Imagine finding yourself face down on the concrete being pummeled by some kind of hard object every thirty seconds or so.
You’re agitated and a little resentful – and you may feel like a bit of a victim.
And then suppose you lift your head and notice that the concrete you are lying on is green. Widening your view, you see that the objects being hurled at you are tennis balls. And they are coming from a machine that is firing them over a net. As you continue to look around, you notice there is a racket within arm’s reach.
And then you remember – ah yes, I signed up to learn how to play tennis.
This image came to me after I collapsed in overwhelm when what felt like a relentless barrage of requests for my time, emails that screamed to be answered, projects that needed to be advanced, tasks that demanded completion, and all manner of life’s little unforeseen chaotic events yammered for my attention.
How would I get it all done?
Well, I’ll tell you one thing. Cowering in fear does not help.
And neither does even the most justified of indignation and resentment.
I realized this when I lifted my head to take a good look at what was in front of me. And I also realized that all these challenges I was facing were related to things I chose to take on and/or really care deeply about, like:
Up leveling my business so that I can make a bigger impact doing what I truly love.
Being more involved and present with my three children – who inevitably are in constant need of something, often simultaneously, usually in three different places.
Honing my martial arts practice – and being more involved in the nonprofit organization that has given me the opportunity to learn it.
Becoming a better writer and speaker.
Being able to do more of what really matters to me in less time.
Getting better at anything is a decision that you make to be in the game.
It’s easy to forget that the game you’re playing is one that you chose for yourself when those balls are coming at you full speed, one after the other. But the simple shift of mind that comes from going to a helpless victim to someone who has willingly stepped onto the court is one that makes all the difference in the world.
Think of anything in life you feel like you “have to” or “should” do. More than likely with that frame of mind, it will feel heavy and cumbersome. But find something about that same activity that you want or care deeply about, and suddenly everything gets a little lighter.
We find reserves we didn’t think we had. We rise to the occasion. We notice the racket that lies within our grasp and begin to use it to hit some of those balls.
The more you play, the better you get.
I confess. I’ve let a few balls slip here and there. And I’ve hit some in directions that were anything but where I intended them to go. But the less I care about needing to get it perfect, the more I want to play the game.
And the more I play, the more of those balls I’m able to return.
And the more of those balls I’m able to return, the higher my confidence.
And the higher my confidence, the easier and more fun the game gets.
Rest assured, there will be days when it feels like we are being pummeled. But perhaps the reason those balls come at us harder and faster is because we are ready to advance to a whole new level – one that allows us see what we’re really made of. And maybe, just maybe – the only thing we really need to focus on is showing up and being willing to play.
“Chaos often breeds life, when order breeds habit.”
~ Henry B. Adams
Like many of us, I grew up thinking that things happened in a linear way.
First this, then that. One building block upon another in a definite order. Cause and effect. But over the years, I’ve noticed that life isn’t always like that.
Often it seems life is a series of random events that don’t seem to make much sense.
But when you have a larger vision and experience that vision as though it has already happened, you can begin to see this apparent chaos in a whole different way. Often what we experience is a chain of seemingly disjointed events that are in reality very connected.
Think of watching a movie of a glass shattering, only in reverse motion.
Pieces fly together from all directions in a disjointed fashion and assemble into a perfect whole. Each piece is absolutely necessary, though, in and of itself, incomplete and inconceivably connected to a larger picture.
We will experience ups and downs and travel roads that deviate from what we anticipated.
Nevertheless, these seemingly divergent paths may in fact be prerequisite to experiencing the totality of our vision. At times the healing process entails pain, discomfort or other symptoms. While we may point to these as signs of illness, we could alternatively consider them evidence of our recovery.
Seasons will change, and so will we.
A phase of growth and expansion is often preceded by a period where things unexpectedly fall away. We can look at the void as a loss, or recognize it as the space necessary for new creations to take root and flourish.
We may not initially realize the significance or relevance of our chaotic experiences.
But in hindsight we often realize the importance of enduring specific challenges, setbacks, delays, or what felt like irrelevant nuisances. These obstacles give us a greater perspective on who we are, deeper appreciation for where we have been and where we are going, and compassion for others who have experiences similar to our own.
As we rise up to these little challenges, we find strength we didn’t know we had and realize we are far greater than we thought we were. And as leaders, we can help others appreciate and leverage their own chaos as well.
Appreciating the perfect order unfolding in our lives more of an art than a science.
Most of us never really take the time to recognize it. If you are interested in leveraging the seeming chaos in your own life and life’s work, I encourage you to check out The Real Leader’s Guide to Freedom & Flow Group Intensive. Though the spring program is now full, you can get on the waiting list for priority access to the fall program kicking off in September. For more information, visit The Real Leader’s Guide to Freedom & Flow Group Intensive.
