardo da Vinci, you need other perspectives to do great work.

Here’s the dealio with feedback, though.

You’re not necessarily required to convert that feedback into action items. And certainly not this week.

If the feedback is a game changer for where your work is headed right now, then be for real and change your plan.

But don’t feel like it’s always required. Put the feedback on your “next version” list and see how it may fit in later.

Put a little fence around your work and be your own gatekeeper.

This serves to focus your best cognitive energy on the feedback you can use now to do your best work this week.

4. Make it your task to understand how your work ties in to a larger goal

Why do you do the work at your job? I don’t mean to start you on an existential quest here, but really … why are you doing this work?

Part of an MVP is knowing that your work is accomplishing a specific outcome. You can touch it, define it and explain it.

Apple’s slogan for the first iPhone was “Apple reinvents the phone.”

Apple reinvents the phone - 2007 Macworld Steve Jobs introduces the iPhone

“Apple reinvents the phone” by Nobuyuki Hayashi is licensed under CC BY 3.0

Did the developers working then understand that? I hope so because they did reinvent the phone. They absolutely did.

This is where Steve Jobs’ focus on simplicity comes to bear. He was obviously great at painting a vision, not just for customers but for the people doing the work.

And it made all the difference.

Many leadership teams lack the skills to communicate business goals in simple ways.

How does Allison in accounting understand how her weekly report contributes to the company’s quarterly success? To her, it may be just a thing she does on Monday before lunch.

Yes, the burden of that understanding should really fall on Allison’s company.

But remember, the power to reduce stress is in our hands, not waiting for someone else to figure it out for us.

So Allison may have to ask that question of her boss or someone else at her company who’s in the know.

This is an excellent way to make sure the work you’re doing is needed.

If not, you can apply your efforts toward something that will.

Now what?

Companies who use the MVP approach have seen enormous, even overwhelming success. It allows them to put great work out there and let others help them refine it.

You can do the same in your workweek if you resolve to keep your stuff simple and workable.

  • Be honest with yourself and others about what you can do.
  • Don’t be afraid to set boundaries around your work.
  • Let others use their perspective and knowledge to inform your work and make it better.
  • Seek out the larger picture for yourself, and bring it back to your desk every day.

 


Check out my new Alexa Skill – Mental Health Moment with Lori Miller

You’re busy at work and at home, and you take care of everyone else. You’re allowed to have a few minutes in each day to set your focus, regroup and feel a little more in control.

Join me every day as I bring you simple and practical tips you can use right now to gain a little more control over your life.

Visit my Amazon page for more information.

Amazon Alexa skill - Mental Health Moment with Lori Miller


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New you, new year

New Year, New You

Are you wanting to create a “whole new you” in 2019?

I had the same brilliant idea two years ago as we were ushering in 2017. In fact, I even encountered this sign as I was biking near my house just before that new year. New year, new me!

It was like a sign that I was headed in the right direction. I even laughed at God’s sense of humor that He had sent me an actual sign. 😂 (I don’t think we give God enough credit for His levity.)

I was so inspired I posted it on Facebook with my loftiest declarations in full hashtag mode.

And I feel like I largely did create a whole new me.

After being part time in mental health for several years while working full time in my corporate marketing career, I decided it was time to pick something and go with it.

I knew in my heart that mental health represented a much bigger future than what corporate America could offer me. But getting paid every two weeks is a pretty attractive feature, too, and with a kid in college, doing anything different was a scary option. 😳

As we were waiting for 2017 to dawn, I just couldn’t do it anymore. The corporate gods had aligned to make my job pretty uncomfortable, and I felt almost guilty that I was just biding my time for a paycheck.

There I was, sitting among the 70% of Americans feeling disengaged and trapped at work.

That’s not what I’m about. I’m very much a “learn or die” kind of gal, so this wasn’t a good place for me to be and I wasn’t a joy to be around.

After much banter back and forth with my husband and more than a few late night Chips Ahoy!, I decided it was time.

So in March 2017 I quit my marketing and communications job and shifted out of the career that had given me so much and opened a lot of doors for me for more than 20 years.

I left behind a decent salary, benefits, and a somewhat predictable future (and I think I left my Rubik’s cube in my desk, too!).

But I was ready to embrace my new identity as a mental health professional. 🙋🏻‍♀️

All mental health, all the time. I was a walking tagline.

I felt like Mary Tyler Moore tossing her hat in the air. I was gonna make it after all!

