Category: Relationships

Day 4: Phone A Friend

Telephone “On the fourth day of wellness…” What will you give yourself today? How about a strong support network to help you through the lifestyle change process.

One of the most valuable assets any of us has in our quest for success is the team of supporters we build around us. This is especially true when it comes to trading bad habits for healthy ones.

One of the very first exercises in my book, Reboot Your Body, is to Build Your Support Network. In the book, I explain that telling others about your intention to change your habits not only helps you recruit others to support you when you need it, but it also makes the effort more real to you. Your support network is also your accountability network, and that can be a huge factor in keeping you on the path to success.

That’s why today’s healthy habit for the 12 Days of Wellness Challenge is to choose one friend or family member you trust and tell him or her about your goals. Maybe you want to lose weight, cut back on drinking soda or alcohol, quit smoking, or exercise five times a week – whatever your specific health goal is, share it with your friend and ask him or her to support you and hold you accountable.

Do Less. Accomplish More.

Last week I asked you to be a silent observer in your own life and determine how often you completed tasks or participated in conversations without giving them your full attention. I challenged you to quit bragplaining – glorifying how busy you are all the time – and to stop and think about what it really means to habitually have more on your plate than you can effectively deal with. This was meant to be a gentle prod to help you start removing yourself from the Cult of Busy. Out of politeness, I did not suggest that (perhaps) having so much to do all the time is less a marker of accomplishment than a sign of disorganization or failure to prioritize.

If you want a life filled with great accomplishments, strong relationships and low levels of anxiety, then you need implement only one strategy: Do Less. Accomplish More.

Doesn’t that sound great?! “Too good to be true,”  you’re probably thinking, but put another way, it might read, “Be productive, not busy.” It’s a goal-setting and time-management strategy that the world’s most successful people have been employing for centuries, and it’s actually quite simple. The whole philosophy can be boiled down to three steps:

1. Get Your Priorities Straight
2. Make Your Actions Match Your Words
3. Evaluate Your Performance

Priorities

In order for this to work, you have to start with the assumption that it is impossible to do many things exceptionally well all at once. Therefore, you can either do many things marginally well, or you can focus your time and energy on only a few things. No one wants to be mediocre, so you’ve got to whittle your priorities down to just a few things. I personally use the Rule of 3 when setting goals and managing tasks: I choose the three areas of my life that I want to focus on most over the next several months (Family, Health, Career, for example), then I set three goals for each of those areas, and every day I write down between one and three tasks or events that are absolutely essential for moving me toward my goal in each area. That leaves me with a very directive list of priority tasks that I will accomplish every day and my motivation to stick to that list is very high because my success is directly tied to the tasks on it.

Follow Through

Knowing what you should be focusing your time and energy on is a great first step, but it won’t get you far unless your actions match the words on paper. The best way I’ve found to do this is to hold myself to two rules every single day:

Rule #1 Your priority tasks need to be the first thing you work on. Putting them off until later exponentially ups the likelihood that they won’t get done at all. This might mean waking up super early on some days, so that you can get those tasks done before you start going to meetings or whatever else you have cluttering up your day.

Rule #2 You need to spend most of your time on your priority tasks. If you allow your days to continue getting cluttered up by the nonessential, then your priority tasks will continue to slide and you won’t achieve your goals. There are many skills and traits you may need to master in order to effectively do this, but chief among them is learning to say no. Stop saying yes to everything everyone asks of you. This might come as a shock to your friends, family, coworkers and supervisors at first, but if you employ a little diplomacy and explain why, they should understand that a) this is something you need to do for yourself, and b) the quality of your work/health/relationships will improve because of it.

Evaluate

Once you’ve set your priorities and gotten into the habit of asking yourself those two questions every day, you’ll need to evaluate your progress very frequently. Check in with yourself at short intervals throughout the day and decide whether the thing you’re doing right now is in line with your priorities and moving you closer toward your goals, or just checking boxes and crossing things off of some random to-do list. You may want to set reminders or alerts for the first few days, in order to prompt you to bring your awareness to your actions.

