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Month: December 2014

Perspective on Stress

Perspective on Stress


In light of the holidays and the inevitable stress they bring I wanted to write a bit about how one manages stress and cultivates patience within situations. Ideally I wanted to post this prior to Christmas, because I imagined it is something that could have been helpful. There was only one problem…I didn’t feel stressed. I was a little tired but not stressed. Intellectually I knew what stress felt like, I know the symptoms and I am pretty familiar with how they manifest within me, but every time I sat down to write about how I was dealing with it it felt flat. The whole thing was pretty interesting. Sometimes the brain forgets painful times so that we don’t live in constant fear of them I suspect. So I waited for stress, saturated myself in it, and decided to publish after I figured out what to do with it. So here I am post holiday, to speak to you a bit about the most helpful method of stress reduction I encountered when approaching times that are outside the comfort zone.

Stress is simply put, your body’s response to events which make your feel threatened. This can be a physical threat like a tiger standing in your living room or a car almost smashing your while you ride your bike. Or it can be something perceived to be threatening, such as walking into a new job where you do not know anyone, or perhaps having house guests. The body then begins to release hormones called cortisol and adrenaline. These cause several very neat things to begin to happen in your body. Your heart rates will increase, muscles to tighten, blood pressure rises, breathing speeds and your senses to become sharper. All of this occurs in order to prepare for your to fight the threat or run from it. It basically turns you into a super hero for a few minutes. This is not a response we are looking to turn off, it is something that keeps your out of danger. However the after effect of these hormones, especially if we have this reaction several times a day for a few years can wreck havoc on the body and mind. So what we often seek to do is find a way to “deal”. We seek to either dampen then sensations or burn off the excess energy we are left with.

There are a million and a half ways suggested to manage stress. From keeping a journal of what triggers your stress, to eating a few xanex, to going for jogs, everyone has their own thing. A quick Google search shows me that people are seeking for anyway to make this feeling stop. There are hundreds of self help articles and dozens of medications associated with this topic. I am not here to suggest a permanent solution. I have methods of trying to make the feelings associated with stress productive. Most of the ways I deal surround my meditation practice and exercise routine, but they are far from perfect. I still become anxious, I grind my teeth, body language becomes closed off, and my voice gets this weird tightness to it. That is not a fun person to be around and more than that it is not a fun person to be. So what can you do aside from deep breathing and a few hundred push-ups?

This holiday I resolved to try on a new philosophy. I could not change what was going to happen, and once the brain perceives a threat I cannot effectively stop the chemical process, but I could change how I was thinking. And through the shift in gears of though I was seeking to interrupt the spiral of anxiety which follows a stress reaction. I figured there were going to be times I was going to feel pressure and outside of my comfort zone, so when those situations happened instead of pulling inward and beginning to analyze what would happen if I tried to learn something? Learning is one of my great loves and a wonderful source of motivation for me. It was a neat thought. What would happen if in the times I felt most uncomfortable I immediately began to look for opportunity to learn something I did not know. What occurred for me was a shift almost immediately. When I felt myself disconnect from a conversation I would mentally say the word “Opportunity” to myself. So before the closed off body language even began to happen I had already found something that reengaged my attention. So rather than letting your eyes glaze over when your racist Aunt Betty begins a diatribe, turn toward her and really listen. Listen for neat words she uses, listen to the tone, ponder what experiences occurred that helped shaped that view. Most people speak because they want their perspectives validated by other people. You do not have the validate behavior or perspectives you do not agree with, but there is a wonderful power in listening. It demonstrates a respect of the moment. If you look for opportunities you suspend the judgement of that person and begin to engage like a human being. And that is the real purpose of this activity, not to find a magic way to deal, but to begin to engage with others like a human being even when the situation or conversation is not ideal. Because when you think about it, when is a situation ideal? There are no perfect moments, and rarely does someone us up for an easy lay up. So rather than waiting for a perfect moment in which we will suddenly become a perfectly balanced being, we put some effort into making the moments we do have pretty rad.

