Time Management

Setting Smarter Goals

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In this week's podcast interview with Paula Prober, author of Your Rainforest Mind, she says, "I think it's important that people who are sensitive and intense and have a lot of empathy and who are bright, need to allow themselves to work on yourself throughout your whole life."

I lost track of this message when I settled into a job I was good at and had my son. At that point, I had met just about all of my goals and aspirations - at least consciously. Going through an unexpected divorce, I found myself faced with the need to reassess where I was going in my life. 

I had goals around health, wellness and career, but they were fairly nebulous and thus not quite attainable. It wasn't until I went through my coaching training that I learned the formula for clear achievable goals. When creating a goal, be sure it is SMART - Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Timely. 

Specific - You need to be clear on your goal with details that are specific. If you make your goal too general, it will be difficult to visualize what success would look like. Think about what you would like to accomplish, why it's important and who and what is involved in making it happen. 

Measurable - Setting a measureable goal helps you to track progress and stay motivated. Ask yourself how you will track your goal and how will you know when it's achieved.

Attainable -  Be sure that your goal is something that you can realistically achieve. Think about the effort and resources involved in moving forward on the goal and be sure that they will not max out your resources. Also consider factors that are outside of your control - focus on the aspects that are not dependent on other people to move forward. 

Relevant - Think about how this goal aligns with your purpose, vision, mission and values. Consider the timing and effort involved. 

Timely - Set a clear date to accomplish the goal, along with specific times to measure progress and reassess. This will help you to break down small steps to achieving your goal. 

Setting SMART goals helps us to continue working on ourselves throughout our whole lives. 

The Power of No!

I've been revisiting the power of the word "no" lately. I was getting pretty good at it, in fact I wrote a blog post about it, but shortly after that I felt compelled to say "yes" to additional work at my day job and then got caught up in taking on commitments that drained me rather than fed me. Having taken on certain commitments, it would have been out of integrity for me to back out, so I had to take a look at what else I was letting in to my life. 

When I interviewed Sophia Treyger for my Embracing Intensity Podcast, she was at the very beginning of her own journey of saying no. 

I recently attended an Intimacy Soiree with Sophia Treyger about what we have manifested in our lives, and she talked about finding the relationship she had always been looking for, so eloquently expressed in this blog post. One key factor for her was saying no to the opportunities that were just OK, so that she could leave room for the big yes! Connecting deeply with herself enabled her to connect even more deeply with others, including in her relationship and her thriving Intimacy Soiree community. If you are in the Porland, OR area, I highly recommend you attend on of Sophia's Events, you can find a link to the next one here, or join her page on Facebook for future events.  She has a gift for bringing out deeply intimate conversations!

I too found that taking a break from dating is what led me to my marriage, and being selective with whom I spend my time is the key to maintaining my energy. 

Relationships are such an integral part of our level of functioning! I have found as well, that when I  make the effort to include only those people who nourish me into my life, my energy is higher for dealing with other things that come up. This year I had the most busy chaotic start to a school year I have ever had, but yet my energy is much higher and my headaches fewer than last year. What is the difference? The people I spend the majority of my time with are all supportive of eachother. There is a feeling of being in this together. 

Sometimes, even an extravert like me, has to take a break from social commitments. Last year, when I moved out to the country and took on extra work, I needed to turn inward and connect with myself. I started moving away from large group activities to more intimate ways of connecting. As the social butterfly I've always been, this left room for feeling like a bad friend because I didn't reach out to my circle of friends nearly as much. But when I do get to connect, it makes it all that much sweeter! 

Sometimes what energizes us at one time in our lives is not what energizes us in another. 

What are you saying "yes" to that may no longer serve you? What areas of your life are you finding draining? What would you like to say "yes" to that brings you energy or opens you up to exciting possibilities?

Flower Power Planner

I'm the kind of gal who, when I don't see something that works quite right for me, I create it myself. Over the last couple of years, I started creating printable materials for planning and prioritization that I thought would be worth sharing on my blog. On the second Monday of each month, I will share a printable tool that you are welcome to use as you wish. 

This week's tool is my Flower Power Planner, formatted for a 5.5"x8.5" binder. You can find all of my free printable on the Free Resources page

The flower dividers should be printed on thick 8.5x11 card stock or photo paper. You can cut the divider tab out with an exacto-knife and then fold in half and hole punch. 

The flower calendar has a monthly, weekly and daily view. I set up the daily view so that it can cover the inner half of the weekly spread and can be switched out each day. I would only use the daily spread for days that are especially full when I'd like to see it all spread out in front of me. 

I have also included 4 note pages with coordinating flowers on them. 

If you like these  free printables, I would love it if you shared with others!

You can also get more printable tools to:

  • Ground yourself when you're feeling restless or out of control;
  • Raise yourself up when you're feeling down;
  • Keep your best tools at hand to pull you out of stressful brain shut-down;

In my free Power-Zone Toolkit: 7 Days to More Focus, Energy, and Fun!

