Self Care

On Transition: How To Take The Stress Out Of Change And Uncertainty

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I just moved across the country from Massachusetts to Utah.

Do not worry, it was planned. For a very good reason. But despite how planned it was, moving is still ranked as one of the top stress-inducing activities for human beings. I have moved numerous times in my young adult life and, even though I am really really ridiculously good at it, it is still a daunting and difficult process. 

The part that I am best at is getting in to my fully packed car, starting the engine, and driving to wherever my new home will be. I do not feel any stress during that piece of the process. Once I arrive in the new location, a little stress comes in the form of the to-do list at the new living situation (i.e. utilities, internet, unpacking, organizing my belongings, etc.), all of which is dependent on the extent of preparation prior to the journey.

Speaking of preparation, that is where all of my stress lives. I am quite good at planning the preparation and checking off all of the things that lead up to leaving my apartment spotless and concealing the keys in the freezer for my landlord, but still the process of doing all of those things is so burdensome.

I felt a constant simmer of cortisol flow inside me for about a month and a half, my sleep was affected because my brain exploded with "WHAT ARE WE GOING TO ACCOMPLISH TOMORROW???" brainstorms the second I turned out the light, and my body felt like it was riding around on the Tilt-A-Whirl ride at the carnival (google it) swirling from work to packing stuff up to "sleep" and back to work. 

Before you determine that this is just my diary entry about how successful my trip along the Oregon Trail went and a discussion of my personal stress triggers, let me clarify that this post is about transition. 

People hate change. People fear change. It is uncertain, unpredictable, uber terrifying. Change is literally the total opposite of familiarity, and human beings are wired to seek out and settle into any sense of familiarity available. Our brains crave it so that it can log the most efficient ways to survive. 

Of course we also need novelty and uncertainty for our brains to grow at all, but human beings enjoy trying to control that uncertainty by planning way ahead for something or overanalyzing every single possible scenario even though they have zero knowledge about it. 

As a result, transitions can be challenging for people in so many different ways. 

I, for example, get stressed in the daunting preparation of moving. Others may not pack much so the preparation is super easy but they get stressed by the drive itself. 

As I mentioned above, the overall process of moving is split up into:

  1. Preparation and planning
  2. The action of the change
  3. Settling in to the new state

Moving is an easy example to use for a stressful change, but I want to think beyond that now and ask you how you react to change. 

Let us think of some examples of change, large or small, that you may experience throughout a given day:

  • a rainstorm
  • a surprise meeting
  • a car accident
  • a surprise party
  • someone buys you a drink
  • your computer crashes
  • you sleep through your alarm
  • you wake up before your alarm

See, change can be all kinds of things but those things do not have to always be a surprise. Like moving across the country or knowing you have to lead a meeting today that you usually do not have to, change causes some level of stress. 

Reflection Homework:

  1. What changes or transitions have you experienced recently that you expected / could plan for?
  2. How did you react to them?
  3. What changes or transitions have you experienced recently that you did NOT expect / could NOT plan for?
  4. How did you react to them?
  5. Did you react differently depending on whether or not the change was known ahead of time? Why or why not?
  6. Go back to the three categories above and zoom in on your reaction. Which of the three steps of the change process caused the highest reaction?

A lot of people are so distracted by the stress of their change that they are unable to perceive what specifically about that change is causing the stress. If you are able to answer the above questions, you will be able to focus in on what stresses you out the most. 

If you always stress about the same segment of a change, how might you prepare differently for that segment in the future?

If you make a list of recent changes and notice that your stress is divided up through the different segments of each change, what do those changes have in common?

This awareness will lead you to preemptively quell the stress before it even begins in the future. 

You Are Thinking About "Right and Wrong" All Wrong

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DO THE RIGHT THING.

YOU ARE DOING THIS WRONG.

IS THIS RIGHT?

WHERE DID I GO WRONG?

Do you ever ask these questions? Better yet, do these questions rule your life? Are you distracted by doing things "correctly"? "I want to do it right" is probably the most common problem I hear clients complain about when we discuss obstacles to their success. I hate this notion that there is a right or a wrong way to do things in life. That is right, I just said Hate. Oooo, strong word! It is the most unhealthy mindset because it puts so much pressure on you to be perfect. Look back at my post on making imperfect action a few weeks ago. So many people think that something has to be perfect for it to be put to market or submitted to a boss. 

WHAT TO THINK

Of course you want to complete something well and feel proud of it, like that science project you spent a week constructing in high school for the science fair, but using the words Right and Wrong puts more pressure on you than is already there for the task.

Example 1, Creating a logo: Holy cannoli people think this has to be perfect. The first pressure in getting a logo made is whether or not you as the business owner likes the logo. A mere emotional reaction. The second pressure is when the business owner worries whether or not it is perfect for their brand. Uh-oh, now there is a double stack of pressure and only one of them actually matters! 

Spoiler alert: the emotional response one has to the logo is the only answer you need. It determines how well suited the logo is for the brand. It is a beneficial double whammy. Which means you are left with the extra layer of pressure dangling off the side that relates more to how the world will perceive your brand, and not the logo itself. Which means you do not need that pressure while the logo is being made. Which means you need to chill out. There is no right or wrong. 

Example 2, Nobody likes your product: This is where right or wrong really hits home like a wrecking ball for people. When an owner gets feedback that their service was not effective or the customer did not enjoy the product, this must mean the entrepreneur is a failure. Better luck next time. 

NOPE. This means that you now have data to inform how to change your product...if you WANT to. That is the key. What do you WANT to do with the feedback? 

Feeling like a failure is a choice. You call yourself that. It is another story you tell. 

Do not worry, I am guilty of it too. I am guilty of thinking that there was a right way to progress in life. Originally I thought that the right way was to get good grades in high school so that I go to a good college, work hard there so I get a job, go to grad school so that I can become an "expert", and then settle into a career that makes money. A lot of people do this, and it is not wrong to do so. But thinking that there is one single right way to do this life thing is not true and it is not healthy. 

I thought it until I got a bad grade in a class and realized that it was not going to impact my work prospects after college. I thought it until I realized that my gut was not compelling me to go back to graduate school as I thought it "should" have over the past six years. It does not matter when you do something, because it is YOUR choice based on YOUR desire. It is nobody's business to tell you when you must do something. 

