Say NO more more often

Imagine this situation: A friend, family, or team member approaches you and asks you for a favor. It’s a small favor, you think. And without even thinking about it, you say yes.

A couple of minutes, sometimes a couple of hours, later you realize that this small favor is really cutting into your day more than you had bargained for. You start to move your own commitments and responsibilities around to make it all work. You’re angry, and you feel stressed. You wonder why you said yes in the first place.

How do you avoid this situation? Don’t say YES right away. Ask for a bit of time to consider your answer and give it later. This way you can check in with yourself and your calendar what impact this YES will have.

In my blog “Darn, why did I say yes…. I wrote in more detail about it. Check it out. Or have a look at this blog.

Slowing Down?

I subscribe to a newsletter written by Jonathan Fields which is all about living a good life. A couple of days ago I found an email in my inbox, and it started like this: (excerpt of Jonathan’s Newsletter):

Have you noticed, things tend to keep speeding up?

It’s a natural consequence of life. Compounded in a big way this year.

Our reaction, when that happens, is to speed up, ourselves, so we can keep up.

But, then keeping up becomes the new norm, and the firehose of pace keeps coming.

So, we cope by speeding up. Again. And, again. And, again.

At some point, we can’t handle it anymore.

Keeping up becomes blowing up.

We’re brought to our knees, forced to reckon.

A thought…

What if your reaction to the quickening cycle of life was not to speed up, but to slow down?

[…] Not in a “head in the sand” way, but in a “I know what matters” way.”

How often do we commit to something because we haven’t thought about the consequences for ourselves or what matters to us? How many times do we agree to do something because it is expected of us, but is not really what rocks our boat? Each time we give away a bit of our time…

The problem with that is, it is not only the time we give away, we also give away our purpose, our fulfilment, our contentment. We become irritated, frustrated, and may even lose our energy.

So, slowing down may be the only way you discern what’s important from what’s a distraction in your life, leading to better decisions for yourself and eliminating “random” commitments.

It’s your choice, and you may be surprised by what you’ll find.

Starting Your Day

Have you read the quick and easy tip to reduce stress? If you missed it, go back to December 1st and read it. It’s a quickie and won’t take more than three minutes.

Here is another great way to use your deep breathing. Before you start your day try this:

Close your eyes, focus on  your breath, and set an intention for the day, e.g. stay calm, be more patient, focus, […] fill in the blank.

I find it a great way to remind myself of something that I know will help me go through my day. If I have a difficult conversation ahead, I remind myself that I need to listen and not assume. If I have a day packed with things I have to do, I may remind myself to stay calm and keep a clear head. If I have a project to launch, I may remind myself to stay focused. Whatever it may be. More often than not, my “intention” pops into my head when I start to lose track and need that little reminder.

Give it a go. I’m sure it’ll help you manage your daily challenges better as well.

Less Stress With Three Deep Breaths

I believe we could all benefit from a little less stress. That’s why I’ll kick off my “Advent Calendar” with a simple but effective tip: take three deep breaths.

It is one of the simplest, but at the same time the most underutilized technique to release stress: deep breathing. Not the shallow kind of breathing that often goes hand-in-hand with stressful situations. There is a huge difference. I mean the kind of breathing that is fundamental in practices like Yoga or martial arts. It’s also taught in public speaking classes to reduce stage fright.

Despite being mentioned so frequently, we tend to forget about deep breathing the moment we need it the most, e.g. when we are stressed, anxious, angry, upset, […] fill in the blank.

That’s why I chose it as a starting point, reminding you that no matter where you are, what you do, or what has happened, you can always stop for a minute and take a couple of deep breaths. They’ll ease the tension in your body, clear your head, give you time to calm down, and respond in a more grounded way.

How to do it:

You can do it sitting or standing or even lying down. But let’s assume for now that we are standing somewhere or sitting somewhere.

If you sit, put your feet on the ground, if you stand, stand with your feet hip-width apart. If closing your eyes helps you focus, do so if it is safe.