Follow Your Peace

Follow Your Peace

I've been quiet again for the last few weeks, but things are picking up behind the scenes. It got me thinking about where I was about this time last year.

I had gone down to three days a week at my "day job" and was running out of my savings with no clear path to income on it's way. Promoting myself one on one wasn't really working so I decided to launch a group. I thought that I was doing it because it felt right - but I realize now that I mostly did it from a place of fear.

Most regrettably, I invested in expensive programs that weren't right for me because I felt a sense of urgency to make money now.

As far as my group program goes, it turned out to be a good thing in the end because it got me to develop a course that I can now use with clients.

A sense of urgency can have it's place by getting you to do things based on public commitments, but I've decided that for me it should be avoided at all costs when it comes to decision making.

My decision to go back to work four days a week was going to enable me to step back a bit and focus on community building through my Embracing Intensity podcast etc. When we acquired Quinn Mountain Retreat though, everything went of track for a bit. I offered to go back full time out of a sense of urgency and almost immediately regretted it. I also came close to investing in another program that seemed to have the "magic bullet" for developing a program using the new retreat space, but fortunately I decided to hold off and see where I was in the spring.

Then a few things happened that gave me a new perspective. I went to a networking event unprepared, without a business card or makeup. I learned that having a retreat center at a networking event is much more fun than telling people you are a life coach. Because people were coming to me excitedly, it freed me up to just be myself, and I almost got a coaching client just for being present and being me.

I also had tea with a wonderful lady who, when I mentioned I might be looking for a business coach down the road, told me to follow my peace rather than urgency. I realized I had made way too many decisions based on urgency in the last year, and when things started to move it was when I stepped back and stopped pushing. In fact, right as my full time gig cut back, I got a client out of nowhere - and it seemed to be just the right timing for both of us.

That's not to say that I won't move myself forward. Now that my work time is freed up a bit, I'm ready to dedicate that time toward building my business again. This time though, where I invest my time and money will come from a place of peace.

Follow Your Peace

Move the Rock

Move the rock!

You ever find a book that you want to go out and buy for everyone? Well Rising Strong by Brene Brown is one of those for me. I love everything she does, but this was not only insightful, but also had me laughing out loud (listening to her voice on the audio version helped).

One of the concepts I really appreciated was the idea of "moving the rock." When asked what he would do if he knew that someone he was really frustrated with was doing the best he could, a man said, "Then move the rock."

When asked to explain, he said, "I have to stop kicking the rock. I need to move it. It's hurting both of us."

In essence, as Brene says, "we stop respecting and evaluating people based on what we think they should accomplish, and start respecting them for who they are and holding them accountable for what they're actually doing. It means that we stop loving people for who they could be and start loving them for who they are."

I think we are often guilty of doing this to ourselves more than others! What we think of as "underachievement" is really just a focus on achievement in the wrong area.

We beat ourselves up for what we "should" do instead of celebrating what we do well and enjoy.

Of course, this may have been reinforced by years of schooling that focused on fitting inside a box. If you were lucky, perhaps you had a teacher or two who celebrated you for who you are.

As adults, we have the opportunity to shift our thinking. If I've learned one thing in my years of reading personal development literature it is that when we eliminate the word "should" from our thoughts and vocabulary, the world is a much happier place.

What would you be doing if you didn't think you "should" be doing something else?

Where's Your Zone of Genius?

This past week I got to interview the wonderful Melissa Opie for my upcoming Embracing Intensity Podcast. One thing she said that really struck me was, "For people who really have found that thing that really lights them up - it gives them a reason to wake up in the morning and just feels so good like, 'Yes! I know why I'm here!' So when people have found that, I don't think that there's any danger of them not doing anything." Melissa has clearly found her "zone of genius" as Gay Hendrix describes in his book The Big Leap.

Most people don't ever get to their zone of genius. If they are experiencing some success, they might be in their zone of excellence. More likely, they are in their zones of competence or even incompetence.

I've spend most of my life in my zone of excellence and competence. I found a job that I do quite well, but not one I'm uniquely suited to. The nature of the "system" is that I'm required to do all kinds of things that I'm competent at, but don't really enjoy.

Your zone of genius is about the joy of using your own unique talent. They are the thing you do that maximize on your abundance and satisfaction. I found this cool handout on finding your zone of genius when I researched it for this post.

I'm still working on narrowing down my own zone of genius, but I know it involves connecting with people and information. When I think of what I'm uniquely suited to do, the best I can describe it is "decoding" communication. What I mean by that is finding ways to communicate so that I am understood and understanding what people mean when their communication might not always be clear.

My sister has clearly found her zone of genius in crochet design. I gave her only a few months notice that I was getting married and she took on a technique that she'd never tried before and is creating this brilliant one of a kind piece. Basically she gets a picture in her head and she produces it - literally as you can see in her book Reversible Color Crochet.

Finding your zone of genius goes along with what I've been talking about regarding energy balance as when you are in that zone you feel powerful and energized!