I know what some of you are thinking: "But Taylor, there is definitely right and wrong. I could lose my job if I do or say the wrong thing."  True, sure. There is a wrong answer to math problems (I would know, I struggled with math). There are inappropriate things to do at work that threaten your employment (I would not know because I am an angel). But I encourage you to think of the words differently.

WHAT TO DO

"Right" and "Wrong" have a heavy, sharp, pressured connotation to them. Even if you feel like you did something "right", you feel the pressure about it. I want you to change the words. I want you to try saying "Healthy" vs. "Unhealthy" for YOU instead of "Right" vs. "Wrong" based on someone else's expectations. Doing so alleviates the pressure and makes the outcome positive. Not only that, it taps what you feel good about.

Try it out: Instead of thinking that you did something wrong when your product receives criticism, ask yourself "what do I want to do about it now? What would be healthy for me to put effort into adjusting?" 

In the absence of extra pressure, there is more space to be inspired. 

WHAT WILL HAPPEN

Right vs. Wrong relates to following what we think of as rules and acceptable behavior, but what we do not think about is the fact that we humans made up the word "rules" and "morals" and defined "acceptable behavior". Now that I dropped that knowledge bomb on you, I am not telling you to go kill someone because morals do not exist. Instead I am telling you to take the pressure of perfectionism off of your task because no human has the power to tell you a one single right way to do things. 

By thinking about what is healthy for you or what you want to do instead of what you have to do or should do, you promote your own confidence and growth while connecting why your work is healthy for you and why your work is healthy for the world.

You are promoting healthy human evolution instead of addressing a single microscopic moment of pressure.  

I have a client right now who knows she must have a difficult conversation with her mother in order to move forward as a confident, independent adult. She began saying what she "needs" to do and why she "has to" do it, but over the course of a few conversations she has shifted the language and realized that she genuinely "wants" to have the conversation because she recognizes its beneficial outcome.

Her body language has changed, her motivation has changed, and now she wants to face the challenge because she sees it as an opportunity for growth. Not just popping a stress bubble that will come back in another form later on. 

This is the resilience I wrote about a few weeks ago. If you face challenges with the question of what next move would be healthiest for you, you will never experience setbacks as failure again. You will take a next step, and then another, and then another, because there is no right way to move through life. There is only the way that you want to. 

How To Set Healthy Priorities: A Brief Discussion

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This may be a shorter post than usual by the time I finish it because I shifted priorities today. It has been a busy week and I own the fact that I did not choose to get up even earlier or stay up even later to write a longer post over the past few days. This is intentionally shorter because part of my attention is needed right now for something that transcends business and marketing and money and career. I have the freedom to write this post from wherever I please, which is a luxury, and so I will do my best to continue providing value to you today with only 62% of my brain here and present. 

As I was in the car late into the night last night, I reflected on how I may or may not get to this blog post today. Not knowing what would be asked of me where I am, I figured at the very least I might be able to squeeze out a paragraph, maybe two. What mattered most in my reflection is that I recognized what was most important - what the priority was, even at the expense of my publishing content. 

I have heard and learned a lot in the entrepreneurial world about how to prioritize what. Relating to my post on Commitment a few weeks back, industry experts and uber successful entrepreneurs encourage a fledgling entrepreneur to put in the work on their new brand in the evening and nighttime hours, hopefully after they have interacted with their spouse and/or kids and have eaten substantial food. 

This suggestion relates to commitment in that it asks you "What are you driven to do to build your business? What will it take? How hungry are you?" It is a great question because a lot of entrepreneurs push their ideas to the back burner and open the notebook back up after many months have gone by.

Last night I taught my class again on Personal Branding and Career Success and I asked my clients "What can you commit to doing TOMORROW that relates to your goals and aspirations?" as a homework assignment because, even if they take the smallest little step - which is the point - and do not return to the work for a year, at least they have taken that one step forward that they otherwise were not going to take. I do not tell them to stay up till 2am making a marketing campaign, nor do I tell them by when they ought to have something launched. I only ask that they come up with and act on one simple thing.

I stay up late working into the nights, but not every night. I do not follow the emphatic suggestion of the ultra wealthy experts to a T because they do not know my body. They do not know how my tolerance of late nights and little sleep has changed since college, where I "functioned" off of 3 hours of sleep per night for multiple months at one point. 

This does not mean that I am not committed, though. It means that I know myself and that I know how I want to achieve the unique goals that I have set for my unique business.

This then connects to the realistic goal setting I have also mentioned in the past and which is probably one of the biggest elements of my work with clients. My goal is not to run myself into the ground. I have experienced burnout before and I do not exactly enjoy the sensation, so I will hear the suggestion of these business gurus, consider my current work schedule, and decide what to prioritize that day - related to MY personal definition of accomplishment.  

For example, one day is so filled with client sessions and brand development that I lie on my couch and watch a movie in the evening. Other days, I will write content, have a shift at my "part time distraction day job", and then spend all evening into the night working on my business infrastructure. Today I have been blessed to be able to attend to the priority of where I am as well as have the chance to write emails to my students, hold a new client consult call, design some things for my brand, and write this blog post.

I have one more thing on my to-do list that I would love to accomplish if possible, but I am committed to not working tomorrow, and that is okay. I know my priorities right now and I am grateful for that awareness. I encourage you to consider what you want to prioritize as this week comes to a close. What is the most important to you to accomplish before the weekend? What do you care most about right now?

A lot of society tells us what "should" be done or what you "have to" get done. I want to know what you "want" to get done. 

How To Break Free From Entrepreneurial Perfectionism

Break free from your idea of Perfect.

Break free from your idea of Perfect.

This is one of probably a billion blogs that exist on the internet. Think about how many individual blog posts there must be out there in the cloud. I have read a lot of posts on lots of different topics. Some are articles from other platforms that are copied and pasted into a blog for more exposure. Some are written as a full time activity by serious, well experienced writers while others are written by teens for social media. Blog writing is non fiction so the writer crafts the structure and then types the words in his or her own personal voice as opposed to fiction in which the voice can change based on the needs of a story.

I have worked with a lot of people who say that they "have to" have a blog because everyone else does. A lot of those same people have terrible blogs to which they inconsistently add content. It becomes a chore when you have not posted anything in months and feel like you "have to" or "should". 

Here is the thing: blogs can look like whatever you want them to and they can say whatever you want them to. There is no demand for what needs to be written or how it is presented. That is up to you and what feels right.  

