Just Ignore that To Do List!

Yes, you read that right! When I make this suggestion in my resilience workshops, the gasps and protests don’t take long to surface. It seems blasphemous in our multi tasking, addicted to busyness culture to suggest that one ignore the “to do” list.

Once people get over their shock, I explain that it isn’t a permanent state of affairs, but rather a conscious choice one needs to make on a regular basis. In my experience, the more driven I am by my to do list the more my health suffers. I experience a myriad of chronic, and seemingly unsolvable, problems like stomach issues, neck and shoulder pain, insomnia and migraines.

We live in a quick and easy fix, immediate gratification type of society where we turn to medical experts to help us with our health issues. I know I have certainly had my share of visits to the doctor. I’ve recently been exploring how the brain starts to wire itself towards pain when we feel threatened. There’s a lot to be threatened by today and so it’s no surprise that so many people I talk with experience these baffling health issues as well.

Our to do list can also be threatening, especially if it’s long and not achievable, includes tasks that are highly unpleasant that stay on the list for weeks or months, or just reminds us that we are never “done” no matter how hard we may have worked that day. I think these to do lists often provide us with the illusion that if we just do all these things, we can control events and prevent bad things from happening. I know that some of my clients are really threatened by NOT doing their to do list as they really believe very bad things will happen.

While world events might be beyond our control, our to do list is in our control. Give yourself a regular break from being driven by the to do list and see what happens. Or at the very least, take some items off the list that don’t need to be there. I let go of several big to dos in the last 6 months that were keeping me in a constant state of “not enough.” My health has definitely improved and I’ve certainly been enjoying life more … and, even more important, nothing bad has happened 😉 In fact, a couple of remarkable things have happened that probably wouldn’t have if I had kept to that list.

How is your to do list working for you?

How to Climb a Mountain

“Take a look back … the view is spectacular,” my husband Dave suggested as I stopped in the middle of the path, sure I was about to pass out or fall backwards down the mountain. I was about a third of the way up the Bump and Grind and all I could see was the long path ahead of me.

“I can’t look now,” I sputtered. “I’ve got too far to go,” while thinking to myself that I wished I had never agreed to this … I wasn’t ready and it was too hard.  But I couldn’t really turn around now as I was deathly afraid of going down the steep side. I knew that if I got to the top I could descend on the less steep side.

I set off again on a mission to get to the top as fast as I could. And then stopped again, thinking I would pass out or fall. And then set off again … and, well, you get the picture. I did eventually get to the top and take a look down … it was spectacular and I was very proud that I had challenged myself to do this hike when I wasn’t entirely ready!

It seems to me this experience is a perfect metaphor for life. We can never be quite prepared to take on a challenge. All we can do is keep taking a step at a time (which BTW was what I kept telling myself on the way up. Just one more step, just one more step …) and eventually we will tackle that tough challenge.

But, while hiking down the gradual slope, I realized that I had missed out on a lot by my impatient, goal driven approach. I was trying to go too fast and it was taxing both my leg muscles and lung capacity too much. I also needed to give myself permission to stop occasionally, look around, enjoy what I was seeing AND celebrate the fact that I had made it that far. I really didn’t enjoy my trip up the mountain.

I see this all the time in my coaching practice. People striving for goals, trying to go too fast, not stopping to appreciate what they’ve experienced, not reflecting on what they’ve learned, or not celebrating what they’ve accomplished to that point. It robs them, just as it robbed me, of the joy in the journey.

So the next time you’re impatient to reach a goal, resist your urges and stop to take a look around. You just never know what you might discover about yourself or others.

3 Tips for Putting Down Your Armour

It seems a natural response to being hurt, facing challenges or experiencing unexpected tragedy is to respond with fear and anger and armour up. Armouring up can be anything from “From now on I copy everyone in on my emails to cover my butt.” to “I will not share anything authentic with you again.” to “I’m going to isolate myself from others.”

But research is clear about the role of optimism in resilience. While these armouring up responses are normal, it’s when they become a long term habit that our overall wellness, effectiveness and satisfaction with life can be affected.

While some people seem to be more naturally optimistic, there are times when all of us need to be intentional about it. Here are three practices I use to put down my armour:

  1. Lighten up. Lightening up means that we don’t take ourselves seriously and we put things into perspective, hopefully finding humour in situations. While that may not always be possible in extremely distressing situations, it can also mean giving yourself permission to “park the issue” even if it’s for a short time. This gives your brain a chance to get out of fight or flight. To lighten up, practice the “pause.” When you find yourself overly stressed, anxious, serious, in a rush, etc, take a deep breath, pause for 4 seconds, name what you are experiencing and then ask yourself a question to shift into more optimism. Some of my favorites are “Will this be important a year from now?” “Can I do anything about this?” “Can I invest my energy into something more important or positive?”
  2. Reframe. Reframing means that we interpret and make meaning of our experiences in a way that is optimistic. Resilience researchers followed children raised in neglect or abuse over a long period of time to see how they fared as adults. Those who did well (lived productive happy lives) did not attach the same meaning to their earlier experiences as those who continued in a cycle of neglect and abuse. The “stories” we tell ourselves about what happens to us can be even more important and crucial in determining how we do than what actually happened to us in the moment. Those children who were able to reframe their early childhood as learning experiences that helped them develop their strength and confidence did better than those who told a story of how their early childhood damaged them. Reframing also relates to how we think about things that didn’t go right for us, or failures. Resilient people are able to reframe mistakes or failures as opportunities to learn or create something different in their lives.
  3. Develop a daily ritual that facilitates connection to yourself, others, nature. Some of the things I do are to write down 3 things I appreciate or am grateful for, go for walks, review my file of thank yous from others, watch uplifting videos or read something uplifting, and send a text or email of appreciation to someone. I find that doing this helps me to lean more towards optimism than pessimism, put down my armour and connect to others in a meaningful way.

What are the strategies you use to put down your armour and develop your optimism?

This blog is the A in our PAUSE model of resilience – Active Optimism. Watch for the U in a future blog!!

3 Questions to Rediscover Yourself

 3 Questions to Rediscover Yourself resilience emotional intelligence

“I just can’t get over the fact that my CEO gave the VP role to an outsider who doesn’t have the expertise or experience I have. I’ve been so loyal and have demonstrated my value many times over the years.  It’s not fair and it’s turning me into someone I’m not,” one of my clients said to me. It had been almost a year since this had happened and my client was struggling.

“Who do you want to be?” I asked.

There was a long pause. “I honestly don’t know anymore as I’ve been so focused on not getting the promotion I’ve lost my overall sense of purpose in this job.”

We all have setbacks like these and truly resilient people find a way to make meaning of these situations, re-invent themselves and rediscover their overall purpose. So here are three questions to begin that process:

  1. Who are you being right now?
  2. Who do you want to be?
  3. What do you need to give up to be that person?

It took a few sessions but my client realized that she needed to let go of her righteous indignation as it was blocking her from being the confident, creative and strategic person she wanted to be.

For those of you who follow my blog this is the first in a series of posts about resilience which is built around the word PAUSE.  The P in PAUSE stands for:

P – Purpose. We live in a VUCA world (volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous) and so it’s easy to forget about the important things and just survive from day to day. Resilient people are clear about their overall purpose in life, whether that is simply to be a kind person, be the best parent ever, look after the earth, contribute to those who are less fortunate or to bring about radical change in the world. Discovering and then living our purpose is a key first step towards resilience.

Getting clear on our purpose is a lifelong continual process of reflection and action. In addition to the three questions posed earlier, I have found these strategies helpful:

  • Know yourself. Resilient people continually learn about themselves, their values, strengths, who they wish to be and what they want to accomplish. There are many ways to do this, including values and personality assessments, getting feedback from others and taking time to reflect.
  • Set goals/intents. During times of turbulence, it’s important to be working towards something bigger. Some people are continually working towards big goals while others prefer to set intents about who they want to be, rather than what they want to accomplish.
  • Plan small wins. Resilient people feel like they are making progress on a daily basis and build small wins into their days so they feel that, even if the major challenges are still there, they feel like they’ve made progress towards something that day.

Take some time to get re-acquainted with your purpose and then watch this space for the A in PAUSE … it’s something that almost everyone who works in resilience talks about!

There’s no bad weather.

 Theres no bad weather. resilience emotional intelligence
“There’s no bad weather, there’s only inappropriate clothing,” my sister reminded me during a winter outing in Alberta.

“And a crappy attitude towards winter,” I thought as I watched her family play excitedly in the snow in their backyard while I stood in the doorway whining about how much I hated winter.

Given that I had moved to a warmer climate many years earlier, my clothing at the moment sucked, as did my attitude. My lack of weather resilience during the winter was one of the factors that prompted my move.

We are living in bad weather right now, if not literally wherever you are right now, then certainly figuratively. These are unpredictable times when “that could never happen” is indeed happening. Since most of us cannot control or influence most of these troubling events, we are left with donning appropriate clothing and attitudes, in other words, developing skills and attitudes to protect us and keep us moving forward positively.

This is the realm of personal resilience, the ability to thrive in the midst of any kind of situation.  Thankfully I have developed a fair bit of personal resilience over the years, even if I still do struggle with winter.

Perhaps the first key to resilience is recognition that your life doesn’t have to be determined by what’s happening around you. We need to take a pause, and consider our path forward. My question to you is, “what clothing and attitudes do you need right now to manage the weather?”

For more specific and practical tips and strategies on personal resilience, it’s not too late to sign up for my online course which starts this week.

And watch this space as I will be revealing the 5 factors and 15 strategies I consider central to personal resilience in 5 separate blogs over the next few weeks.