Free Time? What Free Time?

If you're anything like me, there is so much you'd like to get done in this life, you can't possibly do it all! You also hold yourself to a high standard so you spend extra time perfecting things, or chastise yourself when you don't do everything you think you should do. There's also that pesky matter of getting distracted from the thing you are doing and making it take WAY longer than it could. Add to that our culture's glorification of busy, and who exactly is it that has this mythical "free time"?

Why do I need free time anyway? 

Since I hit puberty, every spring I'd go through a bout of fatigue/depression at the end of each school year. I've known from an early age that I needed my summer breaks to recoup for the new year. My answer to this was to work in schools. The problem is though I would be so exhausted at the end of the school year that it would take me most of the 2-3 months of summer break to recover! Once the pressure stopped, I'd wake up light headed and it would take me hours to properly function each day. Even then I was not very productive on the things I wanted to spend my time on. I was eventually diagnosed with adrenal fatigue and realized that I've been beating up my adrenals for over 25 years.

It may be tempting to push yourself to be as productive as possible because you know when you stop you won't be much good to anybody, but if you push yourself a little less, you will have a little more to give when the pressure is off. He are some things that have helped me find a little more time for myself:

Cut yourself some slack. I know you are capable many great things - and you will do them - just not all at once, and maybe not quite ALL of them. Your high standards will help you with quality work, but don't let perfectionism keep you from what's really important. Before you take on one more thing or get too bogged down by the details, ask yourself, "is this important? Is this fun? Do I have the time and energy?"

Listen to your body. You may think you have the energy if you tune out your body until you crash. Usually though, your body has a habit of screaming back at you eventually. You may not always connect it with how you've treated it in the past but if you really start to listen, you can stop before you crash. One of the best things I ever did for my body was when I had chronic headaches and I was told to set an alarm every hour and rate my pain and tension. It taught me to feel the tension creep up my neck and if I could catch it there I could prevent a debilitating headache. Now regular check ins with my body can tell me when I'm pushing it before it goes too far. I still get caught up in things and forget to check in, but I'm getting better.

Avoid contaminated time. Brigid Schulte describes contaminated time as the "mental tape-loop" that runs through so many women's minds of everything they need to do even when they aren't doing them. When you are taking time out for yourself, make an effort to focus on the moment and not all of the other things you think you should be doing. For me this also involves not clearly delineating between free time and work time at home so that I can be fully present with my partner.

Schedule your free time. In order to be more present in the moment, I've had to get better at setting time aside for work and time aside for play. Some of it I need to mark in my calendar to make sure I take it. Other things I try to work into my daily or weekly routine. I've been trying to get in a 10 minute walk around my work regularly in the mornings and when I manage to do it consistently, I'm always more productive when I get back. It's also a way for me to work in mindfulness as I pay attention to my surroundings instead of the chatter of my mind.

What will you do this week to make time for yourself?

Building Your Want Power

Last week I wrote about the dangers of willpower, so it was a little ironic when my mom came back from a trip to Powell’s with a book called The Willpower Instinct, by Kelly McGonigal, and I ate it up!

It did indeed reinforce my assertion that willpower is a limited resource and that it is crucial that we understand our motivation. She talks about three powers that affect our self-control, willpower, won’t power and want power. I believe that want power is the most powerful of all because it helps us to move from “I have to” to “I choose to because I want ___.”

McGonigal goes over some key concepts to understand in order to improve your self-control.

Pause and plan instinct - Most people are familiar with the fight or flight instinct that we have when we are in physical danger. McGonigal points out that we also have a “pause and plan” instinct that kicks in when we are faced with internal conflict. Instead of everything speeding up as it does with the fight or flight response, everything slows down.  The problem is when we are under high levels of stress, our fight or flight takes over and we lose our strength to pause and plan. In our excessively over stimulating culture, we are under high degrees of stress. Add to that the intense sensitivity and reactivity of being highly excitable, and it’s no wonder our self-control reserves wear out.

Some things that can increase your willpower instinct include:

  • Slow down your breathing.
  • Take a 5 minute walk outdoors.
  • Be sure to get sufficient sleep.
  • Take time in your day to relax.

Self-control is like a muscle - If you use it too much, it gets tired, but regular exercise can make it stronger. I think part of the problem is though, we take on a self-control task that is so monumental, it’s like trying to lift 200 lb or bike 200 miles when we’ve never lifted or rode more than 20 before, then beating yourself up for not following through. Would you expect yourself to run a marathon without ever running before? Probably not, so why would you expect yourself to exert levels of self control well beyond what you’ve practiced before? Also, if you've exhausted your resources, even small levels of self control can be depleted. Think of the person who resists even a bite of pie all day and then binge eats the whole thing that night.

Some things that help give you more energy to build up your self control:

  • Dig deep to find your big “want” power (it may not be what you think).
  • Fuel your body with good food that supports your energy.
  • Exercise self-control by picking one small thing to keep track of that you don’t usually pay attention to.
  • When trying to make a big change, look for a small way to practice self-control that strengthens your willpower but doesn’t overwhelm it completely.