In this way, there is no perfect.

There is no ideal. You find out what works for you and you put something out. That is business. 

So many people and entrepreneurs in the world freak out because they start a blog or create a product and business but do not want to launch it to the world in fear that it is not perfect. I hear this a lot. It is counterintuitive. It is the very first thing you have ever put out to the universe. How could it possibly be perfect?

It is like handing in a first draft of a paper thinking that it is the only draft that you are allowed to write. 

Thinking that your product needs to be perfect on the first go closes you off to the golden feedback that the world will give back to you once the product is out there. That feedback is the only thing that will help you understand how to make your product valuable. Not perfect, mind you. It will never be perfect. 

What is your product right now? What are you working on that you are hesitant to share? Why are you hesitant to share it?

Looking back on my own entrepreneurial journey, it is funny how incredibly unfocused my niche was when I started my business. I was confident in the first service I offered, but it was a service that could be offered to so many kinds of people on so many kinds of projects. I was the epitome of a generalist in the self-expression / writing / public speaking world. I did not know why that was a bad thing, though, at the time.

The reason I was comfortable launching my product is that I had waited a long time to start a business. I knew that I only had to organize my product enough to convey on a website, for instance, in order to first offer it. I also knew that I was new to the business world. I am lucky that I never perseverated on how perfect the first draft needed to be because I was so ready to start a company.

If you read the past few weeks of posts, this idea of making imperfect action connects to the Commitment of starting a business.

You must commit to accepting that your product will never be perfect.

Once you do, all of the pressure is lifted. The stress of perfection is eliminated and you can play around with your product and get feedback and engage with customers with more fluidity and momentum instead of kneeling underneath the boulder of having one shot to make it perfect.

I started my blog three years ago because I thought I had to have one, too. I wrote two posts and nothing else for years. In fact, I made the blog page of my website invisible for a long time. But then I realized what I wanted to say about life and business, so I re-enabled the page and started writing. I picked a day of the week to post, I knew my limits, and I wrote without fear of perfectionism because it is my blog and there is no such thing as perfect. 

Here is what you do: Whatever you are stuck on, whether it be a blog post or product launch or Kickstarter campaign, choose one thing and put a simple version of it out there to the world. Publish your blog post or put your product description on your website. Take whatever that first small action might be for you that combats your idea that it must be perfect. Put Post-It notes around your home with the words "There is no such thing as perfect" on them for a first step if you are still scared about launching whatever it is.

All the while, ask yourself this question: how could it possibly be perfect if no one has been able to give me feedback on it?

The 4 Step, 3 Minute Way To Slow Down Your Life And Reflect On What Matters

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Last night I got dinner with a dear friend who straight up devours any food set before him - not because he has poor eating hygiene, but because he enjoys the food. We got burgers and we shared fries. I started on some fries to warm up my stomach as we were talking. Thirty seconds pass and I look at his tray to see a street food graveyard. The wrapping that held the burger as one unit was crinkled and discarded and there was a contemporary pallet of ketchup / mustard / hot sauce across the plate, swirling together into nice sunset tones.

I had not even looked at my cheeseburger. 

He and I often laugh about how slow and methodical an eater I am (I am not slow, but I sure am methodical) compared to his vacuum cleaning system that disappears whatever lands on the table. 

I have observed and journaled a lot over the years about the Life Pace of different cultures. We all know that America runs on Dunkin and it is overcaffeinated and that society here puts value on moving fast. In Up In The Air, George Clooney's character says "We are like sharks. If we stop moving, we die." A little dramatic, George, don't you think? Can we find a middle ground where we stay alive but slow down a wee bit? 

American business is cutthroat. Corporations are ruthless. Sales quotas still exist. Greed is still one of the seven deadly sins. When we are so afraid of keeping our job, it is no wonder that people sacrifice slowing down and reflecting on themselves and what matters. 

I am sensitive to the world's pace around me. I have become more and more introverted over the years because being so extroverted in college wore me out and I could not keep pace with the extroversion of society. And that is not a bad thing.

In my next life, I want to be the geography professor I had in college. He told me of a time when he was GIVEN FUNDING to travel to multiple countries around the world, sit down at a coffee shop, and actually time how long it takes - with a damn stopwatch - for strangers on the street to walk from one point to another in his visual plane in order to study how people move through their cultural surroundings. That is it. He studied the pace at which people moved around in different cultures. WHAT? That is epic. Think about it. He got paid to slow himself down, sip coffee, and peoplewatch for science. If that is not escaping the Matrix, I do not know what is. 

But like me and my food consumption rate, it is about what you value.

I value conversation. Others do not. 

The past month of my blog posts has taught you how to be a more aware and effective communicator. It is important to teach because these days two kinds of communicators are dominating the market:

  1. the kind who talks just to hear themselves talk and you are a worthless piece of human material to them.
  2. the kind who talk just to receive affirmation that what they say is valid - and I do not mean that they listen to your response, I mean that they see you start to respond, count that as affirmation because they are so insecure, and then do not listen to a word you say. 

Neither of these are conversations. In the fast paced culture we live in, people want to be heard. Plain and simple. The problem is that everyone wants to be heard so it is a power-struggle-shouting-match to only talk about themselves. I know so many people who get lost in the fray. They know they want to learn more about themselves and differently express themselves to the world.  They do not know how, though, because they are focused on getting ahead in their work, so the arrogantly insecure coworkers and bosses overtake them. 

Everyone in this societal stranglehold desperately seeks to yell out how they feel but they do not because they do not know who can support them and what to do after they yell it out. They simply want to yell. 

People want to express themselves. 

The past four posts was the first step to becoming more aware of what you want to yell out and, more importantly, what is getting in the way of that. For most people I know, it is the pace of the world around them. Maybe they are lucky enough to know how to self-reflect and journal, but have trouble slowing down to focus on it. A lot of those people do not know how to reflect. 

You cannot learn to express yourself more authentically without slowing down and stepping back from the crazy train of your daily life in America. You have to hop off at the next station and stare at the forest, even if you are the only one there. 

Start here:

  1. What part of your life is moving too fast for you to keep up?
    • work?
    • relationship?
    • money?
    • sports / exercise?
    • sex?
    • nutrition?
    • pets?
    • friendships?
    • other: _________?
  2. Why is that part of your life of value to you?
  3. How long have you been unable to "keep up" with it?
  4. What feeling states have you experienced about it?

