How Much of Your Stress is Unnecessary?

I love Kelly McGonigal’s TED Talk about stress titled, “How To Make Stress Your Friend” – she shares that it is not stress that kills us, but how we perceive it.

How we perceive stress has to do with both our brain and our mind working together against a perceived threat.  Being a self-professed Geek, I like to think of the brain as the hardware and the mind as the software – both of which need to be kept in optimum health so that you can achieve whatever you desire (or to simply function well in life). Let’s start with the brain side of things – the brain is an organ in your body – so the health of your body directly affects the health of your brain. This is why you need to exercise, get enough sleep, and make sure you are getting the nutrient’s that your body (and brain) needs.

Taking care of your brain as a part of your body sets the foundation. Before we get to the mind (or the software), it is important to understand the “safety mechanism” your brain has for your survival. When you perceive something as a threat, your brain bypasses the higher conscious functioning portion of your brain (which is where we want to spend most of our time) and goes right into the response mode of fight or flight – although with my experience of people in crisis, I’d also like to add freeze or freak out as responses. Our primal brain chooses one of those responses – the one it deems most appropriate – and goes with it. Here is the problem though – in modern day, we are often not faced with a predator hunting us down, or some other true emergency. Rather, our brain is going into fight, flight, freeze, or freak out in situations that definitely do not qualify as true threats.

I’ve coached several people lately that jumped right into this survival response mode because their expectations weren’t met in a situation or someone at work said something that they felt disrespected them, or other similar situation that definitely wasn’t life threatening. I felt bad for the individuals because I knew that all the stress and the anxiety they were facing – the huge emotional reaction they found themselves in – was all their own doing. If they had understood that their logical mind was hijacked because they got triggered into a survival response, they could have calmed down and then worked their way through the response in a more logical manner. The strategy for making sure you don’t allow your primal brain to hijack your higher functioning is to first, set the foundation by taking proper care of your brain (therefore, your body) and second, understand that if you are not in a true emergency situation and you find yourself having a strong emotional reaction, that you’ve gone into fight or flight and you need to take a break, perhaps do some deep breathing exercises, until you can get back into the logical reasoning portion of your brain.

Which brings us to the mind – there are a lot of different experts out there who have differing opinions on exactly what the mind is – I subscribe to the ones that define it as the software program running on the hardware that is the brain. We already know that it is important for the brain to function well in order for the mind to function well. The mind is what holds our beliefs – our perceptions that we’ve created through our life experiences. This is why understanding that everything we take in from our surrounding world and the people in it, we filter through these beliefs we’ve created – is key to not just surviving this life, but thriving. It is the beliefs that we’ve created that lead to us getting triggered in certain situations, which take us down the rabbit hole of the emotional response of fight or flight. It is fascinating to watch these triggers in action. I was in a meeting once and an individual rolled their eyes – this was not a trigger for most people in the room; however, it was for one particular person and they went off – they became very angry and let everyone else know about it. For some reason, in this person’s past, the rolling of one’s eyes meant something bad to that person. Because they weren’t aware that was a trigger for them, they went into full response mode, by-passing the logical function of their brain, and most likely causing stress damage to both their body and brain.

There you have it folks a very high-level overview of how your brain and mind function together and how important it is to at least be aware of this so that you can at least reduce the stress that you are causing yourself. What is that saying? Something like – it isn’t what happens to you, it’s how you respond.

Ever Tried Working with an Accountability Partner?

Have you ever had an accountability partner? Someone with whom you set goals and then do a regular report in to each other on your progress? If you don’t, I highly recommend you get one (or several) because they can definitely help you step up your achievement efforts. Let’s look at the benefits of an accountability partner and strategies for identifying the right partner for you.

I host a superachiever mastermind group and we have assigned accountability partners to help us move toward our goals more quickly. I have accomplished so much more knowing that I have to report every Friday to this individual – even while on vacation!