Not all that long ago, I went through a period where I felt overwhelmed and stuck. Beneath my frustration was curiosity about where it was coming from and what was the best way to move beyond it.
One day, as I was watching my young son do his homework, I had a fascinating and frustrating insight.
This kid is really smart. And his homework is just not that hard for him. He could finish it in the time it takes to make a peanut butter sandwich. But seconds after he would pull it from his backpack a whole new dynamic came into play. It was as though a huge brick wall suddenly erupted from the page and grew a hundred feet tall.
He’d sit and stare at his paper. He’d complain about all the work he had to do. He’d worry that he wouldn’t be able to do it right (or at all). And then he’d become completely fixated on any little thing that captured his attention. A bug. A drop of water on the counter. The way the numbers on the digital clock change with each minute. And hours could go by before he had even touched his pencil to paper.
After watching for a while, I heard myself telling him, “In the time it takes you to moan and complain about it, you could have it done! You can get through this easily – you are so smart!” But nothing I said was getting through.
And then I realized that my son was a mirror image of me when I get overwhelmed.
It’s not that what must get done is all that difficult.
It’s that my mind had a way of magnifying things several times their normal size so that it felt like I must tackle Mount Everest when in reality I only needed to take a little walk around the block. I told myself stories (sometimes consciously and other times unconsciously) about how hard things will be or how long they would take – especially things that were new to me.
And then I’d fall into my old, familiar pitfall of trying to make everything perfect. Before I even realized what was going on, I felt totally exhausted and depleted. And then I needed relief—even just doing something that’s easy—so I could check a box and feel like I had accomplished something, anything.
Once I realized where my son got it, I decided to stop trying to teach him and let him teach me.
In addition to showing me what was standing in my way, he reminded me that all the words in the world don’t make a difference when you are trying to teach someone to do something you have not yet mastered. Kids learn through action, not words. And so do adults.
I knew that to help my son (or anyone else for that matter) in even the smallest way, I had to get busy working on myself. And then a new question arose: how can I overcome a lifetime of perfectionistic patterns that keep me from doing what’s necessary to achieve my grandest visions and goals?
With that question at the top of my mind, I went for a run. As with just about any of my runs, the first few minutes were tough. I was tired and stiff. It wasn’t fun. But I just kept going. And then I fell into my zone. My legs felt lighter. My breathing evened out. My head started to clear. I was actually enjoying myself. I ran a little faster and a little harder. It felt good.
And then I had a second, equally powerful insight.
To break out of the perfectionism trap—to get out of overwhelm, to free myself from my own self-imposed prison—I simply needed to get into action. Even one tiny step toward my desired goal would help – though at first it may be uncomfortable, messy, and far from perfect. And then I could take another, and another and another, until l finally I reach my zone.
Over the last several months, I have found that the more diligence and effort I put into those first few steps, the more quickly I get through that “warm up” period and into a place where I can make some real headway – and even have some fun in the process.
So that’s my simple plan for getting and staying unstuck. And when I need a little more motivation and inspiration, I just go hang out with my son for awhile.
“Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving.” ~Albert Einstein
Overwhelm is just one of the many states that keep us from taking action toward our goals and visions and doing our best work. If you are interested in learning more about how to find your optimal zone of performance so that your work becomes less cumbersome and more enjoyable, check out The Real Leader’s Guide to Freedom & Flow Group Intensive. Though the spring program is now full, you can get on the waiting list for priority access to the fall program kicking off in September. For more information, visit The Real Leader’s Guide to Freedom & Flow Group Intensive.
You’ve just been promoted. The excellent work you have been recognized for has landed you a new job with expanded responsibility and significance. Perhaps you lead an organization of other talented professionals who now look to you for guidance and support. Maybe you are a leader of leaders.
The game you were playing just got bigger – and so did the playing field.
And your role has changed. What earned you this promotion will not be enough to allow you to succeed in your new role. In fact, if you continue to do what you did before, you may actually sabotage your newfound success.
You have gone from player to coach — or perhaps manager/owner. And if you jump back into the game, no one will be there to call the shots, to develop the talent, to create a strategy to advance the standing of the team, to gain the supporters and funding that will allow the team to continue to play.
Yet despite these consequences, you — like many leaders faced with similar opportunities — may have difficulty with the transition. You may have fears:
- Fear than no one can do things as well (or better)
- Fear of becoming obsolete
- Fear of failure
Let’s talk about each of these, starting with the first one…
Fear that no one can do things as well (or better)
The problem with this fear is that it is actually well-founded. Chances are, especially if you are at the top of your field, very few will be able to do the job as well as or better than you can. But that doesn’t mean you should be doing it for them — or even along with them.