What then is the takeaway from all of this? What came to my mind was that this seeking opportunities mindset was beneficial even outside of the situations which i felt uncomfortable, it could be used to make moments which were good even better. I began to think about my Co-creation of relationships idea, and how most of that was focused on conversations to be had in quiet moments, in a controlled environment. As I reflected on the times over the holidays I had engaged in a conversation or situation I was not fully bought into, I thought that I wanted to approach pleasant conversations and little adventures with my partner with the same intensity. I want to actively listen to him with the same compassion and lack of judgement. Here is a fantastic person who I want to spend all of my time with and who better to really focus the lessons of opportunities on? And I think that is a pretty neat realization to come out of a week I was positively dreading.

Setting Intentions

Setting Intentions


This week I want to speak at length about intention setting. I am finding that in most of my writing, coaching and general conversations I am having these days, invariably intention comes up with a vengeance.  I am finding that conflicts of consciousness and dissonance surrounding a situation often surfaces simply because no one in the situation put forth any intent. I find it  little unnerving walking around in social environments with people who feel they do not have a choice, who are floating on tides rather than fashioning a raft. I suspect some of the lack of intention setting and simply saying what one wants in a given situation comes from the desire to feel accepted and comfortable within a social group. I suspect this is reverting to victim thought patterns disguised as tolerance. I have found myself in these situations many times in the last few years of my growth often when there are some old thought patterns or habits I was trying to shed, where I remain in an environment with around activity that is not congruent with my current model of where I want to go. Then I experience this dysphoria and angst because I feel by not saying what I want, or just changing the environment, I allowed my values to be inadvertently violated. So this week I wanted to address correcting incongruence in lifestyles by implementing a simple intention setting and communication method. So here I want to give you some tools to address finding an intention message and what to do with it once you have it.

First let me differentiate between goals and intentions. Goal setting is a vital part of the coaching process, and is the organization of your future world based on your actions today. Goals are end points. Intention is the map of HOW we are going to reach those goals. Intention setting deals in the realm of the now. In the realm of being in the current moment we make choices that affects future us! Now consider one of those moments where you found yourself in a situation where you felt your values were violated but you had not expressed a desire to change it, you had been attempting to go with the flow, or perhaps upon further reflection you simply changed your mind.

This can apply to anything, maybe it is your partner going somewhere without you,maybe it is people asking to smoke a cigarette  in your car, or maybe someone has volunteered your to stay late at work. Everyone has interactions like this, I am sure you can bring to mind moments you felt as though you were screaming inside but had this fake smile plastered all over your face. Maybe you even answered an inquiry with the ubiquitous “I am fine.”  If you make no intentions, if you do not communicate your desires, if you do not set boundaries, if you do not stand up and make some choices, what sort of life are you going to live? My suspicion is one that feels like wearing someone else’s skin. And that is gross. I am here to challenge you to stop with the “I am fine.”

So I am throwing down the challenge to you today: I want you to come up with a clear intentional statement for something this week. There is nothing metaphysical about this, there is no law of attraction going on here. All I want you to do is set a guiding principle for yourself. This may take some time to create and you may edit it until it feels perfect. Write it down, draw it, compose a concerto, whatever works for you. Put it as a reminder on your phone, a sticky note on your mirror, in your wallet, somewhere you have to confront the message often. I will share my own with you for the week: “I commit to stepping outside of my comfort zone. I will embrace adventure.” Now this is very vague and comfortable.This could apply to travel or relationships or anything. What could improve this intention is specifics. In what area of my life am I seeking to grow? What this statement is referring to is my anxiety surrounding networking events. So to make this statement more specific I could say: “I will attend two different networking events each week and at these events I will speak to five people.” This confronts the comfort zone and adventure while making it a specific, measurable and attainable goal. I KNOW when I have completed this. That is the kind of intention you are seeking to create. The second part of this is conversation. Tell someone about your intention. And if you are really brave ask them to hold you accountable. Have them ask you about your progress. Accountability makes the intention a little more solid, there is not so much wiggle room to evade the things that we do not want to do. Often people struggle with the balance of expressing their intentions and being abrasive. I have seen people make a hell of a stand on something in a completely inappropriate tone or setting. And I am here to tell you that is okay, it will happen. Practice. And practice speaking from a place of compassion rather than conflict. You are not going to war with your own life, you are just setting up some guides for yourself along the way.