I realized at the time that I was creating a new professional identity and really had to rebrand myself. All the things I was an expert in were about to shift.

I always love this part!

I dug in and learned a ton about insurance, working with people from all walks of life in community mental health, and putting my own paychecks together as a fee-for-service counselor.

The way I worked was completely different, and the work I did was largely up to me.  After 20 years of taking direction from others, this was a paradigm shift.

I think that’s what made it feel like a whole new me. I was doing it!

But honestly, two years later, I think I was wrong about this “whole new you” thing.

While I’ve learned a lot, I’ve also put a ton of pressure on myself in the last two years to create a whole different version of myself.

  • I set too many goals that were too big for where I was in the process.
  • I started and stopped many, many things. Not finishing something is the devil for me because I use it as ammo against myself on the tough days.
  • I compared myself against what I had done before.
  • I berated myself for finding ways to be lazy in spite of being more engaged and chasing a new identity.

But I rationalized that I had jeopardized a not-so-terrible career to do this, ya know? I had to make it work — for me and my family.

Go big or go home, right?

And the reality is that I really have made it work.

I remind myself every day to look back and see how far I’ve come in just two years.

But not in any big, amazing way. Just in a million small ways, one foot in front of the other. 👣

*sigh*

If I’m honest, I’m disappointed that the “whole new me” is still out there in front of me. I think she’s probably pretty cool, if I can just catch up with her. 💃 (<—Apparently she’s blonde, too!)

Alas, I’m still just regular old me, albeit with some enhancements and a fair amount of newly-discovered discipline.

But that’s a lot to work with.

What can this mean for you?

As you start considering what kind of goals you want to set for next year, it can be tempting to upend the whole apple cart.

We have so much information available to us today that we can literally change anything about ourselves by doing a smattering of research. Keep a few things in mind, though:

There really is no “whole new you.” Just you, only better.

Please know that you can change your habits, perspectives and goals, but the person you are right now is the foundation for all of it.

If you don’t like who that person is, you should do some work to discover ways to acknowledge the good things about you. (I can recommend someone. 😉)

No amount of “go big or go home” is going to fix that deep-seated need for approval and significance.

Learn how to appreciate the qualities and talents you got right out of the baby chute.

The science people tell us that our personality is really set early in life. What we do from that point on is build on it to find our strengths and learn how we can use our unique skills to create opportunities for ourselves.

This is exciting because it means you’re like a Lego set. You can add a few new pieces and come up with something different every time.

It may not look like what’s on the box, and you’ll probably lose some of the pieces, but it’s a unique creation with room to add even more.

And Lego sets are really never done, are they?

Don’t underestimate the power of small changes over time.

Big changes are scary and can cause you to quit if you don’t have a plan for what might go wrong.

Taking change in bite-sized chunks makes the challenges easier to swallow.

There is no “magic you” behind door number two. Trying to make sweeping, wholesale changes all at one time (like, in January) is setting you up for magnificent failure. And that will get you nowhere fast.

February will come and you’ll be quite literally besotted with disappointment. Time to break out the Chips Ahoy! (Man, I really want cookies right now. 🍪)

Decide to just be a little better at something, and do that little bit every day. You won’t miss the time, I promise.

And be sure to document it in some way so you can see the line trend up when you look back. 📈

This will give you enormous motivation to keep going when you just can’t see it.

Pick one goal that can change many things in your life.

Focus on a goal that will give you tremendous benefit in several areas of your life. This is like low-hanging fruit to supercharge your life.

For example, losing that extra weight your doctor keeps harassing you about can result in:

  • improved appearance
  • more productivity at work
  • better sleep
  • improved physical health
  • more energy for sex
  • a longer life to enjoy your family

That’s infinitely better than trying to just learn a new productivity method or shop for the perfect wardrobe.

Take an inventory of the things in your life that you wish were better and see what common theme they all share.

Then focus on making changes inside that theme.

I know that 2019 will be a year of growth and accomplishment for you.

Just make sure to trust in who you already are and start building an awesome new year!

 

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How to deal with drag in your life

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What's creating drag in your life?

Do you ever feel like no matter how hard you work, or how much you strive to do better, you’re just having a hard time getting forward movement?

The wheels are certainly spinning. The engine’s running and everything seems in order. But if you’re honest, you’re not making the gains you want.

And now your shoes are smoking and wearing down from all that effort.