I recently was on day two of an amazing vacation. My husband and I had a fun morning and were chilling in the hotel room since it was raining. He decided to take a nap and I wasn’t tired, so I read a bit. But then I started thinking- I’m going to have to report to Pam on Friday that I wrote a chapter in my next book. So I decided to just get it out of the way…. well, I ended up writing two chapters and outlining a keynote I’m doing in the next month (and the hubby was still napping!) I was so happy on my progress, I wrote my check in email to her several days early, telling her of my progress and thanking her for being my accountability partner.

I have attempted the accountability partner thing in the past and it didn’t go so well. Let me share what I’ve learned:

  1. Your accountability partner cannot simply be anyone. I have found that the closer the relationship I have with them, either the more forgiving of me they are when I do not meet my goals or there’s emotional “stuff” wrapped up in them trying to help you remain accountable to your goals. It seems to work best when the person is more of an acquaintance – a colleague with similar goals that you respect and have a professional relationship with.
  2. Before you begin holding each other accountable, design your partnership. This is very important – identify how each of you likes to be motivated. Some questions to ask each other:
    1. How would you like me to respond when you are doing well in achieving your goals?
    2. How would you like me to respond when you are struggling with or not achieving your goals?
    3. How would you like me to respond when you are not challenging yourself enough?
    4. How would you like me to respond when you are beating yourself up unnecessarily?
    5. How will we check in with each other? (phone call, email, in-person meeting, Skype)
    6. How often will we check in with each other?
    7. Is there anything else we should design around our partnership?
  3. Once you build the foundation of your relationship, help each other ensure your goals are actual goals and not just wishes (read my blog titled “Do You Have a Plan? Or a Wish List?” if you’d like to know more).
  4. Adjust your relationship as necessary as you progress through your goals. You might need to change how you respond to each other to keep each other motivated or alter your partnership based on life events that may occur with one or both partners.

If you take the time to identify the right accountability partner and design your relationship with them, you will find yourself accomplishing much more than you thought possible in a shorter amount of time. I’d better go – I need to check in with my partner on my progress for this week.

Do You Have a Plan? Or a Wish List?

I watched the movie Trolls recently with my husband and was surprised at the bits of wisdom that were interspersed throughout. One that really got my attention was when the main male character asked the main female character what her plan was for rescuing their little community from the bad guys. After she named off a list of things, he mentioned how it sounded like a wish list instead of a plan.

Let’s take this concept and apply it to our own lives. I would venture to guess that most individuals have wish lists rather than actual plans for what they’d like to accomplish. Let’s look at your goals that you are currently working on – are they wishes or do you have an actual plan to go after them. If you have an actual plan – congratulations, you are part of the 3% that have specific goals and a plan for achieving them. I’d still keep reading if you feel you have a full plan because it may simply be a more detailed wish list.

I’d like to use an example from a recent strategy session I held with executives of an international company with whom I’ve been working. One of the main goals they decided on as a team was to hold more effective meetings. This, my friends, is not a goal, it is a wish. Why? Because it is not SMART – specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-bound and there isn’t a plan in place to achieve it.

Let’s look at what would make this a plan instead of a wish by identifying the what, why, and the how – first, let’s look at the what by defining exactly what an effective meeting is. In this case, it could be a meeting that is held only as long as needed to go over the topic, attended by the right individuals, and everyone leaves understanding what the next steps are and who is responsible for what. Now the why – we want to have more effective meetings to free up our time to actually do the work. And finally the how – we are going to do this by creating and implementing effective meeting guidelines.

Once we identify the what, why, and how, we can now make this goal more SMART – We will create effective meeting guidelines and implement them over the next 90 days. We don’t stop here though – then we build out a project plan with specific tasks with due dates in order to accomplish the overarching goal. For example, the first task would be to define an effective meeting, to include how to identify the individuals that should attend, what an agenda should look like, etc. Then another task could include creating the guidelines, refining them, and then there will be more tasks around implementing the guidelines and evaluating their effectiveness. I think this is why so many people don’t go past the wish stage – because it can be a lot of work to clearly define and plan out one’s goals.

So far I’ve shared an organizational goal example – how about a personal example. So many of us make “goals” to lose weight or get a promotion, or make X amount of money. Again – these are wishes unless you clearly define them in a SMART goal backed up by project plan. Not too long ago I mentioned on a podcast and in a blog that I have the goal of eventually being a multi-millionaire. If that is all that I had done, this would be considered a wish. However, behind the scenes, I have a multi-page plan for accomplishing this goal to include a number of products and services to be rolled out over the next three years, specifically defining what is going to be done and when for each of the roll outs.