So now you have your intention, you have your accountability, now what? What happens when you stand your ground on something and the status quo of your relationships begins to change? I want to speak a little bit about judgement and acceptance. There are so many times I have rolled over let behavior slide for the sake of being easy going. I like to tell myself “I accept other peoples behavior and choices, even if they are not my own. Everyone is cool, It’s all good.” There is some truth to that I am sure, but a large amount of my tolerating is really garbage. I am doing it because I want to be accepted and feared the judgment of others. That desire for someone to validate me and accept is detrimental to my growth. This part of the article is to acknowledge that when you begin releasing that need for affirmation from other people you begin to shift into your realm of genius. When you decide it is okay to drift away from some people, it is okay for relationships to change you open the path to growth.

Tackling Self Doubt

Tackling Self Doubt


In my experience people have a vicious inner critic, myself included. I say things to myself sometimes that I would never tolerate another person saying. This is very common, probably something that is developed when we are children, and it rides with us most of our lives. Whenever someone turns us down for a date, or when we say something a bit silly upon meeting someone for the first time, that mean little voice is right there, ready to send a spear of self loathing or shame right into our heartguts. I have wanted to write upon this topic for quite a while as I think it is something we all suffer. Especially in times of increasing external stress the internal commentary from our worst selves cranks up to eleven. As the holidays, finals and the end of the year approaching I am sure many of us are feeling the external stress begin to brew. In the article this week I wanted to share the most powerful encounter I had with those mean commentators in my thoughts and the solution I found to dial them down a little bit.

Three years ago I embarked upon an adventure with my partner to go hiking and camping across Colorado for a week. He and I had not know each other for very long and it seemed like a very spontaneous and daring prospect to go galavanting into the wild blue yonder. My rationale was it was a fascinating way to get to know the intricacies of someone’s psyche. How do we function on a long road trip? How do I behave when I am tired? What does he say to you when you begin lagging behind? It could be amazing! It could be difficult. But there are so few opportunities in life to pluck up your courage and do something intense, so off we went. The climb we began the first day was near the intended trailhead, and we suspected it boasted a pretty view and a nice warm up to the rest of the week. Needless to say the climb was much more intense than I had anticipated. I am no greek goddess, but I jog a few times a week and lift weights on my off days. Not in the best shape certainly, but I like to consider myself tough, certainly not a whiner, and no stranger to mountain hiking. I thought there was nothing we could encounter that would stop me.The terrain was beautiful but it felt as though we were not climbing switchbacks but straight up into the clouds. As we ascended I realized my pack was probably ten pounds heavier than it should have been and I was beginning to struggle. As we climbed I found myself falling further behind my partner, and he would often stop to wait for me. Each time I stopped to catch my breath or when he would ask me if I was doing okay, I would drop my gaze and burn crimson with humiliation. I was enraged with myself. And in my humiliation grew the deluge of negative deprecating thoughts began to seep into my conscious levels of thought.

How dare you let him see this is difficult for you?

Never let them see weakness!

This shouldn’t be difficult for you anyway, you are stronger than this.

What is wrong with you? His pack is much heavier than yours.


You are slowing him down. He hates this.

I’ll bet he regrets taking this trip with you.

You are never going to make it.

The higher we climbed, the more upset I became. My partner, all credit to him, never once raised his voice to me, and never expressed irritation. He smiled at me. He encouraged me. He offered to carry my heavy pack along with his own. (Which I would never, ever let him do.) He was unbelievably kind to me. So much kinder than I was being to myself. As we came around the last bend in the trail, right at the place the tree line stop and from here onward there would be only grassland, I saw four of the brightest hummingbirds flitting in and out of the trees. I had no idea hummingbirds even lived at this altitude and for some reason it felt like a magical experience to see them. As we put our packs down and began to set up our camp for the evening I kept watching those hummingbirds zipping through the forest around us. I was in awe and almost envious of how light and easily they seemed to move compared to my lumbering form. And as I watched them I felt my thoughts begin to change.