And yet you will be tempted to. Especially when the stakes are high. Or when things get extremely busy and it seems like targets will not be met if you don’t jump in or take over altogether. You may hover over people, micromanaging them or smothering them with well-intentioned guidance.
But your very fear that things will fall through the cracks may well cause that which you most want to avoid. Maybe not in the short term. In the short term, you may revel in your ability to keep the balls from dropping and save the day. But as more and more begins to be added to your plate, your problem of not having people who are skilled enough to take the baton will be even greater than it was before.
Worse yet, you will have conditioned the very people you need to develop to become dependent on you and quite comfortable performing at much less than their true capacity. In the meantime, the bigger, more strategic work that you have graduated to will be piling up and fairly significant opportunities will pass you by.
Your people may well be on a pretty steep learning curve at the beginning. They won’t get everything right. And they may resist taking on the responsibilities you used to perform. But you need to transition from performer to coach.
Give them opportunities to try things out. Let them make mistakes. Then help them to learn from those mistakes and perfect their craft. And do the same for yourself in your new role.
This leads us to the second common fear that keeps leaders from playing a bigger game.
Fear of becoming obsolete
It’s not necessarily a rational fear. After all, leaders who are on the brink of playing a bigger game have plenty to do. They have a whole new role to fill. But that doesn’t stop people from worrying at some level that if they teach and empower others to do what got them accolades and attention that they will somehow lose their edge and fade into obscurity.
Often when people have performed a certain role or become masterful at a particular skill, it can become infused with their very identity. And until they have performed in their new role for awhile and become accustomed to the different kinds of activities and opportunities that it brings, they are likely to continue to identify with their old role. Which may lead them to wonder, “if I’m not that anymore, who am I?”
This ambiguity and lack of role clarity can send people back to what they know is comfortable and familiar, even when they have outgrown it. And even when going back there isn’t in their best interest (or the best interest of those they lead.)
To counteract this, it is important to fully grasp the opportunities and possibilities that playing a bigger game brings. It allows you to go from being immersed in the game with a view limited from one point on the playing field to seeing the game from several different angles. You can evaluate each player’s contribution and the way they work together.
You can change the way the game is played — and in some cases, even change the rules. But only if you free yourself up from the myriad of tasks that will always be there beckoning you to come back into the operational and out of the strategic. And the lure of the old role becomes even more enticing when you factor in the next fear that keeps many leaders from playing a bigger game.
Fear of failure
When you go from executing the plays to determining what those plays should be, you enter unchartered territory. First off, it is likely something you won’t have a lot of experience doing. And when you don’t have a lot of experience doing something, it is uncomfortable.
You may not be very good at it in the beginning. It will be messy. You will second-guess yourself. And you will likely miss being able to do your work with the same level of confidence and ease that you did before.
It will feel a lot like going from being a senior to becoming a freshman again.
Second, the very nature of being a strategic player will require you to navigate through uncertainty and ambiguity. You will be called on to blaze a trail where none previously existed. While this can be incredibly exciting and invigorating, it can also be somewhat daunting and stressful.
And when the pressure gets high, you may find it incredibly tempting to get sucked back into doing things you shouldn’t be doing anymore. Things you can check off your list and feel a sense of accomplishment from. Things that restore your confidence and give you the illusion of being in control. Things that would be better delegated to others. Or not done at all.
So when that happens, you need to remind yourself that whatever you did that allowed you to rise to new heights wasn’t likely something that always came easily to you. You had to start somewhere and struggle in the beginning before you began to gain competence and confidence. But you stuck with it and gradually got better and better. And you can do that again now.
Leadership is about “going before” others. Your new promotion will require that you wade through your fear, your discomfort, your resistance and your uncertainty to find within you the core of your true potential and act from it. And as you do so, by your very example, you will lead others to grow, expand, push their limits and play a bigger game as well.
Playing a bigger game often brings pressure and anxiety. But it doesn’t have to. You can make a bigger impact without running yourself ragged – and enjoy the process along the way. The Real Leader’s Guide to Freedom & Flow Group Intensive will show you how. Though the spring program is now full, you can get on the waiting list for priority access to the fall program, kicking off in September. For more information, visit The Real Leader’s Guide to Freedom & Flow Group Intensive.
“I’m so tired of feeling unorganized and scattered all the time.”
A client told me in a recent meeting. He added, “I come into the office and there are papers flung all over my desk, half started projects buried in piles with new requests heaped on top of them. But I never seem to have time to go through them because by the time I get there, a line of people waiting to talk to me has already formed outside my door and I have no choice but to spring into action. And my days are full of requests that add new papers, projects and action items to a pile that grows faster than it shrinks.”
He felt like Sisyphus – like he was constantly pushing a big rock up a hill only to have it roll back down as soon as he got near the top.
“What do you think I should do about it?” he asked me. I knew he wouldn’t like my answer.