Now, slowly inhale and count to five, hold your breath for a second, then exhale and count to five. Repeat for at least three times.

Alternatively, slowly inhale, feeling the air travelling to your lungs, filling your lungs, and allowing your belly to rise. Take a moment, then slowly exhale, feeling the air leave your lungs and your body, allowing your belly to fall.

As long as it is safe, you can place your hands on your belly to feel the rise and fall with each breath. Repeat for at least three times.

Simple, isn’t it? Try it and see what happens.

24 Days Till Christmas

A Special Kind of Advent Calendar

For many people the time before Christmas is a very stressful time. Despite the fact that we look forward to the Holidays, it comes laden with a lot more work. It is not that we don’t like the preparations for the Holidays, but it means extra work in addition to our already packed days.

Looking back on 2020, it was, and still is, an unusual year that presented us with challenges we couldn’t have imagined. We had to be extremely creative to come up with solutions for our businesses and lives. The most difficult part, we often had to do it alone. Many couldn’t–and still can’t–visit family or friends because of the pandemic.

This is how I came up with the idea for an Advent Calendar for you.

The idea took shape while  preparing my son’s Christmas package. He lives in New Zealand, and our plans of spending Christmas with him got shattered. I still wanted to share some Christmas traditions with him, but how? Until we remembered a Christmas tradition in our house when he still lived with us. It can travel and stretch over the Advent Season: an Advent Calendar.

Advent Calendars

It’s an old German tradition to make the wait for Christmas Eve fun and enjoyable for kids. Starting December 1st children are allowed to open a little window on a calendar or unpack a little treat, one per day, until December 24th.

That’s exactly what I have in mind for you. A little something every day starting December 1st until December 24th. This version, though, won’t be filled with sweets and candy, sorry, but with ideas, tips, thoughts, suggestions to stay strong no matter what stress you may experience and to prepare yourself and your business for whatever challenges you may face now and in the future. 

Every day, starting December 1st through December 24th, you’ll find a new post. I hope you’ll enjoy it.

I wish you a very happy, calm, and peaceful Advent season,

A Different Kind of Thanksgiving

This year is, to say the least, unusual. I guess Thanksgiving won’t make an exception, at least for some. No traveling, no big preparations, no cooking, no big feast with family and/or friends.

It is for sure not the way I like to envision Thanksgiving.

My family’s Thanksgivings were always a little different. We moved from Germany to the U.S. some 20 years ago, meaning we don’t have any family on this side of the pond. Our Thanksgivings were always a gathering of German expatriates who, otherwise, would have spent that day alone.

I remember years in which our table barely had room for all the people. Everyone brought a typical dish from their region to share. Germany may be small compared to the U.S., but it has a lot of different regions each with its own delicious specialties. It was not uncommon that we had to make space for all the bowls, platters, and casseroles to fit on the table or at least within reach. After we were done eating, two or three hours later, we often played games. I still remember one game of Charades during which we laughed with tears streaming down our cheeks, trying to figure out the word woods.

This is what Thanksgiving is about. Seeing family or friends, celebrating with lots of good food and having a great time.

Sorry, that I have to drag you back to reality.

This year will be different for many. I, for one, and a lot of my friends decided to keep it small this year, to stay home and forgo big gatherings, big preparations, and big feasts.

Why don’t we use this year’s Thanksgiving and take a break, stop for a moment, and do something that, under normal circumstances, we wouldn’t be able to do? Take extra care of ourselves and recharge our batteries. Sleep an hour longer, read that book we have wanted to read for so long, go for a walk, listen to music, play with our kids, whatever helps you feel more energized, relaxed and, hopefully, a little bit more patient for the last couple of weeks of this year?

I wish you and your family a happy, healthy, and blessed Thanksgiving.

Dealing with Uncertain Times

This year turned out to be quite different from what I expected. I had a really good feeling about 2020 and thought: this is my year. Like everyone else I made plans. Little did I know. COVID happened.