You’re getting some drag.

In the aerodynamic world, drag is an element that resists and fights the force of flight. Thanks to gravity, staying on the ground is the default state.

Taking flight requires the pilot to have significant skills in overcoming that drag and knowing how to work with it to get past it.

I think there is also probably a lot of math involved in flying.

Three things can create friction and drag in your own journey. See how many are true for you.

 

Your reluctance to process the past.

You may have suffered terrible abuse, trauma or fractured relationships.

Pain in your past can definitely create drag, or stop you outright, if you don’t take the time to process the events and try to derive some meaning from them.

It won’t fix the past, but processing that pain can help you understand how it’s affected you.

Please know that painful events take a significant amount of your time, energy and commitment to deal with. Healing doesn’t just happen, and certainly not without your permission.

The good news is you can use your past as fuel to push back against the forces resisting your flight.

But did you know your past successes can also create drag? It’s easy to rely on what you’ve always done, what’s always worked for you.

For many of us, when presented with a challenge, we immediately spring into action with what’s gotten us results before. I like to call this “doing a ‘File, Save As…'”

But no two challenges are exactly alike. A new challenge may require that you develop the humility to learn new skills, especially if you want to grow and push past that experience.

Relying on what you’ve always done may have you doing doughnuts on the runway, or it may just keep you grounded.

Your reliance on comforting distractions. 

We have a bajillion ways to put something off or escape our anxieties right at our fingertips. We don’t even have to try hard to find a rabbit trail.

We spend so much time on things that aren’t terrible, really. They make us feel good and maybe they help us learn something. Yet they offer no real path toward our goals.

It’s great to be informed about the world, but if reading the news takes time away from writing that article for your blog, maybe not. It’s cool to watch what’s trending on Netflix, but four episodes in and it’s after midnight, well, now you’ve lost the chance to get your good sleep on.

And we all now know the total drag social media can be. Have you ever tried to scroll through a piece of paper? Yeah, you might be on your phone too much.

But distractions go beyond the obvious things, like news, Netflix and social media.

Seemingly worthy efforts can get us to look at something else that’s bright and shiny.

In his book, “Finish: Give Yourself the Gift of Done,” Jon Acuff refers to these as noble obstacles, “a virtuous-sounding reason for not working toward a finish.”

  • Spending all your time designing business cards, brochures and a website for your new business instead of getting leads and referrals.
  • Devouring books and podcasts on how to write books and podcasts instead of actually, you know, writing books and podcasts.
  • Creating a beautiful, perfectly-row-spaced project planning spreadsheet with a trendy font (and that prints perfectly in .8 margins) instead of starting the first task in the project.
  • Browsing Psychology Today profiles ad nauseum looking for a therapist instead of actually calling one (just throwing that out there).

These are distractions at their very finest because they produce something tangible, and convince us that we’re moving forward.

You’re focusing too much on yourself. 

Therapy can become narcissistic if you let it.

Obviously in therapy the goal is to improve yourself and change things about your life. It’s exciting to discover what’s been holding you back. And it’s fun to watch other people realize their a-ha moment, where just a little bit of their life now makes more sense.

But there’s a point where too much focus on you means you’re missing things about others. Your experiences may make you uniquely qualified to help someone around you, right now, even in your wounded state.

Serving others in your family, at your job, or in your community takes you outside yourself a little bit and creates connection.

You don’t have to build someone an entire house. You can serve others in all kinds of small ways.

  • Offer an ear to a stressed out coworker.
  • Volunteer for just one event at your church.
  • Ask your barista how their day is going so far.
  • Pack a lunch for your spouse before they head out for work so they don’t have to (I’m going to hear about this one).

Taking time for others as you’re working through your own struggles can give you a new perspective. And in order to grow and change, you have to keep challenging your perspectives.

Moving forward can sometimes feel impossible when you see the size of the machine you’re trying to get off the ground.

Don’t be afraid to tackle the areas that may be keeping you from getting off the runway.

Always be learnin’:

More than you may ever want to know about aerodynamic drag:
https://www.grc.nasa.gov/www/k-12/airplane/drag1.html

Here’s some recent research on helping others:
https://www.nami.org/Blogs/NAMI-Blog/December-2016/How-Helping-Others-Can-Help-You

Jon Acuff’s very fine book on how to finish things and his very fine blog:
https://www.amazon.com/Finish-Give-Yourself-Gift-Done-ebook/dp/B01N4VVT1Z
https://acuff.me/blog/

 

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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?”