It’s also a good idea to check in at the end of each day and ask yourself two questions: “Did I work on my priority tasks first today?” and, “Did I spend the bulk of my time on those things today?” Then give yourself a grade and make plans for how you can do a little better tomorrow.

By following these guidelines you can start accomplishing the things you want to in life, rather than just keeping busy.

Stop Bragplaining and Quit the Cult of Busy

I'm so busy!
What was I doing again?

“Hi, (your name)! How are you?”

“Ugh, busy!”

Does this sound familiar? Would you say that your life is absolutely flooded with things you have to do? Do you spend your days hurrying from task to task and appointment to appointment without ever really getting your to-do list done?

If so, how does that make you feel? Stressed? Tired? Anxious? Overwhelmed? Probably yes to all of those, but isn’t there a tiny part of you that also feels a little bit proud? From time to time, we’re all guilty of “bragplaining” (bragging while complaining) about how busy our lives are, and it’s easy to see why. In today’s society, being busy is a symbol of accomplishment, success, and importance. It’s become a kind of competition, the rules of which are not stated, but nevertheless, are universally understood. The assumption is that if you aren’t always busy then you must not have that much going on, that perhaps you’re missing out on life. In fact, this is a lie and the exact opposite is true.

There is a difference between being busy and getting things done.

The truth is that multitasking is a myth and a busy brain functions at a diminished capacity. When we stretch our energy and attention across so many things over the course of a day, it can’t help but wear thin. We give everything we do the barest amount of attention, so we don’t do anything truly well. As a result, our productivity and performance across all tasks are lower than they could be. Our work suffers, but more importantly, so do our relationships. How often do you find yourself thinking about something else completely right while someone is talking to you? When is the last time you turned your attention fully toward your child or spouse? Busy-ness diminishes our experience of life on the whole: when we don’t pause to look around and take in what’s happening right here and now, we never truly engage; we are hurried observers rather than active participants in our own lives.

The good news is that something can be done about this. We have more control over our daily lives than we think we do. For the next week, I ask you to just observe yourself. Notice what the course of your days are like, how you feel, how you interact with others. Note how often you feel rushed, anxious, impatient. See whether you ever slow down and concentrate on just one thing, right in that moment.

Then check back here next week for tips on how you can start to change some of those habits and escape the cult of busy.

Aligning Actions with Values

Zeb Yesterday, my old dog, Zeb, had a bad day. He’s 16 years old and he’s had two cancer surgeries, so I know that he and I don’t have much more time left together. It makes me sad, but it also makes me realize that I need to take advantage of every moment we do have. Recently, this sentiment has been echoed by a friend whose mother is battling Alzheimer’s disease, and last night, several famous movie stars (Oscar winners) reminded us all to call those we love and tell them so – right now. It all got me thinking about what’s really important in my life.

The past year has been an exciting and tumultuous time for me, professionally, with my writing career taking off and my book coming out in a few months. The whole endeavor has been sucking up a lot of my time, and most of my mental energy, but I realized today that it’s not what is most important to me. It’s not even second most important to me. But it gets a lot of my time and attention, and I would say it’s the source of most of my worry and stress.

Then I thought about some other stuff that takes up a lot of my time and attention – email, social media, whatever I can find to stream on Netflix. And these things don’t even make it onto the list of what’s important to me, never mind about being near the top. So do I care about most? I actually had to sit down and think about it for a few minutes.

Relationships – that’s the thing that I value most. Interacting with the people I love; being a good wife, daughter, sibling, friend, neighbor; giving love and compassion and assistance to, and receiving all of those things back from, others. This is what I would not be willing to live without. I’m sure many of you feel the same way. So why do we know that and say that, but act differently? Why don’t I devote most of my time and energy to my relationships? Why are social interactions and family functions and dates with my spouse scheduled in last – around everything else? Why do I sometimes feel jealous of my time, like helping others is an infringement? In truth, I should treasure these opportunities to connect more deeply with others. The rest of my life should be penciled in after these things, right?