I started following the news diligently especially after COVID hit New York and went on a rampage in the City. Every morning I went through various news channels, each time searching for some positive change, hoping to see at least a light at the end of the tunnel. 

But COVID didn’t do me the favor of disappearing (one can wish, right?). With each day and each week that COVID persisted, it got a bit more difficult to get up in the morning, I felt easily irritated, I often felt anxious. Other people were confronted with far more serious problems such as alcoholism, domestic violence, depression, child abuse, loneliness…. and that doesn’t even mention the families who lost a loved one.

So, what reason do I have to worry or to complain? I’m used to working from home, I’m used to virtual meetings. So, no change on this front. My husband works from home. That’s a big change and extremely cool because he usually travels quite a bit. My family and friends are doing fine. What else can I ask for? I should be grateful and stop whining.

And I did what a lot of people do, I pushed my worries aside. Don’t we all have a bad day or two once in a while? That’s called life, right? It’ll pass! We pull ourselves together and keep on going. Until we don’t.

Life-changing events take their toll because we’re confronted with questions to which we have no answers, yet. We are uncertain about our future, the next step, a decision in business or life… This uncertainty makes itself known in the many ways I described above. Especially if this life-changing event is ongoing and the outcome unknown, the effects can be more pronounced. Consciously or unconsciously, we are dealing with questions, worries, and feelings and appear scatterbrained and unproductive at best, and aggressive and depressed at worst.  

Since such events appear mostly unexpectedly, how can we prepare for them? What can we do to stay as calm and as grounded as possible to better cope with them? How can we keep our balance and prevent extreme reactions and behaviors? 

There is no one solution that fits all. Different people have different needs when it comes to finding their balance. One person may prefer loud music, whereas the other person may need quiet. One person may want to move their body, whereas the other person may need to be still. Here are some activities that I’m doing or not doing right now. Maybe you’ll find them helpful or they’ll inspire you to find your own. Here we go:

  • Taking a break from the news. I usually read the news every morning. I decided to skip this routine for a while to start my day on a more positive note. It worked. (I asked my husband to tell me about important events or developments so that I won’t be completely out of the loop.)
  • Alternatively, you could select news channels that are less sensationalistic in their reporting.
  • Don’t read, watch, or listen to the news before going to bed; a big game changer for me.
  • Exercise of the very sweaty kind. For me it’s Taekwondo. It forces me to focus on forms and technique and by doing so clears my head and gives me a break.
  • Gardening. A new discovery of mine and the perfect kind of work to mull over something.
  • Going for walks, preferably with a friend. It’s up to you what the topic of your conversation will be.
  • Listening to audiobooks. My way of taking my mind off of things and diving into a different world.
  • Alternatively, how about podcasts that are uplifting? Another favorite of mine.
  • In ‘urgent’ situations I try to remember to take three deep breaths. This way I avoid emotional responses that I might regret afterwards.
  • Yoga is a more meditative exercise and part of my daily morning routine.
  • Meditation or a mindfulness practice is also part of my morning routine.
  • At least seven hours of sleep to feel rested. 
  • Catnaps during the day. If I feel exhausted or tired, 20 minutes of shuteye do the trick. I set a timer, but usually wake up before it goes off.
  • Establishing routines. Something I strongly believe in. It gives structure to my day and stability.
  • I journal every day and made it a habit to write down one thing that I’m grateful for. I know, this is an old hat, but if I feel down, steering my thoughts to one thing I’m grateful for lifts my mood. Try it.  

A word of advice: Keep it simple. If you’d like to add a new activity to your day, don’t set the bar so high that you won’t be able to do it. 5 minutes is all it takes to make a difference. The important part is that you do it regularly

Over to you now. What helps you relax and stay grounded especially in hectic, difficult, and/or stressful times? What is your secret weapon for coping with the big and little challenges in life? Let me know in the comments below. 

See you next time,