3 totally doable ways to help you bend and flex with your life

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How many goals did you set this year to improve your resilience?

*Crickets.*

Not at the top of your list?

Admittedly, resilience gets crowded out by the more action-y stuff we focus on as the new year starts.

  • We set goals to lose weight (again).
  • We make plans to improve our professional skills, or find that dream job.
  • You Type A folks may even be launching a life plan this year to go after like, you know, everything, in your whole entire life. (That sounds easy enough.)

We almost never consider our own resilience, much less how to practice and use it when we need it.

What is resilience, anyway?

We tend to think of resilience as the ability to bounce back from a challenge, and that’s partly true.

  • When life knocks you down, resilience gives you the wherewithal to get back up.
  • When life hands you lemons, you make lemonade (if you have enough lemons thrown at you to make a decent amount of lemonade, you might be having a rough go at it, just sayin’…).

But resilience also is being mentally and emotionally prepared to identify the resources available to you when things get challenging.

If you’re stressed, tired, and full of negative thoughts, it’s hard to care about finding creative ways to get past a difficult situation.

Resilience then, can be more of a mindset that allows you to see the path forward and empowers you to actually walk down that path.

And, as with many things in life, it’s better for you if you build that mindset ahead of time. #sorrythatsjusthowitis

So, how do you build resilience?

The best part is that many of the things we already know about a healthy lifestyle are the very things that build resilience. It’s like life skills double-dipping.

Here are three really good ones you can practice every day:

1. Exercise

Exercise is a most outstanding way to build resilience because it generates blood flow to the brain’s frontal lobe, right behind your forehead. The frontal lobe handles things like planning, logic and organization. These come in handy when you need to make a healthy decision.

Exercise also relieves the negative emotions related to stress. After a long workday, just a 10-minute walk with your dog can boost your mood for several hours (and probably your dog’s mood, too).

I’ll bet you make better decisions about your life when you can stay clear-headed, relaxed and in a positive mood.

And the best part is, you don’t need special skills. You just have to move.

Can you move? Carry on…

2. Be quiet

Quiet time lets us focus on our thoughts and try to figure stuff out.

Thanks to our devices and a limitless supply of entertainment in almost all areas of our lives, we no longer have to suffer the plight of being bored or reflective.

Our brains and souls are drinking daily from a firehose of data with little time to figure out if any of it even makes sense (spoiler alert: most of it doesn’t).

And studies are bearing out that our marvelous brains are starting to notice. Our daily experience now includes:

  • reduced memory and attention spans,
  • constant dopamine rushes from social media interactions, and
  • reduced productivity from multi-tasking.

Finding some time to step away, in some way, for a few minutes each day allows mental space for creativity and problem solving.

You can call it mindfulness or a spiritual practice.

Just carve out 15 quiet minutes for yourself to:

  • Pray,
  • Let your mind wander,
  • Breathe deeply,
  • Ask yourself questions about what you’re feeling,
  • Journal,
  • Draw, or
  • Let the sacred words of wiser ones than you pour into your soul.

Having said that, resilience does require some boundaries on all that thinking.

3. What are you thinking?

While we can’t help the thoughts that pop in to our minds, we do have complete control over what we allow to roil and take root.

Allowing unchallenged thoughts to linger can quickly become rumination, obsessing over the same negative thoughts until you make yourself feel really bad.

Like a cow chewing its cud.

Rumination is one of the hardest thinking habits to change.

  • It’s never forward-focused.
  • It always dwells on past wrongs or failures.
  • It’s a natural predator of resilience.

Resilience, however, requires you to

  • Find your strengths,
  • Look for possibilities, and
  • Focus on what you can bring to the situation.

So in order to bolster your resilience, you’re going to have to do a whole lot better than rumination.

Start being the gatekeeper for your marvelous brain.

How much news do you consume?

What’s more backwards-focused than the news? Its very nature is things that have happened in the past.

The news is now particularly negative and vicious, and it feeds many of our anxieties about what’s not working in our lives.

Take a week off from it and see if it doesn’t change how you think.

What positive, forward-focused things are you reading or listening to?

Focus on material that will build your skills, build your faith, or help you build a resilient attitude about life.

Self-help is a multi-billion dollar industry. There’s something out there for what you need.