“Move into it,” I told him. “Tell me more about how starting your day like that affects the quality of your life.”
He was perplexed. “Why would I want to move into something so awful? Shouldn’t I be figuring out how I can move away from it? Rise above it?”
He was essentially living as Bill Murray’s character in Groundhog Day, constantly reliving the same day over and over again. However, there are hidden gifts in such a predicament.
That is the reaction most of us (including yours truly) have when faced with an unpleasant predicament. But rising above an unpleasant predicament often requires us to change habits or patterns that are ingrained and comfortable. And initiating and sustaining a change like that requires fuel — fuel that will allow us to break through our obstacles and limitations at the very moment when it seems most difficult.
Change occurs when the pain of the current state is greater than the perceived pain of making a change, and the pleasure of making a change is greater than the pleasure (or payoff) of staying the same.
When you truly move into your frustration, you begin to open your eyes widely to recognize the impact a problem is having on your life. You allow yourself to accept that this pain will continue until you do something about it. And until you are truly ready to do something about it, you will continue to do what you’ve always done and suffer as a result.
This can be done long before you know what that solution is. And just as you can move into your pain, so too can you move into the pleasure of what life would be like without your problem. This too, serves as fuel that will ultimately allow you to do what it takes to create and implement a lasting solution.
Moving into your frustration illuminates not only the problem, but also the underlying factors that contribute to and exacerbate that problem. It gives you insight.
Most of us instinctively move away from pain, firing shots over our shoulder at what we believe to be the antagonist without really recognizing or locking onto a target.
To really know what needs to be done to slay the beast, my client needed to take a closer look and recognize what it eats, how it grows stronger, and how he might unwittingly be feeding and nurturing it. That’s exactly what moving into the frustration with a spirit of curiosity does.
When he got curious about his predicament, he began to notice that he had a tendency to book his appointments back-to-back, starting first thing in the morning and say yes to more things than he could realistically accomplish. He realized that he didn’t have a clear sense of what was truly a priority and that in the absence of that clarity, he was making everything number one — except his own sanity.
The more awareness he cultivated in the presence of his frustration, the more he began to identify and understand what was really causing your frustration. This also led my client to discover and embrace the third gift of frustration.
Insight opens the door to possibility. Once you have an understanding of the factors that cause or contribute to a problem, you begin to recognize a multitude of options that can lead to lasting resolution.
In the days and weeks that followed, my client identified a number of strategies that could potentially work for him, including scheduling, communication, and delegation tactics.
The next time you feel like you are living the life of Bill Murray’s character in the movie Groundhog Day, remind yourself that frustration comes bearing gifts. Reliving the same experience over and over again isn’t so bad if it ultimately yields fuel, insight, and possibility. Move into your discomfort, pay attention, get curious, and connect the dots. Then, you too will find a way to transform your frustration into freedom.
If you are interested in additional strategies for recognizing and moving beyond self-limiting patterns of behavior and thought, I encourage you to check out The Real Leader’s Guide to Freedom & Flow Group Intensive, an exclusive twelve-week group mastermind/coaching program/online training course kicking off the week of March 20. The program is a blend of online leadership development, small group mastermind, and one-on-one coaching, and is limited to eight people.
Have you ever had a really hard time getting something done? Something big?
When you are up against a large task or project, it’s easy to become overwhelmed by the details and the magnitude of what is before you. Sometimes it hard to know where to start, and once you do it can feel like a never-ending process. To make matters worse, when the project you are working on necessitates that you do something new—something uncomfortable and challenging—it often elicits fear, frustration, and anxiety. All of these things can keep you feeling stuck.
In a state of overwhelm, the focus goes from the joy of getting something done to the aggravation of having something undone.
We can become mechanized in our attempts to figure out what needs to get done and exactly how to go about it. We may also put a lot of pressure on ourselves and beat ourselves up for things we haven’t done, rather than recognizing and acknowledging ourselves for what we have done.
In what is often an unconscious attempt to regain a sense of control, we are easily lulled into doing things that we know will be easier and potentially more enjoyable.
Some tasks don’t really need to get done right now (or ever) or that should really be delegated to others, but we often prefer those. Some of the time-wasters we get sucked into include surfing the web, making idle conversation, cleaning out your inbox, or—my personal favorite—making more lists of everything we think needs to get done and identifying all the steps we need to take. This is actually a great thing to do when you’re focused, but, in a procrastination mode, it becomes to planning to plan—and then plan some more—until you have a rock solid strategy that you never actually execute.
It may feel like you are spinning your wheels—running like hell and just not getting anywhere.
I know this, of course, because I have been there. Repeatedly. And I’ve worked with others who fall into this pattern, as well, to stop the madness by recognizing what’s happening and making a shift to get back on a road that leads them where they need to go.