Self-control does not define self-worth - When we measure our moral worth on our ability to restrain ourselves, we are more likely to then turn around and reward ourselves with the very thing we are trying to resist. We may start to justify choices that aren’t in line with our goals based on one “virtuous” aspect (such as “it’s fat free,” or “it’s on sale.” We may also rationalize that it’s OK to do something today if we behave better tomorrow.

To keep yourself on the right track:

  • Shift your focus from self-worth to your goals, values, mission and vision.
  • Next time you want to indulge as a reward for “good behavior,” check in to see if it’s in line with your goals and values.
  • Try for consistency within your day instead of extreme all or nothing behavior.

What we desire does not guarantee happiness - The dopamine in our brain convinces us that once we receive a reward, we will be happy. This can be used to motivate toward our goal, but can also derail us with more immediate “rewards” or “temptations.” Marketers use this tactic to sell things with the promise or reward. I believe that the more we deny ourselves, the more tempting the promise of reward can be.

To challenge the way dopamine works in your brain:

  • Explore what gets your dopamine neurons firing. Is there a way to use your dopamine to move you toward your goal?
  • Observe when your desire triggers stress and anxiety.
  • Test the promise of reward by mindfully indulging in something your brain tells you will make you happy but never seems to satisfy. Does the reality match your brain’s promise? .

Feeling bad leads to giving in - Remember when I said that stress decreases our pause and plan instinct? It also increases our desires for some reward to relieve it. It may not be something that actually will relieve it, but your brain convinces itself that it will. This makes us more susceptible to temptation when we are under stress. So it makes sense that when your attempts at willpower place you under a lot of stress, you are more likely to give up on it.

To decrease stress and support your want power:

  • Use proven stress relief strategies such as exercising, playing sports, meditating, practicing your spirituality, listening to music, reading, spending time with loved ones, getting a massage, going for a walk, doing yoga and/or spending time on a creative hobby.
  • Practice forgiving yourself. Ask yourself, “What are you feeling and needing?’ Remind yourself you are only human and think of what you would say to a friend.
  • Use optimistic pessimism by anticipating how and when you might be tempted and imagine a specific plan for following through on your goal.

If you can’t clearly see the future, it’s difficult to stay on the right path - This is the one that always gets me. Especially when it came to managing my chronic pain. I’d tried so many things that when I didn’t see immediate results, it was hard to stick to anything because I didn’t have the faith that it would help. Once I found something that made a difference though, I could stick to it so much better. There are many positive goals though that don’t have immediate rewards.

To keep on track with your long term wants:

  • Get a really clear picture of what you want from you goal.
  • Wait ten minutes before indulging in a temptation and remind yourself in that time the long term reward of resisting. If you choose to indulge at that point, do it mindfully.
  • Create a future memory by writing a letter to your future self or just imagining yourself in the future.

Willpower is contagious - We are hardwired to connect with the people around us, so it is natural that the self-control demonstrated by our peers will affect our own level of self-control. We are also motivated by the anticipated approval or disapproval of others.

To use the power of social influence for good rather than evil:

  • Spend a few minutes at the beginning of each day thinking about your goals to strengthen your immunity against the negative influence of others.
  • When you need a little extra self-control, bring to mind someone you admire as a role model and ask yourself what they would do.
  • Make your goal public to increase your accountability and gain support.
  • Engage a group in moving toward your goals together.

Suppression may lead to obsession - When you try to suppress thoughts, emotions and/or cravings, it often backfires by making you more likely to think, feel or do the things you are trying to avoid. If someone says, “try not to think about yellow butterflies.” What do you immediately think about, yellow butterflies. This is one reason why in positive discipline, we are encouraged to focus on what we want them to do instead of what they don’t want them to do, because if we say “don’t do this,” what they hear is “do this.”

To avoid suppressing your thoughts or feelings:

  • Allow yourself to feel what you feel, but question the thoughts that may be destructive to your goals.
  • Accept your cravings. Acknowledge how you feel about it, remind yourself of your future goal. If you do choose to act on them, do it mindfully.
  • If a strong urge takes hold, try practicing “surfing the urge.” Stay with the feelings of the urge and ride them like a wave rather than pushing them away.

If I could sum up what I gained from this book, I’d say that focusing on our want power is the key to lasting change.  Willpower is a limited resource that can be built up by practicing in small doses, reducing stress and surrounding ourselves with people who practice good self-control. Be cautious of won’t power because suppression, deprivation and the stress of feeling bad about yourself can backfire and make you more prone to do the very things you want to avoid.

The Problem With Willpower

When got married and moved up to the Northwest, I started to gradually gain weight. I knew it would be harder to lose the older I got, so every now and then I’d go on a low carb diet and lose about 10 lb. Then it would creep back on and then some.