I like listening to motivational speaker Les Brown because he reminds me that I am responsible for my own change, which is a little scary, but that I can totally do it. Yes!

Who do you pay attention to?

You’ve heard it before. You are the sum total of the five people you associate with.

What do your five talk about? Do their comments and conversations build people up, or tear down?

Do they always focus on what’s gone wrong? And who’s gone wrong?

This will have an effect on your thinking, I promise.

You may need to upgrade your five.

Resilience is a marathon.

Keep in mind that building resilience is a lifelong endeavor.

You will never do the end zone dance of resilience, and there’s no Golden Globe for the Most Resilient Performance in a Life Drama (or Comedy).

So, go ahead, put resilience on your list of goals to crush in the new year, but you won’t be able to really check it off.

I know, that’s annoying.

What you can check off, though, is the fact that you are helping yourself a little bit each day to build the courage to face your challenges and take action.

That’s golden.

Spend this year improving your ability to bend and flex with your life.

#alwaysbeflexin

#alwaysbelearnin

Sources:

2018 – Best Year Ever

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As 2017 dawned I was caught in a place between excitement for another new year (my sunny disposition can’t resist that each year) and massive frustration at feeling I was living my life way beneath my potential.

I almost never feel settled in, but I was discontent in a whole new way. I wondered if I was just being irresponsible, lazy and disobedient to a God that has given me more than I could ever ask or think.

And I was turning into a major buzzkill at work and at home.

But on January 8, 2017, Christ Fellowship Senior Pastor Todd Mullins shared from Isaiah 54:2 as part of a series called “Wide Open.”

In this verse, God is calling the nation of Israel to prepare for an influx of more people and to move beyond existing borders. In order to do that, they would have to prepare themselves for this increase.

The tent was a well-understood symbol of their nomadic life in the wilderness.

Not only would they have to make their tent bigger, but all the supporting mechanisms — the cords and the pegs driven into the ground — would have to be stretched longer and driven deeper.

Pastor Todd challenged us to enlarge our perspective of God and ourselves.

And most importantly, to embrace the stretch.

In order to do what God has called us to do, we have to get bigger and be flexible so we can be in place for God to use us.

In order to get bigger and more flexible, you have to be different and committed. You must act with urgency, and be ready to leave the field you’re familiar with and walk in to your future.

It was time, he said, to walk in boldness and enthusiasm.

For whatever reason, sitting there, I felt a shift inside me.

  • I don’t like to be different. It’s scary and weird.
  • I don’t like to stretch. I like to keep just what I need at arm’s length.
  • I don’t like to be bigger. I like to hide behind and support big people.
  • I’m not bold. I like to play it safe so I can control the outcome.

I realized I was the sole reason for my discontent.

God had given me the raw material 47 years ago. I had chosen not to use it in an intentional way. I had been keeping my cords short and my pegs dangerously shallow.

So I made a simple decision that day to simply dig deep and be bold.

Even if it’s scary or weird. Even if it’s uncomfortable. Even if it puts me out there all by myself. Even (and maybe, especially) if it doesn’t make sense.

I wasn’t fulfilling my call by playing it safe.

Game over, girlfriend.

After the service that morning, we went out to a burlap tent drape that was set up in the hallway, where we could write a promise to ourselves for 2017. This is what I wrote:

 

 

I think I was pretty bold. Let’s review:

  • I left a 20-year career in marketing and communications and began full-time life as a fee-for-service therapist (see also: non-salaried).
  • I stepped up into more visible leadership roles at church to serve an awesome church family.
  • I put my face out there online to share my expertise (it’s terrifying every time).

These may not sound bold to you, but each of these hit on key areas where I felt pretty safe, comfortable and in the shadows.

Move forward and take action

This is the biggest nut to crack in my work with clients.

If things change, it’s not because we talked about it in session.

It’s not because we changed other people (but if you can do that, I totally want in on your mojo).

And it’s certainly not because things “just worked out.”

Real change happens because we simply choose to take bold actions that put us out there, and believe that God will honor that boldness:

  • To set boundaries on those who hurt us repeatedly.
  • To leave situations that are not healthy or promoting growth
  • To take simple actions every day that will help us improve our mood or help us function just a little bit better.
  • To intentionally seek connection with others who will hold us accountable and bolster us through the difficult times (yes, connection is a choice).