One of the most powerful things I have found for breaking out of a “spinning your wheels” cycle is to take some time to revisit your purpose—or the larger mission or goal behind what you are doing.
- Get clear about what—or who—the work is for.
- Identify how it will improve the quality of life for yourself or those around you.
- Reflect on the degree to which it will help people, contribute to something greater, or allow you to achieve a meaningful goal for yourself.
This doesn’t have to take hours and hours. Just pause for a few moments and ask, when this project/task/ initiative is finished, what larger goal or purpose will it accomplish? What would you like to accomplish? Write it down. Add to it as you think of additional bonuses. Then, sit for a moment and see if you can envision what it would feel like to satisfy that larger purpose, vision or goal. See if you can feel it so clearly that you are actually grateful for it.
This simple act will help you reconnect with something inside you that will propel you beyond the minutia. It will give you the courage and strength to walk through your fear or resistance to do something that you may not be so good at yet. And it will help you to get back to the joy that comes through the process as well as the attainment of the end goal.
When you approach things in this manner, all that you do will be instilled with a new energy—one that uplifts, delights, and inspires.
Whatever you experience as you work on a project will be the same thing people will feel when they partake of the fruit of your efforts. The more we remember this, the more we will experience the satisfaction and gratification of having done something truly meaningful—something that lifts us out of the humdrum and into a place of brilliance. And all who come into contact with our work will be better off because of it.
Interested in additional strategies and practices for getting out of overwhelm so you can have more traction, make a greater impact, and infuse more life and meaning into your work? Stay tuned for more information about my upcoming online course and group intensive, The Real Leader’s Guide to Freedom and Flow or click here to get on the waiting list and get first priority (with no obligation) at the limited spots that will soon be available.
Many of us are experiencing a great deal of pressure, anxiety and change.
The holidays are upon us. The leadership of our country is transitioning. And many are in the midst of personal or professional change as well. Frustration and turmoil are common responses to this kind of uncertainty and disorientation, leading to exhaustion and hopelessness. But consider this as you think about things that may feel as though they are spinning out of control…
What if the only thing truly standing in your way of peace, productivity, and purpose – was your thinking?
One of the key attributes embodied by extraordinary leaders in all walks of life is encapsulated in the word “responsibility” – not just in a moral or ethical sense of being accountable for our actions, but also remembering that there is wisdom in recognizing that we have the ability to choose our response. That response we choose will have a resounding impact on ourselves and everyone around us.
Here are four tips to help you move gracefully through change and chaos:
(1) Identify what is within your power to influence.
The greatest change agents start by recognizing what they have to work with before identifying change that can be sustained. They don’t waste their time worrying about things that are truly out of their control, like changing the weather. Instead, they focus their attention and energy on those things that they can influence. The greatest leaders know that the most powerful and sustainable change must start from within themselves.
(2) Recognize your stories.
“We are not troubled by things, but by the opinion we have of things.” – Epictetus
The thing that fascinates me about a seemingly chaotic state of affairs is not so much what is happening, but the stories we are telling ourselves about what it means and the impact those stories are having on the way we are responding to it. When we react to things with fear, we end up amplifying what we are afraid of and add to the anxiety. Our fears drive us to act in ways that keep us from acting on our intuition and finding the answers that will truly serve us. Sometimes, we end up behaving in ways that make our fictional stories become real.
As an example, when you are feeling so overwhelmed that you question whether you’ll get all the important things done, you are likely to approach things in a way that draws them out – perhaps by procrastinating, making things more complicated than they need to be, or using more energy to resist and worry than it would take to actually get things done.
(3) Think of the worst-case scenario.
Our rational minds want answers and security. They need to figure everything out and almost automatically occupy themselves with trying to sort through data to arrive at conclusions. The problem is that our minds are plugging imaginary variables into the equation that end up further exacerbating the anxiety we are already experiencing. When they are done with one variable, they plug in another and the churning continues, leaving us with an uneasiness that keeps us on edge.
In the grip of this madness, sometimes the best thing you can do is indulge your mind with a variable that will allow it to do its thing. Go ahead and plug in the worst-case scenario. If the worst possible thing happened, what would you do? Allow yourself to sit with that question for awhile. Let the fear move through you and keep asking the question, what would I do that would allow everything to be OK? If you sit long enough with your question, you will arrive at some workable alternatives and reconnect with that part of yourself that is strong, resourceful and resilient.
(4) Now, come back to the present.
Armed with the knowledge that you will be OK even if the worst possible thing happens, you can come back into the present and recognize your fearful thoughts for what they are – fearful thoughts. One of the best pieces of advice I ever got, which I pass along frequently, is don’t believe everything you think.