This simple set of four questions should take THREE MINUTES for you to complete. That is all. What it does is helps you label your feelings (likely angst) and the cause. Once you have these answers, you have a perfect prompt to:

  • journal about!
  • or tell someone about, and then ask for their advice.

Tell them the answers to your questions. It is easy. Watch: "Hey, man, for the past three months or so, I have been feeling stressed about work. It is like its demands and my coworkers are moving too fast for me to keep up. I like what I do but it is anxiety-provoking because I am exhausted and I feel like I am barely on top of things. Do you have any advice?"

BOOM. All four answers in a pretty little paragraph. That felt good. 

You slow down to answer those questions. You slow down to express the answers to your friend. Your friend slows down - hopefully - to give you some advice. You slow down to think how to change that advice into a plan. You slow down to put that plan into action at work the next day. 

Feel relieved yet?

Just A Friendly Neighborhood Reminder To Do Something Your Body Should Do Automatically

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Let us stay on this whole mindfulness thing for a bit because I literally had to remind myself to take a breath earlier today. Like consciously speak to myself in my own head to chill for a hot second and deeply breathe in. Let us all take a second for a breather. In fact, let us take this whole week as a breather. Let us just chill. Holidays are over, resolutions are "adjusted", and it is somehow actually February. Remember a month ago when people were fighting each other for pasta on the shelves at Whole Foods? Let us all just chill for a second. We need it. 

Last week I was 1. in a different country and 2. amongst tall mountains. I prepared some work things to bring with me that did not require a lot of time or, more importantly, brain power and attention to start working on in case the trip got boring (really, Taylor??), such as content design and product development brainstorming. Did I look at it once last week? Nope. Sure didn't. Not for lack of trying, though. I definitely thought about the tasks a few times but when it came down to reaching into my bag and cracking open the notebook, my hands did not move. The week also 3. involved physical activity on those mountains, so my physical fatigue and the mental shift that I was so totally in a different culture somewhere else on the globe kept my hands to my side and my mind on the present. I am lucky to be able to change the channel in my brain and be wherever I am on most vacations in the past, but there are some in which I simply cannot do it. And it is painful. One trip last year I could tell on the plane ride out that I was not going to be able to tune out the world I was temporarily leaving and, unfortunately, I turned out to be correct. 

Life moves. Whether it is "too fast" or "way too fast" is subjective, but nothing ever stops. Molecules are always in chaos, air and weather are always in flux, waves and nature are eternally restless. Sharks have to keep moving in order to breathe. Translation: if they stop moving, they die. WHAT? Ironically, so many humans - particularly Americans - act like sharks. If they slow down, they will die. If they stop what they are doing, they will fail. UGH, it is exhausting. I am exhausted just thinking about it while I write about it. The sad part is that we all know that it is unhealthy. Sure, some people "thrive" off of a fast-paced lifestyle or are most productive under pressure, but that does not mean that their hearts and blood pressures enjoy it. I have always lived a very busy life with days and weeks jam-packed with everything I can fit in, mostly related to work. Go me! I am super hard-working, but none of that matters if I do not know how to slow down.

It took me until junior year of college to learn how energy should be prioritized and allocated in life in order to remain a healthier version of myself, and I have continued to practice that allocation ever since in the big, bad, real world. That is why I am entitled enough to help people with a) slowing down to breathe and b) figuring out how best to allocate their energy in their work, relationships, and everyday life. You are never done practicing how to slow down, but the practicing becomes easier. And you do not have to do it alone. 

Where I was last week was an isolated bubble. A remote microcosm that forces you with limited WiFi and perilous roads to stop moving and surrender. No one is watching, do not be scared. At night, stars glistened over the mountain peaks and I all but fell to my knees and cried in surrender. Instead of the dramatic display that that would have produced, I chose instead to take good, long, full breaths of the brisk mountain air. It was all I could do, and it is exactly what I needed. Fast forward to today when I had to consciously remind myself to take that same kind of revitalizing breath. Yeah, I am not in the mountains of another continent, but slowing down is possible here too. So no matter how "fast" you feel your life is right now, remember that that is okay as long as you know how to stop and take a deep breath. 

Do it right now (please). I dare you.

No matter what you are doing right now, you could use a deep breath. If you are self-conscious about it, this is me giving you permission. If you are scared, this is me offering support. If slowing down makes you cry, there is no shame in meditating in a bathroom stall. If you are embarrassed that you have to set a reminder in your phone or on your Apple watch to take a deep breath, just know that I am going to go tell myself to take another deep breath in just a couple minutes. 

Why Meditation Is So Darn Difficult But So Darn Helpful

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In a couple days, I am going on vacation. Somewhere NOT awesome, I promise you. Definitely not out of the country and definitely NOT unplugged from my computer. There is NO REASON WHATSOEVER for you to be jealous. 

Now that that is cleared up, yes, vacation. This silly eight letter word that we all have heard but rarely get to experience firsthand. It refers to some kind of "break" or "free time", but those are things that us millennials and millennial-esque individuals (you know who you are) have never even heard of. The only break and free time we know is when we break a bone playing a sport and have free time when we are not allowed to practice. And think about THAT negative association... Along the same lines, "rest" is like the snow leopard of physical wellbeing. It is rare, blends in with your surroundings, and when you finally see it, it disappears almost as quickly as it had appeared. But it is so damn beautiful. "Why hide?!?!?!" you want to ask it. "Why will you not stick around for me to enjoy you?"

Unfortunately the answer is that we do not know how best to take advantage of rest when the opportunity arrives. I will be the first to admit, it is really difficult. Even sitting for a whole afternoon binging Netflix sometimes is not the full rest that you want. Sometimes I feel just as unrested after lying on the couch in the very same position watching a whole season of House of Cards. Why, though? I did not move for so many hours! 

The other option for "full rest" is napping, but napping is like the tylenol of physical wellbeing. Everyone's dosage will be different. If I nap for 22 minutes, I feel good but come on, I never nap for 22 minutes. No, I end up napping for an hour and wake up feeling like my brain stayed on the pillow and my body became a baby giraffe taking its first steps. 

So how do we actually rest? 