An intentional year

So in 2018 I’m building on that boldness by pursuing intention, in all things:

  • In my relationship with God
  • In my relationships with those who matter most to me
  • In my professional competence
  • In my attitude and outlook
  • In using the mashup of skills I’ve been given to make a difference for others

These are all choices, and totally in my court.

I want 2018 to be the best year I’ve ever had.

What bold and intentional moves will you make in 2018?

 

Beans, greens and dreams

,

Sandwiched between the Thanksgiving turkey, the Christmas duck, and the New Year’s black eyed peas and mustard greens (I’m southern, okay?) are the reflections on all the meaningful things we hoped to accomplish this year.

Did you do all the things you wanted to do this year? Did you finally pull any longstanding levers in your life this year?

If you did, congratulations!

Every step forward is a step forward. (You can totally feel free to tweet that 😜)

If not, I have good news. You get another shot at it this next year.

That’s the beautiful thing about waking up. Every day presents another opportunity to keep going.

But before you start swearing allegiance to all that is holy and just on your new goals for next year, ask yourself this question:

If I woke up tomorrow and my biggest problem in life was miraculously resolved, and everything was exactly how I wanted it, what would that look like?

Take a minute if you need it. [Insert “Jeopardy” music here]

Can you even answer that? Can you picture it? Can you feel it comin’ in the air tonight, oh Lord? (sorry…)

Most likely it’s difficult, which is weird, right?

Part of the problems we run into in achieving our goals and dreams is that sometimes we really don’t know what the heck we want. Not in a specific sense, anyway.

We know we want to be healthy, and successful, and witty and fun, and hopefully we want to have a positive impact on others.

But when we drill down on those things, our focus evaporates into a host of short-term stuff that’s easy to give up on. Like, we give up by February!

And we don’t always see how those short-term goals play into our larger efforts.

So we just stop or worse, get distracted by other stuff that makes us feel like we’re still moving.

Behold the miracle.

The aforementioned block quoted question is called the Miracle Question. It’s a key part of a therapy called Solution Focused Brief Therapy (SFBT).

SFBT is like it sounds. It’s focused on finding workable solutions to problems, and it’s a short-term therapy.

You didn’t need me to tell you that.

Also, SFBT only focuses on your past in the sense that it’s useful to your future. What has worked before to get you where you wanted to go?

So SFBT is super future focused.

The miracle question helps clients try to picture their life and their future without their problems so they can come up with useful goals to start marching towards.

Easy enough.

Not really.

We talk about how great it would be to have all our problems go away, but then we have a hard time imagining just what our life might look like without them.

We tend to become so fixated on what’s not working that we don’t really know what it could look like when it actually is working.

The best part is that you know what you want (you do), and you know what works for you. You just have to sit still long enough to think it through.

So as the beans and greens are simmering in that delicious, bacony cocktail, I ask you:

If you could have what you want tomorrow, with no roadblocks and no limitations on your potential, what would that look like? What would you do then that you’re not doing now?

Chew on that over the next couple of weeks during the Hallmark movies, carbohydrate comas and ballgames.

Write it down.

Draw it.

Tell it to a trusted friend, or a complete stranger (who are they gonna tell?)

Visualize it. Daydream about it.

Put it on your grownup Christmas list.

Whatever you do to make things feel real to you.

Then you’ll have some good data to start thinking about creating meaningful new goals.

#alwaysbelearnin
#alwaysbedreamin
#alwayseatgreens

 

Keep it simple, y’all

The biggest lesson I’ve learned over the past 20 years is to keep your plans simple. If I succeeded at anything I had only to look back and see this was true more than any other whiz bang, multi-layered plan I concocted.

In fact, when I look back on my more complicated endeavors, they are most often my more spectacular failures. Go figure.

We’re under a lot of pressure these days to be very amazing in a very short period of time. I’m not even sure why. But I think many of us feel it. This pressure is a terrific recipe for anxiety and depression. And it’s not necessary.

Simple means you can do something every day. So many times I tell my clients to just do one thing different today in the general direction of where you would like to be. Don’t try to blow it outta the box on Day 1. You don’t need to crush it necessarily. Just move.

Are you isolating because you’re depressed? Go out and take a short walk in your neighborhood. Maybe you’ll run in to actual neighbors. This may lead to a little discussion — about your kids, or the weather, or the Miami Dolphins. Great job!

Now do that again tomorrow. That’s it. That’s all that’s needed to move yourself closer to where you want to be.

Happy Monday!

#TGIM

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