In the present moment, devoid of your stories about variables that are truly unknown, you are OK. And when new events begin to unfold, if you stay in the moment and access your inner wisdom, you will know exactly what you need to do – or not to do – to be OK then too. And as you go about your daily life in this way, your calm resolve will permeate your interactions with others and through your example, you will help others to rise to their challenges in ways that unearth the greatness in themselves as well.
Interested in additional strategies for navigating change, challenge, and uncertainty with effectiveness and grace? Stay tuned for more information on my upcoming online course and group intensive, The Real Leader’s Guide to Freedom and Flow or click here to get on the waiting list and get first priority (with no obligation) at the limited spots that will soon be available.
The above article contains excerpts from my book, The Pinocchio Principle: Becoming the Leader You Were Born to Be, available on Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com.
“When I’m not running in circles, I’m pretty much collapsing in a heap.”
That flew out of my mouth one day when I was on a call with a few of my friends trying to find a time to get together. They told me it should be the title of my next book.
And yet, I know the importance of taking regular time to rest. Well, intellectually anyway. I can see it in my clients – when they begin to tell me the same things over and over — when all they can seem to talk about is what they have to do, or how exhausted they are. And I certainly know it from my own experience. It’s that old familiar feeling of rolling a huge ball up a hill only to have it come careening back down again.
There is never a shortage of things to do, people to get back to, and in my case, kids to shuttle from practice to sporting event to some other gathering. I know I need a time out when my surroundings begin to reflect my state of mind – becoming cluttered, messy, and completely disordered. When I am tired, I don’t make decisions very well (if at all). I tend to leave them for later, when I will have a little more energy. But then I use the piles that have accumulated around me as an excuse for why I cannot rest – at least not now – not with everything looking like this! And the cycle continues.
My head tells me this makes perfect sense. But my heart and the rest of my body is screaming for relief.
In yoga classes, there is something called “child’s pose”. You start by getting on your knees and sitting back on your heels. The knees can stay together or move wider apart. And then you simply lean forward slowly onto the ground with your arms either by your side or stretched out in front of you. Every time I get into that pose, I am reminded of how at least one of my children liked to fall asleep when they were babies.
Yoga instructors tell people that the most important thing in yoga is the breath. it is important to breathe full and evenly in and out your nose. When your breathing becomes uneven or choppy, when you start to lose your breath in yoga, you will be encouraged to return to this child’s pose until your breathing evens out again.
At the end of yoga classes, there is a pose – one of my favorites – called “shivasana”. This one consists of laying flat on your back and relaxing every part of your body while you allow yourself to sink into the floor for about three to five minutes. It’s the pose that allows your body to integrate all the work you did in the class that preceded it. And many will tell you it is the most important pose in yoga. And yet, I often see people leaving the class instead of allowing themselves to experience it.
But I get it. We are a society that is driven to do more, to be more, to be busy, and to always step things up a notch. The thing is, when we insist on speeding up when we really need to slow down, we lose touch with the wiser, calmer part of ourselves that has all our answers. We run around doing things that may not even need to get done, and creating more piles and messes for ourselves that we’ll have to clean up later. We may run fast, but it is often in a direction that doesn’t serve us — or anyone else for that matter. And it often leads us to crash into walls we would have avoided if we weren’t so tired.
Sometimes you’ll get a rush when you do that. A rush of adrenaline, maybe. Or a little sense of accomplishment or importance that comes with being really busy. But my experience is that it is usually fleeting and often replaced by a feeling of exhaustion and overwhelm and a somewhat panic induced state that leads me to believe I have to run twice as fast just to keep up.
The thing is, I used to think that in order to replenish my batteries, I needed to take a long vacation – leave and go somewhere else, sip a pretty drink on a beach or sleep for days. And while that is nice, it’s not always necessary. What I’ve learned – and need to remind myself of periodically – is that it is often a matter of simply pausing every once in a while to check in with myself. It is doing something that interrupts the autopilot nature of the running in circles thing. It’s like looking into a pond that has been churning so fast that the water is murky. Instead of continuing to make all kinds of commotion, you sit for a few moments and let the water become still until the swirling debris sinks to the bottom and the water becomes clear.
Sometimes this takes the form of a power nap for me. Even just fifteen minutes of resting my head will do wonders. Other times it’s a little walk that allows me to breathe deeply and move around a bit. Sometimes it’s grabbing a cup of coffee with a friend and getting a little distance from whatever is going on. And sometimes it means saying NO to things I really don’t have time to do. Often the clarity and the courage I need to do that comes from the brief pause I took that allowed me to realize whatever I was about to say yes to wouldn’t really have been for the best.
These little pauses shouldn’t be reserved for the times that we feel like we just can’t do another thing. We need to give them to ourselves frequently. Research indicates that people need a fifteen minute break after ninety minutes of concentration – and some studies suggest that we would benefit from a five minute break after every twenty five minutes. You might think you are losing (or wasting) precious time, but you’ll find that it is more like an investment that pays dividends when you come back from your short break and are able to do in twenty minutes what would have otherwise taken an hour.