A dear friend of mine has been meditating hard for almost thirty years and now gives lectures on how meditation affects and promotes a healthy mindset. In his talks, he discusses how meditation is actually an extremely active activity (redundant, yes, but YOLO) instead of the common assumption that everything stops, slows down, or shuts off when you meditate. Your physical movements slow down, yes, but you do not shut off your brain. On the contrary, you slow your body down in order to open your mind up and let it explode however it wants to. Then do nothing. Just watch the thoughts. Sounds simple but you know it is difficult if you have ever tried it. 

Meditation is interesting in this way because it has become such a trendy topic in mindfulness and yoga has become the be-all-end-all cure for everything. But meditation is super hard! Watching all of your crazy thoughts while trying to focus on the sound of your breathing or the 3 hour YouTube video of a mountain stream is a lot of work! It makes sense that so many people will not even try to meditate because it does not sound restful at all. 

I meditated quite a bit back in high school and some in college before I created my own Mobile Meditation that I would use on the go when I am in the car. I got into a good habit in high school and even got to that point where I actively saw the black glittery void that I was breathing into (it was pretty cool) and my Mobile Meditation became the appropriate dosage for my post-college lifestyle. I recently got back into it at home and, even though I am not yet seeing the void as I did in high school, I am able to feel the separation between my body / breath and my thoughts. It is a little trippy, yes, but you have to be open to it. I have learned that my brain is so in need of that unloading because of all the stimuli it filters every day that it busts the door down when I close my eyes and take the first breath. I have to be okay with that. I have to remember that it is the same thing as a muscle getting the toxins and stress massaged out of it at the spa. It is active and sometimes painful but will feel good afterward. 

I often feel like the meditation was all over the place or "did not work", but then I notice that my breathing is much smoother and my head feels lighter regardless of the onslaught of thoughts it just endured. 

Just like you, I am going to keep experimenting with what is most restful for me. When I am on the long plane flight that is DEFINITELY NOT GOING OVERSEAS, I am going to try to meditate, nap, and watch movies and we will see which one is most restful. I wonder what is most helpful for you. What do you like to do to "rest"? And does it actually help? Since you have already given up on your New Year's resolutions, what can you recommit to trying in order to help yourself rest and recuperate?

How A Snow Storm Shows You Who You Really Are, Part 2: BACK TO YOUR ROOTS

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It has been a week but there are still giant snowbanks on the side of the road that test how skinny I can make my SUV on a two lane road. Last week I wrote about how the imminent snow storm was like the zombie apocalypse for which everyone in Massachusetts had to prepare by buying groceries on groceries all day the day before and how tension was high enough to inspire some to fight over certain items on the shelves.

Ugh, fighting over certain items on the shelves. As though Whole Foods does not have other options for food somewhere else in the store that we could stomach for a single day of precipitation. Last week's post was about reflecting on the idea of Need. This week we reflect on where that comes from. 

I was born and raised in Vermont, which means that my childhood was sponsored by The North Face and I was acquainted with sub zero temperatures before I was a single year old. My siblings and I grew up ski racing and, following my retirement at age 13, my party favor was circulation issues in my feet and hands because of the blisteringly cold days on the mountain that froze my toes and fingers. I am not that bitter about it because I realized over time how much more tolerant of the winter I became from such early and frequent exposure. Fast forward to college when I walked around campus in January in a plain old sweatshirt and laughed at the freezing wind like a boss.

I bring this up because I will always be thankful for my frostbitten upbringing. Strangers, coworkers, friends, and family talked to me about the storm last week and all I could do about it was shrug. It was simply another snow storm in my lifetime of snow storms. It is a form of adversity that I tolerate much more confidently than, say, walking in the Sahara desert (I am lightheaded just thinking about it) while someone who lives in a desert climate would not be able to handle a snowflake. The pressure of a snow storm on our immediate environment produces a stress to which people react very differently. I agreed that food would be good to have in my fridge for the snow day, but I was not so emphatic that I needed to fight someone for it in the grocery store. 

I am also not holier than thou. I am just one individual with his own unique journey. The fact that I accept snow storms as they are does not make me special; instead it is how I learned to survive during the winter. Those who fought for food in Whole Foods may not be as accepting of the cold and wet so they project their angst into their food supply. That is fine. That is their journey. But think about last week's post: Where does the need come from? Better yet, where does the angst about a snow storm come from?

If you have lived in Boston for a long time but still get anxious about the snow, what taught you that it would be a stress-provoking situation? Do coworkers talk about snow storms so much that you absorb their anxiety? What were the environmental conditions of your childhood? Maybe you developed a scarcity mentality at some point (do not fret, a lot of people do) and register the first sign of stress as the potential loss of resources. As we count days further from 2017 and closer to when we give up on our New Years resolutions, I challenge you to consider this question:

HOW DOES YOUR PAST AFFECT YOUR CURRENT SENSE OF NEED?

The need that Whole Foods shoppers felt last week does not remain isolated to the grocery store. Our brains are large and powerful but still small and contained in the space of our skulls, so the same brain circuits and power are used in multiple situations to streamline the way we respond to perceived stress or need. Using the same systems enables us to see choices that will benefit our evolution. So think about what your needs are and where they come from. In fact, map it out or make a chart. Here is how:

  1. Use the basic headers of HEALTH, WORK, and RELATIONSHIPS as a starting point and write them however you want on a sheet of paper.
  2. Reflect on the needs you feel in each category (i.e. food to eat, money to have, interpersonal support) and write them down.
  3. Now go deeper - i.e. what kind of foods, why do you need money, what specific kind of interpersonal support?
  4. Write them down
  5. Reflect on where those needs come from - i.e. did someone tell you it was a necessity at some point? If not, how did you internalize the need for, say, a certain amount of money, or a certain type of connection with others in the past?
  6. And now you have a flowchart of your personal needs and nowhere to hide.
  7. Bedazzle it as you see fit.
  8. Frame it on the wall.
  9. Post it to Instagram. 

Like a while back when I wrote about how to "reverse-engineer your stress", this simple activity helps you rewind your stories and figure out why you react to stress the way you do in different situations. It is a fun exploration if you open yourself to the process and maybe, just maybe, it will help you breathe a little easier when someone takes that last veggie sampler at the store that you wanted for your snow day. 

TRIGGERED! How To Reverse-Engineer Your Reactivity

In the business world, triggers are what companies like Facebook and Instagram exploit in us to tailor content toward our interests and habits to keep us using their platforms. Triggers can also code for something negative, such as when someone or something pisses you off. 