You get the idea – so here is the call to action.  Take a look at your wish list and create a plan – today! I have a system coming out in the very near future to help you do just that – not only to create the plan, but also to accomplish it by maximizing your energy (which is a much more limiting resource that time.)

Strategies for Emptying Your Mental Bucket

I can’t remember where I recently heard the term “empty your mental bucket” but I instantly decided I liked it. I think “mental bucket” aptly describes our minds. Think about it – our mind can often get too filled up with stuff that clutters our minds and we have to work on emptying it to stay focused and resilient to meet the everyday demands of life.  Have you ever caught yourself in a worry spiral? You know – when you started worrying about something and before you know it, you were deep in thought about how the world would soon end? Okay, maybe not the world ending, but our minds can take off with a simple little issue and turn it into a big one pretty quickly, right?

How do we rein our minds in when they inevitably get in our way? We empty our mental buckets. There are many strategies for emptying your mental bucket and each of us needs to find the ones that work for us. It is also a good idea to have several in your tool box in the event that one or two of them aren’t working for you with a particularly full bucket. Here are three that I use:

  1. Meditation – Nothing works better than meditation to empty a full mental bucket. Meditation is a loaded word for some so let me explain how I do it. Some people are good with just sitting and clearing out their mind for a given time period each day. I am not one of those people. My meditation has to be a bit more active – I like to take a meditative walk in the woods or lay some place looking at the vast sky watching the clouds float by or some other similar activity.  The important thing here is you get yourself in an environment where you mind is so consumed with the present moment that all of those thoughts that were cluttering your mind empty out.
  2. Exercise – Engaging the body in some sort of active exercise really helps to clear out the mental bucket. The exercise needs to be difficult enough that you can only focus on the present moment – I like a good, hard-hitting tennis match – so that your mind is so focused on the activity and it doesn’t have an opportunity to think about anything else. Another benefit is that you tire out your body, so it isn’t going to allow you to stay awake at night ruminating on things.
  3. Stop it! – This strategy works after spending some time intentionally working on your ability to empty your mental bucket and it doesn’t work all the time, especially when you allow your mind to get too far down the rabbit hole. When I find myself starting to fill up the mental bucket, thinking about all the things I have to get done or other similar worry chain, I simply tell myself to stop. I literally tell my mind to stop wasting my mental energy on things that either I can’t control or that I don’t need to figure out the twenty million different potential outcomes (that I can address the one that happens, when it happens). I’ll usually try this strategy first and then resort to the first two strategies if it doesn’t work.

There you have it folks – in order to be more successful in life (or to simply get through the day-to-day of life), we need to have ways in which to empty our mental buckets when they get too full with clutter. I’ve provided you with three strategies I utilize, so now it’s your turn. Reflect on the strategies you use and how successful you are at implementing them. Then think about how you can improve upon your ability to empty your mental bucket and do it.

Follow Your Passion for Happiness!

Are you following your passion? If not, why not? If so, how you can follow it more fully? I think a lot of us misunderstand what following our passion really means. At its foundation, this means identifying what we are truly passionate about, what makes us excited to talk about with others, the thing that we get so engrossed in, that we look up and several hours have passed. Where the confusion sets in is when we make up a bunch of rules around it, like “I’m passionate about such and such – so it has to be my life’s work and where my paycheck comes from.” Or “I have to be passionate about a noble cause.” I respectfully ask you to throw away any rules you may have created around your life’s passion.

We make up a lot of rules around “following our passion” and that could be what’s keeping you from following yours in the first place, or following it more fully. Following your passion is what makes life more fulfilling – you’re happier, less stressed, and more optimistic. Keeping that in mind, while throwing out the rules, will help you follow your passion today. Let’s say your passion about speaking to large audiences about topic X and is not something you do in your day job. Well, make it a side job, either paid or volunteer. Seek out where these audiences would be an offer to speak. Let’s say you’re passionate about, I don’t know – crocheting. Then start a crocheting club on the weekends. Or film yourself giving lots of cool tips and create a YouTube channel and online community to be passionate together. You get the idea – when you throw out the rules you’ve created around following your passion, you will find yourself energized, fulfilled, and simply glowing while talking about it with others. Alright superachievers… what are you waiting for?