Each time, I’d dive in headfirst with a plan and dedication - that would last maybe two weeks. Then, inevitably I’d eat something that was “off the list” and throw the baby out with the bath water. When I got close to my 9 lb pregnant weight not pregnant though, I managed to stick with it long enough to lose about 30 lb, but again it started creeping back up.

Then a switch went off in me. I tried a Paleo diet for the first time, and felt a real change in my energy. For the first time, eating well wasn’t about losing weight but about feeling good. I gradually started listening to my body more and how it reacts to what I put in it. I sometimes eat things that don’t make it feel so great, but I don’t beat myself up about it anymore.

Now I’ve lost over 40 lb overall, and I haven’t felt the need for willpower to maintain it in over two years.

So what’s the problem with willpower?

I’ve read some books on success that talk about the importance of willpower and how we have to practice it and strengthen it like a muscle. While this is true, we have to be careful about overly relying on willpower.

Willpower is a limited resource. As Shawn Achor points out in The Happiness Advantage,willpower is ineffective at sustaining change because the more we use it, the more worn-out it gets. If you have chronic pain or fatigue as well, it is increasingly ineffective because pain depletes your ability to regulate your behavior.

The focus is on deprivation. It is also risky to rely on willpower because it fosters a deprivation mentality. As Achor points out, “we deny and deny ourselves until all of a sudden we can’t take it anymore and the floodgates break.” The more we focus on denying ourselves using willpower, the more we focus on the very thing we are trying to avoid. This is one of the reasons the concept of intuitive eating has been so successful, because it’s about nourishing yourself in a positive way rather than depriving yourself.

If not through willpower than how will things change?

Find your motivation. The first step in making lasting change has been to truly get to your motivation to make the change. For me, losing weight was just not enough to sustain me. The first lasting health habit I implemented was a series of neck stretches that helped my chronic headaches at the time. I did those religiously for 5 years because it was so clearly useful to me. Nowadays the most motivating thing is to be healthy and well for my son. Once you are clear on your motivation, you can change your thinking from, “I have to ____” to “I choose to ____ because I want ____.”

Path of least resistance. Achor talks about increasing the likelihood of engaging in a new habit by putting it on the path of least resistance. He gives an example of how he wanted to learn the guitar, but he never pulled it out of his closet. He bought a cheap guitar stand and put it in his living room and suddenly he started following through with it. The extra 20 seconds it took him to pull it out of his closet kept him from engaging with it on a regular basis. He calls this “activation energy,” which is the energy it takes to begin a task. Just as you can put something you want to engage in on a path of least resistance, you can increase the path or resistance for things you don’t want to engage in such as distractions from work. Examples he gave were cutting all shortcuts and forcing yourself to open multiple folders to get to a distracting app, or taking the batteries out of the remote control.

Practice self-compassion. When you do something that you wish you hadn’t done, remind yourself that you are human after all. Every action we take is meant to meet a need, so try to express empathy with yourself to understand the need you were trying to meet. Also practice compassion for the habit you are trying to change. That habit has served you in some way in the past, whether it was to distract you from pain or protect you in some way. Acknowledge this, give it compassion and then focus on what you will get when it changes.

Reduce choices. In The Paradox of Choice, by Barry Schwartz, he talks about how our cultures focus on options and making the best choice can actually make us less happy in the end. There are some places where it is great to have choices, but when it comes to the basic everyday things in life, having less choices to make frees you up to have energy for the really big decisions.

Embrace “good enough.” Schwartz talks about the advantages of becoming a satisfiser instead of a maximiser. A satisfiser looks at the options until an acceptable option is found instead of searching for the optimal choice. This also involves appreciating what you have or where you are at instead of constantly striving for more.

Adjust your expectations. If you get caught up in thoughts or beliefs that hold you back or make you beat yourself up, stop and ask yourself, “is this thought or belief useful?” If not, try coming up with another thought that would be more helpful to you.

Practice the art of rituals. As Mason Currey points out in Daily Rituals, “A solid routine fosters a well-worn groove for one’s mental energies and helps stave off the tyranny of moods.” Working rituals and routines into our day can help us solidify new habits so we barely have to think about them. Just keep in mind, for major changes focusing on one small thing at a time can help it stick.

I used to think I had very little willpower, and then I proved to myself with food that I am capable of significant changes. I realized though that this was not so much because of willpower, but of mindfulness of my choices in the moment. I don’t always make the “good” choice, but I don’t beat myself up about it anymore. This has given me a much more positive relationship with food that I will carry with me for the rest of my life.

What is one habit you have been successful in changing and maintaining? How did you achieve it?

Five Tools for Prioritization

If you are highly excitable intellectually or imaginatively, it is likely that you have a large number of interests, things you are good at and things that you would like to do. You might be considered a "rainbow person" or multipotentialite instead of a specialist (focusing on one main thing). If this is the case, it can be a challenge to decide what to focus on first. It's a great thing to have options, but not if it paralyzes you from moving forward.

First it is helpful to get clear on your purpose, vision, mission and values as I discussed last week. But what if there are multiple ways to contribute to your purpose and vision?