My health is the next most important thing to me, because without it, it’s tough or even impossible to participate fully in those relationships and to do good, important work. Eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, getting enough sleep, eliminating needless stress and learning to manage the stress I can’t avoid – these are the things I should be spending the next biggest chunk of time on.

I would say that my career is the next most important thing, because at this point in my life, I’m doing something that helps others. Through my coaching and writing, I’m able to teach people things they didn’t know, or remind them of things they knew but forgot, and those things can enrich their lives. When I stray very far from that guiding principle, my career becomes less satisfying to me and begins to founder. I feel rudderless and wonder what it’s all for, and with good reason.

Finally, learning and self improvement are important to me. Unless I continue to grow as a person, I can’t be of much use to others. Embracing new experiences, finding the courage to try new things, and having the discipline to dedicate the time to study and practice are traits I need to nurture more.

Those are my values. Defining them was the first step, now it’s time to ensure that my day-to-day actions support them.

What are your values? And do your actions bear them out?

Come and Join the Skyway 5k!

Skyway View
Skyway View
A few winters ago, I got the idea to start a weekly walking group that would cover approximately 3 miles through the skyways of Saint Paul. Tomorrow, I’m starting the group back up again!

If you live in the Saint Paul area, meet us at 10:00 a.m. sharp in the ground floor lobby near the elevators of the Robert Street parking ramp, located at the corner of 7th and Robert Streets in downtown Saint Paul. Note that the ramp is closed on weekends, but street parking is free on Sundays and there should be plenty of parking in the area (check 9th Street, on the north end of the parking ramp).

We’ll walk briskly for about an hour, covering pretty much every inch of Saint Paul’s skyway system in order to try to achieve 5K status.

Highlights will include a lap through the beautifully renovated Union Depot train station, a trip through the tunnel that lies beneath Rice Park, a mini tour of the River Center and Xcel Energy Center, and of course, great conversation with your fellow walkers.

No need to RSVP, just show up on time with your walking shoes laced up and ready to go!

Let Go of Expectations

KotorFogWCL Tomorrow is Christmas Eve, the most tradition-filled day of the year for me and my family. Every year of my life, I have spent the month of December in great anticipation leading up to December 24th. Our family traditions are filled with food, fun and love. There are the gifts, too, of course, but as an adult, those don’t play quite as big a role as they did when I was a child. Another thing that’s changed over the years is that I’ve stopped having expectations about the big day. While it might seem difficult to draw the distinction between anticipation and expectation, I’ve found them to be vastly different.

Anticipation is the excitement I feel when I think about an upcoming event. Whether it’s a holiday or a vacation or the release of my new book, I find that when I think about these things in a general sense, a wave of happy, positive emotion washes over me. Even planning the details – what food I’ll bring to the Christmas Eve party; which sights we’ll see on our trip; which book stores I’ll do readings and signings at – brings me a sense of excitement and joy.

Expectations, on the other hand, tend to be overly specific. They consist largely of imagined outcomes for future events that cannot really be seen. While expectations can seem like a good thing at the time I’m formulating them, I’ve found that they tend to make the enjoyment of the actual experiences, well, less enjoyable. Even when an experience is wonderful, if it doesn’t match the picture I’ve been formulating in my mind, or meet the checklist of characteristics I’ve created, then it somehow falls flat.

This week, I encourage you to practice anticipation without expectation. Think less about the particulars of your holiday events and more about the surroundings, the people and the emotions. Try to get excited without plotting out all the details in your mind. For example you can know that your favorite dinner will be served and anticipate that without imagining how it will taste – leave that for a delicious surprise to savor at the actual moment you taste it.

This can work the other way, too. Maybe the holidays put you in contact with people you’d rather not be stuck in a room with. If you expect those interactions to go badly, they almost certainly will. If, however, you allow that anything might happen, it’s possible that something good will.

By letting go of expectations, you give yourself the chance to be surprised and delighted by the things that actually happen, rather than comparing them against a mental template that was probably not entirely realistic in the first place.