Hold A Personal Strategy Session Today!

To be a superachiever and achieve all that we do, one must be strategic. I find it disheartening and unbelievable (at least I hope it’s unbelievable) when Brian Tracy states that only 3% of folks actually write down their goals. If this is true, I bet even a smaller portion of those individuals hold personal strategy sessions. See, in the professional world, we have weekly, monthly, and annual goals for the organization or business, we set up extensive project plans and hold regular status and strategy meetings to check on progress, implement interventions if necessary to keep us on track, and ensure that we accomplish all the goals we created as an organization. But how many of us do this ourselves? I’d venture to guess not many.

Once we establish our goals and how we will accomplish them, it will mean nothing without regular personal strategy sessions. I’d recommend a multilevel approach to this process.

Let’s start at the simplest level and work our way up. Each morning, spend five minutes setting up your daily to do list (or the night before) – the key here is daily. Set a strategy for which tasks need to get done that day or worked on that day to bring you closer to getting your goal accomplished. Here’s the thing though – you can’t do other tasks until those are done. This will keep you from focusing on the unimportant things that tend to get in our way because we make them “important.” So only work on things that are in furtherance of your goals.

Next level is weekly personal strategy sessions. This is done once a week on a day that makes sense for you – mine is generally Friday afternoon so I can free my mind for the weekend. Where your daily sessions take more no more than 15 minutes, your weekly planning sessions will generally take about 30 minutes or more depending on the number of goals you are tackling. In your weekly strategy session, you will reflect on your progress from the previous week, make any adjustments to your goal plan, and then set a plan for the coming week. In a similar fashion, you hold a monthly strategy session once a month, reviewing the previous month, making adjustments, and planning the next month. It is also important to hold a bi-annual session every six months looking at your goals from an even higher strategic level.

Holding daily, weekly, monthly, and bi-annual personal strategy meetings based on a goal plan you create for each of your goals may seem like a lot of work, and it can be; however, I guarantee you will achieve more in less time if you do. Stay tuned, I’m creating an easy to use goal and energy management system to be launched this year in 2017.

Use Reflective Writing to Develop Yourself

A few years ago, I discovered reflective writing, and since then, my personal and professional development has skyrocketed. Reflective writing involves analyzing a life event, thinking about how it has affected you, how it made you feel, and how you could change how you handle it if something similar happens in the future. It is similar to traditional journaling in that it requires descriptive writing; however, that is a small part of the process – the key is in the analysis and applying it to future events.

Reflective writing is a powerful tool in the learning process – it helps you learn much more in a shorter amount of time. I’ll never forget the moment I realized how much I had grown by using the reflective writing process. I had recently written a reflective writing piece on a misunderstanding with a friend. I had also gone back through my journals and identified several other situations that it had occurred in the past. That’s another amazing thing about reflective writing, you can re-examine a situation that occurred 10 years ago, with new eyes and add it to your learning. Anyway, with this fresh in my mind, I found myself in yet another similar conversation with this individual. While she was talking, I felt the familiar defensiveness rise – the old reaction to feeling that she was trying to be difficult yet again and I stopped myself, switched to a perspective of realizing she was coming from a place of fear, and changed how I spoke to her, which led to a win-win outcome for the conversation. If I hadn’t engaged in intentional reflective writing, I’d probably still be locking the proverbial horns with her today.

What if you added the strategy to your toolbox today, who would you be next year with massive intentional learning and growth? Just think of the goals you could accomplish! If you already engage in reflective writing how can you make it even better?

Reflective writing doesn’t have to take up a lot of time each day, and not every day will deliver a deep life lesson. I allot 15 minutes a day and set a reminder for each evening on my phone. Some days I only spend a few minutes, others a lot longer.

What kind of system do you have or are you going to have to focus more effectively on your growth?