So, if you are feeling overwhelmed or exhausted – as though you need to move faster but just can’t seem to find the energy – try slowing down for a little while. Press the pause button. Find your child’s pose and catch your breath – whatever that may be for you. Let the dust settle until you can see clearly again. Chances are that when it does, you will know just what you need to do – or NOT do. And you will meet whatever challenge or opportunity awaits you with a fresh mind and a new energy and vitality – one that allows you to access the wisdom, creativity and resilience you need most.
“You have to put in the clutch to shift gears. You have to let go to re-engage at another, more high-leveraged ratio. And when you least feel like slowing down may be the most critical time to do it.”
– David Allen’s Productivity Principles
Tired business people image courtesy of Ambro at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Have you ever noticed that your experience directly reflects your state of mind?
When our minds are cluttered, our surroundings have a way of mirroring that. Feelings of being scattered are often accompanied by piles of unfinished business everywhere you look or lists and notes of things to do that seem to multiply. When you feel heavy and bogged down, everything you do will feel harder and more cumbersome.
You may think that the way you feel is a result of your experiences, and that is true — the more you have to do, the more overwhelmed you will feel. But the reverse also applies — the more overwhelmed you feel, the more you are likely to approach things in a way that draws them out — perhaps by procrastinating, making things more complicated than they need to be, or using more energy to resist and worry than it would take to actually get things done. If we become fixated on evidence that suggests we can never rise above the way we are feeling, we trap ourselves in vicious circles where we will continue to see that which we long to rise above and feel the frustration of not being able to break free.
In fact, our frame of mind with everything we do will have a direct effect on whether the experience of doing it will be exhilarating and satisfying or frustrating and heavy. The stories we tell ourselves have a way of coming true – “There’s just way too much to do and not enough time to do it. I’m too busy to do anything fun, to take time out for my family, friends or myself, to ever get beyond the day to day and into those things I dream about…” The way out of the traps we set for ourselves is to start not with our experiences, but our thoughts.
The other day, I turned into my driveway and caught sight of hedges that needed trimming. “Wouldn’t it be fun to drop everything and go cut those right now – to just get out there and work in the yard for awhile?” I found myself thinking. And then I laughed as I realized that this task that seemed so enjoyable compared to the list of things on my plate at that moment was one of the very things I was dreading a few weekends ago. The task itself hadn’t changed, just the way I was thinking about it.
And it hit me that perhaps there was a way to transform all the things I needed to do that day — which were really bringing me down — into experiences that could be lighter and simpler — and maybe even fun. The key had to be in the way that I approached them – in what I was believing about them, and what I was focusing on as I did them. As I became aware of my attitude toward the tasks at hand, I realized that I was more fixated on checking the box than I was on enjoying the experience. And I was also swept up in the belief that the work ahead of me was going to be hard, onerous and complicated.
What if all that changed? What if instead of believing I had to get everything done perfectly, I just played at things, took myself a little less seriously, and lightened up a bit? And what if instead of believing I needed to get it ALL done, I just focused on what was most important — most aligned with the highest priorities in my day and in my life? And what if instead of driving solely toward the outcome, I allowed myself to be fully present in every moment that led up to it? Hmmmn.
Marcel Proust once said “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.” And I have also heard it said that when you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.
There is no better time to apply this than during the holiday season, when all too often the spirit of giving, joy, celebration and miracles gives way to stress, fatigue and overwhelm as harried people run themselves ragged trying to check a bunch of boxes and take care of their regular responsibilities and routines in addition to a multitude of additional tasks that often feel more cumbersome than joyful. The paradox is that even things we do that are meant to be fun can become overwhelming when our focus shifts from the joy of doing them to the desire to get them done and behind us.
The fundamental shift must come not in what we do, or even how we do it, but what we are thinking, believing and allowing ourselves to feel about what we are doing. To this end, setting an intention or statement of our desired experience can be very powerful. If what we want is greater freedom and joy, more meaning and satisfaction and heightened effectiveness, we must align our thoughts around enjoying those experiences before we even start. And we need to become diligently aware of the degree to which our thoughts stay aligned with our overarching intention. When they drift, we can come back to them, remember what we really want, and align ourselves with the state we wish to be in once again.
In this way, we break the vicious cycle of allowing our experiences to bring us down in ways that result in more lousy experiences — and begin anew. We consciously align our thoughts with what we most want, rather than letting them denigrate into the negative emotional states we seek to rise above. Our actions align with our thoughts, and we find ourselves coming up with creative ways to simplify, get focused on what is most important and get it done while enjoying ourselves in the process – and sharing our joy with everyone around us.