You don’t have to be so mean to yourself. It is okay if things are difficult.

What would be different if you said things to encourage yourself?

What if you treated yourself with the same compassion you treat your partner?

Hiking is hard stuff. What would happen if you took all that negative stuff, all that baggage and just left all here?

You can leave it here you know. If you want.

That was my moment right there. That was my first step toward understanding. Yeah, I had a bunch of emotional baggage, and I carried it around with me at all times. And it made me a miserable person. What kind of person would I be if I i decided to just leave all that crap on the trail? Never to shoulder it again. The realization that I had a choice. I was stunned. I was completely humbled by the wisdom of hummingbirds. As we cooked one of those weird dehydrated camping meals on a pitiful fire I was filled with exuberance. I wanted to leap up and exclaim that I had experienced something meaningful and amazing and life changing. I wanted to fly around like those hummingbirds. As we lie down to go to sleep in our tent I made a commitment to myself to grow out of this. I made a promise to myself never to forget what I learned on the mountain. And more importantly I wanted to share this experience with my partner and the people I loved. For so long I had been looking for a way to get free so to speak, to fix myself. I had gone to gurus, I had been to shrinks. And here it was. I had found the first step to freedom at twelve thousand feet.

From that little spot on the mountains I have wandered an amazing path of self growth. The big battle between me and the shitty things I say to myself in my head has changed drastically. The inner critic still exists but we have a different relationships these days. I have spent hundreds of hours meditating and introspecting, searching for the message the inner critic actually has as well as where that critic hailed from in the first place. What is the message at the center of off of the self doubt? And more importantly what can we do to regain control?

First and foremost, do not pit yourself against your critic as though you are going to war. You are one. There is no separation between you and the critic. The inner critic is a self defense mechanism created when you were probably very young and it’s purpose was the keep you safe. This is an old world system and is really no longer necessary since you have developed language. Do not go to war with your critic, do not try to dam up his voice, because he will return louder than ever. Instead I encourage you to spend a set amount of time listening to all of his worries and gripes. For example the ultimate message from my inner critic is “I am not good enough.”All the comments about weakness and success, all of that boils down to the belief I gained somewhere that I am not good enough. And so I embarked upon a path to prove to others that I was smart and successful and all of that. The critic’s message slips in every time my confidence slips a bit. Find that message and how it has fit into your life so far. How does that message keep you from pursuing fulfilling relationships, or a promotion you really want. Observe the way your critic encourages you to remain safe and small. Now here comes the fun part. Here is the moment where you put it all down. All that worry and fear, all the baggage, make a commitment to yourself to put it down and carry onward without it. It does not always happen at once. You may find that some days you have picked up some of it again. No worries, bring your awareness to this, and then mentally set the baggage down again. Each time you practice this it becomes easier and there is less baggage to put down each time.

As you practice transforming the critic’s message and putting down all the mental crap, it may be fun to find a partner to practice with. Discuss the messages you both receive from your critic, discuss what it feels like to leave that baggage behind. Talk about what sort of situations surround the arrival of the critic and what sort of times you notice yourself saddled with your old baggage. I encourage you to take your time and enjoy the journey of the introspection. Remember there is no rush, this is your growth. Along the way don’t forget the lesson of the hummingbirds: Be kind to yourself, be gentle to yourself.