Strategies for Sustaining Desired Change

Have you ever tried to break a bad habit or develop a new healthy one? It can be very difficult! The reason for the difficulty is this – we each have an internal set point for our version of normal. Our psyche likes to maintain the set point so much that it initiates an internal self-corrective process if we stray too far from our normal.

This autopilot that we go into to maintain homeostasis in our lives was discovered and coined the “Psycho Cybernetic Mechanism” by Dr. Maxwell Maltz in the 1950s. Dr. Maltz, a plastic surgeon, found that many of his patients didn’t see any changes when they looked at themselves in the mirror after having significant facial reconstruction. They literally could not see the changes in their appearance because it was beyond their “normal.” The brain compensated for what they expected to see.

In our caveman days, this was a great survival mechanism. If our brain noticed something different in our environment, it sent signals to the body to get back to homeostasis. Predator nearby – let’s get to a safe place – back to our area of comfort. Modern day – when changing the number of calories we intake to lose weight or get healthier, we don’t want the brain to go on high alert and self-correct that change, right? Our brain, in trying to help us survive, is getting in the way.

The “normal” set point we’ve created for ourselves may not necessarily be healthy for us, so how do we change it? First step is awareness – understanding that we’ve spent years forging the neural pathways for this behavior in our brain and that it is going to take significant retraining to change that.

The next step is to visualize the new desired behavior with extreme clarity – over and over again. The subconscious mind is the one that is running the show when it comes to your Psycho Cybernetic Mechanism. A cool thing about the subconscious running the show is that it doesn’t know the difference between visualizing the behavior and actually doing it. This is why professional athletes use visualization all the time.

The final step is to do the desired behavior over and over.  Combine steps two and three and do them at the same time for maximum effectiveness.

After much patience and perseverance, you create new neural pathways and your desired behavior becomes a habit. How long it takes is up to you and how deeply ingrained the neural pathways related to the behaviors you want to change are. I can guarantee it’s going to take more than 21 days to develop lifetime habits. They’ve conducted research on the “21-day rule” and found that it is largely false for most habits we want to change.

If you haven’t seen the YouTube video The Backwards Bicycle, I recommend you watch it. An engineer did an experiment on what it would take to retrain his brain to ride a bike in which the handlebars had been altered in such a way that one had to turn them to the left to go right and vice versa. It took him eight months to retrain his brain to ride the bike and only 20 minutes to go back into the old way of doing things. Simply type “backwards bicycle” in the search bar and it will pop up.

Afraid to Proclaim Your Big, Scary Dream?

Isn’t it funny how we can struggle with something for a while, sometimes even years, and suddenly there’s this moment of clarity, or acceptance, or wisdom? This reminds me of the quote from Paul Auster, “Everything can change at any moment, suddenly and forever.” Usually when I hear this quote, I think of external events changing the course of one’s life; however, it is amazing how powerful our thoughts can be – something clicks and, in that moment, we see life differently.

I’m sure we’ve all had at least one of these moments in our lives, if not more. Thoughts so powerful that you realize nothing will ever be the same – the world you know no longer exists and is replaced with a new reality. I recently had another one of these moments as they relate to our big, scary dreams.  Dreams so big and scary to us that we’re afraid to voice them out loud for fear of others perceiving us as delusional. My moment of clarity was that I realized that the “greats” – those people who have accomplished amazing things – were probably thought of as delusional at one time by others.

Why is it important for us to openly proclaim our big, scary dreams? Because our focus becomes our reality – by stating it out loud, it becomes your sole focus and you can’t help but be successful at it because it becomes your reality.  I’m not saying there won’t be failures along the way, but making your dream your focus will get you to where you want to go much faster than you would otherwise.

Here’s your call to action – it’s time to walk through that door of opportunity – what have you been afraid to openly proclaim as a goal or dream? Something so big that it scares you and you are afraid others will think you’re delusional? This is your moment – openly proclaim your goal or dream today because it will become your focus which will then make it your reality and you are another step closer to making it happen. By the way – did I mention I’m going to be a multi-millionaire soon (gulp! – openly proclaimed!)?