Importance Urgency Matrix

Importance/Urgency Matrix

One tool I've found mighty useful for prioritization is Stephen Covey’s Importance-Urgency Matrix from 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. In his chapter on putting First Things First, he emphasizes that we should invest most of our energy on things we consider important in our lives. These include things that contribute to our overall purpose, vision, mission and values.

First we manage things that are important and urgent. These include necessities, crises, critical activities, pressing problems and deadline driven projects. Next we focus on things that are important but not urgent. These include opportunities, important goals, long range planning, preventative maintenance, relationship building, personal growth and self-care. We aim to minimize things that are not important but urgent, which are interruptions such as some mail and calls, some meetings and some reports. Finally we avoid things that are not important or urgent such as trivia, distractions, some mail and calls, time wasters and busy work. Keep in mind that if you are spending a lot of time on distractions and time wasters, you might want to look deeper at your self-care needs.

Tournaments

Tournament Challenge

If you’re still not sure what’s most important to you, Kevin McCarthy uses a tool called the "tournaments" in The On-Purpose Person: Making Your Life Make Sense. This tool helps you get at your core wants and desires.

  1. List all of your wants/desires that you can think of.
  2. Write one on top and the next on the bottom of the page (to help spread out items that are alike).
  3. Write them on the branched tournament chart.
  4. Look at each pair, and decide which of the two you would choose.
  5. Work your way down until you get to the end of the page.
  6. If you have multiple pages, write the end want on each page on a new sheet.
  7. You can do this with all areas of your life combined, or separate them by your different life roles (i.e. Mother, Caretaker, Friend, Community etc.)
Forced Choice Clarification

Forced Choice Clarification

If your wants seem too broad to choose between using the tournament challenge, or you are trying to decide on an immediate option, you might try digging deeper into what you get out of each want.

  1. On the right hand side, list the things you would like to do. (e.g. go dancing with friends, stay at home)
  2. On the left hand, list the needs that that activity would meet. (e.g. Dancing - connection, fun, exercise; Home - rest, peace)
  3. Go through the needs listed in pairs and decide which need is calling to you the most. (e.g. What do I need more at this moment, connection or rest? or Which is calling to me most right now, exercise or peace?)
Decision Matrix

Decision Matrix

If you are trying to decide between different projects that you would like to do that all seem important to you, you can use a decision Matrix to help decide what to focus on first.

  1. List the projects you would like to work on (e.g.Write book, Start Podcast, New Program)
  2. Put them along both the top and right column of table
  3. For each pairing, decide which out of the two you would prefer to do.
  4. Count how many times you selected each choice.
Action Priority Matrix

Action Priority Matrix

And finally, if you are looking for the biggest bang for your buck, I really like this Action Priority Matrix! It looks similar to the Importance/Urgency Matrix, but it focuses instead on Impact and Effort.

First focus on "Quick Wins" - things that are high impact and low effort. These are the things where you will see immediate results. Then focus on "Major Projects," which have a high impact but take a bit more effort. Things that are low impact and low effort are considered "fill ins," while low impact and high effort items are considered "thankless tasks."

Over my spring break, I chose to prioritize cleaning and beautifying my desk area. This was important to me because it is where I get my work done and it is also the focal point of my living room. During Anna Kunnecke's Queen Sweep, she challenged us to beautify one area of the home and this was one that would have the highest impact for relatively little effort. It meets the need for beauty and peace in the room I spend the most time in, which had been lacking for quite a while.

What is Your Energy Balance?

I don't know about you, but I've read a ton of health and self-help books over the years trying to "fix" my chronic pain and fatigue.  Last year I found a book called Breaking Free from Persistent Fatigue by Lucie Montpetit.  Instead of listing a bunch of "cures" that may or not work, this book takes a more holistic look at exploring your energy.

One of the most useful chapters for me was Chapter 3, From Chaos to Energy Balance. In this chapter she suggests examining your activities for their energy balance.

To start, pick an activity you might do on an energy draining day.  Could be something related to personal hygiene, productivity or leisure.  Now consider these aspects of the activity:

Physical

Does the activity activate your sympathetic (calm) or parasympathetic (fight/flight) nervous system?The sympathetic branch of your nervous system was designed to perform under crisis. It activates our fight or flight response. This is handy if you are being chased by a tiger, but in our modern fast paced world it is often over active. Add to that the tendency to pick up on things and react to them more intensely of the highly excitable person, and you have a recipe for Adrenal Fatigue!  The parasympathetic branch acts as our "break pedal."  It helps us to stop and rest so that we can recuperate.  Things that decrease the heart and breathing rate, such as meditation and taking a hot bath, can activate the parasympathetic branch.

Emotional

When you think about this activity do you feel scared or brave? If you are doing something out of guilt, shame or apprehension then it will be draining to you.  If, on the other hand, your actions are motivated by assertiveness, joy and goodwill, it will be more energizing to you.