How to get organized

How to get organized


This morning I woke up with my mind filled with lists. All the things I want to accomplish next week, the week after, and onward into forever seemed to be whirling around inside my thoughts. I felt as though my mind was a library and all of the books decided to begin flying around. While the image is rather amusing I felt it was a perfect time to share my take on mental organization. Keeping the mind in order spills over to the physical world as well. When I notice someone with a particularly messy car or desk, I often suspect that is much like the state of their thoughts. There is nothing wrong with a messy desk or a messy mind for that matter, it is all perspective. However getting your life in order puts you on the path to your goals, plain and simple. These ideas are not for rewiring your mind, or to transform you into a hyper vigilant type A personality, this is simply a way to optimize and begin moving toward a more efficient perspective. How do we begin to break the cycle of anxiety and worry surrounding an impending assignment deadline? How can we better organize and achieve the goals we set for ourselves? How can we quiet racing thoughts to even begin all of this? So for all of my worriers, my procrastinators, and those who are forever “cleaning” while never actually doing anything, this is for you. There are endless articles offering tips on how to get organized, most of which suggest buying a label maker and plastic bins to store all the clutter. Hell, there is even a store dedicated to plastic containers all committed to storing your stuff in a more organized way. (My mum loves this place and incidentally labels all of her belongings.) There is nothing wrong with labeling your socks or containers, but in my experience buying more things to store your things in is not the solution. This mindset of compartmentalization only contributes to a hoarding mentality. Here I want to tackle the root issue behind mental and physical clutter: It isn’t the stuff you own but the perspective surrounding the things you own which is tripping you up.

Planning and then Action.
Blindly beginning a project often results in burnout. My father once gave me some wonderful advice about writing which I find carries over to all areas of my life. “Begin with the end in mind”. Spend fifteen minutes and write down a to-do list. The important thing here is to spend no more than fifteen minutes on the planning stage, as it is very easy to spend all your time making lists and taking no action. Set quantifiable goals. When are you going to do it? Be specific. What will the end result be? How long are you spending on this project? You will notice this is the shortest section and that is intentional. Do not spend hours planning.

Time Budgeting
I am huge fan of timers to accompany my goals. As my calendar fills up I find that my time becomes more valuable to me than anything else. Correctly budgeting my time brings the goal or project into reality without stress. This is normally the step that begin to trip people up. It is simple to throw yourself into a project and when you begin to feel sick of it to wander off. Set time limits for decision making as well as for the actual activity. If you are the sort of person who can write to-do lists for hours but never actually begin then I challenge you to set a timer for five minutes, and that is the time you get for planning your activity. After the timer goes off, set a second alarm for fifteen minutes to work on said task. This step often sends some people into a panic. I challenge you to address your behavior. When you set out to tackle a project, be that cleaning the bathroom or writing a paper, what sort of feelings and thoughts come to you? Do you chronically avoid your project until you encounter guilt?  Are you one of the folks who insists they thrives under pressure? This is not just a matter of completing a single project, this is beginning to dig into your inner works, this is about addressing what is causing you to put off working or feel overwhelmed. Instead of toiling until you feel tired, which is rather subjective anyway, I challenge you to set a timer for fifteen minutes. Each time you set out to accomplish a task make it a habit of setting a timer. At the end of a fifteen minute period I want you to take accurate stock of what you have done. This helps you begin to accurately assess your time, which establishes a successful pattern for future endeavors.

Track your Progress
This is the kicker, folks. Quantifiable and documented results are vital in your journey out of mental clutter. For example perhaps you have a deadline approaching for your thesis and the pressure is beginning to get to you, you palms are sweating and your anxiety is rising. As you think about this monster of a project you consider perhaps just taking a nap and trying to get mental reprieve from the anxiety for just a moment. (We have all been there.) But wait! You look back in the notes you have been keeping about your projects and deadlines, in in browsing those notes you see all the deadlines you have met and all the amazing things you have gotten together and created. In moments of anxiety and the beginning of a melt down I find it incredibly helpful to have a reference point, something quantifiable to prove to myself that I can conquer just about anything.

This is a starting point for those of you who periodically feel overtaken by deadlines. This piece does not address clutter control or hoarding behavior as that is a very large topic in itself. The holidays are a stressful time for most people and the tendency to indulge in retail therapy or crazy cleaning sessions before the in laws arrive is a real feeling. I encourage you to take a few moments to examine your anxious thoughts before you dive into short term manic projects. What could be different when you give yourself some space to investigate how the emotions influence your behavior? How do things change when you address behavior that does not serve you?