Personally, a MASSIVE trigger for me is traffic and drivers who I identify as dumb. Anger to 1000 in half a second flat. Triggers are called triggers because they cause something to happen. Think about the trigger of a gun. It causes a major reaction. But the trigger is just a trigger. It is not positive or negative itself. Even though the trigger is the first step of causing the gun to shoot a bullet, the trigger itself can't be labeled as positive or negative even if the bullet does something we would deem negative. We assign the emotional meaning to the trigger event. We say whether it is good or bad. When Facebook or Instagram exploit mental triggers to get us to continue using their platform, whether or not it is a bad thing is subjective. 

I bring this up because last week I mentioned the dreaded experience of seeing family over the holidays and the difficulty therein about communication. Family triggers all of us in one way or another. So many kinds of strong reactions engrained in us since we started developing consciousness just simmer under the surface as a holiday draws nearer, ready to lash back at any comment.

"Hey, can you pass me the stuffing?"

"OH, YOU WOULD ASK ME TO DO THAT!"

It happens at work as well. I am guilty of not liking a certain coworker and so I let rage boil up in me when he / she literally says anything. Whether at home or at work, the problem is that our interpretation of the triggering event dramatically affects the relationship downstream between the two parties as well as your relationship with yourself. When I get angry at traffic, it feels natural to blame every driver around me. It is not their fault, though. In fact, I am equally to blame because I joined all of them in driving that main road at that moment during rush hour. But I still feel anger. Then the interpretation of every other driver's idiocy cements itself into a mindset I adopt whenever I get into the car, which puts me on edge and may potentially make me feel a lingering tension when I get to my destination. If the destination is a social event, that tension may then affect my countenance and sociability with other people and thus relationships are damaged.

Think about someone or something that really stokes that rage fire in you. Coworker? Ex love interest? Starbucks barista? What do they do that you would call the trigger? Keep in mind, their behavior isn't positive or negative. We label it as such. So, why does that super specific trigger cause such a reaction in you? Do other things elicit that same level of reaction?

Our reactions to triggers can be very different. For instance, the anger I feel well up in traffic is very different than the frustration I have felt when my siblings have pushed my buttons in the past. I do not think my siblings are dumb and should consider retaking a driving test like I do for the people I encounter in traffic, but things they have said or done in the past have triggered me to react with anger. Except for some occasions, the truth that is frustrating for many to accept is the fact that those who trigger you are not - at least most of the time - doing so on purpose. Maybe the way someone talks makes them really happy but sounds like nails on a chalkboard to you. That person unfortunately cannot be blamed for your reaction. It is how they talk. 

What to do about this hard truth is even harder. It is a form of radical acceptance. It is okay to feel angry and be triggered, but it is not okay to let it ruin the rest of your day or extensively affect your life going forward. That is completely on you. In my example, I do not want my current and potential social connections to be negatively impacted just because another driver did not use their turn signal, so I have to work backwards. Like in the design world, it is a matter of starting with the end in mind. 

If I want my relationships to be spared the flares of my previous anger, I must somehow check that anger in the car and leave it there. To do that, I must reword the story that my anger narrates.

That way, "Every driver in the entire world is an absolute waste of space" changes to "Wow, there is a lot of traffic right now. I bet I am not the only one stressed out."

Now that the story has changed about the situation, I understand that I am not actually angry that a ton of other people chose to go out driving right when I did, but instead that I get angry when something stops me from getting somewhere. My anger is no longer generalized to blame all others, but instead it is connected to something very personal about me.

See what I did there? It is a simple process of reverse engineering. By starting with my preferred outcome in mind, I was able to bring awareness to what was actually pissing me off in the moment and thus created a new choice when I get angry at traffic in the future. I still get angry at traffic, but I am much better able now to remind myself why and leave it at that. Radical acceptance. 

I help clients with this quite often, actually, especially in their daily work life and in networking situations. Reactivity is RAMPANT. It becomes so patterned and rigid that it is very difficult to break. It becomes a reflex. Think about it for yourself. If you are going to see family for the holidays, I bet you can probably predict how you might react to each member regardless of what they say or do. Write that down. Start the process. I am not telling you to ever change the emotion because the emotion is not a bad thing. How you behave in response to the emotion can be. So as you think about your holiday triggers, ask yourself: "what is the outcome that I want?" and go from there. 

FRIEND-REQUEST YOUR STRESS: How to optimize your learning in an overstimulating world

I saw a meme once that alluded to the fact that the purpose of school is to fill us in on what has been going on in the world before now. Simply to catch us up on why are learning in the first place. Yeah, I see your wheels turning. You are thinking back to that social studies class where you learned about the Ice Man in the Himalayas or Alps and are curious how that applies to your accounting job now. It is kinda disheartening to think about all the classes we have sat through and wonder what you learned and why.

Pause for a deep breath.

We have learned a lot in our lives. Everything in life is learning even if not in a classroom. What is taught in school is constantly evolving. Evolution is change. Change causes stress. When I am learning something new - like when I had to teach myself my own bookkeeping a few years ago - I have a miniature panic attack at the beginning. Just a little one. It has to happen because it is human. Getting unexpected instructions at work right now is like getting homework at the end of a class period. It suddenly stresses you out a bit because you did not know of it before.

And what is worse, WE ALL HAVE DIFFERENT LEARNING STYLES. Not only do our bosses and teachers all have different personalities that lead to different teaching styles, every student and employee has a totally different learning style. No wonder communication breakdown is the primary cause of job dissatisfaction. But I digress. More on that later...

Learning something new causes stress. Straight up. And that stress is tied to a unique learning style.

Perfect example: Someone very dear to me learned how to administer stress tests while studying Exercise Physiology back in college. She was verbally taught all the step-by-step procedures to administer the test, what each apparatus and programmatic feature was, and how to explain the process to the subject. All good and interesting, except she had no clue how it all fit together. Cue the minor panic attack (Stressing about a stress test: priceless). Luckily she had initiative and has the same blended learning style as I do so, come time to demonstrate the stress test in the lab portion, she did not hesitate to volunteer. Even though she did not fully understand what was about to happen from a practical perspective, her engagement in the demonstration made her consolidate all of the information and understand the process to every detail.