Mental/Cognitive

Do you see this activity as an obligation or a joy? Marshall Rosenberg, author of Nonviolent Communication, a Language of Life, is fond of saying, "don't do anything that isn't play." (p.135) If we do things only out of a sense of duty, not only is it draining for us, but will eventually engender resistance to perform the activity.  He encourages a shift by translating "have to" to "choose to."  To do this you acknowledge that you are choosing to do something because you like the outcome. Instead of saying, "I have to ___", say "I choose to ___ because I want ___."  For example,  I might say, "I choose to clean my house because I want to enjoy peaceful surroundings."

Social/Sociocultural

Are you doing the activity for others or for yourself? It is one thing to do something for others because you enjoy contributing to their wellbeing.  If you are doing it for approval or recognition though, it is likely to get draining fast.  Even if we are doing it for the enjoyment of making their lives better, if we put their needs before our own we don't get the chance to recharge our own batteries.  As Montpetit says, "Over time, what we enjoy doing for others ends up becoming an obligation when we continually deprive ourselves in order to be able to do this activity." (p.66)

Connective/Spiritual

When doing this activity do you feel connected or disconnected? According to Montpetit, a sense of powerlessness comes of feeling alone (or disconnected) in the universe. (p.67) This leaves you feeling on guard and forcing things in the direction you want them to go.  Eventually you might resign yourself to a feeling of helplessness. When you feel connected and powerful, on the other hand, you have an inner feeling of well-being and a sense that you are part of a whole greater than yourself.  You come to a place of acceptance where power comes from working with reality instead of pushing against it.

Time Focus

When you do this activity, is your focus on the past and/or future or is it on the present? This concept was actually brought up in a later chapter, but I think it is another element to consider when taking stock of your energy balance. In our culture we are often focused on striving toward the future or pondering the past without taking the time to really be in the present.  This is why mindfulness meditation has taken off and helped a lot of people. If your mind is on the past or future, your energy is more likely to be drained. Bring yourself to the present moment to help recharge your battery.

What I particularly like about Lucie Montpetit's approach is that while some of these elements are clearly draining or energizing, a lot of it is in how we perceive them.  If we can activate our courage, spirit of play, self-care, sense of power and be mindful in the moment, some of the same activities can become a lot more energizing.

Taking these elements into account, what is something that renews your energy that you would like to make more time for into your day? What is something you are already doing that could be made more energizing by shifting your perspective a bit?

Four Ways to Simplify Your Life

My brain lacks a lot of internal structure, so I'm dependent on external structure to keep myself moving.  As a person who identifies as having moderate signs of ADD, it is important to fill my toolbox with strategies to support my goal directed actions.

In the last couple of weeks on my blog I talked about a helpful tool for prioritization, and the power of invoking the panic monster.  Today I'd like to share four other things that you can do to help balance and simplify your life.  They are easy to remember because they rhyme.  They are eliminate, facilitate, automate and delegate.  These are not new concepts by any means, but when I start to get overwhelmed with all of the stuff I need to do, they can help me to focus on what is most important.

Eliminate

A couple of years ago I was feeling bad because I wasn't getting everything done that I wanted to do.  Then I took a really good look at where I was spending my time, and realized I was scheduled solidly with pretty much no free time or "me time." Something had to go for me to move forward.  Unfortunately at the time, it was a relationship with an awesome person that wasn't quite resonating for me.  I set aside dating for a while to focus on starting my business, but then I met someone rather unexpectedly.  The business got put aside for a few months, but then I decided to go part time at my "day job" so that I could focus on building a business and maintain my relationship.While these are some pretty major eliminations, small things can help too.

What is it that you are saying yes to that doesn't resonate with your important priorities?

Facilitate

Facilitate is a fancy way of saying "make easier."  We can do this by taking out unnecessary steps and simplifying the rest. This is a useful tool for repetitive tasks such as report writing and housework.  In my work, I use a lot of templates to simplify reports and other repeated written materials.  Other tools to help with this include chunking together similar activities (eg. doing all your social media work at the same time for the week), finding an effective system to write things down and retrieve them, refraining from multitasking and unplugging in times when you need to focus.

What is one repetitive task that you can facilitate, or simplify?

Automate

For those rote tasks that you might not want to do but need to get done, it is helpful if you can find ways to automate them to make them more consistent, regular and predictable. Some tools for automation include schedules, routines and written templates (which also help facilitate).  The easier you make a habit, the more likely you are to keep it.  Planning routines around natural transition times such as bedtime, morning or when you get up can be helpful as well.  Also, if you want to access something regularly, such as a piece of exercise equipment, it is helpful to have it out somewhere where you don't need to set it up each time. I myself get so dependent on routines, that sometimes I throw myself off when vacation comes and I don't have the regular weekly schedule of school.  Now that I'm not working in schools 5 days a week, I've found other ways to provide structure to my day such as twice a week hot yoga.

What is a habit that you'd like to get more consistent with that you can plan to do at a natural transition time each day (eg. morning, arrival home, bedtime)?