If you would like to read more about how to harness the power of your thoughts to create the life you’ve imagined for yourself, and lead others to do the same, check out my new book The Pinocchio Principle: Becoming the Leader You Were Born to Be. It is now available for preorder at http://www.PinocchioPrinciple.com and will be released on 1/11/11. If you order now, I’ll send you an autographed copy! Read more…
And if you’d like to work directly with me in an intimate small group setting to help you make ongoing progress toward your specific goals, aspirations and challenges with support, feedback and accountability, check out my new Adventures in Authentic Leadership series at www.DianeBolden.com/aial.html. The series kicks off on 1/13/11 and will meet every other Thursday from 11:30am to 1pm at my office in central Phoenix. Read more…
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Though comments are currently closed, please feel free to email me at Diane@DianeBolden.com with your feedback, questions and thoughts. Have a specific challenge you’d like to see a post written about? Let me know. I’d love to hear from you!
If you’ve been following my blog for the last few weeks, you may have noticed that many of the posts have been about getting unstuck, overcoming procrastination and overwhelm, and moving forward. That’s because these are challenges I’ve been working through lately. And one of the best ways I know to find answers and solutions to my challenges is, well, to write about them. I think it’s because writing about something requires you to hold a question in your mind that allows you to access answers. Sometimes my answers come through writing, and sometimes they come through in other ways.
One of the insights I received came through watching my nine year old son do his homework. There is a dynamic there that has both fascinated and frustrated me. The kid is really smart. And his homework is really not that hard. He could sit down and finish it in a matter of minutes. But the second he pulls it out of his backpack, something happens that literally freezes him in his tracks. It’s as if a huge mountain has suddenly erupted out of the page and grown into a formidable and intimidating barrier between what he needs to do and his ability to get it done.
He sits and stares at the paper. He complains about the work it requires him to do. He worries that he’s not going to be able to do it right (or at all). And then any little thing that captures his attention suddenly absorbs every ounce of energy and focus he has. A bug. A little drop of water on the counter. The way the numbers on the digital clock change with each minute. Thin air has even captivated him in this state. And hours can go by before he has mustered enough courage and motivation to even raise a pencil to paper.
“Ryan,” my husband and I tell him, “in the time you take to complain and fuss about it, you could have it finished!” “You can easily do this – you are so smart!” we tell him. Amazing. None of that seems to get through.
And then I realized that my son is a mirror image of me when I get overwhelmed.
It’s not that the tasks are all that hard or the obstacles too entirely difficult to overcome. It’s that somehow my mind enlarges them to several times their normal size so that it feels as though I am getting ready to tackle Mount Everest when in reality I only need to take a little stroll around the block. I tell myself stories (sometimes consciously and other times unconsciously) about how difficult things will be – especially things I’ve never done before. And I get sucked into the crazy fallacy I have battled my entire life that has me believing I need to get everything perfect. Before I even realize what’s going on, I feel totally fatigued – can’t even think straight. And then I need to just sit for awhile – or go find something to do that is easy, so I can check a box and feel as though I have accomplished something, anything.
So now I know where my son gets it. Instead of trying to teach him. I have decided to allow him to be my teacher. In addition to showing me what is standing in my way, he has reminded me that all the words in the world don’t make a difference when you are trying to teach someone to do something you have not yet mastered. Kids learn through action, not words. And so do adults.
So if I’m going to do even a lick of good for this kid, (and my other kids, and my clients, and anyone else I might want to help), I have got to get busy working on myself. But how do you overcome a lifetime of perfectionistic patterns that keep you from taking the action necessary to achieve your grandest visions and goals?
With this question at the top of my mind, I went for a run. As with just about any of my runs, the first fifteen minutes was hard. I was tired and stiff. It wasn’t fun. But I powered through it. And then I got into my zone. My legs felt lighter. My breathing evened out. My head began to clear. I started to enjoy myself. And I ran a little faster and a little harder. It felt good.
And then I had a second, equally powerful insight. To break out of the perfectionism trap – to get out of overwhelm, to free myself from my own self-created prison, I simply need to get into action. To take even one small step toward my desired goal – with the knowledge that at first it may be uncomfortable, stilted, far from pretty, less than perfect. And then to take another, and another and another. Until finally I reach my zone. I have a feeling the more diligence and effort I put into those initial steps, the more quickly I will get through that “warm up” period and into a place where I can actually make headway – and – dare I say it – even have some fun?!
So that’s my simple plan. And I’m sticking to it. And when I need a little more motivation and inspiration, I’m going to go hang out with my son for awhile.
“Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving.”
~ Albert Einstein
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Though comments are currently closed, please feel free to email me at Diane@DianeBolden.com with your feedback, questions and thoughts. Have a specific challenge you’d like to see a post written about? Let me know. I’d love to hear from you!