Not all of us have the initiative that she did to take the risk and volunteer to be a test dummy, but we all feel those sudden rushes of momentary panic when we are taught something and do not understand it. All you have to do is recognize it and move on.  Even if you do not ask for help at that point, you must keep going. Reread the textbook seventeen times, stare at the math problem, google how to do what your boss just asked you to do.

We live in a world that is completely flooded with information. Words, images, data everywhere. I thought there was a lot of information to learn back in middle school when we did not yet have cell phones or AOL. Now look where we are. Something new is thrown at us in alarming fashion a zillion times a day. A lot of it we do not consciously notice but our brains and bodies register. It is a lot. Some would say too much. If the overload of information does not match your learning style, anxiety is bound to arise. We are learning new information both consciously and unconsciously from so many new sources all of the time that overwhelm will happen. It is guaranteed and it will not stop.

But here is all you have to do:  Accept that. Yeah, that is all. You are going to get anxious. Every day you are going to get presented with something new to absorb into your limited capacity brain tissue, and it will cause stress. Do not shy away from it, though. It is just your brain wiggling and adjusting itself to store more information. Own it. Expect it.

Why? So you are not surprised when the stress pops up. That way, you will recognize the stress simply as your response to the change and then you will be more open and comfortable to learn the new thing or take on the new task even though it is unfamiliar and unexpected. 

So say hi to your stress, do not push it away. You might learn something from it.

KIDS THESE DAYS: THE MILLIONTH REASON WHY TECHNOLOGY SHOULD BE FEARED AND RESPECTED

I read an article in Time magazine back in 2013 about how technology has changed the way that children learn these days. Selfie fever was already an epidemic at the time, but kids did not know how to take them correctly. They simply knew that they had to dress up, pose "effortlessly", and take a thousand pics just to be sure.

The Millennial generation was the first to grow up with the onslaught of computers and cellular phones. My sister is on the upper boundary of the Millennial age bracket and she did not get a cell phone until senior year of high school, by my parents' insistence. This new weird gizmo was too dangerous to be entrusted to an adolescent...

When she got hers, my brother and I looked on with wonder, interpreting what we saw of the phone as the combo of a landline, a remote control, and a PlayStation 2 controller. We were all like, "what's a text message? Don't you talk on it?"

Little 'ole me came along and my parents softened a little by letting me have a cell phone during sophomore year of high school instead of senior year because so many other kids already had them. My parents are not pushovers or people who predictably hop on bandwagons, so giving us phones was genuinely due to the value of accessibility. If I needed to access my parents for anything, I no longer had to go to the school office and wait in line to make a landline call out. My phone, a beautiful and sleek Motorola flip model, lived in my backpack (cause there was no way something that bulky could live in my pocket just yet...especially with an antenna) and there was security in knowing that it was mine and that it could be used to contact my parents at any time.

And that was before any apps...or a camera...

The Time article scared me when I read it because it meant that the advent of the internet and the proliferation of cell phones fundamentally changed the way that human beings learn information. In the old days, it was lecture and discussion-style and then you take a test to realize how much did not actually sink into your brain. The teacher was the source of information, however, and you could not comfortably call that teacher at home if you did not get something. You had to refer to a book of some kind.

But then in 2013, the article spoke to how students hear the information from teachers and make mental note of keywords or key-phrases that they can then look up online or on their phone later on or before the test. Not only that, if there was a story on the news that seemed interesting in passing, children will log the topic and tv channel in their mind so that they know where they could find it later instead of sitting down and watching right then. They learned where to find the information, not the information itself.

It freaked me out because it meant we youngens were learning in such a different way than people had in the past and even the way that I was learning had changed over time.  

But even though the kids that the article referenced (FOUR YEARS AGO, mind you) simply tie a balloon to the back of their brain that holds the location of the new knowledge just to have for later, that is still new knowledge. Forming the memory circuit for where that information lives is still a new memory circuit. Sure, the person does not absorb the history lesson's content right then, but they still have taken in a new piece of knowledge about that content. Not only that, but they have created a new adaptation for survival in knowing where to find certain information that they are being taught is important.

This learning style contributes to the overall ADD of my generation because the logging of the key phrase and where to find the content only takes a couple of seconds, freeing up time in the classroom to draft one's next tweet or zone out looking at the cute guy or girl in another row. Kids now ask "what's next?" because they tie up the balloon and compartmentalize information so quickly.

I am absolutely guilty of this, especially in the past few years when the amount of accessible information has continued to explode and the amount of things I have wanted and needed to learn has similarly expanded in the course of entrepreneurship.   

So why am I still scared of that article?

I am scared for the kids. I think I am fine and most of my adult comrades who use the balloon trick are fine because we mostly know why we are saving that memory circuit and because we need to devote our attention to some other piece of our job. But kids do not know what they should devote their attention to yet, which is why technology is so distracting and the allure of social media is so strong. They tie up a balloon about history class and when the test is and call it good. Then they hop back on Instagram.

So even though kids are still learning, I can still be scared.

Treat yo'self! A little first step to huge self care

Last week I talked about how important it is to be nice to other people but also that that takes energy. It is not easy to give yourself to others all the time. We need to separate and recharge in order to restock our supply of altruism. I have always been "reservedly extraverted" but it was not until a point in college when I learned the true beauty of introspection and self care (to be covered in a later post).

It is not lost on me that so many people in your lives have told you to be nice to others and you likely hear some version of the instruction every day. Whether or not we follow the instruction, we at least think for a few seconds about what it means to be nice to others.

But holy cannoli, we are not nice to ourselves.

We set such high expectations for ourselves and place undue pressure on responsibilities underneath the pressures that others already assign us. That's a lot!

And I am not just talking about work. This intense self-oppression shows up in play too. How many people do you know have told you how exhausting a family reunion is? How they just want to run away and breathe an hour into the party? Yeah. You do not get paid to attend a family reunion on a much-needed Saturday afternoon with your wife and two infants, but it feels like work.  

My family doesn't do tropical vacations. It simply was never injected into our gene pool. In fact, we opt for the total opposite altitude and go on week long ski trips, shredding as much pow as we can regardless of how long it takes to find our lungs and teach them how to breathe that high above sea level. Even though we have skied all our lives and I would choose the mountains over a beach any day, a week long ski trip is exhausting. It is guaranteed that each member of my family says "Vacation is a lot of work" at some point during the week, immediately followed up with "I need a vacation to recover from our vacation."