Delegate

I don't know about you, but there are a lot of things I do because I think I should that someone else could do better or more efficiently. One thing I've been able to let go is deep housecleaning.  I have made a commitment to pay someone to clean my house every couple of weeks and even when my finances are low, that takes precedence over other spending.  This is because when I don't have to worry about cleaning house, I am better able to focus on doing what I'm good at and will help more people.  Another thing I'm looking into is hiring a virtual assistant to handle some of the technical things that someone could do much more efficiently than I could.

What is one thing you do that someone else could do more efficiently?

This week, think about where you are feeling overloaded.  What is one thing that you can eliminate, facilitate, automate or delegate?

The Myth of "Togetherness"

Earlier this week I was chatting with a friend about my upcoming Stop Spinning Your Wheels group and she said, "you really have it together." I had to laugh because the last thing I think about myself is that I'm "together."

Bev Webb wrote a great article recently on puttylike.com called Help! It Feels like Everyone Else is more “Together” than Me. In that article she says, "Never compare your inside with somebody else’s outside." I believe that this is a very important thing to keep in mind.

One of my best friends always seemed so socially assured that I was surprised when we started to get to know each other better and she mentioned times when she was "intimidated" by people.  Another gorgeous friend of mine seemed more together at ten years younger than I feel now.  If you were to ask her though, gorgeous and together are not words she would ever use to describe herself.

Honestly though, if you were to introduce me to someone who was 100% together, I'm not sure I'd have any idea how to relate to them.  Who would really? Does such a person exist?

There's another challenge we face as dynamic and excitable people, and that is that we not only compare ourselves to others, but we also compare ourselves to the idealized version of ourselves.  We know we have the potential to do so much it can sometimes be challenging to even know where to begin.

We suffer not from lack, but from paralyzing abundance.  Our vast array of interests make it difficult to choose just one thing and give it the attention to detail our idealistic standards feel it deserves.

So how am I pulling my own shit together?

Well it isn't always pretty, but it is a whole lot of fun!

If you told me a few years ago that I'd be starting my own business, I might not have believed you.  That's because I always thought that I needed the structure and routine of a "day job" to keep me on track.  I learned though that over the years, I had put systems in place to keep myself going.

And most importantly...

I invoked the Panic Monster! 

In Tim Urban's blog post on Why Procrastinators Procrastinate (a fantastic post by the way), he talks about the fact that the only thing that scares the "instant gratification monkey" that distracts us from what we need to be doing is the "panic monster."

My original plan a year and a half or so ago was work on building my business on my extra free nights off that I would have since my son started school.  I would put dating on hold and use all of my extra time on business.  Well, life happened and so did a new relationship.

I decided at the end of last school year to go part time at my school psychologist job so that I would have time to devote to my business. The panic monster kicked in with the decrease in my salary.  I joined several marketing groups, kept up consistent blog posts and slowly built up my e-mail list.

Now, I've created my free Stop Spinning Your Wheels program to help get the message out there to other women like me who have been challenged by the abundance in their lives by sharing the things that have worked for me. You can access the program in my League of Excitable Women group

There's Not Enough Time!

When I did an anonymous survey of dynamic and excitable women, there were a lot of common themes. One person captured it beautifully in one simple sentence, "There's not enough time for all of my awesome."

In general, we are a self-critical bunch. But that's not to say we have low self-esteem. On the contrary, we know we have the potential to do great things, so we judge ourselves when we fall short.

Part of the problem is, there are so many things that we could do well that it's hard to pick just one or two. When we try to do to many at once though, we are prone to get overloaded and shut down. This leaves us with a feeling of "spinning our wheels" without actually getting anywhere.

Here's the good news - 

According to Dabrowski, dissatisfaction with oneself is a crucial step toward positive personality development. It is only useful though if it can be directed toward achieving your personal ideal through conscious action.

To do this, we must move past ruminating about what should be and focus on the challenge of what could be. This involves accepting the current reality, and assessing what steps or actions it will take to move forward based on our deepest values.

Easier said than done right?

One tool I've found mighty useful for prioritization is Stephen Covey's Importance-Urgency Matrix from 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. At first I thought this book was just another pop-culture self-help book, but it actually has a lot of valuable insights to share!

One of the things that keeps you spinning your wheels is constantly responding to the urgent rather than the important. We often prioritize things that are urgent and not important over more important things that don’t have the same urgency. Covey points out that focusing on important issues that aren't urgent requires a high level of initiative and proactivity.

In order to determine what is most important, you must know where you are trying to go. Take the time to really examine your ideal future life. Include your deepest values and purpose as well as what you love and nourishes your mind, body and soul. Be mindful of your choices and consider whether they fit the big picture you’d like to see of your life.

I use this tool and many more in my upcoming free two week program called Stop Spinning Your Wheels to help women to get unstuck, and make more time for their own awesomeness!

You can access the program in my League of Excitable Women group on Facebook