I digress. The point is that we put our energy toward a lot of things and a lot of people and it is easy to lose sight of ourselves, our health, and our success. My solution: cut yourself some slack. You do so much. You work so hard. Remind yourself of that.

I know what it's like. You get tangled in the vines of responsibility, focus on work during the day and personal health at night, on repeat, and you do not give yourself enough credit for the effort you put into everything. Let me be the one to thank you for your service.

You are a champion. Sit down on top of the podium and take a long breath. Close your eyes even. 

I am not going to tell you to take a vacation now, don't worry. That would be most hypocritical of me. 

Instead I am telling you that you are awesome. You are really talented and you are working damn hard. Believe it or not, it is okay that you do not know something, too, or are dealing with stress. Yeah, it is. You are allowed to not know something. That is part of the human narrative. 

One of the first things I learned in my career was how to label the most simple thing about someone I am serving simply for what it is. Every client comes to me with thoughts and emotions and stories and hopes and has no idea what to do or where to start.

Before we choose a direction, I label how cool it is that they are at a point where they feel totally stuck. I have said things like:

"It's so impressive that you were able to ask for help."

"You described that with so much enthusiasm."

"I'm proud of you for acknowledging something you do not know."

...just to name a few. I help them pause for a hot second and breathe and reflect on what they have already accomplished just to be in that challenging moment. It brings them down to stable ground upon which we can set goals for their narrative work.

I know what you are thinking and I appreciate the compliment but the answer is no, I am not perfect. Nor am I exempt from extreme self-criticism and perceived directionlessness (but at least I can reflect on how confident I am to make up a word like directionlessness and publish it in a blog post. Go me!).   

I have worked on cutting myself some slack my entire life. I still do. A friend and colleague asked me yesterday "How do you maintain your own narrative? Who does what you do for you?" Um, well, numerous people but mainly myself. I practice the labeling tactic on myself ALL THE TIME. I have to. It is about checking in and reminding myself of the things I have done that led to this moment. For instance, writing this post is a reminder in itself. I have stopped several times throughout the drafting of this to think about what has led me here and why the challenges I currently face make a whole heckuva lotta sense. 

As soon as action is taken toward ambition, you immediately find out where your knowledge gaps are. But UGH, that is okay! I become aware of the gaps in my knowledge because I have never needed the knowledge before.

The challenges I face are unique to the decisions I have made. 

What challenge are you facing today? And how does that challenge indicate the progress you have recently made?

Maybe, just maybe, answering that will help you give yourself some slack. And maybe that slack will give you space for a deep breath. And then suddenly you have a nice moment of alone time, supported by the knowledge that we are never truly alone in all of life's challenges.

 

 

 

 

P.S.  Exhibit A: you kept scrolling. You are a curious person. Keep being amazing.

I saw the sign! How to ask for help about asking for help

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Two weeks before I "officially" "publicly" launched my company in Colorado in June of 2015 (even though I had started working with clients that February before I had a website or a name or anything - just details), I took this picture at the parking garage of a friend's apartment building and it's probably the most important picture I have ever taken.

You are thinking what I thought:

A) Kinda creepy.

B) Where was its author?

C) What did they need help with?

To this day, I hope that the person received the magnanimous assistance they required and the sign was placed by the dumpster because the person no longer needed to call out for help and wanted to make sure their artwork was recycled. The sign stuck with me not because of the concern for its origin but instead because its message is the driving force behind everything I've ever done in my career. 

Nothing I write in this or any future post will fully convey the significance that the theme of "asking for help" maintains in my soul. I ask for help all the time. I get a weird satisfaction out of asking question after question. If one person gets sick of answering them, I will move on to someone else. I don't care.

Of course I went through the perfectly human phase of discomfort asking for help: the pre-pubescent arrogance that I had everything under control and I knew everything...right up until I didn't know anything.

In every math class ever in my academic history, it took me all of five minutes to realize I had no idea what was going on. It took me longer than that, though, to feel unabashed about raising my hand and, when the teacher asked "Which part is confusing you?", saying "Umm...something about something...you said about that stuff" while beckoning to the chalkboard. See? I didn't know what the heck I needed help with, I just knew I needed a whole lot of help.

The one exception was one summer during college when I had two brilliant ideas:

1) go to med school

2) take Calculus 1 and Physics 1 summer courses as prerequisites for pre-med.

Starting a mere week after my sophomore year ended, the first session of Calculus 1 was pitched as the review day of Pre-Calculus material that we presumably "had learned in high school or college already".  NOPE. Not this guy. And that's not a slant at my high school Pre-Calc teacher; she was fantastic. It was all about that summer professor (it's fine, he doesn't remember me). My brain has been through just as much as the next hypersensitive emotional intellectual millennial, but what hewas throwing up on the whiteboard that morning looked more like intricate wallpaper with which I'd ignorantly plaster a future office wall than information that I would have already known for my brave pursuit of a career I didn't want.

I didn't raise my hand once that day. Other people did, to answer questions, not ask them, which only confirmed my suspicions. I withdrew the next morning and returned the textbook, swapping it for one on Neurobiology (#nerdstatus1000).

I digress. That's a lot about me. But bravery in the pursuit is important to bring up. I've worked with thousands of people so far in my career, children and adults, and I only got the opportunity to work with them because they accepted that they needed help and were somehow in some way comfortable asking for it. In the mental health treatment programs, residents were at the most extreme crisis moment of their young lives and chose to ask for help. It's still mind-boggling. They chose to be vulnerable, seek out the aid of strangers in a strange place, and battle the suffering to which they could have instead so easily succumbed on their own. It's similar with current clients. Whether charged with giving a speech or inspired to build a brand, everyone gets to a point where they gulp and ask "Crap, what do I do next...?"

I guarantee you have needed help before and I guarantee you've asked for it at least once in your life. You're not perfect. You may be arrogant but you're not perfect. And I'm here to remind you it's okay - just like the person who spray painted that sign at some point in the past. It's okay to not know everything and do something about it.  Even if you don't know what help you need, ask for help on that. Asking for help in order to learn what help you need to ask for is still asking for help. Following?

Sparknotes: ask. Just say "Help". We all need help. We all need our own form of support. Even if you don't need the kind of help that I offer through this company, you can still ask me for help. In fact, do it. I dare you. If I can't help you, I'll tell you. I still don't know everything, but I'm working on that...